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U.S. and Israel Governments Use the Anti-Semitism Trope in Suppressing Palestinian Activism

posted on: Jun 1, 2022

Palestinian Americans protesting in Washington D.C.—the U.S. government has suppressed their free speech.  Photo New York Times

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

The following is a review of how the U.S. suppresses and criminalizes the rights of Palestinians. It points to how the U.S. Government attacks Palestinian rights movements. This review shows how critics of Palestinians conflate antisemitism and criticism of Israel. It includes a report on an important discussion by the Arab Center in Washington DC. This concerns U.S. Government bias against Palestine.

Targeting Palestinian Activism in the U.S. and the Occupied Territories

The military occupation of the West Bank has suppressed such protests as this. Photo Times Union

The Arab Center Washington D.C. on May 26 made an important presentation on Palestinian rights. A panel of experts discussed how the government suppresses and criminalizes their rights. And it showed how Palestinian rights stack up against the U.S. Constitution.

The discussion noted a recent increase in support by Americans for Palestinian rights. Activism favoring Palestinians has also grown. But as support grew, so did U.S. efforts to suppress such activism. This resulted in U.S. policy changes favoring Israel and disfavoring Palestine. These changes put pressure on American groups that supported Palestinians. They also tried to silence criticism of Israeli anti-Palestinian policies.

These policies prescribed tactics of censorship of pro-Palestinian speech. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, the policies included “disciplinary investigations and dismissals and false accusations of antisemitism.” Other accusations included terrorism, intimidation, and smear campaigns. Not ending there, claims of discrimination, media, social media bias, and censorship was lodged. Finally, these policies involved legal threats and administrative sanctions, and legislation criminalizing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

U.S. Government Attacks on Palestinian Rights Movements conflate Antisemitism and Criticism of Israel

Ben & Jerry’s has stood fast on BDS, no longer serving their ice cream in Jewish settlements.   Photo Mondoweiss

We recall the Trump administration’s fervent bias against Muslims. From there, it was not a stretch to include all Arab Americans in the bias category. Trump’s evangelical Christian Secretary of State Pompeo evolved his own definition of “antisemitic.” Pompeo said his department was taking steps against such antisemitic activities as BDS. He equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism and directed that no U.S. funds would be used to support the BDS movement. Pompeo also identified BDS activities as antisemitic.

That proclamation drew many criticisms by human rights defenders. One such group denounced “the dangerous, defamatory false-equivalence of peaceful advocacy for the realization of Palestinian self-determination and other human rights with antisemitism.” It called on the State Department to reverse this false equivalency argument. That included overturning the Department’s opposition to BDS.

Notable for its anti-Palestinian bias was Trump’s Executive Order on antisemitism. It followed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. That was to “suppress activism and public speech promoting Palestinian freedoms and rights as well as critical assessments of Israel’s policies.” That statement so conflates pro-Palestinian sentiment with antisemitism that it leaves one breathless!

An acceptance of such a declaration would make support of BDS antisemitic. It would also comprise a “direct attack on freedom of expression, association and the right to defend human rights.” The declaration denied the rights of the Palestinian people. As we know, international laws and conventions protect their rights.

Arab Center Washington DC discussion of U.S. Government Bias against Palestine

ACLU has given legal help in combatting State’s legal bans on BDS   Photo

A major target of Israeli silencing of Palestinians is civil society organizations. The government of Israel has changed its approach to suppressing Palestinian speech. It has shifted from “defense” to an “offense” or attack mode. The government also formed the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. The purpose of this august agency is to thwart Palestinian speech.

Examples of Israel’s efforts to squash free speech appeared recently in the news. One was a case against Air B&B, which opted out of doing business in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Air B&B was conforming with the BDS. Unfortunately, it caved to Israeli pressure and resumed business on the West Bank. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream did not cave and it continues its embargo on the Jewish settlements.

Another example derives from the American Civil Liberties Union. It works in the U.S. to defend Palestinian Americans. The ACLU targets Israeli efforts to suppress the BDS. It is fighting some of the 30 states which have laws against BDS. Its rationale is that these laws violate first amendment rights.

The ACLU attests to the fact that U.S. civil rights groups have used boycotts for years. Since boycotts are legal, why are they illegal in the occupied West Bank? Somehow or other, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that boycotts having a political purpose are illegal. It is unclear how that would make sense.


“The Targeting of Palestine Activism in the United States: Suppression of American Constitutional Rights,” (Zoom presentation of Arab Center Washington, D.C.) Center for Constitutional Rights, 5/26/2022

“US government mounts attacks on Palestinian rights movement, dangerously conflating antisemitism and boycott,” International Federation for Human Rights 11/26/2020

John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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