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By Ava Sasani

Jewish and Muslim Americans in cities all around the country are worried that escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine, which some are calling “isolating and scary”, will exacerbate hate crimes and harassment in the United States.

For many Arab Americans in New York City, Bay Ridge was always a place of safety. The south Brooklyn neighborhood is 3 sq miles of Arabic bodega signs, halal grocers and a growing community of Palestinian, Yemeni, Syrian and Egyptian families.

On Wednesday, that sense of safety was punctured by reports of a hate crime.

Police said “three alleged assailants in three cars were waving Israeli flags” and yelled “anti-Palestinian remarks at three men walking on 86th Street”, according to a statement this week by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “The group got out of their car and assaulted the three men.”

​​Elsewhere in Brooklyn, local television station ABC7 reported that two men walked up to two people holding Palestinian flags, grabbed a flag and hit one person over the head. In Gravesend – also in Brooklyn – two juvenile boys pointed what turned out to be fake guns at the local B’nai Yosef synagogue, police said. The boys were given criminal court summonses.

Earlier this year, FBI data revealed that the number of US hate crimes increased again in 2021, continuing an alarming rise.

“But this moment is different,” said Corey Saylor, the research and advocacy director at CAIR. “Right now there is an unusually vicious targeting of students that support Palestine, and the volume and intensity is something I haven’t witnessed before.”

Saylor said CAIR is particularly concerned about the young people on US university campuses who have faced fierce harassment and threats for expressing solidarity with the people of Palestine.


Earlier this week, Twitter users in Irvine, California, posted images of a man carrying a Nazi flag. In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel, a protester at a pro-Palestine event in New York City held up a phone with an image of a swastika on it.

“This moment is profoundly isolating and scary for our people,” said Audrey Sasson, the executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

Sasson said many members of her progressive Jewish organization are still trying to locate loved ones in Israel.

“We are close to this pain,” said Sasson, who herself has friends and family currently in Israel. “We can worry and mourn for the Israeli people we’ve lost while also holding compassion for the people of Gaza who are currently under siege.”

Israel’s military has ordered the population of northern Gaza, numbering more than 1 million people, to evacuate before an expected ground invasion, a task the United Nations has said would be “impossible without devastating humanitarian consequences”.

The destruction of Gaza, which has been widely shared by the Israeli government’s owned social media accounts, is alarming to Jewish Americans like Sasson.

“I think we as American Jews can and should be allowed to mourn for our loved ones in Israel, while also turning to the Israeli government to say, not in my name should you be starving and bombing an entire civilian population in Gaza,” she said. “I wish that was not a controversial thing to say.”

Many Palestinian Americans worry that violence and threats against their community will skyrocket without more voices like Sasson’s.

“It’s as if the Hamas attacks were the beginning of the conflict, and everything before that never happened,” said Ussama Makdisi, a professor of history at University of California at Berkeley.

Makdisi noted “how quickly and strongly” US corporate, university and political leaders expressed sympathy for victims of violence in Israel.

“But they have not expressed any kind of empathy for Palestinian victims of violence,” he said. “It is dehumanizing. The silence in the face of genocidal violence devalues Palestinian life, and it sends a message to Palestinian Americans: you’re on your own.”

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