The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) opposes all forms of racism, ethnic or religious bias, and discrimination that lead to oppression and violence.
This includes our opposition to antisemitism, defined as1 hatred or hostility toward Jews as Jews, which is undergoing a dangerous resurgence today from the rise of new right-wing social movements.2
While Palestinians and their supporters do not have any greater responsibility to oppose antisemitism than anyone else, we want to address this issue because false charges of antisemitism are deliberately used as a weapon to try to isolate and silence us.
The misuse of the charge of antisemitism is nothing new. In fact MRSCP was accused of antisemitism3 for trying to establish a sister city with Rafah in Gaza. Although these false charges were refuted4, the intended damage was done.
But in recent years, there has been a concerted international campaign to redefine antisemitism5 to include:
- Criticism of Israel for its inhumane treatment of Palestinians, including a permanent regime of inequality, discrimination, and dispossession that many human rights organizations (including Jewish ones6) now agree is apartheid7;
- The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)8 campaign in support of Palestinian human rights; and
- Opposition to Zionism,9 which is a political movement whose goal is the establishment and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, a land that was already inhabited.10 A significant number of Jews historically consider themselves to be anti-Zionist11, and today in the U.S. the largest group identifying as Zionist are not Jewish but Christian.12
This effort to redefine antisemitism in popular consciousness, and in many cases codify that definition into law,13 poses obvious dangers to the broad and growing movement for freedom, equality, and justice for Palestinians — including increasing numbers of Jews.
In the words of a May 2022 joint statement14 by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP):
“[Conflating] criticism of the Israeli government or Zionism with anti-Jewish racism [is] as dangerous as it is baseless. Many people of various faiths and backgrounds — including Jewish scholars, rabbis, and activists — have long criticized and opposed Zionism. For the Palestinian community, Zionism is the political ideology that has enabled their violent subjugation and systematic dispossession. People must be able to discuss and debate these issues without being falsely smeared as antisemites.”
This calculated attempt to shut down debate in order to shield Israel and Zionism from criticism sows confusion and discord in the fight against real antisemitism.15 Instead of focusing on actual antisemites, including those who “support” Israel to rid themselves of Jews or fulfill apocalyptic prophecies,11 it slanders those who are actually allies in the fight against all forms of racism, discrimination, and oppression, ultimately weakening us all.
1 The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, March 25, 2021
2 Antisemitism Rising Among American Right-Wing Extremists, Heidi Beirich, The Institute for National Security Studies, retrieved November 22, 2022
3 Madison Jewish Community Council Letter in Opposition, April 20, 2004
4 Madison-Rafah Sister City Project Refutation, The Capital Times, April 27, 2004
5 What Is Wrong with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Definition of Antisemitism?, J. Deckers & J. Coulter, Res Publica (2022)
6 Not a “vibrant democracy”. This is apartheid. B’Tselem, retrieved November 22, 2022
7 Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians, Amnesty International, March 29, 2022
8 BDS 101: Non-Violent Resistance to End Israeli Apartheid and Occupation, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace, January 2016
9 The American Jewish war over Zionism can begin, Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, November 8, 2022
10 Palestine 1920: The Other Side of the Palestinian Story, Al Jazeera, February 2, 2022
11 Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic, Peter Beinart, The Guardian, 7 Mar 2019
12 Countering Christian Zionism, Friends of Sabeel North America, retrieved November 22, 2022
13 Wielding Antidiscrimination Law to Suppress the Movement for Palestinian Rights, Harvard Law Review, 133 Harv. L. Rev. 1360, Feb 10, 2020
14 The movement for Palestinian rights will not be silenced, a joint statement by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), May 17, 2022
15 Who Are the Real Antisemites? Eric Alterman, The American Prospect, October 28, 2022