The confluence of fascism and Zionism is becoming more obvious by the day, with alt-right leader Richard Spencer describing himself as a “white Zionist,” while the Zionist Organization of American invites Steve Bannon as a speaker at its annual gala. And as the two forms of racial supremacy merge seamlessly together, the Palestinian struggle for human rights and dignity can set the model for discursive changes, the rejection of racism as status-quo, no matter how powerfully endorsed by the state and its militarized apparatus, and an understanding that together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.
Indeed, Palestinians immediately noticed the eerie similarity between the current administration’s discourse, which insists that there is “blame on both sides,” and posits a fake symmetry between fascism and protests against hatred, and our own experience being described as terrorists, anti-Semites, a depraved people who do not value life, and deserve, indeed provoke the violence being inflicted upon us.
Yet over the decades, with our painstaking determination to educate about the historical context, and thus expose Israeli abuses, and with the principled commitment of the BDS movement to envision and lay the groundwork for a genuinely egalitarian society unfettered by ethnic or gender privileges, we have finally chipped away at the long-held belief that “the conflict is thousands of years old,” and “the Palestinians want to throw the Jews into the sea.” Today, most people know the “conflict” is an anti-colonial struggle, and that Palestinians once included Jews, Muslims, and Christians, until Israel created the “Jewish nationality,” and stripped Palestinians of any rights in their ancestral homeland, now become “the Jewish state.”
BDS in particular has bought together a broad base of activists globally, who have successfully broken through the once unquestioned Zionist narrative of Jewish victimhood at the hands of anti-Semitic Arabs, and the need for a Jewish supremacist state. We have educated millions about the reality of Israeli racism and apartheid, and we have shown the world that there is an alternative to the corrupt “peace process” that still pretends to seek to achieve two states, even as it poisons that possibility by creating toxic “facts on the ground.” And as our base has grown to include millions of BDS supporters and activists globally, we have also shown that BDS is an inclusive strategy that embraces and empowers each and every one who is opposed to settler-colonialism, racial supremacy, and the violation of any people’s human rights.
Today, as anti-fascist protesters are described by the mainstream as “violent thugs,” and as Americans are being told that racism is part of the fabric of this country and can therefore never be completely eliminated, the struggle for Palestinian rights offers an alternative vision: we don’t have to accept injustice, even when the system is set up, has always been set up, to perpetuate it. We may be called terrorists, “thugs,” our tactics and strategies may be unpopular, but we can prevail, and rather than settle for “pacification” through extreme oppression, we can aspire to genuine peace—an outcome of justice and equality. After all, Israel, just like the US, is a country founded on genocide and settler-colonialism, with the aim of establishing and maintaining the superiority of one perceived ethnicity. And if we can question and challenge that fundamental injustice in one country, we can question and challenge it in another.
Indeed, the protests against alt-right rallies last month in Boston, MA and Berkeley, CA have proven one thing beyond refute: when we come together, we win. We have not (yet) ended fascism, nor are we even changing the fascists’ views. But we are winning because we are reclaiming our cities, our campuses, our parks, as we show the fascists that they are unwelcome, forcing them to cancel many of their planned events, and retreat back to the margins and the “dark web,” where they belong. And we have secured our victories with our numbers. The 40.000 protesters in Boston did not see eye-to-eye on everything, my bet is that they actually disagreed on many issues, even as they came together to reject fascism in their city. And so did the hundreds who protested in the Bay Area, and who included anti-police activists, Black Bloc activists, anarchists, atheists, faith leaders, disability rights activists, and thousands of activists and organizers who, until the night before, would certainly have not described themselves as “antifa,” and are likely still puzzling about the label. Indeed, multiple articles have been written in the past month attempting to define what “antifa” is, and the term still feels alien to many who are protesting fascism. The confusion is likely due to the fact that there was an “antifa” group active long before the recent overt displays of fascism all around the country, whereas many anti-hate protesters are only now taking to the streets, as they realize the uniqueness and urgency of the moment. Donald Trump’s election, and his many outrageous statements and actions since January, have so emboldened the alt-right that they no longer feel the need to cover up in sheets and hoods, but walk around instead in “casual Friday” outfits, knowing most will be back at their desks by Monday.
Yet “antifa,” short for “anti-fascism,” is the broad umbrella that will protect us today. Because at this juncture in US politics, the protestors are rallying and forming alliances based on their common opposition to fascism, rather than the causes closest to individual hearts, whatever these are: BLM, indigenous sovereignty, immigrant rights, combating Islamophobia, etc. We are not abandoning these causes, indeed, every one of them represents an aspect of anti-fascism. And we must refuse to be defined as “violent,” “thugs,” and we certainly must watch out for attempts to be labelled “terrorists,” as one currently circulating petition would have it. We must refuse the false equivalency of “many sides,” and “fine people on both sides.” At this moment in the US, there can only be two sides: fascists, and anti-fascists. There is nothing “fine” about fascism. And the anti-fascists, the “antifa,” are the ones protecting the communities that are targeted, threatened by the fascists: blacks, immigrants, Muslims, Jewish, LGBTQ+, and progressive whites.
The “antifa” are the ones who put their bodies on the line in Charlottesville, Boston, and Berkeley, to defend the actual and potential victims of fascist violence. “We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists,” Cornel West said of the confrontations that erupted in Charlottesville. Sara Kurshner, of the National Lawyers Guild, expressed a similar experience at the protest in Berkeley:
“Our experience on the streets was that we were defended by people who came — as anti-fascists — to do that,” Kurshner told Democracy Now. Tur-Ha Ak, of the Anti-Police Terror Project, also told Democracy Now: “We don’t apologize for any of it. Do not come here with any of it. Do not!” adding about fascism that “It is unwelcome. We have a right and an obligation to self-defense, period. Point blank.”
At this critical moment in US politics, the anti-fascist umbrella must be broad, encompassing, as we say no to state-sanctioned racial supremacy. This too can be a lesson learned from the Palestinian struggle, and from BDS being the call with the broadest base amongst Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the global diaspora. As it intersects with struggles for decolonization, anti-racism, indigenous sovereignty, anti-incarceration, and anti-Zionism/fascism, the struggle for Palestinian human rights is the central defining struggle of the mid-twentieth century to the present, and reflects many of the struggles within the US. Thus from Gaza to Ferguson, and from BDS to antifa, the Palestinian struggle can show the beauty of resistance as we model and enact the change by coming together, to challenge and confront the greater common foe.