NEW YORK – Eventually, much of the panel held in New York did not focus on its theme, “antisemitism and the struggle for justice,” but on the panelists and on the organizations behind them.It especially focused on the speaker at the right end of the table, Palestinian feminist activist Linda Sarsour, whose very invitation to the event sparked a wave of protests against the host institution, the New School University in Manhattan.Despite objection from the ADL and other Jewish organizations and despite a small protest outside on the street, the university, in partnership with the farleft organization Jewish Voice for Peace and other organizations, hosted the event featuring Sarsour Tuesday night.
In the shadow of the scandal that accompanied her invitation to the panel, Sarsour went on stage signaling “V” as a sign of victory. Although there were three other speakers and a host on the stage, it was clear that she was the keynote speaker. Except for one or two interruptions by critics, the audience was hers. When her speech was interrupted, it was for applause and cheers.“So obviously I’m the biggest problem for the Jewish community, I’m the existential threat,” said Sarsour. “And I’m confused by people who actually do not know who I am, have never sat on a table with me and for sure have never been anywhere near a social justice movement in the United States of America.”The evening was opened by a brief statement by William Milberg, the Dean and Professor of economics at New School. He mentioned the “strong criticism feedback from many individuals regarding tonight’s event,” and said, “We take the directness of this feedback and the convictions and values they express very seriously, and we look forward to engaging other perspectives in the months ahead. Hosting tonight’s event is in the spirit of free expression”.Sarsour’s response to the criticism was given in her own words, minutes later.“I’m not looking for any approval from Zionists, right-wing Zionists, from Jewish Americans, from non-Jewish – I don’t need anybody to invite me to the movement to dismantle anti-Semitism. I come here because I believe it, and it’s the right thing to do for all of us.”Earlier this month, Jonathan Greenblatt, National Director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, slammed the New School for hosting the event. He tweeted, “Having Linda Sarsour & head of JVP leading a panel on #antisemitism is like Oscar Meyer leading a panel on vegetarianism. These panelists know the issue, but unfortunately, from the perspective of fomenting it rather than fighting it.”The New School responded by inviting Greenblatt to a second panel on antisemitism, but he declined.At yesterday’s event, Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson, another member of the panel, attacked Greenblatt for comparing, JVP to the alt-right movement in the past.
Linda Sarsour at the Jewish Voice for Peace event, Nov. 29, 2017. (Facebook/Jacobin Magazine)