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Don’t use the murder of my family members to suppress criticism of Israel

Middle East
on 19 Comments

When news started pouring in last October that eleven people were shot and killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I was preparing to meet some classmates for a study group in Ithaca, New York. I was raised in the Steel City, and immediately became consumed by the fact that someone I knew was likely connected to the tragedy. It was only later that I found out that two members of my family were murdered in cold blood. They were my second cousins on my mother’s side: Cecil and David Rosenthal.

About a week later I was asked to honor them and the other victims at a candlelight vigil on Cornell University’s Ho Plaza. While grateful for the invitation, I soon realized how the massacre might be appropriated and the memory of the slain tarnished. Some touching words were shared, but the louder voices conveyed the worst tendencies of discourse around anti-Semitism. There was very little self-reflection, no clear universal moral message. Only cursory connections were made to the plight of Black Americans, immigrants, and Muslims. The hysterical allusions to the unique character of Jewish suffering dashed my hopes for catharsis and served as an uncomfortable reminder of the dubious manipulations that would inevitably follow.

What I observed at the vigil would be indicative of how the tragedy came to be framed on a much broader scale. In the same way that the profound horror of the Holocaust has been weaponized in the service of Jewish nationalism, the Pittsburgh massacre would soon be cynically exploited by those who have decided that Palestinian blood is cheap.

Ron Dermer on MSNBC following the killing of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Just five months before Robert Bowers brutally extinguished these innocent lives in a place of worship I knew relatively well, Israel was massacring unarmed Palestinians at the Gaza “border” while the body politic largely looked on. Many in the American Jewish community and the corporate media sought to rationalize the mass killing, attributing it to Palestinians’ inherent disregard for their own lives or agitation on the part of Hamas. US officials predictably praised Israeli “restraint” and dismissed the notion that the protests had anything to do with the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza or the Trump administration’s decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. For the rest of the world and many Jews of conscience, though, the writing was on the wall. Israel was yet again guilty of a cowardly massacre and should be held accountable.

A promising mechanism for compelling such accountability, a strategy that I wholeheartedly support, is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that emerged out of Palestinian civil society in July 2005. Historically boycott initiatives have been powerful tools in the service of social justice, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott that targeted segregation in the Jim Crow South to the Anti-Apartheid Movement that chiseled away at the structure of white supremacy in South Africa. In recent history, New York governor Andrew Cuomo even instituted a boycott of North Carolina in response to discriminatory anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Established Jewish organizations and the Israel lobby have long sought to malign BDS as anti-Semitic. In doing so they have furthered an agenda that is both dangerous to freedom of speech in particular and deleterious of justice and equality more broadly. Already 26 states have passed legislation that penalize boycotting the State of Israel, and 13 more have seen such laws introduced in their legislatures. The ACLU has pointed out that these anti-boycott laws violate the First Amendment and run afoul of the Supreme Court case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware CO, which specifically affirms the right to engage in political boycotts.

After the massacre at the Tree of Life proponents of these anti-boycott laws wasted no time in attempting to expand their ideological program at the federal level. In doing to so, they displayed a shameful level of political opportunism that is all too common in Zionist apologia. Meanwhile Israeli officials conflated violent anti-Semitism and BDS activism on college campuses, an absurd line of reasoning that belies any actual concern for the lives lost.

There is no denying that anti-Semitism is alive and well, just as there is no denying that Palestinians have suffered under a murderous regime of segregation for over fifty years, claiming untold lives, with no end in sight. White supremacy and xenophobia continue to be palpable forces in American political and social life, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that their increasingly mainstream expressions have empowered individuals like Robert Bowers to commit hateful crimes. I say this not to draw false equivalencies, but to bring attention to the fact that the Pittsburgh massacre did not happen in a vacuum.

The congregants that were gunned down in Pittsburgh have something important in common with the protesters gunned down in Palestine: both groups are victims of hateful and dehumanizing iterations of right-wing extremism. The fight against anti-Semitism needs to be waged as part of a larger reckoning with bigotry in all forms or else it is meaningless.

Apartheid Israel, which enjoys virtual impunity due to American diplomatic and military support, should not be exempt from this discussion. Using the deaths of my family members and the nine other victims to suppress criticism of, and activism around, Israeli policy disgraces their memory and obfuscates this essential truth.

About Chad Rosenbloom

Chad Rosenbloom is a current graduate student at Cornell University studying industrial and labor relations. He is a trade union activist and longtime supporter of Palestine.

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19 Responses

  1. Kay24
    Kay24
    January 25, 2019, 6:42 pm

    This is unfortunate. My heartfelt sympathies to Chad Rosenbloom. It is devastating to lose your loved ones this way. That said, I do agree that from Netanyahu to his mouthpieces in the US, and around the world, they do politicize every tragedy, every massacre, and incident, when it comes to the Jewish community, to show victimization, and gain sympathy. Let me remind everyone of how Netanyahu behaved after the terrible killings of innocent Jewish people in France, where he inserted himself over there by inviting himself, and elbowed his way to the front of the French leaders who walked in support of the victims. He also urged French Jews to move to Israel, which they refused.
    He showed no class, nor leadership, and looked an opportunist. The world noticed it all.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      January 26, 2019, 10:55 am

      @Kay24

      Well said!!

      I well remember Netanyahu’s disgusting performance in France. Then again, what else can we expect from such a disgusting, deceitful person?

  2. gamal
    gamal
    January 26, 2019, 5:07 pm

    “The congregants that were gunned down in Pittsburgh have something important in common with the protesters gunned down in Palestine: both groups are victims of hateful and dehumanizing iterations of right-wing extremism. The fight against anti-Semitism needs to be waged as part of a larger reckoning with bigotry in all forms or else it is meaningless.

    Apartheid Israel, which enjoys virtual impunity due to American diplomatic and military support, should not be exempt from this discussion. Using the deaths of my family members and the nine other victims to suppress criticism of, and activism around, Israeli policy disgraces their memory and obfuscates this essential truth”

    What noble words and in the very best traditions of workers Unions. Respect Mr. Rosenbloom, “An injury to one…..”

  3. Rashers2
    Rashers2
    January 27, 2019, 1:15 pm

    Mr. Rosenbloom’s castigation of those who seek to usurp tragedies for their own political agendas is eloquent and well-placed. The sentiments expressed by someone who really was affected by the Pittsburgh massacre show a nobility of spirit that cynics such as Ambassador Dermer or P. M. Mileikowsky could likely not even recognise.

  4. DaBakr
    DaBakr
    January 29, 2019, 3:13 am

    There goes Chad, cashing in like everybody else. (& I mean everybody from zionists to Israel haters). He’s as much of a punk as the zionists crying chicken little after the oddball Pittsburgh attack. There has been no statistically significant increase in violent attacks against jews in the US. Take away all the bomb threats called in by the autistic and/or retarded jewish Israeli teen and the numbers go down even more. So Chad, go take a flying self righteous leap somewhere other then the peanut gallery here.

    p’s. :. a elderly second cousin of mine died there as well and a quarter of my family lived in squirrel hill.

    • Talkback
      Talkback
      January 29, 2019, 8:51 am

      ROFL. There goes DaBakr whose focus is only about Jews being victims of hateful and dehumanizing iterations of right-wing extremism. But when it comes to Apartheid Israel he can only resort to ad hominem and straw man arguments. What an utter failure, again.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        January 29, 2019, 11:53 am

        “There has been no statistically significant increase in violent attacks against jews in the US. Take away all the bomb threats called in by the autistic and/or retarded jewish Israeli teen and the numbers go down even more”

        Are you going to warn us about “American Neo-Zionism”, next, “Dabakr”?

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        January 29, 2019, 11:37 pm

        @mssr
        moose, I leave it strictly up to you to make up names for things that don’t really exist. It’s your forte

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        January 30, 2019, 2:57 am

        @tb

        Don’t read too well.

      • Talkback
        Talkback
        January 30, 2019, 9:30 am

        @ DaBakr

        Don’t you even think about debating the issue. Keep assasinating characters. And spread hate by accusing others of hate. One day you will be Israel’s chief black propagandist!

  5. aloeste
    aloeste
    January 30, 2019, 11:48 am

    chad’s influence over israel policy is as great as his degree of support for that State. pretty much the same for all of mondoweiss….

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      February 1, 2019, 1:31 pm

      “chad’s influence over israel policy is as great as his degree of support for that State.”

      That’s right! Nobody gets any more Zionism than they pay for.

      • echinococcus
        echinococcus
        February 1, 2019, 1:52 pm

        I wouldn’t dismiss Chad that easily. Chad’s influence on the US was enormous a while ago –when it still used to hang.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        February 2, 2019, 1:08 am

        When Chad and Jeremy hung out together, the results were great. Mr. Chad was less endearing. One of my favourites:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvD0_aeAf2E

      • annie
        annie
        February 2, 2019, 5:56 am

        i so recall that era. chad and jeremy, a 2 hit wonder. they don’t compare with Peter & Gordon

      • annie
        annie
        February 2, 2019, 6:05 am

        an era

      • annie
        annie
        February 2, 2019, 6:13 am

        yo palestinians, don’t worry be happy /s

      • annie
        annie
        February 2, 2019, 6:21 am

        “put a smile on your face, don’t bring everybody down”

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        February 2, 2019, 10:26 pm

        “i so recall that era.”

        But I suspect you don’t know about Mr. Chad.

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