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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region
Chapter IV: Delegitimization in the United States

Chapter IV: Delegitimization in the United States

Although the social and political structure in the United States differs from European countries, mapping the structure and networks of delegitimizing Israel resembles European configurations with several unique features, albeit it is more complex in terms of the main groups involved. In general, delegitimization activity in the United States focuses on the areas of New York City (seat of the UN institutions, with a relatively large Palestinian community), Washington (center of the U.S. government), and California (center of culture and communication).

At least until recently, the U.S far-left has been less dominant and organized in the public scene than in European countries. This far-left, as will be seen in this chapter, includes several Jewish groups, the activities of which should also be seen within the wider context of the changing identity of U.S. Jewry,333 especially younger groups from the liberal or progressive Left who gradually detach themselves from Israel, as well as the major focus on campus activism across the country, which finds the younger generation in a difficult position. Universities have been at the heart of the delegitimization campaign in the United States. According to a report by the ADL, delegitimization activity against Israel has increased on campuses during 2015. These anti-Israeli activities, on some campuses, resulted in increased tension between pro-Israel and anti-Israel students, and at times also created an atmosphere where pro-Israel students felt uncomfortable voicing their views.334 The main groups that organize such events are Islamist, headed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Muslim Student Association (MSA) and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) (see below).

Both on campuses and in other aspects of the delegitimization campaign in the United States, the Islamist presence is notable, perhaps even more than in European countries, in which far-left elements usually take the lead. A common denominator between most of the relevant Islamist groups and individuals covered here is their affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood’s U.S. structure. Like in Europe, Muslim Brotherhood presence in the United States dates back to the early 1960s.335 In a 2008 interview between an Egyptian blogger and the Egyptian Brotherhood’s then top leader Mohammed Habib, the latter affirmed that there are U.S. institutions with Muslim Brotherhood members present, stating that “there are there those who do represent us, who do that role” but refusing to disclose their names since “this is a sensitive subject, and it’s kind of problematic, especially after 9/11….”336 The structure of the U.S. Brotherhood was widely described during the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), a major Islamist charity that in 2008-2009 had been convicted in transferring funds to Hamas, and whose leading figures were sentenced to long imprisonment terms. In the Federal Judge’s ruling of the case it was stated: –

Government has produced ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA, and NAIT with HLF, the Islamic Association for Palestine (“IAP”), and with Hamas. While the Court recognizes that the evidence produced by the government largely predates the HLF designation date, the evidence is nonetheless sufficient to show the association of these entities with HLF, IAP, and Hamas.337

Although most of these bodies deny any links to either Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood to-date, they can still be tied to each other through the same leading figures, joint initiatives, and events, sponsors etc. In April 2016, a discussion titled “Israel Imperiled: Threats to the Jewish State” was held by the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the Congress. With regards to the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), for example, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) concluded that:

AMP’s BDS campaign may be a headache for Israel, but the fact that it is based in the United States makes it an American issue. The overlap of former employees of organizations that provided support to Hamas who now play important roles in AMP speaks volumes about the real agenda of key components of the BDS campaign.338

A note of caution should be added here vis-à-vis the discourse in the United States on the Muslim Brotherhood and its activities in the country. Despite the findings presented to court during the HLF trial, and unlike in several European countries, hardly any serious debate took place on the subject of the Muslim Brotherhood or the question of Islamism as a whole. More recently, against the background of the Obama administration’s sympathetic policies toward Islamism both across the Middle East and in the United States and the growing polarization in U.S. politics, the subject has been taken on and twisted by far-right and anti-Muslim, nonprofessional groups. These usually speak in terms of “infiltration” of “Muslim Brotherhood agents” into the government or link it to Sharia Law, which they claim Muslims aspire to implement in the United States. It remains to be seen whether a proper discussion on the subject is on the way or remains in the hands of these groups. In the meantime, very careful scrutiny is needed for any specific U.S. reporting on the subject.

In the recent years, especially after Operation Protective Edge in Gaza (2014), there have been reports of the efforts of the PLO’s Expatriate Affairs Department339 to liaise and cooperate with U.S. activists affiliated with the PLO and the Marxist fronts in promoting anti-Israel and BDS activities there. The Expatriate Affairs Department in Ramallah is headed by Tayseer Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee (PLO EC) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (DFLP) political bureau.340 Since its foundation in 2000, nationalist Palestinian activities have been affiliated with the Palestinian American Council, “a charitable, educational, civic, and political organization in the United States of America that promotes cultural and economic cooperation between the people of Palestine and the United States of America, as well as encouraging and strengthening ties between Palestinians and their motherland.”341

Lastly, especially following the Ferguson-Missouri police shooting in August 2014 of an unarmed black youngster and other, similar cases that made the headlines, identity politics has entered the scene, and black Americans started to express their sympathy with the Palestinians. This phenomenon has increased particularly in light of international officials and media reporting during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, which portrayed Israel as deliberately killing civilians and children.342 In the background stand the slogans that refer to the Palestinians as deprived and compare Israel to the South African Apartheid, which also enable black people to draw the analogy between their perceived discrimination and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Many times, the issue of cooperation between various U.S. and Israeli police forces is brought to the table, under the accusation that Israeli counter-terrorism methods also drive American policemen to shoot civilians. In July 2016, for example, it was reported that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed rejected a demand by a local group associated with “Black Lives Matter” that insisted on

…a complete overhaul of Atlanta Police Department’s (APD) training institutions… [and] a termination to APD’s involvement in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program that trains our officers in Apartheid Israel…343

The most relevant individuals and groups active in this field will also be covered in this chapter.