Numerous Nakba Day Commemorations Descend into Extremism and Antisemitism

  • June 12, 2020
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Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) Day, held on May 15 each year, is marked by Palestinians and their supporters, including many anti-Israel activists, as a day to mourn the creation of the State of Israel and advocate for the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations and activists went virtual with events such as webinars featuring anti-Israel activists and academics, most of which ran from May 14 through May 21. In many instances, events surrounding the anniversary included speakers who equated Zionism with bigotry, proclaimed that Zionists cannot be Jewish and justified violence against Israelis.

Online events organized by anti-Israel organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) harbored some of the most troubling rhetoric. During a webinar hosted by JVP and the BDS Movement on May 15, South African poet Allan Kolski Horwitz recited a poem venerating “bomb belts” and trucks of “militants” crossing the border into Israel to “explode.” During the same event, South African member of parliament Zwelivelile Mandela, a grandson of Nelson Mandela, stated that Israel “manipulates governments, economies and power."

During a webinar hosted by SJP affiliate SUPER UW (University of Washington) and cosponsored by JVP on May 21, vehement anti-Israel activist Miko Peled stated that Zionism is a “neofascist” ideology and that “all forms” of Palestinian resistance to Israel are “legitimate.” In the past, Peled has accused Zionists of “dual loyalty.”

A webinar on May 14 organized by the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USCPN) featured Rasmea Odeh, who was convicted in an Israeli court for involvement in a bombing that killed two Hebrew University students in 1969. Anti-Israel activist (and Palestinian refugee) George Khoury declared that he stopped believing the “lies” that Zionists are Jewish.

Inflammatory or antisemitic aspects of numerous Nakba Day events this year – all held online – are presented thematically below.

Denying Zionism’s Jewish Character

Zionism — the movement for Jewish self-determination and statehood, reflects the millennial longing of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland in the land of Israel. Zion is a biblical term used interchangeably with Jerusalem. This longing to “return to Zion” has been a tenet of Jewish tradition since the Romans destroyed the Jewish Second Temple in 70 CE and dispossessed the Jews of their sovereignty over the region. Modern Zionism emerged in the 19th century in response to a long history of anti-Jewish animus across Europe, including periods of anti-Jewish violence and intense persecution.  Efforts by contemporary anti-Israel activists to demonize Zionism, deny Zionism’s Jewish character or claim that Zionism has “hijacked” or “corrupted” Judaism are an attack on the faith of pro-Israel Jews for whom Zionism is a core element of their Jewish identity.

  • "I think it's important for the young people to understand…what Zionism has done to Judaism. They have not only expropriated but they've actually corrupted it, changed it into a colonial power, a colonial religion." (May 15, anti-Israel activist and Palestinian refugee Hassan Hammani, on a webinar convened by Museum of the Palestinian People in Washington, DC)
  • "I stopped observing the lies in which the Zionists calling first themselves all the time: Jews. That's very important because they found in the Western sections segment of the society, they sympathize with Jews because what happened to them under the Nazi [regime] in Germany." (May 14, Anti-Israel activist and Palestinian refugee George Khoury, US Palestinian Community Network webinar)
  • “Nobody wanted after the Holocaust to confront directly a settler colonial movement that pretended to be the representative of the Jewish history and especially representing the ultimate victims  of antisemitism throughout the years and of course of the Holocaust." (May 15, anti-Israel academic Ilan Pappe, on a webinar convened by EuroPal Forum)

Zionists are Racists

Equating Zionism with bigotry and declaring that there is an inherent connection between Zionism and racial oppression does not just misrepresent and demonize Zionism, but may be viewed as an attack on Jews at large, a majority of whom view a relationship with Israel to be an important part of their religious, cultural or social identities.

  • “You cannot be a Zionist and pro-peace…There is no such thing because Zionism is a racist, brutal, violent, neofascist kind of ideology." (May 21, anti-Israel activist Miko Peled, on a webinar convened by SJP affiliate SUPER UW co-sponsored by Seattle JVP and others)
  • "We'll continue to expose the ugly face of racism and bigotry and the Zionist ideology…if the past belonged to them - to the Zionists, racism and bigotry - the future belongs to us.” (May 15, American Muslims for Palestine National Policy Director Osama Abuirshaid, on a webinar convened by American Muslims for Palestine)
  • "The Islamophobic narrative and the Zionist narrative are the same narrative. They thrive on each other. They need each other. They do. You know, you can't have one without the other…” (May 21, anti-Israel activist Miko Peled, on a webinar convened by SJP affiliate SUPER UW cosponsored by JVP Seattle and others)

Justification of Violence

A couple of Nakba Day events implicitly legitimized terrorism by honoring or hosting those who have been involved in violence against Israeli civilians. Speakers at a number of events justified (and in some cases promoted) violence against Israelis.

  • Rasmea Odeh was featured as a speaker on an webinar held May 14 organized by the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN). Odeh was convicted in an Israeli court in 1970 for being involved in a 1969 bombing that killed two Hebrew University students.
  • At a webinar convened on May 15 by JVP, BDS, the UK pro-BDS activist organization Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and BDS South Africa, former Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) spokesperson and author Ghassan Kanafani was honored. Kanafani was killed by the Israeli Mossad in 1972. PFLP is responsible for multiple terror attacks against Israeli civilians. This includes the 1972 Lod Airport massacre that left 26 civilians dead, which was perpetrated while Kanafani was an official with the group. PFLP was classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 1997.
  • South African anti-Israel activist and poet Allan Kolski Horwitz recited poetry at the May 15 webinar organized by JVP, BDS, PSC and BDS South Africa: “But then in the camps, trucks, load defiance and bomb belts, trucks load young militants, long live, the past and the future...Trucks start the engines race back to the borders, trucks cross over and explode. Long live the past and the future free at last in the present."
  • “I don't believe there is such a thing as Palestinian terrorism. Palestinian resistance to Zionism is a legitimate resistance regardless of what form they choose to resist." (May 21, anti-Israel activist Miko Peled, on webinar convened by SJP affiliate Super UW with JVP and others cosponsoring).
  • PFLP member Khaled Barakat criticizing non-violent activists and academics: "They [nonviolent activists and academics] want the Palestinians to pay the entire price and then provide them with a one-state solution. Well, are they engaged in this struggle of Palestinians? Do they actually join Palestinian resistance? Do they provide the money for Palestinian resistance? Do they carry military operations along with their Palestinian comrades? Do they go to jail along with Palestinian comrades? Because this is the actual liberation process.” (May 16, PFLP member Khaled Barakat, webinar convened by anti-Israel advocacy organization Samidoun).
  • "There's often raids into these [Palestinian] villages many times a week, and so if they're [IDF] the ones attacking the Palestinians are gonna resist that. And so things like of this nature [Israeli soldier killed by a stone] happen.” (May 15, Shomali Lubnah, employee of anti-Israel Palestinian human rights organization BADIL, on webinar convened by JVP-Knoxville).