By Ray Hanania
Over the last week, police in cities across America have been put on alert to protect Jewish communities in the wake of what is being described as a record rise in anti-Semitism. It is not a coincidence that, every time activists in the US rise up in protest against Israeli violence overseas, pro-Israel activists respond that the protests are fueling “anti-Semitism.”
Those who describe pro-Palestinian protests as fueling hate crimes against Jews frequently state that anti-Semitism is a direct response to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza. However, they ignore the fact that Israeli violence provoked Hamas’ actions and describe Israel’s massive military and police response against Palestinians as an act of “self-defense.”
In contrast, despite repeated claims by Arab American leaders of a rise in anti-Arab and Islamophobic incidents — as was made several weeks ago by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) — no US political leaders have seen the need to heighten protection for Arabs.
The focus on anti-Semitism is actually a strategy to deflect the American public’s attention away from Israel’s violence and shift blame onto the Palestinians. For example, as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio last week condemned attacks against Jewish Americans, he did so in the blurred context of Israel’s violence against Palestinians.
Despite the assertions of pro-Israel officials like De Blasio and others who claimed Tel Aviv was attacking Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fire, it was Israel that began the latest round of violence. Israel moved to evict Palestinian civilians living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and replace them with members of the racist Jewish settler movement. Israeli police and soldiers, along with armed settlers, confronted dozens of Palestinian families amid efforts to Judaize the city. Israel’s long history of ethnically cleansing Arab neighborhoods to strengthen the Jewish presence is an established fact.
Palestinians responded to Israel’s violence by protesting, not just in Sheikh Jarrah but also in other areas of the Occupied Territories and inside Israel. Israeli police beat and arrested many Palestinian citizens in Lod, for example.
Only when the settlers, with the support of heavily armed Israeli soldiers and police, tried to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque — which settlers have repeatedly said they wanted to burn down — did Hamas begin firing rockets. But, in the eyes of many pro-Israel politicians, Palestinians don’t get to defend themselves. Only Israelis get to defend themselves, even if they are responding to violence they provoked.
The truth of the matter is reflected in the consequences of the violence. Far more Palestinians — the number is in the thousands — have been killed in the past eight years by so-called Israeli retaliations than the few dozen, at most, Israelis killed by Hamas rockets.
US police reacted forcefully during the many massive pro-Palestinian protests that swept the country this month. Several protesters were arrested and charged with hate crimes, which De Blasio decried as a “horrible and consistent pattern.” The New York mayor met with and assured Jewish leaders, saying: “We take it seriously because, if we don’t, it’s at all of our peril… I don’t see this in isolation, and it’s not just one incident… People’s fears and concerns are well placed and we have to respond in kind.”
While De Blasio and dozens of other American mayors and elected officials were reacting to claims of rising anti-Semitism, none reacted to Arab American and Muslim leaders’ claims that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence, which is also related to the spike in Middle East violence, was on the rise.
During an appearance on my radio show this month, ADC President Samer Khalaf said that Arab and Muslim Americans don’t get the same support as other communities in the face of increasing hatred and bigotry. “We get all the negatives of being a minority. We are discriminated against,” he said. “We see the hate. But we don’t get the help some of the other minority communities get.”
What makes the Arab and Muslim concerns even more relevant is that America is approaching the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, which resulted in a large wave of anti-Arab and Islamophobic bigotry and violence.
The real tragedy is that anti-Semitism is not just a hate crime against Jews, even though the politics of the Middle East conflict has made that narrow definition the only focus. Arabs are Semites too. So any American politician that forcefully responds to anti-Jew hatred should also be looking at the anti-Semitism being directed against the more defenseless Arab American community. Police should be assigned to defend mosques and Arab American organizations too, particularly in places like New York, Ohio and other areas where the focus on fighting bigotry has been so one-sided.
Arabs are victims of hatred in America. The fact that the US political system expresses so little concern only compounds this fact.