In these times, it is dangerous to suggest thought experiments, but I will throw caution to the wind. I wonder if those who agree with Steven Goldstein of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, when he said that Trump’s Feb. 21 condemnation of anti-Semitism was a “band-aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” would have similar qualms about Linda Sarsour, the Palestinian-American activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign who is rapidly achieving iconic status in the protest movement that has coalesced around Trump’s election.
Sarsour and her Muslim activist colleagues raised more than $100,000 for the repair of the desecrated Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis, earning plaudits from nearly every mainstream media outlet and winning the endorsement of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. In publicity terms, it was an unbelievably smart move; by the time news of Sarsour’s initiative broke, her critics were immediately placed in the uncomfortable position of questioning her motives at just the time that she reached out to the Jewish community.
But if Kenneth Marcus is right that patterns of speech and action determine what constitutes anti-Semitism, then Sarsour’s past denunciations of Zionism, and her support for a solution to the Palestinian issue based on the elimination of Jewish sovereignty, at least warrant a critical examination of the politics behind her cemetery gesture. It is easy, after all, to be empathetic and kind to dead Jews and their memories, whether in Poland or Missouri—and far harder to deal with the ones who are still alive, and who regard Sarsour’s “one state of Palestine” fantasies as sinister code for a solution that would need to be imposed, in all likelihood through violent conquest, on the Jews of Israel.
Can the enemies of Israel be, at the same time, the friends of Jewish communities outside the Jewish state? Conversely, do friends of Israel get a pass when they play down or outright deny the presence of anti-Semites among their political allies? Why should Sarsour be acceptable to the Jewish community, but not Richard Spencer, the pudgy racist at the helm of the so-called National Policy Institute? Are we that easily taken in? I fear the answer is yes.Why should Sarsour be acceptable? Because she's a Muslim woman who wears a hijab and who hates Trump. And for "progressive" Jews, who esteem victimhood and their own sense of virtuousness above all else, that makes her kosher.