We have written a lot about how anti-Israel activists routinely hijack causes, events, and crises unrelated to Israel, using “intersectional” theory to turn those issues against the Jewish state.

That phenomenon is playing out again with the coronavirus pandemic, providing the ‘usual suspects’ with yet another issue to exploit.

The figures and groups who have hijacked this crisis, as detailed below, include: self-identified “Jewish” anti-Israel organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and IfNotNow (INN); so-called human rights watchdog organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and B’tselem; deeply anti-Zionist blogs such as Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada; multiple chapters and student leaders from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP); domestic Islamist groups such as American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and the Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition; Islamist leaders such as Abbas Hamideh and Linda Sarsour; conspiracy-peddling ‘academics’ such as Asad Abukhalil and Steven Salaita; and gullible enablers such as “journalist” Ben Norton and CodePink co-director Ariel Gold.

Table of Contents

A. Introduction: ‘Zionist Coronavirus’ Canards

B. Portraying Zionism is the Real Virus: Al-Awda and its Islamist Inspiration

C. Victims and Vulnerability: Palestinians and COVID-19

1. Social Gathering: Gazans Defy Social Distancing to Hate on Israel Together

2. Israel Always at Fault: Ariel Gold and Ben Norton on COVID in Gaza

3. Predicting a Palestinian COVID-pocalypse: Jewish Voice for Peace, Linda Sarsour, B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, and IfNotNow

4. Coronavirus as BDS’ New Cudgel: Human Rights Watch, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, and Lamis Deek

5. COVID-19 a “Tool” of Israeli “Oppression”: Students for Justice in Palestine, Steven Salaita, Lamis Deek, Mondoweiss and Carlos Latuff

a. BDS Inspiration in the Arab and Muslim World

6. Justifying Israeli Suffering: Students for Justice in Palestine, Steven Salaita, Mairav Zonszein, and Sarah Leah Whitson 

7.  “The World is Not Enough”: Anti-Zionists Use COVID to Create No-Win Outcomes for Israel

a. ‘Aid-washing’: Electronic Intifada and BDS South Africa

b. Speculating about Israeli Schemes: Electronic Intifada and Asad Abukhalil

c. Projecting Pallywood Perversion on Israel: The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Scientists of the Palestinian Youth Movement

D. Conclusion

A. Introduction: ‘Zionist Coronavirus’ Canards

For years, those fighting the propaganda war against Israel have worked to “mainstream” their own radical, Islamist-connected movement by repeatedly linking the Jewish state with unrelated causes that already resonate widely. Anti-Israel activists preaching the “intersectionality” doctrine maintain that all “oppression” or misfortune is perpetrated or exacerbated by the same type of “oppressors”—often portrayed as all subscribing to the equally evil ideologies of racism, imperialism, capitalism, and/ or Zionism. Israel has thus been blamed for everything from deadly police violence against Black American communities to injustices on the America-Mexico border.

Similarly, the COVID-19 crisis represents an almost universally troubling and unpleasant situation; anti-Israel detractors (including intersectional BDS proponents and international Arab and Islamist media, and even western White Supremacists) have capitalized on the world-wide fear, disappointment, and economic catastrophe by associating the virus and its negative consequences with Israel and Zionism in any way possible.

Furthermore, determined anti-Zionists have used the pandemic to indulge their own confirmation-bias; as ex-professor and BDS devotee Steven Salaita (who has publicly blamed Zionism for anti-Semitism) shows (archived here), any circumstance can manipulated to fit the forgone conclusion that Israelis lack “compassion.”

B. Portraying Zionism as the Real Virus: Al-Awda and its Islamist Inspiration

Perhaps the laziest way in which anti-Israel propagandists have exploited the pandemic is by simply adapting the long tradition of comparing Israel or Zionism—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people—to disease.

The ancient history of conspiracy theories about Jews deliberately spreading sickness notwithstanding, some of the most infamous uses of the disease analogy are those of Iranian regime officials—including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and current president Hassan Rouhani—who have often referred to Israel as a “cancerous tumor” before declaring that it should be destroyed.

BDS proponents have followed suit: for instance, when a U.K.-based Islamist group called Innovative Minds organized a 2012 march for its “Boycott Israel Campaign“, signs included at least one that read, “Israel is a disease, We are the cure”.

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kombizz/8102745760/

 

More recently, in 2018, a tweet by the Palestine Information Center (a so-called news website that is frequently exposed for spreading blatant falsehoods) also called Israel “a disease” (archived here).

 

Finally, there’s the notorious 2004 Palestinian Solidarity Movement conference at Duke University, in which Mazin Qumsiyeh, Islamist co-founder of the radical anti-Israel group Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition, reportedly also referred to Zionism as a “disease”.

So, it’s especially fitting that Al-Awda’s co-founder (and apparent personal friend of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib), Abbas Hamideh, has been the latest to recycle this trope in the age of coronavirus. In his appropriation of the meme, he even managed to present himself (much like the Innovative Minds protestors) as the antidote to Zionism: Hamideh’s March 9th tweet declared (archived here), “This is how you fight the Zionavirus <3”.

Hamideh accompanied his tweet with a GIF of video footage of himself screaming into a megaphone at his March 1, 2020 Al-Awda rally outside the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference—the same rally we documented in our recent post, VIDEO – Anti-Israel AIPAC protester: “The Jews should be on their knees begging for forgiveness”Clearly not one for subtlety, Hamideh rounded off his “Zionavirus” tweet with caption that reads, “F#CK ISRAELI OCCUPATION” [sic].

C. Victims and Vulnerability: Palestinians and COVID-19

While the Abbas Hamidehs of the world might be content to tweet a vaguely anti-Semitic portmanteau and self-congratulatory GIF (see above), other BDS proponents have tried to manufacture links between Israel and COVID by adapting the more common BDS-central narratives of Palestinian victimhood and lack of agency in the face of twin evils: American imperialism and Zionist colonialism.

BDS advocates often falsely imply (or even state outright) that Israel is among the worst human rights abusers in the world. Correspondingly, they claim, Palestinians are among the most victimized of all people on Earth—and that their victimhood is almost always the fault of Israel alone.

For those who subscribe to this narrative, the current COVID-19 crisis presents a fresh batch of tragedies to embellish and attribute to Israel, and thus, a novel way to repackage and reinforce the tired (and largely erroneous) message of exceptional Palestinian vulnerability through no fault of their own.

A recent piece (archived here) in the anti-Israel blog Electronic Intifada (the co-founder of which, anti-Israel firebrand Ali Abunimah, has reportedly announced his intention to “take down the State of Israel”, pushes the “one-state-solution” in which Israel would no longer be a Jewish state, is a vocal proponent of BDS, and endorses the view that Israel’s founding and continued existence is a “catastrophe”) provides an example of the coronavirus-themed repackaging of BDS themes.

http://archive.is/65xxS

In the piece, author Tamara Nasser laments,

While the coronavirus sickens more people, Palestinians simultaneously face an older enemy: Israeli military occupation.

…”Gazans [are] amongst the most vulnerable people in the world to the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq stated.

But, as is often the case with BDS proponents, Nasser and Al-Haq’s hand-wringing about Palestinian welfare seems performative. Abstractly blaming the “occupation” for complicating the Palestinian response to COVID, Nasser deigns to take a closer look at reports coming out of Gaza itself.

1. Social Gathering: Gazans Defy Social Distancing to Hate on Israel Together

Indeed, reports from the Hamas-controlled territory indicate that some Gazan officials have prioritized continued public vilification of Israel over the safety of the Gazan people.

On March 30, an official Palestinian news agency tweeted photos of a crowded “press conference” officially marking “Palestine Land Day” (an annual anti-Israel hate fest, which often includes the Great Return March tradition, in which hundreds of Arabs—frequently members of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or other terror groups—rush Israel’s borders, provoking a violent conflict which can then be blamed on the Israeli military) in Gaza (archived here and here).

The photos show dozens of people (including children) gathered closely, none of whom are wearing masks of any kind. Two of the photos show a woman in a large leg cast and crutches (apparently not lacking in medical equipment, as anti-Israel forces have claimed) trodding happily on a large Israeli flag laid on the ground.

 

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http://archive.is/o5tIp/6df7a449d9f2bbdccd3b1e00b93c54e263129791.jpg

The gathering evidently proceeded as planned despite reports that the Hamas-controlled government had days earlier announced the implementation of preventative measures (after two Gazans who, also ignoring safety guidelines, returned to the territory from abroad and became the first to test positive for coronavirus):

The two patients attended a conference on Islam in Lahore, Pakistan, between March 11 and 15, sources in the Gaza Strip said. According to the sources, thousands of Muslims attended the conference, ignoring guidelines published by the Pakistani authorities banning such gatherings because of the coronavirus…A third Palestinian from the village of Karawet Bani Hassan, near Nablus, [in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank] who attended the same conference was also diagnosed with the disease upon his return from Pakistan last week.

Apparently, before those two patients were diagnosed,

“…we [Gazans] believed that the Gaza Strip was the safest place in the world,” said Ayman al-Ghul, a social worker from Gaza City.

2. Israel Always at Fault: Ariel Gold and Ben Norton on COVID in Gaza

But regardless of any indications to the contrary, anti-Israel entities have been only too ready to assert Israel’s exclusive fault for current and future Palestinian cases of COVID-19.

To find such an accusation, one need look no further than the CodePink National Co-Director, Ariel Gold.

We have covered Gold and the radical “anti-war” organization CodePink frequently in the past. As part of our coverage, we’ve often noted Gold’s tendency to obsessively blame Israel for entirely unrelated tragedies and traumas, such as in Code Pink National Co-Director Ariel Gold tries to use El Paso shooting against IsraelWe’ve also reported on her corresponding refusal to hold actual suppressive authoritarian regimes accountable for their crimes, such as in Code Pink sells out women and exploits Jews on propaganda tour of Iran.

In the last few weeks, Gold has lived up to her previous habits, repeatedly tweeting the same sentence and casting the blame for any Gazan COVID casualties on Israel.

 

Gold is not the only one; other Israel-haters have shared her sentiments, albeit with slightly more detailed explanations of the supposed linkage between Israel and Gazan coronavirus cases.

In a March 21 tweet, self-identified “journalist” (and editor of The Grayzone News) Ben Norton claimed (archived here) that Israel is responsible for any COVID-19 deaths in Gaza because it has “bombed to pieces” Gaza’s “health infrastructure”. (Norton did not mention Hamas’ well-documented habit of using Gaza’s “health infrastructure” for weapons storage, as launching pads, and as military headquarters.)

He adds, in what could only be a reference to Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, an accusation that Israel has subjected the territory to a “medieval-style siege” (whatever that means—perhaps he believes that Gaza is full of 12th century castle fortresses, against which much of Medieval siege warfare was waged).

 

3. Predicting a Palestinian COVID-pocalypse: Jewish Voice for Peace, Linda Sarsour, B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, and IfNotNow 

Other attributions of all coronavirus fault to Israel include not only exaggerated accusations of Israeli barbarism, but also incorporate dire, paranoid predictions of future Israeli-wrought Palestinian corona-pocalypse.

One such prediction came when the virulently anti-Israel organization Jewish Voice for Peace convened a “virtual rally” to mark the occasion of “Palestinian Land Day”. The rally’s keynote speaker was none other than infamous Islamist activist and Louis-Farrakhan-fangirl Linda Sarsour (who recently inspired backlash by declaring that “Israel is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everybody else”).
In her Land Day remarks via Zoom, Sarsour predicted that coronavirus might kill every person in Gaza, saying,
This COVID virus could potentially be an entire death sentence for over two million people, and that blood will be on the hands of the American people and the American government, who continues to support and uplift the government in Israel that continues to keep people in an open-air prison.
(You can watch the entire “rally” below or here.)

As we’ve noted before, Sarsour’s claim that Gaza is an “open-air prison” is “a central belief of the BDS movement, divorced of course, from the Hamas control and diversion of cement and other resources to tunnels and missiles.”

Further, like her “allies”, she also ignored that Gaza’s COVID cases began—even according to Hamas ministries—when two Palestinians who had traveled abroad freely returned.

It seems that nothing stops Sarsour or others in her camp from pontificating about Israel’s guilt, especially in view of the current extra-fearful atmosphere.

One particularly dark Palestinian-victimhood prediction came from the non-profit organization B’tselem, which calls itself “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories”. In reality, as we have explained before, B’tselem is

…a darling of the left because its job, like most foreign-funded NGOs, is to get up every morning to find something wrong with Israel and Israeli society. Those NGOs, who have a microscopic focus on Israel while turning a blind eye to Palestinian society, are a key part of the international propaganda war on Israel.
Indeed, B’tselem’s threatening March 23 tweet accused Israel of “creat[ing]” the COVID-19 crisis in Gaza, and warned that Israel won’t be able to “deflect blame” for the coming “nightmare scenario” (archived here).

Similarly, the watchdog group NGO Monitor noted, New York-based Human Rights Watch organization has spread the same type of agitprop:

On March 15, 2020, Executive Director Ken Roth tweeted, “The coronavirus will test the wisdom of Israel’s policies for crippling the economy and health systems of Gaza and the West Bank. As the occupying power (for Gaza, too, given Israel’s severe restrictions on movement), Israel is responsible for health care.”

Of course, Roth did not apply his “test” to Egypt (which also shares a border with Gaza) and its accompanying restrictions on imports and travel. Neither, it seems, did the group IfNotNow (INN)—an intersectional anti-Zionist organization that (much like Jewish Voice for Peace) seeks to create division within the American Jewish community by (a) vilifying Israel and (b) blaming American Jews for the “injustice” of the “occupation.”

We have written about INN’s effort to hijack unrelated social justice movements, such as American immigration debates and campaigns for LGBTQ civil rights, in order to turn the members of those movements against Israel. Naturally, INN has done the same with the COVID-19 crisis. The Investigative Project on Terrorism documented (archived here) INN’s hysterical, Israel-focused reaction when news of the first COVID-19 cases in Gaza emerged:

“This could become one of the worst outbreaks of #coronavirus in the world,” the group IfNotNow (INN) wrote on Facebook. “If the Israeli Government does not immediately lift its own military blockade of Gaza and deliver medical supplies like masks and ventilators, thousands of Palestinians could die.”

Though INN’s posted article stated that the first cases of the virus in Gaza had come from Pakistan, described Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on Gaza, and argued that those very restrictions had actually slowed the spread of the virus there, INN ignored the facts and blamed Israel for a disaster that has not even transpired—all for the purpose of advancing its own cause.

And beyond their counterfactual narratives about the situation on the ground in Gaza or the purpose and effects of Israeli security measures (such as its Gaza naval blockade) such distortions by so-called humanitarian entities can even exacerbate the danger Palestinians face from COVID.

By attributing unconditional blame to Israel for any future Palestinian COVID outbreaks, anti-Israel detractors have absolved Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (P.A.)—the authoritarian and deeply corrupt Palestinian governments controlling Gaza and most Palestinian areas of the West Bank, respectively—of their overwhelming culpability for most of Palestinian suffering.

Further, given that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have proven time and time again that they will gladly sacrifice the safety and well-being of Palestinians to scapegoat Israel, any signals—especially from Western sources—that Hamas and the P.A. won’t be held responsible for their own people’s hardship can further incentivize each regime to endanger those many citizens they consider expendable.

4. Coronavirus as BDS’ New Cudgel: Human Rights Watch, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslims for Palestine, and Lamis Deek

As we have seen, wild conjectures about a grim Palestinian future are part and parcel of the larger anti-Israel effort to exploit the already powerful panic over COVID-19; exaggerating the situation on the ground allows BDS campaigners to increase pressure on decision-makers.

By alleging a causal relationship between policies that ensure Israel’s continued safe existence as a Jewish state and a potential Palestinian COVID-pocalypse, Sarsour, B’tselem, Roth, and others are using the crisis as just another in a long line of rhetorical cudgels meant to force Israel into acquiescing to the same set of destructive demands already advanced by the BDS campaign and its precursors for decades.

For example, though BDS advocates have already clamored for years for Israel to disband its legal naval blockade of Gaza, they have now doubled down on that demand, insisting that the blockade must be disbanded in order to allow masks and other pandemic-slowing materials into the Hamas-controlled territory.

As NGO Monitor noted, Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir alleged in a tweet (archived here) that

“Israel has caged 2 million ppl in 25by7 mile (40by11 KM) enclave & sharply restricted entry of goods for 13 yrs, decimating Gaza’s health sector. Real risk of a calamity. Closure must end.” Shakir ignores Hamas’ corruption, abuse of aid, and decision to devote resources to terror instead of building medical infrastructure.

 

 

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), for its part, has promoted the Twitter hashtag #SpreadSolidarity as part of its campaign to demand that Israel lift its legal naval blockade of Gaza in light of coronavirus (a move which would undoubtedly facilitate increased transport of weapons to Hamas). One tweet featured a graphic that exhorted, “Let Gaza Breathe” (archived here).

As part of its campaign, JVP has also targeted American lawmakers, launching a petition asking followers to “Tell Congress: End the Gaza blockade” because “COVID-19 is uniquely threatening to Palestinians in Gaza.” It continued by again predicting an inevitable Gazan extinction should Israel maintain its security measures:

We call upon members of Congress to tell Israel to end its death sentence for the people of Gaza and lift the blockade.

Other America-based anti-Israel figures have employed this same tactic. One of these is self-described “Human Rights Attorney,Activist,Strategist – Peoples’ Ninja Lawyer” [sic] (and one-time board member for the Council on American-Islamic Relations‘ New York branch, CAIR-NY) Lamis Deek; despite her professed concern for human rights, Deek has glorified Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists and praised Hamas murderers for killing Israelis.

So it’s no surprise that she recently insinuated that American healthcare during the COVID pandemic has suffered because of the “billions$” the United States spends on Israel, “the most militarized society on earth & worlds last living apartheid colonizing project” [sic] (archived here).

In a similar vein, the radically anti-Israel organization American Muslims for Palestine sent an email blast asking its followers to demand that Congress “Defund Israel’s human rights abuses…” and claiming, “The Palestinian people need our solidarity now more than event as they weather this coronavirus storm while also surviving cruel Israeli oppression.”
http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/51044/p/dia/action4/common/public/?action_KEY=22716

5. COVID-19 a “Tool” of Israeli “Oppression”: Students for Justice in Palestine, Steven Salaita, Lamis Deek, Mondoweiss and Carlos Latuff

Even beyond exploiting COVID fears by insisting that Israel renders the pandemic more dangerous for Palestinians than it is for anyone else, anti-Israel activists have gone so far as to assert that its Israel (and occasionally the United States) that’s exploiting the virus—by deliberately using it as a weapon against the ever vulnerable Palestinians.

Former professor Steven Salaita (mentioned above) and a fan have claimed exactly that (archived here), tarring the entire United States with no explanation—and all of Israel based on a single semi-satirical article (that actually advocates for Palestinian welfare in any case).

Meanwhile, our favorite “human rights lawyer”, Lamis Deek made a similarly peculiar coronavirus-related accusation, tweeting that Israel is using COVID-19 as a “tool for ethnic cleansing and genocide of Palestinians” (archived here).

Then there’s the case of Brazil-based anti-Israel cartoonist Carlos Latuff (whose cartoons have compared Palestinian violence against Israelis to life-saving heroics by benevolent comic-book characters and won him second prize in the Iranian regime’s Holocaust cartoon contest) published his take on Israel and COVID in the anti-Israel blog, Mondoweiss. His cartoon depicts an Israeli soldier perched along the concrete portion of Israel’s security barrier, forcing a harmless, old Palestinian woman at gunpoint to limp forward into a wall of giant COVID-19 viruses.

The image implies that Israel is using the virus to ‘do its dirty work’, so to speak; Latuff seems to operate on the assumption that Israel’s goal is to exterminate Palestinians and views the pandemic as just tool to use in accomplishing this goal. The cartoon also ironically insinuates that Israel is free of COVID cases, whereas it has relegated to Palestinians to areas that are completely saturated with the disease.

Of course, this could not be further from the truth; the latest reports show that Israel has over 9,000 documented cases of the virus so far. 60 of them have proven fatal. By comparison, the latest Palestinian reports tally far fewer Palestinian cases—by number and percentage—with 247 cases in the West Bank and only 13 cases in Gaza.

As blogger IsraellyCool noted, the cartoon

…conveniently ignores the facts that Gaza also shares a border with Egypt (who similarly restrict movement), Hamas has now closed Gaza’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt for travel due to the coronavirus, and Israel is cooperating with the palestinians in the fight against this common enemy.

https://www.israellycool.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/coronavirus-latuff.jpg

 

Despite these facts, the charge that Israel is deliberately using the virus to exacerbate its already cruel treatment of Palestinians is gaining ground with BDS-campaigners.

In fact, this allegation has become a favorite of the nationwide university organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has been a key driver of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on college campuses since its first chapter was founded in 2001.

SJP has been the subject of numerous posts here because of its highly aggressive, sometimes blatantly anti-Semitic antics, such as when the Vassar College SJP chapter disseminated a literal Nazi cartoon, and the University of California, Davis chapter taunted Jewish students with chants of “Allahu Akbar.” We’ve also noted how SJP groups are at the forefront of the ‘intersectional’ effort to hijack unrelated causes such as Black Lives Matter; for instance, SJP works to inject anti-Zionism into a broad swath of the contemporary civil rights movement by co-opting BLM protests (such as in FergusonBaltimore, and New York City). In another example, a coalition of New York City-area SJP chapters appropriated student struggles with tuition payments, co-opting the 2015 student protests of the City University of New York administration by spreading claims that tuition increases were tied to CUNY’s “Zionist administration” and Israeli investments.

So it’s no surprise that SJP has again led the way in appropriating coronavirus for its pre-existing propaganda goals.

One SJP chapter employing this tactic is the Cornell University branch, which has long tried (and failed) to pass BDS resolutions at Cornell—even using Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine imagery in its pro-BDS crusades.

In its March 16 Facebook post, Cornell SJP blamed Israel for coronavirus with typical bombast; incorporating quintessential Islamist language, the post declared, “The Zionist Entity’s inhuman [sic] occupation has made every day a state of emergency in Gaza.”

 

https://www.facebook.com/CornellS4JP/posts/1506437439524783?__xts__[0]=68.ARCF5McWT45Yi9tOZ7KKBb8yRfgAXEaY0dIuRFuRMsx5igqvkiZrGchRUQdiAXjRv5WdKqpPHlR7RF5q8weeg8nTuoQ92aZSsSj_QRlRYV7oxkWkKhzbizqCcsQCI4nQnXSz0uN9aJkXCHacj0bK_tarb6zsnS-ufsQIURrudJXy7OZ5aniaGSt0TSg0h2ZAatxR5D4wRuly4lqf3MBYDp5RxGruiDZty57lgamE4Tix_V5A4mLjTKQUlFbolyGsXdzGP9FA_8_mPH1W_VzeSF_iFebYhJTtXbs68LMRfCp42otku_IGfTjB6XQnbXCsy2lI0pjCvxnXD0sXBy6tT78yvdQ1M93WqoWEAZrQeC_k4Q75xsVhNx-x7Nv56Lhj9gdudC5VgzJjGSK0gNx1GSA7m0EJ_uxbpZZzwVQfs3oeFDCNtJ6IJTIpXSFzxHgmbb-EDN2mCHb6MkSZdi_JtwcoKoHVvT7h2aUKOS9SwaBcYajAuQwRsdZR&__tn__=-R

 

Meanwhile, at the University of Maryland, SJP organized a March 10, 2020 event sloppily tying coronavirus to the “Occupation” (archived here).

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/148895106309144/

a. BDS Inspiration in the Arab and Muslim World

Lest our readers come away from this post believing that BDS proponents have created those clever coronavirus adaptations of standard anti-Israel memes all by themselves, we’ve also included instances of the same type of accusations gathered from the Arab world.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates media from the MENA region, has published multiple examples of accusations that Israel is using COVID as a weapon against its enemies:

The coronavirus outbreak has been accompanied by the circulation of many conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, which were published, inter alia, in the Arab media and especially in the Palestinian media. While Palestinian Authority (PA) government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said that the PA is taking measures against the virus in coordination and collaboration with Israel, some in the Palestinian media accused Israel and the U.S. of spreading the coronavirus in the world for various reasons: in order to weaken China and Iran, to help Trump’s reelection campaign and/or to facilitate Israel’s takeover of the region.

For example, in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, a March 16, 2020 political cartoon MEMRI highlighted shows “coronavirus in the form of an Israeli tank pursuing a Palestinian carrying an infant.” Notably, the cartoon echoes Carlos Latuff’s cartoon above; both drawings cast the Palestinians, each fearful and held at gunpoint, as unquestionably innocent and defenseless. Both drawings also depict oversize versions of the virus itself blocking or controlling the Palestinian path forward.

https://www.memri.org/reports/palestinian-writers-coronavirus-biological-weapon-employed-us-israel-against-their-enemies

 

Of another example from Palestinian media, MEMRI explains (emphasis added),

As’ad Al-Zouni, a Jordanian journalist of Palestinian origin who frequently writes antisemitic and conspiratorial articles, wrote on the Palestinian news website Dunya Al-Watan that the Jews and the CIA are responsible for spreading the virus: “[The emergence of] the coronavirus, which is spreading throughout the world… and which appeared in China the very same day the contractor President Trump signed a trade agreement with this giant country, cannot be regarded as a completely random event. This is especially since the American media machine, which is directed by the Zionists, treats the whole affair as a deal. Perhaps the spread of the [virus] in 46 American states happened after the contractor Trump displayed indifference to the situation and told the Americans: ‘Don’t worry, it’s not serious, it will blow over.’…This virus is surely an outcome of the Jews’ concealed hatred for the entire world, and its spread in the U.S. is meant to demonstrate this and to serve as a weapon for the contractor Trump in the upcoming election, so as to ensure his reelection in return for the [favors] he bestowed upon the colony of Israel, the Khazar, Zionist, Jewish terrorist [entity].

Chief of [these favors] were the Deal of the Century, [and measures and statements regarding] Jerusalem, the Golan and the settlements. When the Jews ignited the conflagration of World War I, they won the Balfour Declaration, and when they started the conflagration of World War II, they won the establishment of their Khazar colony in Palestine. [Now] they want to start the conflagration of a third [world] war, in order to declare the establishment of the greater Jewish kingdom of Israel – and here we are, living in an atmosphere of a third world war, in which the military and political horizons of the regional and domestic conflicts are sealed, while the economic stagnation grows worse by the day due to rising prices and the political stagnation.”

In a third example, MEMRI captured a recent speech by a Yemeni scholar claiming that COVID-19 is part of a Jewish plot to “Judaize” sacred Muslim cities.

6. Justifying Israeli Suffering: Students for Justice in Palestine, Steven Salaita, Mairav Zonszein, and Sarah Leah Whitson 

By now, we’ve seen multiple examples of the ways in which anti-Israel propagandists from around the world have twisted news and facts about COVID-19 to reinforce the narrative of Zionist evil. But there is yet another layer to this BDS-heavy habit: some have sought to exploit the negative effects of world-wide quarantines. By alleging that the now widespread, lock-down-precipitated financial woes, frustration, loneliness, and boredom are equivalent—or not even as severe—to what Palestinians experience daily, anti-Zionists hope to associate Israel with a deeply unpleasant experience to which almost everyone can now relate personally.

Here, former professor Steven Salaita provides yet another illustrative example of ‘lock-down exploitation’ in action (archived here):

In this way, anti-Israel cohorts can exploit the crisis as a means of building support for their movement, both within and without Israel.

But this tactic has more uses still. By claiming that the COVID lockdowns in Israel are similar to what Israel imposes on Palestinians—that Israelis are getting a taste of their own medicine—anti-Zionists can justify their own indifference to Israeli suffering as a result of the pandemic. Even worse, they can justify the conviction that Israelis deserve to suffer because of COVID-19.

Case in point: Mairav Zonszein, a Jewish anti-Zionist writer focusing on “Israel/Palestine and its role in US politics” and “all things dissent” made plain her lack of sympathy for Israelis suffering from any aspect of the pandemic. Zonszein, a “freelance journalist” who has defended Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and B’tselem against charges of anti-Semitism, reacted cynically to news of Israeli lockdowns, comparing the preventative measure to what “Palestinians living under occupation have experienced for over half a century”.

Worse, Zonszein’s bitterness attracted a like-minded response from Sarah Leah Whitson, a former Human Rights Watch official. NGO Monitor documented,

Sarah Leah Whitson, currently at the Quincy Institute and previously head of the MENA division at Human Rights Watch…used the classic antisemitic blood libel in responding [to Zonszein’s tweet] about “6 million jewish israelis” understanding life under “occupation” due to the virus, stating “such a tiny taste. Missing a tablespoon of blood.”

https://twitter.com/GeraldNGOM/status/1239243614175313920

Perhaps Whitson regretted her outburst of what seems to be a combination of schadenfreude and an accusation of Israeli bloodletting, because Whitson later deleted the tweet. (Though, since September 2018, she’s kept a reverential ‘Pinned tweet’ on her account showing an artistic depiction of an iconic image associated with the Mohammed Al-Dura case. Al-Dura’s case is widely considered to have been a hoax framing Israel for the murder of a twelve-year-old Arab boy—and subsequently, a modern iteration of the anti-Semitic blood libel).

Other anti-Zionists have been less sheepish about their overt apathy over Israeli suffering. One of the most shocking of these reactions appeared in reaction to the tragic March 20 report of Israel’s first COVID-19 fatality: a 88-year old widely beloved survivor of the Nazi Holocaust named Aryeh Even, who was so adored that even his COVID hospital nurse, Rachel, shared her devastation at his passing:

My heart is broken. On Friday night my worst fears were realized as I watched my beloved patient, Aryeh Even, take his last breaths on earth. By the grace of God, two patients *angels* rush to his side. With tears in my eyes, I watch them instinctively place their hands on his eyes and recite the ‘Shema’ prayer. They comfort him and say goodbye as his holy soul enters the gates of Heaven. You’ve touched my heart, the staff and the patients that surrounded you. I know your life will inspire the rest of Am Yisrael as well. Go in peace. Go to your resting place in peace. Look out for us from above.

The widespread sorrow over Even’s death apparently prompted former New York University student and SJP leader, Leen Dweik, to announce her own callous indifference to the tragedy on Twitter.

Soon after Dweik published her tweet, widespread backlash prompted her alma mater to comment:

New York University (NYU) took an unusual step this week, condemning a former student for a mocking tweet about the first Israeli coronavirus fatality.

Upon learning of the death of Aryeh Even, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor who lived in Jerusalem, last Friday, Leen Dweik — ex-president of NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter — tweeted, “Anyway should I paint my nails red or green today?”

On Tuesday, NYU spokesman John Beckman issued a statement, saying, “With almost 500,000 alumni, NYU does not routinely respond to its graduates’ social media posts, but the reported Twitter post by a former NYU student about the first Israeli death from COVID-19 was shameful and callous.”

“The death and disruption caused by this pandemic should be reason to draw us together in sympathy, not be fodder for divisiveness and indifference,” he added. “NYU denounces such insensitivity; it is at odds with our campus’ values.”

But, just as is the case for other anti-Israel activists we’ve discussed here, this hateful incident is not an unexpected anomaly for Dweik, who reportedly served as “president of NYU’s SJP chapter from 2018-2019. She promoted and co-authored a student government pro-BDS resolution at NYU in 2018.”

She also appears to a “Buzzfeed contributor” and co-wrote a March 2019 piece for the publication. She and her JVP-affiliated co-author used their fifteen minutes of Buzzfeed fame to advertise themselves as “people in unwavering solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and human rights” and “activists who are unafraid to speak the truth” who “know we have a duty to call out any bigotry wherever it exists” and “understand far too well the consequences of anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim bigotry, and white supremacy.”

Yet, in the same article, Dweik and her co-author also defended Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s controversial 2019 insinuation that AIPAC bribes members of Congress to support Israel, and decried the “massive influence of the Israel lobby”. Correspondingly, the rest of Dweik’s tweets leave little doubt that this COVID-related expression of bigotry was not anomalous; among them include multiple statements endorsing Israel’s destruction or reacting with derision to reports of the suffering of Israel-connected students (archived here and here):

 

7. “The World is Not Enough”: Anti-Zionists Use COVID to Create No-Win Outcomes for Israel

As is Israel’s wont, even in the face of international propaganda efforts to exploit the COVID crisis against it, the tiny Jewish state has determinately been working closely with Palestinians, coordinating the transfer of medical supplies, humanitarian aid, and even medical trainers to Gaza and Arab areas of the West Bank, as well as working to ensure that all COVID-19 patients in Israel are given proper care, regardless of religious affiliation. Even the United Nations—not known for being a particular friend of Israel—has applauded the “excellent” Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in fighting the pandemic.

But, for anti-Israel detractors, these facts are largely irrelevant—if not a threat to BDS delegitimization efforts. Subsequently, many vocal anti-Zionists have begun to adapt another familiar BDS tactic: dismissing (or simply denying) any good works Israel may do as (a) an attempt to distract the world from its abuse of Palestinians and/ or (b) a precursor to further injustices against Palestinians.

a. ‘Aid-Washing’: Electronic Intifada and BDS South Africa

BDS activists have embraced these claims before; as we’ve described before, obsessive anti-Zionists have often accused Israel of Pinkwashing—purposefully enacting pro-LGBTQ policies in order to distract the world from the fact of Israeli cruelty toward Palestinians. Prolific blogger Elder of Ziyon puts it well:

To these sick people, it is literally impossible for Israel or Israelis to do anything admirable outside the context of the conflict. The conflict is everything. To them, Israel itself is defined by its own desire to rid itself of Arabs. Any counter-proof is readily dismissed as nothing more than PR. The concept that most Israelis are just trying to live their lives like everyone else, and that they might even be nice, normal, relatable people, must be combated. If Israelis are perceived by the world as human beings, their message of Israeli criminality gets diluted – and that must be fought. Anything that could blunt the demonization of the Jewish state is by definition as evil as the Jewish state itself is.

One such person calls themselves “gazawia” on Twitter and claims to be a “phd candidate at columbia u”. Apparently determined to find a way to deflect attention from Israel’s recent transfer of medical supplies to Gaza, gazawia responded to a humanitarian Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) update with outrage, calling the group “occupiers” who “have no right to decide what goes in and out of Gaza” (archived here):

 

 

A few days earlier, an Electronic Intifada editor called Maureen Murray responded to COGAT in a similar cynical fashion (archived here):

 

So it is for some BDS fans who strive to obscure as much of Israel’s effort to help COVID-afflicted Palestinians as possible, and simultaneously exploit the pandemic as a propaganda tool against it. As Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs noted in a recent essay,

Israeli measures to protect Israeli Arab citizens and residents, including the Israeli Health Ministry’s detailed instructions in Arabic,2 did not prevent BDS South Africa’s leadership from delivering its regular diet of mendacious and conspiratorial accusations against Israel, as part of its 2020 annual “Israel Apartheid Week.” On March 19, Mohammed Desai, BDS South Africa’s founder and chief evangelist, charged Israel with refusing to issue vital life-saving instructions in Arabic to Arabic speaking citizens and residents of the Jewish state. However, Desai’s false accusation was exposed on the spot by the TV debate’s other guest, Israeli Arab Yoseph Haddad, who called out a shocked Desai as a “liar” on South African national television.3

Desai’s fabrication was echoed by Ronnie Kasrils, an outspoken Jewish South African BDS activist, a professed communist member of the African National Congress, and a leading adversary of the Jewish state. Kasrils declared to the South African Daily Maverick, “Israel…only delivers its coronavirus advice in Hebrew, ignoring the Arab mother tongue of 20 percent of Palestinians living within the Zionist state.”4

On the other hand, should BDS-proponents be forced to acknowledge any Israeli aid to or consideration of Arabs, they can argue that the aid was purposefully insufficient and designed to whitewash Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

For example, one Israel-hater responded to COGAT’s efforts with exactly that complaint, insinuating that the Israeli transfer of equipment to Gaza was “fooling no one” (archived here).

b. Speculating about Israeli Schemes: Electronic Intifada and Asad Abukhalil

In this way, anti-Zionists have used the COVID-19 pandemic to create a lose-lose situation for Israel. Any positive steps Israel takes can be reinterpreted as evidence of nefarious Israeli intentions; including by accusing Israel of planning to commit further injustices against Palestinians.

In a recent Arabic-language tweet (archived here), California State University professor Asad Abukhalil complained, “It’s been more than two weeks” since an Israeli research center planned to announce its development of a COVID-19 vaccine. But Abukhalil didn’t leave it at that; instead, he charged (without evidence, naturally) that the apparent delay in the release of Israel’s vaccine might be due to an Israeli plan to deprive Arabs of access to the vaccine for an indeterminable amount of time, wondering if it would be “A year? Two years? Three years?”

 

 

A similarly bizarre example of anti-Zionist speculation about non-existent Israeli plans to oppress Palestinians appeared in the Electronic Intifada article mentioned above (“Pandemic and Occupation”). The author, Tamara Nasser, agonized over the possibility that Israel would cut some Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem off from the rest of the city using coronavirus as an excuse—despite the fact that the very source she cited as evidence for this possibility expressly stated that Jerusalem’s mayor and police had no plans to execute it. She wrote,

“Such a measure would be one step further in realizing longstanding Israeli plans to redraw Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries to formally disconnect these neighborhoods from Jerusalem.”
Israel would be using coronavirus as a pretext to cut off those neighborhoods from the rest of Jerusalem, despite the number of confirmed cases being dramatically lower in those neighborhoods compared to Israel.

Elsewhere, Cal State professor, Asad Abukhalil has accused Israel of planning even more sinister atrocities in light of the COVID pandemic (archived here). Elder of Ziyon documented,

And at California State University, which employs Asad Abukhalil (who has a blog called The Angry Arab), the professor accuses Israel of planning to put all non-Jews in mass prisons.

c. Projecting Pallywood Perversion on Israel: The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights and Scientists of the Palestinian Youth Movement

Abukhalil’s above tweet is particularly ludicrous, but a November 2019 open letter by the (now-retired) Boston University scholar Richard Landes provides an explanation for the increasingly preposterous anti-Zionist theories about Israel’s intentions.

Addressing a Boston University controversy that arose when it contemplated hiring Dr. Sarah Ihmoud (an anti-Semitic BDS evangelist masquerading as an academic), Professor Landes wrote (emphasis added):

Dr. Ihmoud is not a scholar, but a professional propagandist, whose task, much like traditional practitioners of the longest hatred, is to accuse Israel (i.e., sovereign Jews) of deliberately and maliciously attacking innocent Palestinians. She does this with manufactured claims (hence the importance of her unreliable references), which she then folds into a post-colonial theoretical structure that turns Israel into the embodiment of evil, guilty of genocide, and the world’s misfortune.

…Indeed, I suspect that when we examine carefully her claims, it will turn out that many of her accusations against Israel are projections of the [Middle Eastern] culture she does not discuss, a pattern very common in antisemitic charges past and present. (Certainly, her citing of Mordechai Kedar mistakes his description of Palestinian culture for a call to Israel to behave in such a manner; and she accuses Ben-Gurion of weaponizing Zionist wombs, when that is explicitly a Palestinian theme.) The reason so many enthusiasts for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the Nazis and Communists of the 20th century, to the global Jihadis of the 21st, found that forged document so exciting, was because it allowed them to accuse Jews of precisely the criminal ambitions they themselves embraced.

Indeed, whether BDS champions are justifying their contempt for coronavirus-induced Israeli suffering or fabricating stories of Israeli hatred, many of their anti-Israel COVID claims seem to be “projections” as well.

In a textbook example, an anti-Israel keyboard crusader recently responded to news of Israeli Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even’s coronavirus death by asserting, “They’ll probably blame it on the Palestinians” (archived here); this is despite the overwhelming number of instances in which Palestinians and anti-Israel proselytizers of all kinds have overtly blamed the virus on Israel.

https://twitter.com/Yathiinn_LK/status/1241101091896524803
In another example, an anti-Israel organization we’ve covered in depth before—The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USPCR)—assembled an online “toolkit” for “Organizing for Palestinian Rights During COVID-19”.
https://uscpr.org/covidtoolkit?emci=7ae2ea5f-186a-ea11-a94c-00155d03b5dd&emdi=6945a755-1f6a-ea11-a94c-00155d03b5dd&ceid=1610943#1584642672600-ef7fe00a-8f41
The toolkit is full of sources that project anti-Zionist behavior onto Israel, presenting conspiratorial accusations against the Jewish state as fact. Still, USCPR seems totally unaware of this tendency, and in the introduction to the toolkit, USCPR takes the opportunity to praise itself and its allies for pursuing “justice”:
As organizers building a better world with justice for all people, we know that times of great social crisis must be transformed into moments of great possibility. Inspired by generations of resilient organizers, the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) national organizing and advocacy staff created this toolkit for local Palestinian rights organizers wrestling with the challenges of this moment.
One of the links included in the toolkit is an open letter by a group calling itself Scientists of the Palestinian Youth Movement. In an especially bizarre inversion of reality, they ignore the myriad claims that Israelis are using the virus as a weapon, and instead insist that “Zionist media” will blame Palestinians for the COVID-19’s spread instead (emphasis added):

Scientists of the Palestinian Youth Movement (SPYM) writes to voice our analysis and concerns regarding the escalation of responses to coronavirus disease COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), formerly known as 2019-nCoV (2019 novel coronavirus). We believe that science does not exist in a vacuum, and scientific rigor must incorporate an understanding of the systemic forces of oppression and dispossession. We must remain attentive to all of those individuals and populations who are structurally deprived of the means necessary to lessen their exposure to the virus and of quality medical care generally.

Palestinians who continue to struggle against Zionist colonization and ethnic cleansing, for example, face restricted access to hospitals and are denied the necessary treatment due to the brutaoul machinery of military occupation, siege, and apartheid. Medical deprivation is not an incidental outgrowth of a settler-colonial project, but an inherent measure of a colonial system geared toward making the land and society fatally uninhabitable for the native population. The Zionist state, built on the dispossession and exile of Palestinians, has always considered Palestinians an external threat to the state, often equating them directly with contagion and vermin. Given this, we have every reason to believe that Zionist media will blame Palestinians themselves and their underserved health system as the main perpetrators of COVID-19.

In addition to constricting Palestinian access to healthcare, the Zionist state is the main actor in curbing Palestine’s emergency health responses to mass scale emergencies that the state itself has inflicted upon the Palestinian people, including genocidal campaigns in Gaza.

D. Conclusion

For BDS spin-doctors, not much is sacred. From faking injuries to using children as props, from welcoming Jewish suffering to accusing the Jewish state of the same behavior perpetrated against it;  for decades, anti-Israel agitators have staged elaborate and horrifying scenes of Israeli brutality and Palestinian victimhood while simultaneously trumpeting their own righteousness for doing so.

The COVID-19 crisis has proven to be no different. Attaching the Jewish national liberation movement and the world’s only sovereign Jewish nation-state to coronavirus devastation allows Israel haters to more easily frame Israel in the same way anti-Semites have tried to frame Jews for generations: a wantonly destructive but shadowy force, almost uncontainable and unknowably powerful, just like the virus itself.

Professor Landes has noted that BDS enthusiasts and Pallywood manufacturers are able to succeed in their propaganda endeavors in large part due to the credulity and eagerness of the western enablers to present these images, which reinforce the image of the Palestinian David struggling valiantly against the overpowering Israeli Goliath. In the age of the novel coronavirus, international Islamists and their leftist intersectional enablers have added to this myth: Goliath is using biological warfare, and David doesn’t even have a mask.

[Featured Image: Counter-CUFI protest, July 2019]

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Samantha Mandeles is Senior Researcher and Outreach Director at the Legal Insurrection Foundation.

 

 
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