In 1939, the pro-Nazi German American Bund held a rally at Madison Square Garden that drew a crowd of 20,000. It was the largest antisemitic gathering in our nation’s history. Until Saturday.
On November 4, tens of thousands of people (nearly 100,000 by some estimates) descended on Washington, DC in a national march to “Free Palestine.” To the casual observer, this demonstration likely seemed as nothing more than a passionate display of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
However, a careful examination reveals a different motivation. Rather than raise legitimate criticisms of Israel or call for policies that would help Palestinians, the march and its supporters espoused extreme, anti-Zionist sentiments. And in expressing what is merely the modern, political form of the world’s oldest bigotry, the march revealed itself to be an antisemitic event.
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and later Israeli politician and human rights advocate, developed a useful tool to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. Called the “Three D Test”, it states that if an accusation delegitimizes, demonizes or holds Israel to a double standard, then it is antisemitism. Applying the test to Saturday’s event can be instructive.
To begin with, the march’s stated objective – “Free Palestine” – begs the question: from what?
From the depredations of the terrorist organization Hamas or its Iranian patron, whose self-professed objectives are not to build a vibrant Palestinian society but to destroy Israel? From the Arab or Palestinian leadership who rejected every partition plan or peace offer since 1937? From the political and financial largesse of the United Nations and the international community, who, by uniquely granting Palestinians refugee status in perpetuity and indulging the fantasy that they will return to the homes they left in 1948, prolongs the conflict? To answer “yes” to any of these questions would have “freed Palestine” long ago.
However, Saturday’s pro-Palestinian supporters offered a different response: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “We don’t want a Jewish state, we want 1948”.
It is worth noting that the Anti-Defamation League considers “from the river to the sea” to be antisemitic and the House of Representatives just censured Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for her use and defense of the slogan in recent weeks.
Why? Because, those who advocate for these slogans believe that the reason Palestine is not “free” is because of Israel’s establishment in 1948. Israel itself, and not any governmental policy, is their core grievance. In an email to CNN explaining the march’s purpose, the Palestinian Youth Movement’s Yara Shoufani, one of the event’s organizers, wrote “for 75 years, the Palestinian people have been facing colonization and military occupation.” To Shoufani and her ilk, all of Israel – not just land beyond the Green Line – is occupied Palestinian territory and, like all colonial enterprises, is illegitimate and must be eliminated.
Advocating for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state and denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination by delegitimizing Israel is antisemitic.
As the death toll in Gaza rises, the marchers claimed Israel is committing a “genocide” and “war crimes” by targeting civilians. This slander accuses the Jewish state – despite all objective standards and evidence to the contrary – of perpetrating against the Palestinians the very thing the Nazis perpetrated against the Jewish people. Thus, we see posters with swastikas and graphics of the Israeli flag in a trash bin along with the message “keep the world clean.” Accusing Israel of committing war crimes – again, despite all evidence to the contrary – and omitting Hamas, who uses the Palestinians as human shields, to say nothing of the war crimes associated with massacring 1,400 civilians and kidnapping 240 more, is a modern-day blood libel.
Equating Israel with the Nazis and engaging in a blood libel are both forms of demonization, which is antisemitic.
As Palestinian activist Mohammad El-Kurd said at the march, “we cannot sit in the corner quietly as they kill our people…we need to speak out” and many others called for a ceasefire. If true, then why didn’t anyone speak out against Hamas for breaking the ceasefire that existed on October 6th with its unprovoked attack on October 7th, which was sure to elicit a strong Israel military reaction, or for preventing Gazans from moving south to Egypt, or for hiding among its civilian population, or for building command centers under hospitals, or for a host of other actions that put Gaza’s civilian population directly in harms’ way?
And why haven’t they denounced Hamas for striking Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon with multiple rockets with the same fervor they mustered when Israel was falsely blamed for striking the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza? Why didn’t they speak out against Palestine Islamic Jihad when it became known that it was their errant rocket that killed Palestinians?
Moreover, where was El-Kurd and his supporters when Palestinians were killed and displaced by the tens of thousands – and Arabs more generally by the hundreds of thousands – during the Syrian civil war? Where have they been as Palestinians are prevented from receiving citizenship in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, despite living among their Arab brethren for generations?
Why is it that demonstrators only take to the streets in defense of Palestinians when Israel is involved? Of course, to ask the question is to answer it.
Applying a double standard by selectively criticizing only Israel and not others on similar issues is antisemitic.
In applying each of Sharansky’s criteria, the result is clear: in their messaging and motivation, Saturday’s march delegitimized, demonized and held Israel to a double standard.
Therefore, it was unequivocally an antisemitic event, the largest in our nation’s history.
For Jews and supporters of Israel, none of this is new or revealing. It is self-evident that “pro-Palestinian” supporters are not calling for a Palestinian state insomuch as they are demonstrating against the world’s only Jewish state.
Eighty-four years ago, Americans saw newsreel footage of the Nazis’ massive Nuremberg rallies and of Kristallnacht, the two-day pogrom of Germans against their Jewish neighbors’ businesses and synagogues in November 1938. So, when pro-Nazi Americans held their rally in Madison Square Garden, an estimated one hundred thousand people gathered outside with signs saying, “Smash Anti-Semitism” and “Drive the Nazis out of New York.”
Last week, tens of thousands marched on the White House to support a terrorist organization – Hamas – that is unmatched in its Jew-hatred, that intentionally and joyously documented and disseminated its medieval barbarism it inflicted on its Jewish neighbors in real time, and that has American Jews fearful and afraid.
America’s leaders and institutions must respond forcefully to excise this antisemitic virus sweeping the nation. Antisemitism rots societies wherever it takes hold and, as we know from history, the antisemite never stops at the Jews.