Back in October, the Anti-Defamation League released a study of anti-Semitic abuse on social media during the 2016 election campaign. As part of it, they ranked the top 10 Jewish journalists who had received the most harassment from the alt-right. I was #2. CNN anchor Jake Tapper came in at #7, no doubt due to his dogged interrogation of Trump over his ties to the alt-right and white supremacists like David Duke.
Last night, however, progressive activist Linda Sarsour remarkably accused Tapper of “join[ing] the ranks of the alt-right,” recasting one of the movement’s chief victims as a fellow traveler:
What prompted Sarsour’s outburst? Tapper had criticized her and the Women’s March she helped organize for praising Assata Shakur, a convicted cop killer currently listed on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted list, and for voicing other “ugly sentiments“:
Whether one agrees with Tapper or Sarsour on this particular point, all should be able to agree that slurring Tapper as a neo-Nazi for raising these issues is not a healthy or defensible response. Sarsour’s claim that the anchor had teamed up with the alt-right was particularly ironic given that both Trump and the alt-right have spent recent weeks vociferously attacking Tapper’s network, CNN.
From left to right, Twitterati were unimpressed by Sarsour’s accusation and her Trumpian recasting of a reporter’s criticism as an illegitimate attack:
I’ve paid little attention to controversies involving you. But if ur calling @jaketapper alt-right? Not a big credibility boost for u.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) July 19, 2017
— Cameron Gray (@Cameron_Gray) July 19, 2017
An objectively stupid tweet. If Tapper is the "alt-right," the term is meaningless. Serious people on the left can't be this dumb. https://t.co/W9ynspmgX8
— Sean Illing (@seanilling) July 19, 2017
— (((Alex))) (@Wonko_the_sane_) July 19, 2017
This is not the first time Sarsour has taken heat for her opinions. As a Muslim woman and political activist, Sarsour has been subject to constant criticism ever since she entered the public eye—and much of it has been bigoted. Most recently, a speech of hers calling for nonviolent protest against Donald Trump as a form of “jihad” was misrepresented by some as a call for religious holy war. But precisely because many of these criticisms of Sarsour have been Islamophobic, unfair, and rightly dismissed, she has often evaded serious scrutiny. Given the anti-Muslim climate fostered by Trump since his election campaign, many on the left have been understandably wary of critiquing such a prominent Muslim voice. But this has made it difficult to discuss and debate Sarsour and her views like those of any other political activist, despite her long record of disquieting stances.
She has praised notorious bigot Louis Farrakhan, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center labels as “an anti-Semite who routinely accuses Jews of manipulating the U.S. government and controlling the levers of world power,” and who has blamed the Jews for 9/11 and slavery.
And this past April, Sarsour spoke alongside and publicly hugged convicted terrorist Rasmea Odeh on stage:
In 1970, Odeh was convicted of murdering two Hebrew University students; she confessed, and her accomplice has since publicly described how they did the deed. After lying about the conviction to gain entry to the U.S. in 1995, Odeh claimed her confession had been coerced, an assertion belied by her accomplice and the Red Cross observer at her trial who certified that it was fair. Sarsour nonetheless continued to promote Odeh. Odeh ultimately pleaded guilty to immigration fraud and was subsequently deported.
Sarsour has also frequently failed to extend her own ethical principles to her ideological opponents. She rightly hit back at those who tried to prevent her from giving a graduation address at the City University of New York. But she also proudly supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, which openly pressures institutions to expunge, no-platform, and silence all academics, artists, and others who support the Jewish state’s right to exist, a group which includes the vast majority of Jews. (Sarsour does not accept that right, and has been a vocal opponent of the two-state solution.)
Sarsour has rightly insisted that “I’m not going to limit who I am and how I speak because people are ignorant and racist.” But she was completely silent while her erstwhile progressive allies in the Chicago Dyke March kicked out Jewish lesbians for displaying a Star of David on their pride flags and ignorantly insisted that the ancient Jewish symbol was “Zionist.” Inclusivity for me, in other words, but not for thee.
Sarsour’s tirade against Tapper, then, should remind her critics that they need not and should not misrepresent her words to discredit her disturbing positions. For better or worse, she does that herself.