On October 13, law enforcement across the United States was on high alert due to fears that calls by a senior Hamas official for protests, billed as a “Day of Rage,” would lead to violence worldwide. Those fears proved to be unwarranted. The day went by largely without event.
The real “day of rage,” however, came the next day. On October 14, Joseph Czuba, a 71-year-old white man armed with a 12-inch military-style knife, entered the apartment of his Palestinian-American Muslim tenants, with the intent to kill them. Czuba proceeded to attack the 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, stabbing her a dozen times. As she called the police for help, he stabbed her six-year-old son, Wadea Al-Fayoume, twenty-six times.
Shahin was critically injured but survived. Her son, however, did not. The forensic pathologist removed the knife, which had a seven-inch blade, from the little boy’s abdomen during the autopsy.
What could inspire such savagery? Czuba, his wife said, was radicalized by conservative talk radio and believed violence would take place on what he called a “national day of jihad” — obviously a reference to the “Day of Rage” hyped by politicians and the media.
The police and Shahin made clear the family was targeted because they were Palestinian Muslims and in response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to a family friend, Czuba told Shahin, “You are killing our kids in Israel. You Palestinians don’t deserve to live.”
Anti-Palestinian Incitement Continues
Many Republicans and conservative commentators agree with Czuba’s belief that Palestinians don’t deserve to live.
On October 10, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced on Fox News that “we are in a religious war” and called on Israel to “level” Gaza, which is home to more than two million civilians. On the same network, Congressman Max Miller (R-OH) boasted that Gaza will “probably get eviscerated and go away here shortly as we’re going to turn that into a parking lot.”
Since then, the two men’s dream has come closer to realization. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza — with over 6,000 bombs dropped in the first six days of the war alone — has indeed brought the area closer to becoming a parking lot.
Yet even as the Palestinian death toll has surpassed 10,000, conservative politicians are unsatisfied. They continue to make arguments for the mass killing of Palestinian civilians.
Indeed, to justify the killing spree, politicians including Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), are now claiming there’s really no such thing as an innocent Palestinian civilian. They equate ordinary Palestinians with the citizens of Nazi Germany. Insinuations or direct calls to carpet bomb Gaza like Dresden by military experts are common.
The Imaginary Palestinian Migration Crisis
The anti-Palestinian incitement in the U.S. will go on as long as the war, in spite of the murder of little Wadea.
While Republicans are tired of direct U.S. involvement in Middle East wars, they quickly fused the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict with two major domestic issues: the migrant crisis and the culture wars.
At the forefront is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has tried to salvage his failing presidential campaign by stirring hysteria over the unlikely influx of Palestinian refugees into America.
Days after the Hamas attacks in southern Israel, DeSantis proclaimed, “We cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees.” His reasoning? Palestinians, he claimed, “are all anti-Semitic.” “None of them,” he said, “believe in Israel’s right to exist.”
His characterization of Palestinians is questionable. And so too is his litmus test for their entry into America. No one, after all, has suggested premising acceptance of Ukrainian refugees on their views of black Americans.
In any event, DeSantis has conjured up a “problem” that does not exist. There aren’t any credible proposals to bring Palestinians from Gaza here. And, more importantly, Palestinians have made no such demands.
The more than one million recently displaced Palestinians in Gaza don’t want to come to America. They want to stay at home. They’ve resisted leaving their homes even for another part of Gaza. Any casual observer of the region’s history would know why. Palestinians in Gaza, many of whose families were already displaced by Israel in 1948 and 1967, fear that if they leave their homes, the Israeli military, followed by settlers, will take them. For over a century, this conflict has very much been about land.
Undeterred by facts or decency, the DeSantis team has used the “Gaza refugees” bogeyman to hit at the rising Nikki Haley, who challenged the Florida governor’s equating of Palestinian civilians with Hamas. She said, “You can separate civilians from terrorists.”
The DeSantis campaign has framed that as an endorsement of the mass migration of Palestinians to the United States. After the DeSantis team attacks, Haley embraced the DeSantis position, saying Palestinians coming here is “the last thing we want” and even “Egypt doesn’t want them.” A cruel way to describe a besieged population.
The Culture Wars
DeSantis and the broader conservative movement have used the Hamas terror attacks and the plight of the Palestinians to conjure up threats of unassimilable hordes of brown migrants flocking to America. Palestinians, they say, are a cultural threat to the United States.
Christina Pushaw, head of the DeSantis campaign’s rapid response team, suggested that “2 million Gaza migrants” could come to the U.S. and they should instead be sent to “wealthy Arab countries with more cultural similarities.”
In a now-deleted tweet, the conservative Heritage Foundation posted the opinion of senior research fellow Lora Ries, who, in very charged language, argued that the “import” of Palestinians “would be certain suicide for Americans.” She said that Palestinians have “no interest in assimilating into American culture and governance or in expressing loyalty to America or our allies.” Similar language remains in an opinion piece she authored, in which she argues that would accelerate America’s “Balkanization.”
Since then, several Republican members of Congress have introduced legislation that would ban Palestinians from entering the United States.
It’s All About 2024
Conservatives and partisans of Israel continue to pound the unassimilability narrative, going beyond Palestinians to include all Arabs and Muslims. (Many Palestinians, especially in the U.S., are Christian.)
Cygnal, a Republican Party-aligned polling firm, conducted a national survey on American awareness of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, with an emphasis on Jewish and Muslim views.
It’s unclear who funded the survey, but its framing is telling. The poll included questions about awareness of “facts,” including: “Israel issued warnings to residents of areas occupied by Hamas” before air strikes.
Cygnal’s press release on the survey leads with its claim that a majority of American Muslims found the Hamas attacks to be justified. But its results don’t add up.
Cygnal claims that 57.5 percent of American Muslims surveyed strongly or somewhat agree with the claim that the October 7 attacks were justified. But the same survey also states that 68.8 percent of American Muslims believe Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas’s attacks.
Somehow, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have nearly equal favorability ratings among American Muslims. At the same time, only 12.2 percent of Muslims have never heard of Haniyeh. (He’s by no means a household name.)
Now, Muslims make up roughly one percent of the U.S. population. It’s hard to capture them in a small national sample. Cygnal only interviewed a few dozen Muslims.
But setting those design difficulties aside, Cygnal’s poll is clearly politically motivated, aimed at bolstering two claims: one, that there’s mass support among the general population for Israel; and two, that Muslims are not only a cultural threat to America, but also a toxic political constituency.
Indeed, the conservative movement has gone into overdrive to paint Palestinians and Muslims as cultural threats to the U.S. Part of that involves stirring fears of a far-left-Islamist nexus, attempting to frame the emerging pro-Palestinian coalition as the next coming of Antifa and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Conservative agitator Christopher Rufo has been keen to tie the BLM not just to the Palestinian cause, but also to Hamas.
Firebrand conservative talk radio host Mark Levin said on his October 14 show that the Muslim Brotherhood is linked to “student protests on our campuses,” and their aim is to “wipe out” all Jews and “non-believers.”
Efforts by the vice president’s stepdaughter, Ella Emhoff, to raise funds for humanitarian relief in Gaza were depicted by the New York Post and other conservative outlets as support for Hamas. (Unsurprisingly, the DeSantis campaign is running ads painting humanitarian aid to Gaza, where food is becoming scarce, as aid to Hamas.)
Today, anti-Palestinian bigotry is arguably the most accepted form of hatred in America. As Palestinians in Gaza flee from U.S.-manufactured bombs, they’re being portrayed here by the political right as existential threats to America.
The right cynically weaponizes efforts by the Biden administration to counter anti-Muslim bigotry, including through its recently announced countering Islamophobia strategy. They say the Democrats are countering a non-existent issue when they should be fighting anti-Semitism.
In reality, both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim bigotry have risen since October 7. Both need to be countered. A choice does not have to be made between the two.
But the prevailing political environment will sustain this false binary.
Republicans will continue to stoke anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim bigotry. And when the Democrats say something about it, Republicans will deny the problem exists and bash Democrats for supposedly pandering to Arabs and Muslims.
The right equates all Palestinians, many of whom are Christian, and Muslims with Hamas. In their view, they can only be aggressors, not victims.
This cycle, fueled by hate and bad-faith arguments, will only continue. We curate our different realities on our screens. And for many Americans, Palestinians are simply human beings of a lesser order. Sadly, some clearly agree with Israel’s defense minister’s characterization of Palestinians as nothing more than “human animals.”
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.