Commentary: Should We Remember Linda Sarsour for Good?

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Linda Sarsour

This past week was the holiday of Purim, which made me think about Linda Sarsour.

No, I don’t think she’s Haman (that would be Rasmea Odeh, an actual murderer), but I did wonder whether or not Sarsour might be Charbonah.

If you’re not instantly sure who Charbonah is, don’t feel too bad. He’s about as minor a character as gets named in the Megillah. Nobody dresses up like him, which is kind of sad when you consider the number of people who dressed as Minions this year when the Minions don’t appear anywhere in Scripture at all! But I digress.

Charbonah – whose name is related to the word “destruction” in Hebrew, I might add – was a member of Team Haman. He was down with the whole “kill the Jews” thing. But when the tables turned, Charbonah changed sides.

In the seventh chapter of the Book of Esther, King AchashvKing Ahashue– the king of Persia has had enough of Haman and has his face covered. Execution is a distinct possibility but the king might cool off and relent. Then Charbonah drives the final nail into Haman’s coffin.

“You know what else Haman did?” Charbonah volunteered. “He built gallows to hang Mordechai, who saved the king’s life!”

This did not sit well with the king, who succinctly replied, “Hang him on it.”

Charbonah was no altruistic ally; he was an opportunist. He knew about Haman’s machinations but he didn’t speak up until it benefited him personally through an opportunity to curry the king’s favor. Our benefit was incidental because Charbonah’s needs and ours happened to align. Nevertheless, on Purim night, after reading the Book of Esther, we sing the song “Shoshanas Yaakov,” which closes with “v’gam Charvonah zachur latov” – that Charbonah should also be fondly remembered. Okay, we don’t bless him like we do Mordechai and Esther – he wasn’t that great! – but we still look kindly upon him.

Which brings us to Linda Sarsour.

Ms. Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab-American Association of New York, is a pro-Palestine activist. One could argue that that does not necessitate being an anti-Israel activist, but she happens to be that as well, supporting BDS and tweeting that “nothing is creepier than Zionism.” Unsurprisingly, she supports a one-state solution: all Palestine, no Israel.

Among her many controversial actions, Sarsour has alleged that the “underwear bomber” was a false flag – rather than an al-Qaeda operative, she claims the terrorist was secretly a CIA agent engaged in an American “war on Islam.” Sarsour has spoken out on behalf of an incarcerated Islamic Jihad member known to recruit suicide bombers. She tweeted a photo of a Palestinian boy clutching rocks and staring down IDF soldiers with the caption “The definition of courage.” (She attributed opposition to the photo to “Zionist trolls.”) Our issues with Ms. Sarsour go beyond a simple difference of opinion.

And then, in February of this year, Ms. Sarsour did something that was surprising.

When a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized, Sarsour spearheaded a crowdfunding campaign with other Muslim activists to repair the damage. More than $125,000 was raised – more than necessary for the project – and Sarsour committed to donating the excess funds to other Jewish sites damaged by vandalism. Sarsour said that the project was intended “send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.”

Wow. Do we actually have common ground with Linda Sarsour? Can we possibly dialogue and maybe even work together? Or is this a trick? Like the city of Shushan in the Megillah, the Jewish community was stunned, unsure how to respond. Do we say, “v’gam Charvonah zachur latov?

Ehhhhh…. Not so fast. The dust hadn’t even had time to settle when Sarsour was back to her standard modus operandi.

You see, Sarsour – one of the organizers of the women’s march on Washington earlier this year – has declared that feminism and Zionism are incompatible.

“You either stand up for the rights of all women, including Palestinians, or none. There’s just no way around it,” Sarsour said in an interview with The Nation.

This came as quite a surprise to thousands of Zionist feminists. (And, of course, Sarsour singles out the country in the Middle East that has female ministers of Parliament, equal rights and reproductive rights, rather than any countries where “honor killings” are overlooked, rape victims are executed for “adultery,” and women can’t go out unsupervised or drive, but whatever.)

Sarsour’s comments were triggered by Emily Shire, politics editor of a women’s news site called Bustle. In a New York Times op-ed, Shire wrote, “I am happy to debate Middle East politics or listen to critiques of Israeli policies. But why should criticism of Israel be key to feminism in 2017?”

Sarsour has previously conflated other causes with her pro-Palestine/anti-Israel agenda. Many sympathetic Jews were forced out of the Black Lives Matter campaign by such rhetoric, and now Sarsour is intent on doing the same with feminism.

We remember Charbonah for good because he actually switched sides. Even if it was self-serving, he came around. He didn’t have Haman hanged and then go back to making Persia Judenrein. Sarsour, on the other hand, is still the same. I’ll publicly thank her for fundraising to repair the desecrated cemetery – even if it was a PR stunt, it was a good thing to do – but I’m afraid “zachur latov” must be held in abeyance. We expect to differ (big time!) on matters concerning the Middle East but you don’t get to define who is and isn’t for women’s rights. Trying to do so excludes actual allies and hurts the cause you’re claiming to advance. There’s nothing praiseworthy in that.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.