In a Friday, Oct. 13 Ethnic Media Services briefing, experts discussed the conflict’s roots, what it means for Jewish and Muslim U.S. communities confronting increased hate, and how inter-ethnic U.S. violence is deepening in response to the international violence.
Hate crimes and rising conflict
Explaining the war’s background, Jamal Dajani — Palestinian-American journalist, co-founder of Arab Talk Radio, and former member of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission — said “What’s happening now is not happening in a vacuum … For the past 75 years, Palestinians have not seen any advancement in negotiations, they have not realized their aspirations, and they are living under apartheid.”
Israel has been classified an apartheid state by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and its own human rights organization, B’Tselem.
Peabody Award-winning journalist and host of Arab Talk Radio Jamal Dajani shares his perspective on the roots of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas and how white supremacists in the US may seek to use the violence in the Middle East to stoke further antisemitic and Islamophobic sentiment.
Domestically, the U.S. has witnessed a rise in white supremacy, antisemitism and Islamophobia since the Trump administration, he continued, “and white supremacists are opportunists. They can take advantage of any international event, be it between Russians and Ukrainians or Palestinians and Israelis, to foment their hatred. Across the board, most of the hate crimes here — attacks on mosques, attacks on synagogues — are perpetrated by white supremacists.”
When it comes to Palestinians’ “aspiration for freedom and independence,” he continued, “they have a lot of Jewish supporters, like from Jewish Voice for Peace … This is not a religious conflict. It is not an ethnic conflict … This is a territorial conflict. It’s a colonial conflict. If you have any ethnic group — whether Jewish, or from Afghanistan or China — drive you out of your home to refugee camps, Palestinians will see them as invaders.”
The war’s impact on U.S. hate crimes
Brian Levin, founder of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and criminal justice Professor Emeritus at CSU San Bernardino, said the U.S. has seen an increase in hate crimes over recent years, hitting a record reported number of 10,840 in 2021 with a population representation of 91.1% per the FBI.
This record was surpassed again with the FBI’s release of 2022 statistics on Monday. Last year saw a whopping 11,643 reported hate crimes with a slightly raised population representation of 91.7%. Over 56% of these crimes were racially or ethnically motivated, while over 17% were religiously motivated.
Comparing this spike to past ones — 2020 during the election and George Floyd protests, 2001 after 9/11 — Levin made two points: “Hate crimes are not only spiking, but are more elongated in in their spikes,” and “There is massive underreporting. The most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics studies show that a bare minimum of overall hate crimes are reported by victims … and certain populations, like immigrants or foreign-language communities, are far less likely to report.”
While white supremacists are very often involved in these attacks, he added “Not everybody who attacks Jews are white supremacists. We have different types of offenders: thrill offenders with shallow prejudices, acting on stereotypes; defensive or reactive offenders; mentally ill offenders; and mission offenders.”
While the current war “is indeed a political dispute,” said Levin, “in article seven of Hamas’ charter, they say the Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims kill the Jews. We’ve also had similar statements by Hezbollah and others … Jews not distinguished by nationality.” Thus, he continued, we can expect this religious violence to be reflected in U.S. attacks.
The conflict not seen in media
Estee Chandler — organizer of Jewish Voice for Peace, Los Angeles chapter — said “Gaza has been under nearly 16 years of Israeli military blockade and the war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago with occupation and systemic apartheid … and though much of the media is reporting that Israel has now left Gaza, that’s not true. They just moved their defenses to the perimeter.”
“What we are seeing now is a mass expulsion,” she continued, “where half of the over two million people in Gaza have been asked to leave their homes … because Israel says that they will bomb them. They’ve given over a million people 24 hours to try to move amidst all the bombing and rubble and roads that have already been destroyed … and the mainstream media isn’t reporting on these incidences … there is much misinformation that drives this.”
Estee Chandler — Jewish Voice for Peace, Los Angeles Chapter Organizer — discusses the proliferation of hate-speech and attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices in the wake of escalating violence between Israel and Palestine.
Nor is the mainstream media reporting on the effect in U.S. communities, Chandler added — and particularly on college campuses. “Locally on the UCLA campus, we’re seeing that members of Students for Justice in Palestine are being doxxed on social media. Their ability to organize and secure spaces to do teach-ins has been suppressed,” and this is seen on campuses nationwide, she said — for example, at Harvard.
The tensions are also fueling increasing violence beyond college campuses. Last Saturday, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy in Chicago was fatally stabbed by his landlord — who also attacked his mother — on the war-motivated grounds that the family was Muslim.
Addressing fault lines in U.S. Palestinian support
Fatin Jarara — a Palestinian community organizer working with Al-Awda New York: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition for 20 years — said the very framing used for the briefing, “the ‘Israel versus Hamas conflict,’ is problematic to me, because this implies that this is an issue between a whole nation of people and a militant group, when it’s not just that. This is an issue of occupation imposed on indigenous people … In one week of bombardment on Gaza, more have been killed than in a year of bombardment on Afghanistan.”
Describing U.S. responses, she said the push for support of Israel “is already very high. The talking is done for you,” often without verification, she said, offering as example President Biden’s claim of having seen photos of babies decapitated by Hamas; the photos never surfaced and the White House later walked back this claim.
Fatin Jarara, Al-Awda NY: Palestine Return Coalition, says conflation of the Israeli state with Judaism inaccurately casts the territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine as a religious dispute.
Conversely, Jarara said, as Palestinians, “we have footage after footage; I grew up on it my entire life … and there is a very hostile environment to it in the United States,” as many sympathizers fear showing support at all. For example, “yesterday at Brooklyn College, a New York City councilwoman went to the Palestine rally with a concealed carry gun … she thought that she could intimidate the youth scot-free, but she was arrested and charged this morning,” as it was illegal under state law to possess a gun at a protest.
“As Palestinians, we see all lives as worthy of living a dignified life,” she concluded. Those in the U.S. who support the Palestinian cause “don’t want to see violence” and “don’t want to see people losing their lives,” but “want to see my people live a dignified life too. They want to see my people liberated.”