Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour took to Twitter Nov. 22 with a quick, venting post: "You know what I can't stand? Bitter people. That's all."
Sarsour spoke at the annual American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) conference three days later. Evidently, she can't stand herself.
Sarsour, who describes herself as a "racial justice and civil rights activist," lashed out at Jews who extended a hand of friendship and solidarity over concerns that increasing hostility toward Muslims in America might lead to draconian government action. And she lashed out at fellow Muslims who accepted the gesture and joined in a new inter-faith dialogue.
Why the bitterness?
The Jews at issue support the state of Israel, support its existence and its vitality. Sarsour wants none of that.
"We have limits to the type of friendships that we're looking for right now," Sarsour told the AMP conference, "and I want to be friends with those whom I know have been steadfast, courageous, have been standing up and protecting their own communities, those who have taken the risk to stand up and say – we are with the Palestinian people, we unequivocally support BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctioning Israel] when it comes to Palestinian human rights and have been attacked viciously by the very people who are telling you that they're about to stand on the front line of the Muslim registry program. No thank you, sisters and brothers."
It's a message that fit right in at the AMP conference. AMP claims its "sole purpose is to educate the American public and media about issues related to Palestine and its rich cultural and historical heritage." But in practice, the group has defended Hamas and its leaders admit they seek "to challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel."
Sarsour, a media darling honored by the Obama White House as a "Champion of Change" and a high-profile surrogate for Bernie Sanders' failed Democratic presidential nomination campaign, seems to strike a different tone in public appearances. Her biography says she is "most known for her intersectional coalition work and building bridges across issues, racial, ethnic and faith communities." That clearly wasn't her intent at the AMP conference.
She acknowledges there's a rift among Islamists about how hard a line to draw in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet she was intent on pouring gasoline on the fire.
The "cracks in our community" are so wide, she said, they're visible to "right-wing Zionists, Islamophobes, white supremacists."
"They know where we're divided. They know that we're segregated," she said. "So they, we could easily be targeted when we're a fragmented community. But if we were a strong, united, steadfast community that stood up for each other first and foremost, you'd better believe that no opposition would ever be trying to take us down, because we'd be too big, too strong and too united."
Some of her comments likely were directed at Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt. Should a Trump administration create a registry for Muslims, an idea that does not seem to be on the table, Greenblatt recently pledged that "this proud Jew will register as Muslim."
Sarsour not only rebuked the gesture, she cast Muslims who might respond more positively as sellouts of the Palestinian cause. Cooperation and solidarity gestures should only be reserved for those who share the depth of her hatred toward Israel, she said.
"I am tired of Muslims working towards acceptance and not respect of our communities. And I'm also tired of the Muslims willing to sell Palestine just for a little acceptance and nod from the white man and white power in these United States of America," Sarsour said.
Sarsour, in the red hijab, poses with others at the White House Eid celebration.
"But the most apparent thing about her voice is that it is exceedingly Brooklyn," the story said. "She says 'swag' instead of 'charisma.' ('Mr. B. has swag ...) She calls her father, a Palestinian immigrant in his 60s, 'Pops.' Like the actress Rosie Perez in a hijab, Ms. Sarsour has perfected her delivery of the head-swaying 'Oh no you dih-int' and pronounces the word 'Latino' like, well, a Latino."
Sarsour also says "nothing is creepier than Zionism," and all-but accused the CIA of faking an attempted terrorist attack.
Those statements didn't make the Times profile. And they didn't prompt the Obama administration to reconsider the wisdom of elevating Sarsour's clout with repeated White House access.
In February, just over a year after terrorists massacred the staff at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying they "avenged the Prophet," Sarsour told a Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR) banquet in Chicago that she would not stand with the victims. The magazine was "a bigot and a racist" for publishing caricatures of Islam's prophet Muhammad, she said. The images served to "vilify my faith, dehumanize my community [and] demoralize my prophet."
Building off Sarsour's rejection of anyone who breaks bread with Zionists, former AMP New York President Raja Abdulhaq defined the BDS movement – not as a tool to lead to peaceful negotiations – but as way to break Israel into total surrender.
"The rights are non-negotiable. And that's the whole point of BDS, is that we demand, we want to apply pressure," Abdulhaq said, "not sit down in a negotiated setting and figure out what you can give up so that I can give up something in return, because what you're essentially doing is you're asking the other side – give up your illegality, stop your illegality and I will give up my rights. What kind of negotiation is that? No, I demand my rights, and you stop your illegality. And that's the whole basis of BDS."
Among the non-negotiable "rights" Abdulhaq says AMP and the BDS movement insist upon is the so-called "right of return" for Palestinians. That would lead to a huge influx of Palestinians into Israel, swamping the country demographically and ending its existence as a Jewish homeland.
"There is a serial killer in our home," Deek said. "And what do you do when you are confronted with a serial killer, right? You protect yourself. You protect your family. You scream for help. And you expect that when you scream for help from a serial killer everybody is gonna come to your aid, they're gonna come protect and defend you. Right? You don't expect somebody to intervene on behalf of the serial killer ... and say 'the serial killer has some rights, let us tell you about the rights the serial killer has' as he begins to kill you. Right?"
Like Sarsour, Deek expressed frustration at Muslims who accept other viewpoints.
"Nothing has set back the Palestinian movement in the U.S. more than demands by people who want to work and focus their efforts on [Washington] D.C., by their demands that we tame our demands for Palestine," she said.
Dawud Walid, CAIR's Michigan director, echoed the message about Muslim groups who appear too accommodating. "If these organizations claim to represent the Muslim community," he said, "then when we see them doing things that go outside of the mainstream of the (UI word) of our community, we need to hold them accountable, and if they continue to step outside of the boundaries, then we should withdraw our support and make that very public."
Walid has acknowledged that his employer, which works hard to project an image as a civil rights organization, really sees itself as "defenders of the Palestinian struggle."
Deek, meanwhile, spoke of the harm done to the Palestinian cause by the U.S.-brokered Oslo Accords. While that initiative may have given Palestinians autonomy, it came at the cost of unity, she said.
It's not clear what she means. But, since 2006, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has governed the West Bank while Hamas controls Gaza.
Oslo also made it more difficult to engage in terrorism – what Deek calls "armed resistance."
"Now armed resistance, self-defense, has been the only direct challenge to Zionist colonial expansion. Nothing else is a direct challenge," she told the AMP conference. "Everything else is an indirect challenge, right? Pressure – economic pressure, diplomatic pressure. So this national united Palestinian body was able – by supporting the resistance – was able to be part of directly impacting and influencing Zionist policy."
Advocating more Palestinian violence is consistent for an AMP gathering. The organization's message never mentions peaceful co-existence. An Investigative Project on Terrorism investigation found connections between at least five AMP officials and speakers and the defunct Hamas support network called the "Palestine Committee."
During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, AMP's then-National Campus Coordinator Taher Herzallah posted images of wounded Israelis, calling them "The most beautiful site (sic) in my eyes." He defended indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire at Israeli civilian communities as "an audible cry for help" and "an act of resistance."
Two clear messages emerged from the AMP conference. "Resistance" is better than renouncing violence and seeking peace. All Muslims who might disagree, even if they see eye-to-eye on other issues, are no longer welcome.
These extreme stands came from speakers who enjoy prominent political profiles and high-level contacts.
Sarsour is right about one thing. There is a rift in her community. She and her AMP panelists are the ones widening it.