Performative Palestinian advocacy helps no one - opinion

Delegitimizing Israel to speak up for Palestinians only harms their cause.

 PRO-PALESTINIAN/anti-Israel groups hold a demonstration across from the Washington Monument, earlier this year. A sign reads: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’ (photo credit: Sabrina Soffer)
PRO-PALESTINIAN/anti-Israel groups hold a demonstration across from the Washington Monument, earlier this year. A sign reads: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’
(photo credit: Sabrina Soffer)

Last week, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza City to voice their grievances about economic privation and gas and electricity shortages under Hamas rule. This “Gazan Spring” was repelled with beatings meted out by Hamas security forces.

The world’s leading pro-Palestinian advocates said nothing about it.

In socio-political advocacy arenas, pursuing justice requires distinguishing between what one fights for and against. In pro-Palestinian circles, one often opposes Israel and Zionism – employing former Israeli deputy prime minister Natan Sharansky’s three Ds of antisemitism: the “demonization” and “delegitimization” of Israel, and holding it to the highest “double standard.”

When the three Ds of antisemitism dominate the Palestinian liberation narrative, performance matters more than substance. Last month, for example, US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) hung a Palestinian flag outside her Washington office and boycotted Israeli President Herzog’s Congressional Address. However, she has never condemned – let alone mentioned – the illiberal oppression to which the Palestinians she professes to support are subjected.

Leading pro-Palestinian advocacy groups such as Amnesty International and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) hold their counsel too, never addressing conditions preventing Palestinians from creating a robust civil society. 

The result? The Palestinians suffer the most, excluded from a dialogue that determines the fate of their people.

Hamas’ human rights abuses aren’t trivial, nor was last week’s protest a non-event. This makes the silence of pro-Palestinian activists, who never miss a chance to criticize Israel, highly curious. 

At the United Nations, Israel is frequently accused of “feeding increased resentment among the Palestinian people” and “fueling” an “endless cycle of violence,” without anyone mentioning Hamas’s violations of international law.

 Palestinian forces stand guard as Palestinian Hamas supporters take part in an anti-Israel rally protest over tensions in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Hebron in the West Bank, October 14, 2022. (credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)
Palestinian forces stand guard as Palestinian Hamas supporters take part in an anti-Israel rally protest over tensions in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Hebron in the West Bank, October 14, 2022. (credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)

Although, surely, recruiting child soldiers and using human shields contributes to the cycles of violence harming Palestinians. Similarly, on American college campuses, pro-BDS students blame Israel for making Gaza an “open-air prison” without integral historical and circumstantial context.

It’s hardly surprising that Palestinian advocates don’t expose the sins of Palestinian leaders. More than 100 links tie anti-Israel organizations promoting BDS to Palestinian terror groups, namely, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFOP). Foreign and philanthropic aid recipients have diverted substantial resources away from social services and toward bankrolling terror activities in the region. 

Events like the most recent Palestinian uprising against Hamas on July 30 are rare, but not unprecedented. In 2019, when Gazans similarly protested Hamas’s tax hikes, police cudgeled protesters and raided their homes, arresting organizers, journalists, and individual demonstrators. 

Mass media outlets promote headlines related to Israel’s actions while trivializing the internal Palestinian struggle. 

Projects to spread information about their real situation, such as the anonymous Instagram account with 160,000 followers, Al-Virus Al-Sakher (“The Mocking Virus”), and the animated series Whispered in Gaza (by the Center for Peace Communications) don’t receive enough publicity, even as journalists like the BBC’s Anjana Gadgil use her platform to accuse the IDF of being “happy to kill children,” a statement for which she later apologized. 

To be clear, the Pro-Palestinian activists in question are those who believe that Palestinian liberation necessitates Israel’s destruction: Nerdeen Kiswani, Fatima Mohammad, and Mohammed el-Kurd don’t critique Israeli policies to help Palestinian lives, but champion the annihilation of the Jewish state while Palestinians are crushed by their own authorities. 

Others have been more productive. 

Shortly after Gazan authorities quelled the demonstrations, Bassem Eid – a Jericho resident once arrested by Palestinian officials for criticizing Palestinian leadership – expressed solidarity with the protesters, tweeting a video with the hashtag #FreeGazaFromHamas. Eid consistently fights for Palestinian rights while debunking myths about Israel. 

“Antisemitism doesn’t help Palestinians like me,” he wrote for The Washington Examiner in March, discussing allegations that a George Washington University professor harassed Israeli students and disseminated Israel hatred during lessons. 

Ghaith Al-Omari – involved with US-Israel relations and the American Task Force on Palestine – also formerly held positions within the Palestinian Authority where he participated in 1999-2001 permanent-status negotiation talks. Omari writes about the fragility of the Palestinian leadership and how their poor governance forges an arduous road to the prospect of Palestinian statehood.

Neither hesitates to criticize Israeli policy or call for reforming internal Palestinian affairs like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) system, believing that such an approach is key to fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But they’re crowded out by louder, trendier, media darlings.

Bassem Eid – and the like – recognize that basing Palestinian advocacy on slandering the world’s only Jewish state will never “free Palestine” or improve Palestinians’ wellbeing. Jew hatred has long been a bandaid to the deep wound within a community’s internal problems. Throughout history, antisemitism, which debuts as scapegoating the Jewish collective, has proven to destabilize environments where Jew-hatred prevails over self-improvement. 

This was illustrated approaching Adolf Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany, when the Nazis charged the Jewish collective with planning world domination, causing Germany’s loss in World War I, and responsibility for the economic depression. Their hateful conspiracies led to the death of six million Jews in the Holocaust, but by the time the Allies forced Germany’s surrender in World War II, Germany was in shambles and occupied by four different countries.

Antisemitism doesn’t pay

This time around, the Jewish collective cannot be blamed for trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a manner that leaves both sides dignified and secure. Seeking a land-for-peace agreement, Israel’s 2005 disengagement evicted 9,000 Israeli citizens from their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria.

In 2007, Hamas assumed control of the Gaza Strip, seizing power from PA head Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, Gazans have been ruled by Hamas’s iron first, an Iran-backed Jihadist faction guilty of embezzling international aid, murdering LGBT individuals, grooming children into martyrs, and more. Israel and Egypt’s “blockade” on Gaza strives to thwart terrorism and reverse increasing Iranian influence.

Today, most pro-Palestinian advocacy causes more harm than good. BDS founder Omar Barghouti labels the rupture of Israeli-Palestinian partnerships such as at the Mishor Adumim SodaStream factory – where 500 Palestinians were stripped of their jobs – as successes. 

Similarly, BDS proponents seek to shut down Israeli industrial initiatives that provide Palestinians with the opportunity to make NIS 500 (around $140) daily versus NIS 30 (around $8) by crossing into Israel for work,” in the words of a Nir Am resident.

Their strategy and rhetoric are preposterous. Furthermore, they betray Palestinian interests and the very values of equality and justice they claim to champion. 

Social justice advocates have a duty to live up to their titles and propose practical solutions for alleviating the Palestinian plight and reducing the influence of Hamas, other militant factions, and Iran. The current landscape, marked by the PA’s fragility, the resurgence of young militants, and the Hamas-Fatah divide, presents an opportunity for global audiences to champion true Palestinian freedom, from their authorities, and the freedom to normalize relations with the Jewish world. 

To redirect Palestinian activism, we can raise awareness in social justice circles and online about events such as the Gaza protests, and spearhead initiatives targeting Hamas. 

We can repost narratives from Whispered in Gaza – a collection of 25 animated videos of Gazans’ personal stories – alongside vivid images with captions, asking: “Is Israel doing this?” that demonstrate it’s Hamas, not Israel, who must be held to account first.

Massified efforts against Hamas and corrupt Palestinian leaders can influence foreign entities to rethink their engagement with Palestinians. They may pressure international bodies to reform UNRWA (the refugee agency dedicated entirely to Palestinian refugees), which perpetuates Palestinian refugee status and indoctrinates children with antisemitic materials aimed at Israel’s eradication. 

In contemporary discourse, a straightforward yet impactful action would be rephrasing our language – differentiating between moderate Palestinian supporters, such as Bassem Eid or Ghaith al-Omari, and those solely pursuing an anti-Israel agenda to the detriment of Palestinian rights. 

Refraining from labeling those with double standards in Palestinian advocacy as “pro-Palestinian,” and lifting up those voices that are genuinely dedicated to Palestinian self-determination can contribute significantly to their cause.

The writer is a junior at The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and the commissioner of its Task Force to Combat Antisemitism.