On Wednesday morning, two leaders of the Palestine solidarity movement in the US awoke to find they had been brazenly targeted by anonymous pro-Israel operatives who sought to paint American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as supporters of terrorism.
Hundreds of color-print flyers with the headline “A Sketchy Alliance—America at Stake” were found littered outside the California home of Hatem Bazian, AMP chairman and UC Berkeley professor as well as outside the New York home of JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson.
“I went out in the morning to take my daughter to school and [the flyers] were on the windshield,” Bazian told Mondoweiss. “They were all distributed up and down the street where I live and no other adjacent street. It was definitely targeted distribution around my house and neighborhood.”
Vilkomerson wasn’t home when her neighbor first noticed the flyers on her street, but it was clear that her home was specifically singled out as well.
— Rebecca Vilkomerson (@RVilkomerson) May 11, 2017
— Rebecca Vilkomerson (@RVilkomerson) May 11, 2017
“Me and Hatem Bazian were jointly targeted and JVP and American Muslims for Palestine were jointly targeted” Vilkomerson told Mondoweiss. “Hatem and I spoke almost immediately and it turned out the exact same thing had happened to him in his neighborhood in Berkeley as had happened to me.”
JVP and AMP are frequent partners in organizing Palestine solidarity campaigns as well as hosting educational events which bring to light for primarily American audiences the horrors of the occupation and the complicity of the US government.
The same posters have been reported in Los Angeles and the Bay Area in California, as well as New York’s Upper West Side and Financial District.
The posters, which feature photos of both Bazian and Vilkomerson, make the specious claim that AMP is “a violent movement that is deeply rooted in the ideology of terrorist organizations such as Hamas,” and thus, JVP’s support for AMP is akin to its supporting terrorism.
“Today terror abroad. Tomorrow terror at home!” read the flyers. They also feature the hashtag “#SketchyAlliance” with both Facebook and Twitter symbols, suggesting a parallel social media campaign.
However, a quick search of the hashtag reveals a total of seventeen tweets, eleven of which are from a single Twitter account created as recently as April. Two additional tweets belong to Aussie Dave, founder and managing editor of Israellycool.com, self-characterized as “one of the world’s most popular pro-Israel blogs” and a notorious platform for anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic voices.
Dave’s tweets link to an article he authored entitled “Terror Supporters JVP and AMP Stung By Flyers Accusing Them Of Being Terror Supporters” but when reached by email, Dave admitted to having no idea who was behind the campaign.
The flyers signal a marked change from the email and phone harassment AMP, JVP and other Palestine-solidarity organizations are routinely subjected to.
“I felt that I was being targeted and violated,” said Bazian, likening the tactic to that used by the Ku Klux Klan. “My home and my family [were] subject to intimidation.”
Both Bazian and Vilkomerson characterized it as an “escalation.”
“Something with my name on it, my photo on it and targeting my home, where they clearly knew where I lived, that’s the part that felt the creepiest” Vilkomerson told Mondoweiss.
Although deeply troubling, AMP and JVP quickly responded to the incidents through a joint statement in which the two organizations reaffirmed their partnership “on behalf of freedom and equality for Palestinian people,” adding that “[the attack] has only redoubled our commitment to continue our work together toward freedom and justice.”
Vilkomerson stressed the importance of their decision to respond jointly and transparently in order to combat this “specifically Islamophobic kind of attack…”
“It seemed very clear that it was an attempt to call both of us terrorists—guilty by association—and AMP has been targeted in that way many, many times over the years on many different levels,” Vilkomerson added.
The nature of the attacks is meant clearly to “utilize the environment of Islamophobia in order to frighten and drive a wedge” according to Bazian, not only between JVP and AMP, “but the broader American Jewish community and the broader American society.”
But such tactics are made definitively weaker by the “quantitative and qualitative change in the relationship between American Muslims and Jewish Americans” in the past decade or so.
“The framing of the relationship that has always been there to say that Muslims and Jews don’t get along, especially on Palestine, actually is completely being challenged” noted Bezian. Pro-Palestine, interfaith and grassroots groups like AMP and JVP “are increasingly representing the majority…especially among young Jews and young Muslims and young Palestinians in the US.”
Despite the pro-Israel lobby’s strategic conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-semitism, the mainstreaming of groups like JVP, which employ Jewish values to oppose the occupation, threatens the viability of hardline Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC and the Jewish Defense League, especially among younger generations of Jews.
While anti-semitic incidents have risen steadily since the election of Trump, there is no evidence to buoy claims by Israel hardliners that those in the Palestine solidarity movement are to blame. Furthermore, a recent report from the Muslim civil rights group the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) found a staggering 57% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in 2016 compared to the previous year.
The Opposition is Desperate
As Israelis and Zionists celebrate Israel’s Independence Day on May 15, anti-occupation student groups such as JVP and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) across the country prepare instead to mark Nakba Day, a solemn recognition of the more than 750,000 Palestinians forcefully removed or killed by the Zionist militias who founded the Israeli State in 1948.
Meanwhile, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement—initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 to force Israel to comply with international law—is increasingly being implemented by students at universities worldwide.
And as Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank enters its 50th year in June, the once immutable bi-partisan consensus on unconditional support for Israel continues to wither.
Faced with corroding public perception of Israel’s military occupation and decades of a toothless peace process, the the pro-Israel movement’s impotency appears to be forcing it to less ethical and more extreme methods such as those witnessed in New York and Berkeley.
“These are real bullying tactics and they’re really pathetic and really kind of vile. I definitely do not feel intimidated by them. It does not seem to be an effective way to try to stop a movement,” Vilkomerson, emphatic, told Mondoweiss.
“Stooping to these kind of tactics instead of trying to make an argument on its merits is an indicator of how desperate our opposition has become.”
While the origin of the flyers remains unknown, the language and depiction of AMP, JVP and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as outright supporters of terrorism does appear to match that of posters created by the David Horowitz Freedom Center and found on multiple university campuses earlier this week.
The far-right, red-baiting and virulently Islamophobic Freedom Center features three such posters on a website under its management called Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus.
“The Freedom Center is placing these posters on college campuses across the country in conjunction with its release of a report on the Top Ten College Administrations Most Friendly to Terrorists and Hostile to the First Amendment,” reads a statement on the website.
Notably, among the campuses listed are Brooklyn College, UCLA, UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State University—all of which happen to be in cities where the #SketchyAlliance posters also appeared.
The center has not responded to questions regarding their possible involvement with the posters in question.