Kamala Harris’ silence vs Sarah Silverman’s noise - comment

There are some truths that cannot be refuted - Israel not committing genocide is one of them. US Vice President Kamala Harris didn't fight back at it, but Sarah Silverman did.

 U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris talks with students during a visit to George Mason University to discuss voting rights and registration in Fairfax, Virginia, (photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris talks with students during a visit to George Mason University to discuss voting rights and registration in Fairfax, Virginia,
(photo credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

A lie left unchallenged just spreads roots and grows.

And therein lays the problem with Vice President Kamala Harris’s appearance on Wednesday in front of a political science class at Virginia’s George Mason University when she didn’t object to a student who slandered Israel by accusing it of ethnic genocide and displacement of people.

“You brought up how the power of the people and demonstrations and organizing is very valuable in America, but I see that over the summer there have been protests and demonstrations in astronomical numbers standing with Palestine,” said the student, who identified herself as Yemini and Iranian.

“But then just a few days ago there were funds allocated to continue backing Israel, which hurts my heart because it’s ethnic genocide and displacement of people, the same that happened in America, and I’m sure you’re aware of this.”

 U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris talks with students during a visit to George Mason University to discuss voting rights and registration in Fairfax, Virginia, (credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris talks with students during a visit to George Mason University to discuss voting rights and registration in Fairfax, Virginia, (credit: LEAH MILLIS/REUTERS)

Harris’s response to the student was not to tell her she had her facts dead wrong, was maliciously libeling Israel, or somehow had become confused, but rather to wax on about how her truth must be heard.

Harris said she was glad the student spoke up, saying, “your voice, your perspective, your experience, your truth should not be suppressed.”

“The point that you are making about policy that relates to Middle East policy, foreign policy, we still have healthy debates in our country about what is the right path, and nobody’s voice should be suppressed on that,” she continued.


Not every “truth” should be heard or legitimized by the vice president of the United States. Not everyone is entitled to turn lies into their own truths. Not everything is a narrative. Some views should be suppressed, such as the one about Israel committing ethnic genocide. Why? Because it is a lie. There are facts. And one fact is that Israel is not committing ethnic genocide. Period.

How can one prove that fact to those who will only think the worst about Israel? Simple: by looking at the numbers.

Before the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel won control of Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, there were some 955,000 Palestinians in those areas; today that number stands at about five million. Say what you will about Israel’s policies in the territories over the last 54 years, but those numbers do not add up to genocide.

The fallout from Harris’s appearance followed a predictable pattern. The Israeli press jumped on the story while, except for Fox News, it did not make that much noise in the non-Jewish media in the US.

AT LEAST in the beginning.

Israel supporters then pushed back, the Vice President’s office realized it had a problem on its hands, and then did damage control by reaching out to a few major Jewish organizations. The story then started to gain traction in the general media.

The message from the VP’s office was simple: she did not mean what her silence implied.

And surely she didn’t. Harris is a moderate Democrat with a good record on Israel. Neither anything she has ever said nor would her voting record on Israel lead one to believe that she actually thinks the Jewish state is committing ethnic genocide.

Then what’s the problem?

The problem is that she didn’t challenge the statement in real-time, with the other students in the room. The problem is that her silence could be interpreted by them, and others who might have seen a video clip of the exchange, as implicit consent.

“Hey” they might think, “someone said Israel is committing genocide, and the vice president just nodded. Maybe it is committing genocide.”

And that is how a lie unchallenged spreads.

It’s good that Harris’s office issued a clarification to Jewish groups, which obviously were carried widely in the Jewish press and read by thousands and thousands of Jews.

But not everyone in the world follows the Anti-Defamation League’s Twitter feed or reads the Jewish Telegraphic Agency where her explanations were spelled out. Harris’s explanations need to be aimed not only at the Jewish public but at the general public. Most of the Jewish public – except for outliers like activists in IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace – know full well that Israel is not committing ethnic genocide.

It’s the non-Jewish public, which is hearing these lies now with increasing frequency, including from some Jews, which must be addressed and for whom these slanders must be exposed for what they are.

Why was Harris quiet in the face of this outrageous statement?

Perhaps because she was not really paying attention to what the student said? Perhaps because she didn’t want to go off-script and her script for that meeting was voter rights? Perhaps because in a college campus environment where being anti-Israel is often a way to signal virtue, she didn’t want to appear uncool. For, as the author Norman Lebrecht wrote in his 2019 book Genius & Anxiety: How Jews changed the world, 1847-1947, “It is cool to be cruel about Jews (though not about other minorities).”

BUT NOT all is lost, apparently.

Last week the in-your-face Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman, who would most definitely place herself among America’s “cool” class, had some critical words on her podcast for the “Squad,” that group of Progressive US representatives whom Silverman has said she adores. Her criticism came because of the Squad’s move to defund the Iron Dome defense system and because of their deafening silence on Hamas.

Where Harris was silent, Silverman – per her style – was loud.

True, her comments did not come in a real-time interchange, but rather on a podcast, but they were important in that they challenged what seems like the ascendant orthodoxy in the Progressive camp.

After gaining Progressive cred by declaring that the “occupation is not right,” and that “there cannot be justice in a place where people do not have freedom of movement,” Silverman – who strongly backed Bernie Sanders in the last two US presidential elections – asked about Hamas, “Why do none of them [the Squad], even mention Hamas, a group that until just a few years ago had a mission statement to kill all Jews. A group that just congratulated the Taliban for taking over Afghanistan. No, Israel is not good for Palestine, but you are kidding yourself if you think Hamas is good for Palestine.

‘Please do not defund the Iron Dome,” she said, adding that she was “talking to the Squad here. You know, my family lives there. It just seems to prove the point that I didn’t think existed, which is that some people really only like Jews if they are suffering. Dead Jews get a lot of honor.

“I want to love them [the Squad],” she continued. “I really do love AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], I love Rashida Tlaib, I love Ilhan Omar. Their domestic policies are completely aligned with mine. And I think they are so cool and kick-ass. But this is really scary. You make it hard. Not having the Iron Dome is going to kill people. A lot of people.

“You will finally get that higher body count from Israel. I am for a Palestinian state... but I do also believe there should be an Israel, too. There are Muslim states all over the place; we can’t have one Jewish state?”

There it was: a distinctly uncool comment, coming from someone who is – or at least aspires to be – culturally cool, hip and very with it. And her push back actually matters more than Harris’s clarification to Jewish groups, because what Silverman said she said out loud in her own voice –not through aides or spokespeople – to a general audience, not only a Jewish one.