The internet has been on fire this week with public fights, and I’m not just talking about in the music industry. Organizers and supporters who are ostensibly on the “same side” when it comes to Palestinian rights and anti-racist causes have found themselves at odds.
The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a large national coalition-based group with hundreds of member groups, kicked out Alison Weir’s If Americans Knew (IAK). This follows (but was separate from) last month’s statement from Jewish Voice for Peace, declaring their intentions to not partner with Weir or IAK on events, host her book talks, or in coalition organizing. I’m not going to rehash every reason why Weir deserves this; the US Campaign’s statement is excellent and deserves to be read and reread. I trust that the readers of this blog would agree on first glance that someone who repeatedly appears on white supremacist radio shows, spreads updated forms of blood libel, and defends Holocaust deniers is not someone you would want to be associated with when fighting for Palestinian human rights -- or fighting for justice at all, for that matter.
Normally, I subscribe to a strict “do not read the comments” policy. It’s the only way to get by without ripping your hair out on a daily basis. On the Weir controversy, though, I broke my own rule, and I’m glad I did. Bigots seem to be coming out of the woodwork to defend IAK. Some with more innocuous seeming reasons, claiming it is divisive or distracting from focusing on Palestine to talk about Weir’s wrongdoings. (Ignoring that white supremacy and racism are the real issues dividing us, not their defense.) Others have shown their true colors as, well, anti-Semites. If you throw “Zionist” around as a slur to attack anyone that disagrees with you, or claim a “Zionist conspiracy” behind any political position you dislike, you’re not really talking about Zionists. You’re using that as a code word for Jews.
I do not think Weir’s defenders are representative of our movement as a whole. Weir has built a cult of personality around her organization (which is really just her and a few supporters) and her followers pale in number compared to the broad grassroots support of major groups like US Campaign, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Students for Justice in Palestine. I think most people leaving these nasty comments are armchair warriors, who write long rants on Facebook but don’t show up for the arduous work of organizing BDS campaigns, direct actions, or popular education.
The people I know and trust in the Palestine solidarity movement all say “good riddance” to Weir, including the most prominent leaders. Omar Barghouti, on a webinar hosted by JVP this week, commented directly on the controversy: "As a movement that is inclusive and anti-racist, we cannot tolerate any form of anti-Jewish racism. We need to unify the movement based on anti-racist principles. Groups that cannot respect anti-racist principles have no place in this movement."
You would think we could put this to rest with a clear consensus that all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism are bad, and we should get back to ending the occupation. Yet some people cannot let it go -- going so far as to call Weir a “heroine of the movement” and launching petitions in her defense. There is one notable trait many (not all, but many) of Weir’s defenders have in common: They are middle-aged white people. And that should worry you.
I do not mean to claim that there is only one kind of person who should support justice for Palestinians. Attending protests last summer in San Francisco against the bombing of Gaza, I marched alongside people of every race, age, gender, and ability. Students for Justice in Palestine have been so successful in building diverse coalitions for divestment efforts on campus that their opposition has resorted to some strange rhetoric. UCLA Hillel’s outgoing director claimed “oppressed minorities” were getting together to “hijack” campus politics. Middle-aged white people are welcome in this movement.
Yet it is curious that I have yet to hear a single person my age, or a single non-white person, defend Weir. Because when white folks start taking up huge amounts of space and saying things that put the rest of us in danger, lines must be drawn. Weir’s actions and writings were not just offensive on their own -- they are strategically deadly, particularly for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim organizers who are called anti-Semitic at every turn just for criticizing Israel. To be associated with her, even peripherally, would lend credence to the usually false accusations of anti-Semitism. The majority Palestinian, majority people of color leadership of the US Campaign’s steering committee knows this. Not only are they committed to anti-racism on principle, they understand it is strategically important to be consistent.
Weir and her defenders claim they are being strategic, too. Weir’s main defensive argument has been that going on white supremacist talk shows is just trying to reach the broadest audience possible -- like how leftists occasionally appear on Fox News. It is “strategic” to get the message out about Palestine in as many places as possible, and no outlet should be off-limits. We need the broadest base possible to go up against all of the interests that keep the U.S. giving military aid to Israel.
Of course, this argument falls apart immediately. I am all for saying that Fox News supports white supremacy. It is also worlds apart from a small fringe news outlet which is literally pro-Nazi and pro-KKK. Fox News, whether we like it or not, is taken as the main news source for millions of Americans (my bubby and zayde sadly included). The “Free American Hour” is taken as the main news source for a very small group -- and that group is made up of 100% Nazi sympathizers. Additionally, when lefties go on Fox News or even just more conservative mainstream news outlets, they consistently push back against the terrible politics of their interviewers and commentators. They don’t just sit there and nod along to a recording of KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.
Finally, I cannot overstate the irony of Weir and her supporters saying this is a “distraction” from fighting for Palestinian human rights. Weir is the distraction. She has ignored years of private outreach from Palestinian leaders and their Jewish allies to change her ways, and took these private overtures public to build up her own name. She is likely to channel her tantrum over being publicly exposed into pushing people into buying her (very poorly written) book or supporting her monetarily. Some of her supporters have gone so far as to decry some of the greatest Palestinian writers and organizers because they criticized her and Gilad Atzmon. If anyone is a distraction, it is Weir and If Americans Knew, who center themselves as the leaders of Palestinians’ own liberation movement.
I am proud to be part of a movement that decries anti-Semitism within and outside its ranks. I am sure, dear readers, that you are too, and that you support these recent actions to make our movement safer and less racist for everyone. And dear white supremacists: good riddance to you. Israel and Palestine will find peace and justice just fine without you.