Sarsour Isn’t the Real Threat
OpinionEditor's Notebook

Sarsour Isn’t the Real Threat

An ironic discussion of anti-Semitism by a panel of anti-Zionists should force us to look inward.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Linda Sarsour speaks during a panel discussion on anti-Semitism at the New College on Nov. 28. (Screen grab from Jacobin Magazine's video)
Linda Sarsour speaks during a panel discussion on anti-Semitism at the New College on Nov. 28. (Screen grab from Jacobin Magazine's video)

Irony doesn’t get much thicker than pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour headlining a panel discussion on anti-Semitism, but she may have been the least offensive speaker at a New York event Tuesday night, Nov. 28.

Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice” made headlines for two weeks in advance because of the involvement of Sarsour, who, among other charming statements, has said “nothing is creepier than Zionism” and has denied that anyone can be both a Zionist and a feminist.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt had the perfect tweet about the situation, comparing Sarsour’s participation to Oscar Mayer leading a panel on vegetarianism.

But, to be fair, Sarsour said many things that were true during the discussion, which you can watch in its entirety at the Facebook page of Jacobin Magazine, one of the co-sponsors (

Jews and non-Jews must commit to dismantling anti-Semitism, she said. Regardless of whether she meant it or would have said the same thing in front of a different audience or without the cameras running, I can’t argue with that statement.

“If what you’re reading all day long in the Jewish media is that Linda Sarsour and Minister Farrakhan are the existential threats to the Jewish community, something really bad is going to happen, and we are going to miss the mark on it,” she said.

That’s a straw man argument: This outlet of the Jewish media has never suggested Sarsour threatens the Jewish people’s existence, and the only time we’ve mentioned Louis Farrakhan the past three years was in quoting Sherry Frank about Rep. John Lewis’ reason for skipping the Million Man March. Lots of Jewish problems were discussed during the American Jewish Press Association conference in mid-November; Sarsour was not one of them.

Farrakhan is undeniably anti-Semitic, so it was odd for Sarsour to bring him up. But she’s right that we have bigger threats in the world than either her or the Nation of Islam leader.

“I am unapologetically Palestinian-American and will always be unapologetically Palestinian-American. I am also unapologetically Muslim-American. And guess what? I am also a very staunch supporter of the BDS movement. What other way am I supposed to be?” she said.

Although advocacy for the Palestinian people and their national aspirations does not require opposition to Israel — many American Jews are pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian — Sarsour’s right that we shouldn’t expect better of her. If I were the child of Palestinian immigrants, raised on stories of Israeli oppression and atrocities, I probably would feel the same way.

But I wonder what Sarsour, deep inside, thought about her fellow panelists, Jewish anti-Zionists representing groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

JVP member Lina Morales, for example, declared, “Because I care about Jews, I am anti-Zionist.”

There’s the threat to the Jewish people: Jews who go beyond criticizing Israel and the occupation, beyond accusing Israel of atrocities, beyond questioning the fairness of establishing Israel where some non-Jews had lived for centuries, beyond falsely labeling Israel an apartheid nation and comparing its politicians and soldiers to Nazis, to reject Israel’s existence.

It’s telling that anti-Zionists love to complain about criticism of Israel being labeled as anti-Semitism, even though most supporters of Israel acknowledge that Israeli policies and actions, like those of any other nation, are fair game. But those same anti-Zionists rarely try to explain how rejecting the concept of a Jewish national homeland — the essence of peoplehood, for which they fight so hard for the Palestinians — is not inherently anti-Semitic.

Support for Israel does not prove someone likes Jews, but anti-Zionism is one expression of anti-Semitism.

I can understand Sarsour and challenge her statements about Israel, and I don’t much care what she thinks about Jews. But the oxymoron of anti-Zionist Jews is bewildering and depressing and the only existential threat on that stage at New York’s New School on Nov. 28.

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