The New York Times has laid down a red line: anti-Zionism is hate speech. This is the message of an article by one of its staff opinion editors, Bari Weiss, about the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. “When Progressives Embrace Hate.”
Weiss notes Sarsour’s national prominence among progressives as a leader of the Women’s March last January. Then she says that Sarsour is a purveyor of “hate.” The very first count against Sarsour? Anti-Zionism.
There are comments on her Twitter feed of the anti-Zionist sort: “Nothing is creepier than Zionism,” she wrote in 2012.
The article goes on to rake up a lot of old tweets and associations on Sarsour’s part. Including kinship to Congressman Keith Ellison, whom Weiss also smears:
Keith Ellison, a man with a long history of defending and working with anti-Semites, was almost made leader of the Democratic National Committee.
That sounds a lot like what Haim Saban said about Ellison at the Brookings Institution last year: “he is clearly an anti-Semite, an anti-Israel individual,” though pretending to be “more of a Zionist than Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Begin combined.”
Bari Weiss’s bold and entitled attack on Sarsour is sure to get a lot of pushback from progressives in days to come. The article is a now-textbook attack on Palestinians, for it argues that Sarsour is an anti-Semite because she does not support the subjugation of her own people, Palestinians (as Donald Johnson wrote to us yesterday).
We would like to make two points about the article.
First, Weiss (and Saban before her) both took their stand on Zionism. The American mainstream is finally having an argument about Zionism, and it’s about time. Zionism is the religious nationalist belief system that supports the Jewish state in Israel; many older American Jews are adherents of that belief (along with some Christians too); and the ideology needs to be confronted and scrutinized. Are Jews really unsafe in the West? Then what about the great success of Jews in America — as a minority with rights in a liberal democracy? Is a Jewish state necessary for Jewish survival? What about when that state discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens and imposes Jim Crow policies and worse across the occupied territories — what does that persecution do to the Jewish future? And — remember that this discussion is now taking place in the United States — what is the required role of the world’s leading superpower in maintaining a regime so disliked by so many of its subjects?
So we are thankful that Bari Weiss is so upset about Sarsour. These people should be debating Zionism in forums across the land.
The second point is that Bari Weiss is a powerful person inside the mainstream media, and she is a pro-Israel apparatchik, and has a long history of attacking Palestinians and their friends. She has gone after such leading intellectuals as Joseph Massad, Rashid Khalidi, Nadia Abu El Haj, Timothy Mitchell and Lila Abu-Lughod, building a handsome resume at the pro-Israel site Campus Watch. Stand up for Palestinian rights and this editor advancing the aims of Hasbara Central will take you on and call you a purveyor of “hate.” Bari Weiss has a lot of energy for this fight, and she has used it to try and keep liberal Zionists and right-wing Zionists in the same camp — against the so-called anti-Zionist “haters” in the wilderness. And it’s the family line: her parents have led missions to Israel.
She is hardly the only pro-Israel ideologue at the New York Times. No, there is a rich pedigree. But what does it tell you that such a smear artist has a prominent place at the country’s leading newspaper? The Times has great affinity for Zionism; it has several Zionist columnists; four of its reporters have had children serving in the Israeli army, and it has no anti-Zionist columnist, though now and then it runs a token piece with that point of view.
Yet the battle is on. There are surely folks inside the Times who have growing doubts about Zionism. We might even expect defenders of Linda Sarsour to speak up at the paper. Here’s Max Fisher, coming to Sarsour’s defense.
Have no doubt about it; Sarsour’s presence at the Women’s March was a historic event. Here was a pro-Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) Palestinian woman who was NOT marginalized from a leading stage because of her views. In the past, the pro-Israel lobby has been able to sideline such figures from the progressive liberal scene: Andrew Young, Cynthia McKinney, Jimmy Carter, and Keith Ellison, to name a few. While Samantha Power and Chuck Hagel only attained high office after renouncing earlier statements critical of Israel or the lobby.
The pro-Israel camp did not succeed in marginalizing Sarsour, and they know how important that failure is; they are now struggling to reinforce a red line.