On 6 October I published a post casting doubt on Free Gaza movement co-founder Greta Berlin’s explanation of how she came to tweet a link to a video of an anti-Jewish diatribe by notorious anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins, from the @freegazaorg Twitter account.
Like others, I had at first accepted Berlin’s explanations that it had all been a mistake, just one single tweet posted in the wrong place, that was supposed to have been part of an anti-racist discussion in a private Facebook group.
But as the versions of the story began to vary, my doubts grew. Once I saw the content of the “Our Land” Facebook group that Berlin administers, I was certain we were dealing with a well-established pattern of exchanging, tolerating and indulging truly racist material that has no connection to Palestine solidarity work.
Even though I knew about this material, I did not elaborate on it in my 6 October post. Instead, other than the Mullins video, I restricted my comments to what was not in the group, rather than what was there:
This evening I had an opportunity to spend several hours with full access to a private Facebook group of which Berlin is an administrator, and where the video was first posted by another administrator on 28 September with the comment “This will be a real thought provoker for some.”
When the video was posted on 28 September it was neither preceded nor followed by any interactions that would fit the description that it “was shared with a group of people who were discussing propaganda and racism, and this link was an example of the terrible propaganda that could be spewed on websites.” This context does not exist.
Contrary to various claims I’ve seen, I never labeled Berlin an “anti-Semite.” Yet as Wolf writes:
Greta is an active administrator of a Facebook group that is full of unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric and has been called out before by activists for it but has never done anything to challenge or stop it.
And as Wolf shows, Berlin often went beyond that.
Should I have been more explicit about what I saw? Perhaps, but I had my reasons to take a more restrained approach. I had hoped that by sounding the alarm, and signaling that Berlin’s explanations were not credible, Berlin herself would begin to take the issue seriously, and that the new Free Gaza board would do the same. Sadly that did not happen.
The most dispiriting spectacle over the past two weeks was seeing Berlin disseminating, and a small group of people embellishing, outlandish stories intended to distract and shift the blame on to those who were asking for accountability.
Almost every day, I’ve received emails alleging, among other things, that I am a “Zionist agent,” that I’ve been “conned” by Israel into attacking Berlin so that Israel can steal Gaza’s natural gas, that I am engaged in a “vendetta” because Berlin endorsed a book I didn’t like, and so on. A few of these messages came from people I had previously believed to be reasonable and sensible, which added to the disappointment.
Berlin herself has used Islamophobic epithets against me, accusing me of issuing “fatwas” and mocking me as “Ali Ayatollah.” But for me this is not and has never been about Greta Berlin. I knew that what I saw in the “Our Land” group could not be more damaging and discrediting to the Palestinian rights movement.
I also received tremendous encouragement and affirmation that was far louder. I am thankful to individuals including Élise Hendrick who understood what was at stake from the start, and has helped illuminate some of the disturbing connections that have come out of this.
As someone who is frequently accused by Zionists of being “anti-Semitic,” I do not take these matters lightly. But this episode also helped me gain some clarity about the symbiotic relationship between Zionism and anti-Semitism.
Many Zionists constantly claim that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, while anti-Semites try to convince us that their hatred of Jews as Jews is actually anti-Zionism. So both Zionists and anti-Semites constantly collude to blur the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and between Zionism and Judaism. We should do nothing to help them.
The movement I am proud to be part of eschews racism and bigotry in all their forms, and doesn’t seek the support of those who trade in them.