On February 19, 2021, the Institute for Policy Studies’ Middle East Fellow Khury Petersen-Smith and the National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) organization shared their latest iteration of antisemitic libels and hypocrisy during “Freedom Intertwined: Organizing for Collective Liberation,” a virtual panel hosted by NSJP. The event framed Palestinian self-determination as part of a “collective entanglement” with all oppressed peoples — all except the Jewish people.
But it didn’t take very long to get to anti-Zionist falsities. Petersen-Smith opened the conference with what he believed to be emblematic of Zionist evil — a quote from Winston Churchill’s testimony to the British Palestine Royal Commission, which investigated the violence within the Palestine Mandate during the Arab Revolt of 1936-39 and subsequently recommended a partition of the land. “I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place,” Churchill said. (The full text of the recommendation, known as the Peel Commission Report, can be read here.)
Churchill’s words are unfortunately consistent with the racial attitudes of the time, but this seemingly unrelated quote did not “set the trend” for Israel’s attitude towards the Arabs, as Peterson-Smith suggests, nor does it justify the rejection of the current state of Israel. Preeminent Zionist thinkers from across the political spectrum would have deplored such language and were explicit in their commitment to the equality of all the prospective state’s inhabitants.
For example, in his book “Herzl’s Vision,” political scientist Shlomo Avineri wrote, “Herzl did not regard the existing population of Palestine only as objects to be used for and by the Jews; he viewed them as equals, partners in citizenship…” Similarly, Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in a letter to the Austrian newspaper Reichsport, “Forcing the Arabs out of Palestine is totally out of the question. Palestine will always be the country of more than one people — and as long as it has a Jewish majority, this is perfectly acceptable to me.”
These words aside, it’s entirely unfair — perhaps even antisemitic — to hold Jews and the Zionist movement accountable for what Churchill, a non-Jew, said. And these tropes continued on the panel when Nyle Fort, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton, shared his affection for Jesus Christ with the panel by insisting Jesus was a “Palestinian Jew.”
On the surface, it appears as though Jesus’s national origins are a matter of semantics, but it is a deeply political issue. Jesus was indeed Jewish, but assigning him Palestinian nationality is merely an ahistorical trope commonly peddled by anti-Zionists. If they were to recognize that Jesus dwelled in what was then known as Judea — not Palestine — then they would be obligated to recognize the history of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. The term “Palestine” was not even in use until after Jesus’s death, in the second century.
But no claim on the panel was more malicious than the parting message from Jennifer Miller, an organizer with the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. It’s well-known that Diaspora Jews were historically scapegoated for the ills of their respective societies, from the death of Jesus to the “Black Death” to the collapse of the German economy. It’s not surprising, then, that some wrongly implicate Jews — or, in this case, the Jewish state — in the contemporary evil of racism and police brutality, as Miller did during the event.
Miller argued that some American police officers “go to Israel to train” (presumably a reference to counterterrorism exchange programs between American and Israeli police) and peddled the unverified claim that the officer who killed George Floyd “was trained by IDF soldiers.” She falsely implied that Israel taught Minneapolis police officers “knee-on-neck” tactics and “extrajudicial killings,” even though the former was already in use well before the 2012 training program at the Israeli consulate in Chicago to which Miller seemingly eluded.
“If we are going to talk about policing in the United States…it’s imperative that we talk about the Palestinian struggle,” Miller said. “The only way that you can actually believe in the tenets of Black liberation, is that you also believe in Palestinian liberation.” Miller seemed to ignore the fact that that many American civil rights leaders rejected anti-Zionist hatred, affirming that opposing the nearly century-long effort to destroy Israel is not an affront to Black activism: For example, Rosa Parks co-signed a 1975 letter calling the Arab world’s boycott of Israel “repugnant.” When confronted by an anti-Zionist student, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reportedly said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.”
But in the world of anti-Zionist apologism, self-determination is a struggle for all indigenous and oppressed peoples — except the people who actually achieved it. Anti-Zionists refuse to see that the Jewish state is that success story. Perhaps because it’s a Jewish one, that’s all that matters.
A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the Jewish Journal.
Contributed by 2020-2021 University of Pittsburgh CAMERA Fellow Aidan Segal.