In Solidarity...

Matthew X profrv at
Tue May 11 09:17:59 PDT 1999

for a free Palestine
By Steven Salaita

( - For the first time in my life, I was disgusted to 
receive messages in support of the Palestinian people. It wasn't, of 
course, the support itself that irritated me; it is always uplifting and 
inspiring to hear from folks who covet justice and advocate the 
implementation of international law.
Rather, it was the context in which the purported support was expressed. 
Let me offer an example. One reader signed off with the line, "In 
solidarity for a free Palestine." A nice sentiment, right? Absolutely not. 
The previous sentence announced that "[i]f they don't soon clean up their 
act - in Palestine and everywhere else - these Zionists will suffer a fate 
that will make the supposed 'death of the six million' (unfortunately, that 
number seems far too small) look like a tea party!"
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. The subject line, after all, 
read, "Those Fucking Jews!" Sadly, this way of thinking still exists in our 
world. It is gruesome and frightening, but not wholly anachronistic. I 
deplore it, though I don't like to publicly condemn it because, thanks to 
organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Simon Wiesenthal Center, 
condemnation of anti-Semitism is parlayed into uncritical support for 
Israel's ethnic cleansing. I refuse to oppose one form of racism in order 
to maintain another.
What spurs me to action is the statement, "In solidarity for a free 
Palestine." Wishing death on world Jewry will not save Palestine. 
Ridiculing the millions who died in the Holocaust will not, in any possible 
way, benefit humanity. It will perpetuate the hatred that affected ethnic 
cleansing in the first place. I'd like to remind readers that Zionist 
colonization is part of this continuum, not a movement in response to it.
This is all, in any case, beside the point. Articulating a desire to 
exterminate an entire ethnicity is pernicious beyond comprehension. It is 
counterproductive. It is despicable. It is terrifying. It is idiotic.
And it has no place in the free Palestine movement, either in the West or 
Middle East. Such idiocy was never part of Arab culture. It was invented 
and developed in Europe. Let them have it. When has an indigenous people 
ever benefited from mimicking Europeans?
As an ardent supporter of the Palestinian people, I would like to avoid 
statements like the one I received from a polite and otherwise perfectly 
reasonable reader in West Virginia: "I do recognize the double standard and 
hateful nature of the Yehudi." Or this one from another concerned citizen: 
"A truly frightening, evil race of people." My inbox is littered with 
similar observations.
It provides me a semblance of relief that Arabs and Muslims have never 
offered feedback of this nature. It would be dishonest, however, to suggest 
that anti-Semitism does not exist in the Arab world. It is expressed on the 
street, in newspapers, and at the government level. It needs to cease for 
obvious reasons, mainly moral but also strategic.
Another rarely mentioned reason it should stop is because it diverts Arabs 
from their cultural traditions. We have always been warm and generous. Our 
culture is unceasingly hospitable. Nowhere are guests treated more kindly 
than in the Arab world. We have an extraordinary history of tolerance and 
scientific inquiry.
But if we appropriate the philosophical underpinnings of colonialism, then 
we become colonialists. We will be no better than the Europeans who came 
and carved our borders. We will be worse than Zionists.
Arabs have serious problems to solve before we set our sights on liberating 
Palestine. There is a vibrant slave trade in Mauritania and the Sudan. 
There is political repression in Syria and Jordan. There is violent 
extremism in Algeria. (I wonder what became of Frantz Fanon's hope that the 
Algerian decolonial struggle wouldn't replace a French policeman with an 
Algerian policeman.) There is indentured servitude all over the Gulf. There 
is severe religious tension in Lebanon.
With all this, we expect to liberate Palestine? I don't think so. Please, 
let's not add Nazism to the list of impediments. Relying on our own 
brilliant social and intellectual heritage will suffice.
The messages I receive from domestic readers connote a different problem 
altogether. They are part of a recent phenomenon that has the potential to 
destabilize and discredit Arab America: The convergence of extreme-right 
logic with anti-occupation activity, a central feature of Arab American 
political culture.
A number of far-right racists, David Duke foremost among them, now invoke 
Israel's behavior as "proof" of inherent Jewish depravity. Extremist 
websites post articles critical of Israel from respectable publications, 
many with Jewish authors. The organizations' hatred of Jews is so strong 
that they are willing to employ Jewish voices in order to promote their 
agenda. Their naïveté is as striking as their stupidity.
Unfortunately, it gives credence to the Zionist assertion that Jews opposed 
to Israel's occupation are "self-hating." When Arab authors are used, it 
incites the notion that unprovoked anti-Semitism underlies our work. How 
are supporters of Palestine ever to make headway when the asinine claims 
made against our discourse by the Zionist mainstream are corroborated - 
without our knowledge or permission - by right-wing ideologues?
Zionists whore themselves to the religious right in order to receive their 
money and support, even though they know damn well what Protestant taxonomy 
has in store for the Jews. It is shameful. Now, they rely on the exploits 
of those who want them exterminated in order to justify their claim that 
criticism of Israel is an offshoot of Nazism.
We know this approach is dimwitted; but when we allow the extreme right to 
expropriate and employ our discourse, the approach works. We are, yet 
again, put in a position where we ignore the real issues because we are 
trying to convince everybody that we aren't anti-Semitic.
This is all in addition to the most crucial point: Duke's brand of 
anti-Semitism is in itself horrific. It has no place in any decent public 
forum. It has caused humanity unspeakable pain. We shouldn't think that it 
could never happen again. As long as dangerous ideas exist, there is 
potential for danger.
I therefore have two messages, one for Arab Americans and the other for 
anti-Semites who hitch their bigotry to my articles:
1) It is prudent for us to monitor what is said on our behalf and where our 
work is displayed when it is put into transit. We are already amid a public 
relations disaster in the United States. Zionists love exploiting that 
disaster; indeed, they helped create it.
John Ashcroft is trying to eliminate the few civil liberties we have left. 
The Patriot Act is perilous to all Americans, but aimed primarily at Arabs 
and Muslims. We don't need more reason to induce suspicion in fellow 
Americans. And we can't afford to have our good work hijacked by racists 
who despise us, but who abhor the Jews enough to use that work to 
supplement their abhorrence.
Let us then remain aware of the consequences of speaking. I am not merely 
paranoid. This problem is potentially serious.
2) It is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. It is noble and necessary. 
It is anti-Semitic, however, to claim that Israel is the result of 
degenerate Jewry. This is what you do. I deplore that claim. I want nothing 
to do with it. I would rather embrace Zionism.
I repeat emphatically: I do not work on behalf of Palestine in order to 
antagonize or destroy the Jews. The Jews are my cousins. I have productive 
relationships and warm friendships with Jews. The Israeli government is my 
enemy. This fact does not give you the right to attach your hateful 
ideology to Arab America and attribute your insanity to us.
Your attitude nullifies humanity's potential for rapprochement. Your false 
support is transparent. Your incompetence is ubiquitous. Come to think of 
it, the only symbiosis among Jews and Arabs is the fact that our common 
enemy is you.
[Steven Salaita is completing an English doctorate at the University of 
Oklahoma, with emphasis on Native, Palestinian, and Arab American 
literatures. A West Virginian with Palestinian and Jordanian parents, he 
splits his time between the United States and the Middle East. He 
encourages your comments: ssalaita at ]

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