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By Cheyanne M. Daniels

When the Oct. 7 Hamas attack happened in Israel, Audrey Sasson, executive director of New York’s Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), said she was “in a fog.”

When Israel retaliated with bombs and blockades days later, emotions of grief and fear and anger swirled in her mind as Sasson, who works with a group that in recent weeks has tried to bring Palestinians and Jews in America together, realized the cycle of violence would lead to more deaths and hatred — not only in the Middle East but in this country.

“It’s like one of these things where you feel kind of like an out-of-body experience because there’s so many conflicting feelings … and all the feelings are valid,” said Sasson.

Just a week after Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israeli farms and villages and Israel responded with the bombardment of Gaza, six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and his mother were attacked by their landlord in what police said was an anti-Muslim hate crime.

Al-Fayoume was stabbed 26 times in the shocking attack. His mother, who was stabbed 12 times, survived but is in critical condition.

Palestinian-American advocacy groups have since grown more worried.

“The last two weeks have certainly driven home how many Americans are deeply connected to Israelis and Palestinians and to events in the region,” said Simone Zimmerman, communications director for the Diaspora Alliance, an international organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism. “It’s an absolutely heartbreaking and devastating moment, and genuine safety for all Israelis and Palestinians feels very far away at the moment.”


“We’re also seeing in really devastating ways the ripple effects abroad of the violence over there and of the political climate in this country that has very quickly whipped up a pretty terrifying anti-Palestinian environment in the media and politicians conflating their support for the Israeli government and its military operations with support for all Jewish people,” Zimmerman said. “That kind of flattening of the context is also going to endanger Jews around the world.”

It’s too early to tell if the events overseas or political rhetoric has caused an increase in anti-Arab racism, said Jessica Winegar, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University.

“When people see violence in the Middle East, Muslims tend to be blamed as a whole and then it can turn into the targeting of Muslims in this country or Arabs,” Winegar said. “It can turn into basically an outlet of individual hatred that might be coming from a position of economic disenfranchisement or a position of being rallied up by the right to think that immigrants are the problem.”

Winegar noted that there are Palestinian Jews, Christians and those who don’t identify with a religion in addition to Muslims.

Instances of anti-Arab racism is similar to what was seen after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said, something magnified by the fact that most political leaders are backing Israel.

“To hear their leaders almost erase their perspective, erase their fears, concerns of the death of their loved ones, it increases the feeling of isolation, fear of one’s personal safety, and I have no doubt that it is also contributing to the general atmosphere of anti-Muslim racism in the United States,” Winegar said.

Winegar also added that because the conflict is coming at a time of increased racial tensions in the U.S., it sets up the possibility for racist violence.

“We have seen the real intensification of extreme right-wing nationalism and white supremacy in this country in the past eight years and this conflict is very much fitting into that. Those parts of the U.S. population that have taken those positions are now primed to expand or act upon their hatred for groups that they feel are ‘other,’ whether those are Arabs and Muslims or Jews,” she said.

Sasson, of JFREJ, has been working on the ground in New York to hold training seminars and meetings on unity and protection. Part of that also means educating as many as possible on the history of the conflict between Palestine and Israel.

“We don’t address the root causes of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and as long as we’re not addressing those root causes, then people are going to continue to inflict harm on one another,” said Sasson. “We need to focus on and demonstrate and embody and demand that we see each other’s humanity and that we embody solidarity all day, every day, even and especially when it’s harder, especially when it feels like we’re being pitted against each other.”

Zimmerman, of the Diaspora Alliance, said there must also be a message of compassion for all those who are impacted by the violence in Gaza and in America.

“I see your grief and your agony and your fear and and our grief cannot be a weapon to justify more massacres and atrocities,” she said. “We believe your lives matter and are of equal value.”

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