Protest movements against Israel’s operations in Gaza have sparked a reexamination of the limits of freedom of expression in the United States. Efforts by pro-Israel groups to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism have become organized and systematic. The campaign, conducted through advertisements in media outlets and lobbying activities in Congress, aimed to convey the message that crowds taking to the streets to defend Palestinian civilians were contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism. However, censorship applied by some of the world’s leading universities to groups supporting Palestine, the fear of being labeled as anti-Semitic, and threats to withdraw support from influential donors demonstrated how the boundaries of academic freedom could be defined. The experience of a prominent figure losing their job or being marginalized due to their pro-Palestinian stance also illustrates how organized political forces can effectively use the trauma of anti-Semitism as a weapon.
A bill currently being attempted to pass in Congress, where pro-Israel lobbying groups are most influential, defines anti-Zionism as synonymous with anti-Semitism. This bill is likely to cause a division among Democrats, as such a definition is clearly political. Moreover, Republicans, who believe in absolute freedom of expression, will need to take a stance contrary to the fundamental values they advocate to support such a bill. The influence of the Israel lobby on Congress, especially concerning Middle East issues, is well-known, and even if such a bill passes, it is highly likely to be taken to court. However, such a victory would serve as a function for the Israel lobby to influence media organizations, universities, and local politics.
Efforts are being made to suppress these groups, especially those organized by Jewish students and citizens who support Palestine. Pro-Israel groups aim to label these groups, which define themselves as anti-Zionist and reject anti-Semitism, as “self-hating Jews.” It may be relatively easy to silence Arab and Muslim protesters using anti-Semitism as a tool, but the same cannot be said for Jewish protest groups. These groups, which exert pressure on universities through donors and try to silence critical figures in the media, are aware that they are losing ground among young Democrats. A leaked audio recording of one of the leaders of anti-Semitism combat groups admitting to losing the next generation indicates their awareness of this fact.
In the George Floyd protests during the Trump era, the involvement of not only black protesters but also young white individuals in the streets was very effective. Similarly, in pro-Palestinian demonstrations, the participation of not only Muslims and Arabs but also Jews changes the perception in the public eye. President Biden facing protests from these groups in all events he attends, and the administration being forced to oppose not only anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia initiated by Arab and Muslim voters in the ‘Drop Biden’ campaign, reveal how cornered the administration is. It can be said that the Biden administration is facing a critical dilemma regarding freedom of expression, where it must support protests and freedom of expression but also combat the rising threat of anti-Semitism.
After 9/11, there was a period in the United States where freedoms were restricted in the name of national security concerns. A process occurred where Muslims were surveilled, scandals such as the eavesdropping on American citizens occurred, secret decisions of national security courts could not be questioned, and legal absurdities like Guantanamo emerged. During that period, campuses like Columbia University, which criticized America’s invasion policies in Afghanistan and Iraq along with Israel’s occupation of Palestine, were subjected to harassment by groups like Campus Watch. However, many institutions fought legal battles for freedom of expression and democratic rights, often succeeding.
By presenting the October 7 events as Israel’s 9/11, groups trying to associate any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism are openly attempting to limit freedom of expression in favor of Israel. Due to America’s deeply cherished principle of freedom of expression, it will be difficult for pro-Israel groups to succeed in restricting pro-Palestinian protests, even with extreme acts such as walking with Nazi flags and burning the American flag allowed. Nevertheless, pro-Israel groups seem to aim to create a climate of fear by defining supporting Palestine as anti-Semitism, particularly in certain media organizations, universities, and politics. Although this influence is undeniable in some institutions, using the rise of anti-Semitism to restrict freedom of expression will likely backfire.
In this article
- 7 October 2023 Israel's Attack on Gaza with Disproportionate Force
- Biden Administration
- Cease-fire | Ceasefire
- George Floyd
- Israel-Palestine Conflict
- Israeli Prime Minister
- Israeli War Crimes
- Israeli–Palestinian Conflict
- Middle East
- Nelson Mandela
- The Palestine File
- United Nations (UN)
- United States (US)
- War Crime