Chants of “America is the head of the snake” welcomed U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to the Palestinians’ working capital of Ramallah last week. Considering that the dictatorial Palestinian Authority runs Ramallah, this protest against “receiving the enemies of the Palestinian people on our land” was tolerated, if not authorized. Such anti-Americanism is as central to the Palestinian national movement’s ideology as terrorism is to the movement’s strategy.
The current climb in support for Palestinians , especially among Democrats, ignores this inconvenient fact. Characteristically, most media outlets ignored the demonstration; it doesn’t fit into today’s narrative.
Palestinian leaders have consistently embraced America’s foes—from the Soviet Union to Iran. And Palestinian terrorists have consistently targeted Americans. In 1973, PLO head Yasser Arafat’s Black September terrorist group murdered two American diplomats in Khartoum: Cleo Noel Jr. and Curtis Moore. On Sept. 11, 2001, Palestinians rejoiced when the World Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed, distributing candy to symbolize their delight. In 2003, Gazan terrorists ambushed an American diplomatic convoy, adding three more Americans to the dozens of Americans that Palestinian terrorists have killed in Israel, including the veteran Taylor Force in 2016.
Palestinian groups often echo their Iranian patrons, shouting “Death to America ” following their favorite call “Death to Israel.” In 2006, when Blinken’s predecessor, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visited Ramallah, protesters laced their anti-Americanism with racism , calling her “the raven,” the “colored dark-skinned black lady” and “black spinster.” In a Pew study conducted in 2013, when President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies still overshadowed Donald Trump’s, 76 percent of Palestinians led the world in characterizing America as an “enemy.” Then, 90 percent of Israelis deemed America a “partner.”
Last month on the Temple Mount, as part of Hamas’s power struggle with the Palestinian Authority, pro-Hamas forces denounced P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas with one of their harshest insults. They called him an “American agent .”
This anti-Americanism fits a constellation of anti-democratic hatreds, especially anti-Semitism, which unites many, often-squabbling Palestinians. These animosities provide convenient scapegoats, laced as they are with conspiratorial theories, accusations of hidden power and built-in explanations for Palestinian frustrations.
Since the 1970s, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism have often overlapped. Judeophobia and what the British editorialist Michael Gove calls Yankee-phobia have well-established European pedigrees. Europeans alternate between romanticizing America and making America their Schreckbild (“image of horror”), while the Jews were Europeans’ favorite scapegoats for millennia through 1945. Adolf Hitler explained his “hatred and repugnance” of America by calling it “half-Judaized, half-negrified, with everything built on the dollar.”
Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War and America’s Vietnam mess helped export both hatreds throughout the developing world. Meanwhile, self-hating American radicals imported them, as Soviet propagandists exploited it all. The Romanian intelligence defector Ion Mihai Pacepa revealed in 2003, that Russia’s secret police “always regarded anti-Semitism plus anti-imperialism as a rich source of anti-Americanism.” For years, starting in the 1970s, the KGB paid the media-savvy Arafat “about $200,000 in laundered cash every month” to foment these hatreds.
Those big lies outlasted the Soviet Union. Today, on the West’s far-left, prejudices against Israel and America are among the last legitimate bigotries—rare hatreds acceptable for airing in polite circles from faculty clubs to television studios.
Part of the confusion is that critics often justify their anger by focusing on what Israel or America “does,” when much of their hatred comes from what Israel or America “is.” Both anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism are essentialist hatreds, attacking each country’s character, finding them forever guilty of something—in Israel’s case, often just of existing.
Most of Israel’s American critics don’t usually endorse terrorism, bigotry, misogyny or dictatorship. These “Blame Israel Firsters” claim that the Jewish state behaves so abominably that Palestinians are compelled to respond violently. Most media coverage implicitly blamed Israel for the recent violence by emphasizing the half-dozen title disputes in Sheikh Jarrah or the fracas near the Al-Aksa mosque. But exaggerating these accelerants that Hamas exploited while dismissing Hamas’s genocidal calls for Israel’s destruction and other root causes is perverse. It’s like blaming northern aggression for the Civil War by ignoring slavery and racism.
When sincere people ignore the obvious, they are usually choosing to emphasize something else instead. Only one force today could make feminists ignore their feminism by tolerating Palestinian thugs’ cries to “rape” Jews’ “daughters,” or make liberals check their liberalism by tolerating autocrats or make peaceniks override their pacifism by rationalizing terrorism.
That force is “race,” meaning what is now called “anti-racism.”
The decades-long propaganda campaign to frame Zionism as racism and Israel as an apartheid state, caricaturing Palestinians as dark-skinned, perennially oppressed, perpetually innocent people, is peaking—just as the American left, obsessed with identity politics, is branding “white supremacy” the root cause of most evils. “The fight for black lives and the fight for Palestinian liberation are interconnected,” insists Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.).
Alyssa Rubin of the anti-Israel group IfNotNow goes even further, telling The New York Times that with America’s racial reckoning, more young people are “looking at Israel/Palestine and realizing it is the exact same system.” Even worse, the Jewish and non-Jewish left has now adopted the ugly phrase that neo-Nazis developed accusing Jews of arrogance: “Jewish supremacy .”
Palestinians should not hitch an ideological ride on the backs of blacks. They neither experienced the helplessness African-Americans suffered while enslaved nor the vilification African-Americans endured once free.
An effective foreign policy balances what President Barack Obama called “our interests and our conscience.” Overlooking Palestinian anti-Americanism and illiberalism demonstrates the dangers of reducing every complex issue to yet another Trumpians versus Progressives, Black Lives Matter versus White Supremacist, Culture War clash. Distracting us from our foreign policy’s dual mission, it leaves us unprotected while tarnishing our ideals.
Reporters treat the Middle East conflict as being about who did what to whom last week, month, year, century—and just what border might be drawn here or there. But it often plays out on other levels, including this more primal level that transcends what Israel or America do or don’t do. This sobering situation doesn’t mean that America cannot be an “honest broker,” but it should not be a naive broker.
Palestinian anti-Americanism reminds us that education counts, that civil society-building is necessary, and that donor money should be distributed carefully and strategically.
Americans keep learning that we cannot buy popularity when it’s too useful for dictators to demonize us. But aid money can be invested wisely or sloppily. If the goal is not simply to show support or rush to a treaty that won’t last but build a Palestinian democracy seeking a constructive peace, then diplomats should strategize about where to spend the money, what benchmarks to impose, and when, if necessary, to redirect or cut off the financial flow.
Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” Gil Troy is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas , an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society and a 2019 National Jewish Book Award Finalist.. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University,and the author of nine books on American History, his book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky was just published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.