Linda Sarsour is the Executive Director of the local taxpayer-funded Arab-American Association of New York (AAANY) where she began her “activism” over ten years ago. A Sarsour family friend and AAANY founder, Basemah Atweh, invited her to join the organization and assured her if she volunteered she will eventually be offered a paid position. Less than two months after her “volunteer work” helping newly arrived immigrants get settled and adjust to life in the U.S. Sarsour was hired in a paid, full-time capacity. Even in those very early years former colleagues who worked with Sarsour noticed she was driven exclusively by personal interests and eager to insert herself in the forefront, especially if an opportunity to meet with members of the local political establishment and power elite presented itself. After surviving a car crash in which Atweh was killed, Sarsour took over the organization. It was at this time that she reached an arrangement with her husband and family members providing her with the luxury of devoting all her time and attention to transforming herself into a full-time, career activist of the worst kind. Many poor and working class men and women with far more talent and potential to contribute to their communities do not have the luxury of devoting any amount of time to causes they genuinely believe in, let alone a full-time career as a fake activist without even requiring the services of a paid babysitter. With the increased media exposure she has been recently receiving, her entire public persona has now become a masquerade inundated with pretense and exaggeration. While much of it has provided entertainment for Arab-Americans in NY, activists are now concerned the activities of this fraudster have become politically corrosive to the issues and causes of concern to the community.
“Israel has a right to exist”
So what’s the first thing a self-described Arab-American activist does when she decides to run for local public office? For Sarsour the answer to that question was obvious, you declare your acceptance of and support for the Zionist colonial project in Palestine. Sarsour, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, is planning a run for the NY City Council. In preparing the groundwork for her 2017 campaign, the ambitious Palestinian-American revealed she is ready and willing to abandon her own Palestinian community and betray her tormented country of origin. In this interview with a local news channel Sarsour states “I do believe Israel has a right to exist”, a euphemism for normalizing and legitimizing the Zionist entity, ethnic cleansing and settler-colonialism. In the same interview Sarsour is also quoted as rejecting “violence” [armed resistance in Palestine], as if someone sitting in the comfort and safety of their NY home has a right to lecture a colonized people on the other side of the world on the appropriate and acceptable strategies and methods of their own self-defense and resistance to military occupation. Sarsour does not deviate very far from the rigid Zionist narrative that dominates discourse on Palestine in this country. Always careful to not offend the political sensibilities of the U.S. ruling class, she maintains her mild criticism of Israel within strictly defined parameters. She has repeatedly attacked Palestinian resistance fighters including members of her own family living under occupation in Palestine. One especially disgraceful example of this can be found here. In another appearance as part of a “focus group” of Muslim Americans Sarsour reiterated her support for Israel’s so-called “right to exist.” When pressed by the professional manipulator Frank Lutz the political adolescent was oblivious to the racist implications of the questions. With her political ambitions clearly foremost on her mind, she strained to provide answers that do not deviate from acceptable public discourse. In doing so, she played into the Zionist narrative and revealed a complete lack of conviction and inability to defend the cause of Palestinian liberation in any forceful or coherent fashion. She was, however, able to exploit her Palestinian background in order to claim some type of native insight or legitimacy which is a common tactic among many establishment Arab-Americans.
Sarsour, who now regularly invokes the Palestine cause and claims “Palestine has always been my passion”, has never been active on Palestinian issues until relatively recently and only when it became a bit safer to do so as a result of the hard work of many other courageous Palestine solidarity activists. These same activists have shunned Sarsour for her exploitation of the Palestine cause and labor theft of other people’s solidarity work which she claimed as her own. Sarsour also earned the ire of Palestinian-Americans after describing Palestinians protesting in NY as “thugs”, an epithet she had exclusively reserved to describe a certain segment of African-Americans. Sarsour’s racism will be fully addressed below.
Sarsour does not speak for Palestinians in NY, across the diaspora or under occupation, and her views do not reflect the Palestinian consensus or their national aspirations. She also does not represent the views of the larger Arab-American community. The political exigencies of running for NY City Council require Sarsour to pursue her amateurish version of a political triangulation strategy, posing as a champion of Palestine while reaffirming Israel’s “right to exist.” However, there are 11 Million Palestinians and over 300 Million Arabs who are not running for NY City Council in 2017. Their position and the position of the Palestinian and Arab-American communities remains unchanged. The structures and institutions of the Zionist entity created in 1948 must be fully dismantled, and all Palestinian refugees and their descendants have an inalienable right to return to their homes and lands of origin with full restitution of all their confiscated property in a single, unified, and liberated Palestine.
“Iftar” At Gracie Mansion
During the first year of his term NY Mayor Bill de Blasio gave an outrageous, but not unusual, speech at an AIPAC conference in which he expressed his full support for Israel. By that time Sarsour was already featured on the White House website as a “champion of change”, a sure indicator an Arab or Muslim-American has been vetted, approved, and attained that coveted entry into the American mainstream. Rather than being featured on US government websites or invited to government-hosted “Iftars”, truly dedicated activists that defend Palestinian rights have usually been persecuted by the government. See here, here, and here. Framing herself as a radical champion of the people while working with the Muslim Democratic Club of New York to advance her career, she decided to maintain close ties to the Democratic Mayor. Later that same year, July 2014, Israel launched its third onslaught on Gaza since dismantling its illegal, Jewish-only colonies and occupation coordination centers and repositioning its occupation army outside the narrow coastal strip of Palestine. The massacre, which happened to coincide with the month of Ramadan, resulted in the wholesale slaughter of over 2100 defenseless Palestinian civilians. The same week de Blasio came out in support of the massacre he also extended an invitation to Sarsour to attend an “Iftar” at Gracie Mansion as the ostensible representative of the NY Muslim community. Sarsour accepted the invitation and as she sat down to enjoy her breaking of the fast (Sarsour does not fast and is hardly religious although she does invoke religion when it serves her purpose) the bombs were still falling on the children of Gaza. Sarsour later tweeted a picture of herself with de Blasio adding the words “honored to dine with Mayor de Blasio at Gracie Mansion.” At the time ikhras still maintained a cordial relationship with Sarsour and expressed directly to her our disappointment. She responded by saying she had to ignore it because she was trying to “play politics and its dirty” and she had “two campaigns [Muslim school holidays and NYPD intelligence practices] she needed to see through.” (We later learned she was known to have previously been very cooperative with NYPD intelligence practices). When we pressed her she became very defensive, said something indecipherable about an “inside out strategy”, and attacked other Palestinian “activists” (she used the quotes) and organizations. She specifically mentioned Al-Awda and Adalah suggesting they were not doing anything and that she cannot be expected to do it all herself. We asked her to consider the impact she could have had and imagine how our community would have supported her had she declined the invitation and publicly stated it was due to the de Blasio’s endorsement of the massacre. In the end, the seduction of a photo-op with the Mayor and the perceived petty prestige that comes with it was apparently just too much to resist. The willingness of a second generation Palestinian-American to ignore de Blasio’s endorsement of an ongoing massacre goes well beyond the ordinary, unprincipled political pandering in the interest of careerism. It is downright immoral and speaks volumes about the character and motivations of such an individual.
“Brooklyn Homegirl In A Hijab”
Former friends of Sarsour tell us with her rising public profile came a remarkable change in her private and public behavior. Her unabashed, self-serving approach has alienated many people and her early connections to the community and former colleagues are now virtually non-existent. She has also cultivated a public persona that those who knew her tell us is dramatically unlike the Sarsour they had encountered and previously worked with. Even Palestinian-Americans who do not know Sarsour personally recognize a caricature type quality to her public behavior. In what is apparently an attempt to adhere to some stereotypical Brooklynite image, complete with an exaggerated and pretentious accent, she now comes across as an Arab parody of Rosie Perez. While most of it is amusing, at least for a short while, one public stunt was very troubling.
In September of 2014 Sarsour claimed she was the victim of a hate crime, but in the Brooklyn neighborhood where the alleged incident took place there is a consensus this was nothing but an attention-seeking hoax and media ploy. Sarsour claimed she was attacked by a man who hurled slurs and threatened to behead her. It turned out the alleged assailant was a well-known 45-year old mentally ill, local homeless man. Residents of the Bay Ridge neighborhood where Sarsour maintains her office and the alleged incident took place told ikhras he has been a permanent fixture in the neighborhood for years and is totally harmless. He is so well known, in fact, he has been dubbed “the bum of Bay Ridge.” Local residents were shocked when they heard her story because he has never attacked anyone in the past. Among those who were most skeptical of Sarsour’s story were local Mosque attendees and members of her own family. “He would always be drunk and say stupid things”, one resident said, “but he has never attacked anyone.” The alleged attacker did have a previous arrest record for non-violent, petty misdemeanors, but we could not find a single person in the neighborhood who considered him a threat. Another interesting fact casts more doubt on Sarsour’s story. On the day of the alleged incident Sarsour had called the police before the alleged attack reporting the alleged assailant as a “suspicious person” as if he is unknown. This is rather strange given that the “suspicious person” was a regular fixture in the neighborhood well-known to Sarsour and the rest of the residents by name. In all likelihood, the homeless, neighborhood drunk was, as usual, making stupid comments and kicking around a trash can. Instead of providing him with a hot meal and helping him find shelter, Sarsour decided to exploit his presence near her office to fabricate a hate crime casting herself as the fearless defender of the community under attack for her work on our behalf. Sarsour took to Twitter and Facebook assuring everyone she was doing fine, thanked them for their concern and condolences, and pledged to never be intimidated or back down. After all, she is tough and everybody knows you “don’t mess with Brooklyn.”
In post 9-11 America Muslim women wearing the hijab are the most vulnerable segment of our community. They have endured everything from shaming and suspicious gazes to harassment to outright violence and murder. Last year’s shooting deaths of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C. was undoubtedly a hate crime. It was only because two of the three victims were women wearing the hijab that the ignorant murderer was able to identify the otherwise all-American-looking students as Muslims. For Sarsour to exploit the current environment of Islamophobia and the very real dangers encountered by Muslim women wearing the hijab to engage in a publicity stunt is not only manipulative and unethical, but outright disgraceful. It also provides further insight into her motivations while revealing a complete lack of a moral compass.
Black Lives Votes Matter
In addition to her cynical manipulation of the Palestine cause, Islamophobia, and other issues of specific concern to the Arab and Muslim communities, Sarsour has recently began peppering her Rosie Perez imitation with the stereotyped affectation attributed to Black inner-city youth by the racist White media and attached herself to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. With its growing strength, Sarsour has calculated that deepening her ties to the movement will serve her well in any future campaign for public office. She has all but declared she is running for NY City Council next year and has publicly stated it is a “small first step” towards being the “first hijabi in Congress.” Although the African-American community is not heavily represented in the city council district she would be running to represent, it does compromise about 35% of the district she would be running for in any future Congressional bid. Here again, we see the amateurish version of political triangulation at work as she strives to ingratiate herself with the racist White system while simultaneously posing as a friend of the Black victims of that same system.
When Trayvon Martin was murdered Sarsour penned an article titled “My hijab is my hoodie” and declared herself “among the millions mourning the killing of Trayvon”, but had this young black youth been living in Sarsour’s neighborhood he would not have been allowed into her home or anywhere near her own kids and family. And when Michael Brown was murdered Sarsour found the time and resources necessary to fly to Ferguson, MO and position herself strategically in front of the media cameras. Since then she has continued with her shameless, attention-grabbing tactics including periodic orchestrated arrests. African-Americans did not endure police brutality including getting beaten, hosed down, attacked by police dogs and killed during the Civil Rights Movement so a second generation Arab-American in the early 21st Century can joyfully get arrested in front of the cameras before being released a few minutes later to continue the “revolution.”
In our visit to NY we encountered a strong backlash against this aspect of Sarsour’s activities among those who know her best. It turns out Sarsour is known to harbor an ugly racism towards African-Americans which makes her latching onto the BLM movement all the more galling. She rarely associated with or interacted with African-Americans (this explains why she views African-Americans through the prism of racist, media stereotypes) until the “activist” with political aspirations realized it can be to her benefit. Sarsour’s racism which she is now trying to hide is common knowledge among the Arab-American community in NY, and it is members of this community that have a moral obligation to point out the foul racists and two-faced hypocrites. Given the close familial and social ties that exist among Palestinian-Americans in NY does not absolve us of this responsibility and failing to do so makes us complicit in their racism.
Although not all activists within the BLM are familiar with the real Sarsour, many have, nevertheless, begun expressing reservations about her current role in the movement:
“We’re concerned that the group’s liberal politics and their ties to the mayor’s office, and for instance, someone like Linda Sarsour, with political aspirations, will prioritize being conciliatory at a time when liberal gatekeepers must be challenged and held accountable,” the activist said. “Despite their rhetoric, their actions are already interpreted as watering down progressive and human rights work in the city.”
BLM activists can be certain that for the Palestinian-American who was “honored to dine” with the Mayor during an ongoing massacre of Palestinians that he endorsed, nothing matters more than returning for another meeting or photo-op. And Sarsour has managed to use the BLM movement precisely for that purpose:
“After two NYPD Legal Affairs Bureau officers were assaulted on the Brooklyn Bridge in December after a large demonstration, Mayor de Blasio met with members of the Justice League, who, the mayor said, agreed to identify anybody who “seeks to harm the police or harm anyone and undermine their non-violent peaceful progressive movement.” The mayor seemed to be positioning the Justice League as a wedge between him and more radical elements of the movement. The Justice League issued a press release right after the meeting that did not address this assertion. Still, some members of the group began to vehemently deny the mayor’s claim on Twitter. Sarsour blamed the “corporate media,” not de Blasio, for trying to discredit and spread division between protesters. The next day, the group tweeted a statement saying they would not work with the NYPD to identify protesters.”
Sarsour is increasingly on the defensive but we must ensure that pressure is maintained and she is fully exposed. We need real solidarity between Arab and Black and all communities of color, especially among the poor and working class. Excellent solidarity relations have already been established and a solid foundation has been laid as we move forward: see here, here, here, and here. We must continue to broaden, deepen and strengthen Arab-Black solidarity and that requires us to extirpate the unprincipled opportunists motivated by personal ambitions from exploiting and manipulating our joint struggle. Failure to do so will eventually undermine and reverse the achievements that have already been made in this area.
Feign The Bern
More recently Sarsour has attached herself to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Sarsour, like others within the Arab and Muslim communities, has been fawning over Sanders for his mild criticism of Israel and conceding Palestinians are human beings deserving of respect and dignity. We are not as impressed with Sander’s position on Palestine and disagree with his Arab and Muslim supporters in this country, but that is a discussion beyond this blog post. We do recognize that many of his Arab and Muslim American supporters, which include many of our own friends, support him in good faith and deserve our respect. However, unlike his good-faith supporters that genuinely “feel the Bern”, Sarsour’s support is disingenuous, opportunistic, and, like all her “activism”, motivated by self-interest. Her role in the Sanders campaign in NY has been invaluable in preparing for her own campaign next year. It provided her even more media access and presented her with yet another opportunity to latch on to an independent phenomenon in the name of the Arab and Muslim communities. But Sarsour simply cannot reconcile her claim that her support for Sanders is partly based on his recognition of the humanity and dignity of the Palestinian people with her support for other Democratic politicians that wholeheartedly support the Zionist project in Palestine and endorse Israeli massacres. Anyone willing to ignore the wholesale slaughter of Palestinians cannot subsequently claim their support for another politician is based on his condemnation (what Sanders actually said is that Israel acted “disproportionately” in responding to “terrorism”) of the same slaughter you were willing to disregard when it served your self-interest. We do not support Sanders and are not interested U.S. electoral politics (see ikhras FAQs #9), but it is the members of our community who support Sanders that should be most concerned with the role Sarsour has played in his campaign.
“Uncle Nihad”, CAIR And The War On Syria
Sarsour claims her support for Sanders is also based on his opposition to the criminal U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Ironically, Sarsour has recently joined with U.S.-based Islamist organizations and activists to call for a U.S. war on Syria. Sarsour, of course, is not an Islamist nor does she have any knowledge or understanding of any political parties or movements in the Arab world. In the earlier stages of the war on Syria Sarsour expressed some kind sentiments towards Syrians and told us she “does not support any side” and was only concerned about the suffering of the Syrian people. She also asked questions and showed a desire to be educated and learn about what is actually happening. Knowing she was born and raised in the U.S. and had little knowledge of Syria and Arab politics, we did what we can to help her understand and warned her about the false narratives that were being peddled by U.S regime media and the U.S.-based Islamists she had begun to flirt with at the time. All this changed in 2013 when the ikhras-shoe-of-the-month-award-winning Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) presented Sarsour with their first “American Muslim of the Year award.” The following year CAIR invited her to MC their 20th Annual Banquet. At that banquet Sarsour referred to CAIR Executive Director and Muslim Brotherhood supporter Nihad Awad as “Uncle Nihad.” Since then “Uncle Nihad” and the Islamists at CAIR have been able to easily manipulate the gullible, second generation Arab-American when it comes to U.S. foreign policy advocacy. She has now begun parroting talking points fed to her by the Muslim Brotherhood contingent within CAIR and engaging in pseudo-moralistic ranting while calling on the U.S. regime to “intervene” in Syria. Sarsour is one of those clueless Arab-Americans that feign knowledge of the Arab world by invoking their ethnic heritage, another common tactic often used by members of our community. Regardless of one’s interpretation of events in Syria, it is not the role of Arab or Muslim Americans to be calling for more imperialist wars on any Middle Eastern countries, especially when they lack even the most basic knowledge about the region, its political actors and current events.
Arab and Muslim Americans are appalled that very serious issues and challenges facing our community are being used in such a cynical and manipulative way to further the petty ambitions of a political dilettante. By now it is clear Sarsour has no genuine convictions or principles nor is she actually committed to any cause other than her own full-time hobby. To that end she has demonstrated no hesitation to exploit any cause whether it is Palestine, combatting Islamophobia, fighting racism, police violence and surveillance, immigration reform, mass incarceration, and a myriad of other social justice issues.
In addition to a lack of conviction and principles, Sarsour has also demonstrated a very shallow understanding of her own favorite topics. Her knowledge of U.S. history, politics, and society does not extend beyond a Middle School curriculum and she approaches these subjects without any serious thought or critical analysis. Nevertheless, Sarsour has acquired important skills and abilities that have served her well. She has, for example, demonstrated an ability to memorize and regurgitate pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric and various slogans for specific causes. She has also been adept at exploiting her different identity markers such as Palestinian, Arab and Muslim, and depending on the topic or event, is capable of offering herself as a useful prop. She has also shown a great deal of skill in latching onto independent phenomena such as the BLM or a presidential campaign when she perceives it to serve her long-term interests.
For Sarsour, like all establishment Arab-Americans, there has been a direct inverse relationship between her access to government and media and her links to the community. Her relations with grassroots Palestinian and Arab-Americans are virtually non-existent at this point. The few activists that once worked with Sarsour are refusing to deal with her and have been turned off by her cynical manipulation of legitimate causes and issues of concern to our community. The initial entertainment value of the “homegirl from Brooklyn” shtick has grown stale and taken on a parodic quality.
Sarsour will undoubtedly continue her ego-driven, one-person circus act. She recently hired a professional videographer to produce a self-promotional video in which she explains she is very modest and humble. She will also continue to present herself to the Democratic establishment as someone with influence within our community and will present herself to the community as someone with influence within the establishment. In reality, she will remain irrelevant within both, with no grassroots support within the community and no influence within the establishment. This will not, however, prevent her from pursuing her full-time career by ostensibly representing each one to the other (James Zogby has been playing this same role for decades). This irrelevance within her chosen sphere of activities should not be conflated with a lack of impact. Her activities, especially when conducted in our collective community name, do have a corrosive impact on the causes and concerns of the Arab and Muslim communities, and undermine the hard work of dedicated activists. When we launched the ikhras project we explained to our community and readers it was made necessary because U.S.-based Arab and Muslim “activists” and self-declared representatives hijacked our collective community name for their own self-aggrandizement and in furtherance of personal ambitions unrelated to our communities’ agenda, interests, and well-being. Clearly enjoying a rising public profile, Sarsour is the latest manifestation of this behavior and represents a new generation of the same opportunists and careerists ikhras was launched to expose.