July 20, 2019

OMG, Just Shut Up: An Open Letter to Linda Sarsour

Activist Linda Sarsour addresses the crowd during a protest against President Donald Trump's travel ban, in New York City, U.S. Jan. 29. Stephanie Keith/REUTERS

Dear Linda Sarsour,

This is an appeal to you on behalf of the Jewish community for you to stop speaking for us, about us or to us. 

I know you’ve ignored these requests before. 

You laughed off more than 21,000 Jews who signed a petition for you not to speak on a panel called “Antisemitism and the Struggle for Justice” because you are neither Jewish nor a scholar on anti-Semitism. Declaring you know better about hatred of Jews than actual Jews is — you guessed it — anti-Semitic. It also is belittling and disrespectful.

But after years of you showing absolutely no sensitivity toward the Jewish community, I’m pleading with you to please shut up.

You entered the conversation around anti-Semitism when in 2017, your organization, MPower Change, along with Celebrate Mercy raised $162,000 for Golden Hill Cemetery in Colorado to repair anti-Semitic vandalism. Later, you helped raise $238,624 to provide for Tree of Life synagogue after a terrorist murdered 11 Jews inside. This has been the name you’ve dropped to get into the intra-community conversation on what is and isn’t anti-Semitism.

While we are grateful for the efforts you’ve made to help dead Jews, those efforts are hollow when you frequently spread inflammatory and painful language toward living Jews.

You cannot bribe the Jewish community. You are wrong if you think any sum of money would make us overlook your consistent minimizing of anti-Semitism.

It’s telling that you ever thought we would.

Linda, you are the Lena Dunham of anti-Semitism. The list of needlessly offensive things you’ve done to the Jewish people is longer than the Torah, Talmud and two Passover seders.

You cannot bribe the Jewish community. You are wrong if you think any sum of money would make us overlook your consistent minimizing of anti-Semitism.

Here are your greatest hits:

1. You were complicit in the face of Louis Farrakhan’s undeniable anti-Semitism, delivering a speech at a 2015 rally organized by him in his celebration.

2. You victim-blamed Jews for complaining about your organization’s relationship with Farrakhan, painting them as part of a right-wing conspiracy.

3. You asked Jews on Facebook: “What work are we willing to do and are we willing to be open to the true idea that members of the NOI [Nation of Islam] are not all anti-Semites? Are we cool with broad brushing a whole group?”

4. When Elder Kirsten John Foy told a Jewish woman, “You’ve got wicked spirit laying upon your heart. I pray them bound and cast from you by the blood of the lamb of God, Jesus Christ,” you applauded him and replied, “You are too blessed to be stressed.”

5. You proudly associate with Bishop Talbert Swan, another open anti-Semite, who has written a book advocating for conversion therapy, which directly leads to the suicides of LGBTQ youth.

6. You told Jews to boycott the Forward, a nonprofit Jewish publication that even has defended you in its pages.

7. You created lists of “good Jews” versus the “bad Jews” in your attack on the Forward.

8. You threw a temper tantrum over the announcement of a black-Jewish caucus, encouraging more division between two communities of which you are not a part.

9. You vilified the most respected organization fighting anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), leading it to be expelled from diversity training at Starbucks — while you used security from the Nation of Islam.

10. Oh, yeah. Hiring security from the Nation of Islam.

11. When a Jewish grocery in Winnepeg, Canada faked anti-Semitic vandalism, you exploited that it was staged in order to attack the ADL for condemning the bigotry, before the fraud was exposed.

12. You suggested Jewish progressives harbor divided loyalties to Israel over their values.

13. You commented on an anti-Semitic tweet that told Jews their homeland is Poland and Brooklyn to “hey, hey leave Brooklyn out of this.” 

14. You enthusiastically co-signed an article that accused Jews of waging “profound war on black people and people of color.”

15. You erased the Jewish heritage of Jesus on multiple occasions — which contributes to Christian anti-Semitism.

16. You claimed Jews who complained when you reframed Jesus as a Palestinian are against a black actress playing the Little Mermaid and support human rights abuses against migrants at the U.S. border.

But Linda, what makes you most worthy of this request to shut the hell up is that you’ve contributed to a culture that vilifies Jews for speaking out against anti-Semitism.

“Dont (sic]) you get it: we can wake up in the morning say ‘good morning’ and be labeled antisemitic,” you tweeted this May. “It’s not about what we say, it’s who we are. It’s based on orientalist tropes that deem Muslims and Arabs inherently antisemitic. It’s racist. It’s bigoted. It’s finally being exposed.”

According to the ADL, 74% of people in the Middle East and North Africa harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, and not because they said good morning.

You aren’t just hurting Jews; you’re hurting Muslims. You have encouraged divisiveness when our communities need unity the most.

Just because someone is a member of another marginalized group doesn’t mean they are incapable of hating Jews. Just like I — as a Jew — am capable of being racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamaphobic and just plain mean, you, as a Muslim or Arab, can be anti-Semitic. Claiming Jews who call out anti-Semitism are “the real bigots” is victim-blaming, unhelpful and cruel. It makes it impossible for us to come forward without real fear for our safety.

No ally to our community actively seeks to paint us as liars. No friend to Jews would claim all anti-Semitism allegations as frauds. You are partaking and furthering the trope that the Jewish people are in a conspiracy to keep down the rest of society.

I frequently interact with white supremacists on social media. A favorite phrase of theirs is “the Jew cries out in pain as he strikes you.”  You paraphrased their hateful slogan and perpetuated it to a new crowd.

You wouldn’t know this, because white supremacists — although they might target you — don’t shout these anti-Semitic tropes at you.

That’s not to say hateful intimidation hasn’t been thrown your way. I recognize that many members of my community have participated in that. I’m revolted by anyone who calls you a cockroach, terrorist, Sharia law proselytizer or un-American. They also disgust the many people in my life who are Muslim — but so do you. Your anti-Semitic rhetoric has become a source of shame for many Muslims, Palestinians included. By consistently refusing to respect Jews, you, yourself, are the one promoting the stereotype that our communities are adversaries.

I’m asking you to talk less and listen more about Jewish issues — not any of your other experiences — because you are a necessary voice on other issues. I make this request because you aren’t just hurting Jews; you’re hurting Muslims. You have encouraged divisiveness when our communities need unity the most.

Linda, it’s not the Jews’ fault that Tamika Mallory sat onstage with Louis Farrakhan as he declared, “The powerful Jews are my enemy” and “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out, turning men into women and women into men.” It’s not our fault you were complacent.

We didn’t make you repeatedly intrude on conversations about anti-Semitism or try to define our oppression for us. We can’t make you shut up, either. But it never hurts to ask.

Signed,

Ariel Sobel, an anti-Semite’s worst nightmare.


Ariel Sobel is a screenwriter, filmmaker and activist, and won the 2019 Bluecat Screenplay Competition.