Read the full article in The Times of Israel
Soon after the first round of religious-based hate crimes targeting Jews and Muslims, something unexpected happened: Muslims started raising money to help fix damaged Jewish institutions. Elsewhere, Muslim veterans offered to stand sentinel at cemeteries, and Jews raised money to repair mosques damaged in arson attacks.
For many, the support heralded a new era of welcome increased cooperation. But the thorn in this rosy scenario is that some of those who are helping Jewish communities are also vocal supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). A movement that seeks to delegitimize Israel, BDS targets Jewish groups and students, often using inflammatory language, and hosts Israel Apartheid Weeks on campuses across the United States.
The issue of blurring BDS boundaries recently took on more resonance after Linda Sarsour, former executive director of the Arab-American Association and a strident BDS supporter, initiated an online fundraising campaign to repair the desecrated Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. Sarsour and her Muslim activist colleagues raised nearly $150,000 towards the repairs.
CAIR, another group that supports BDS, also donated $5,000 to the cemetery repair effort. It declined to comment for this story.
A controversial figure, Sarsour (who didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview) once posed for a photo with a former Hamas operative. She often uses the hashtags #BDS and #FreePalestine on her tweets and once tweeted that “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.”
Of course, said journalist Ben Cohen, the majority of the people contributing to the fundraising effort didn’t know of Sarsour’s connection. Cohen is the director of coalitions at The Israel Project, a non-partisan pro-Israel American educational organization, and senior editor at The Tower Magazine.
On Sarsour’s suspected motives, Cohen wrote in a February oped, “It is easy, after all, to be empathetic and kind to dead Jews and their memories, whether in Poland or Missouri — and far harder to deal with the ones who are still alive, and who regard Sarsour’s ‘one state of Palestine’ fantasies as sinister code for a solution that would need to be imposed, in all likelihood through violent conquest, on the Jews of Israel.”
As Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder StandWithUs, a 15-year-old international Israel education organization, said in a statement to The Times of Israel, a healthy dose of skepticism is required when viewing this “support.”
“We are deeply grateful for the support Muslims and others have given to Jewish communities in this time of rising anti-Semitism around the country. That said, we remain deeply opposed to Linda Sarsour’s personal political agenda against Israel, her vicious attacks against other women, and other troubling statements she has made,” Rothstein said.
“We would be similarly skeptical of groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) which seek to deny Jewish people the right to self-determination, running high profile campaigns in response to individual acts of anti-Semitism. We believe in seeking out and welcoming partnerships with diverse communities, while remaining vigilant against disingenuous attempts to legitimize hate.”
Even so, Sarsour’s involvement as a coordinator of the January 21 Women’s March in Washington DC and her fundraising campaign action earned her praise from progressive Jewish leaders, such as Rabbi Sharon Brous of Los Angeles. Following January’s march, Brous wrote in an opinion piece that she believes coalition building takes precedence over everything.
In the Jewish Journal oped, Brous wrote, “That we disagree does not disqualify her as a serious activist and leader, nor does it tarnish or diminish the outstanding work she is doing as an organizer fighting racial and gender injustice.” (Brous also didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview.)