Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Linda Sarsour has a theory about the Jews.
Sarsour is the Democratic activist who rose to fame helping the campaigns of Bill de Blasio and Bernie Sanders, was written up admiringly by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and led the Women’s March to great fanfare in the early days of Trump’s presidency—before her antisemitism finally accumulated too much baggage. She has since founded MPower Change, a Muslim “digital advocacy” organization.
Sarsour has apparently joined a growing list of subscribers to a particularly weird conspiracy theory about those posters of Hamas’s captives. The idea itself is nuts, but it tells us something important about the global anti-Israel protests we’re seeing.
In a video posted on Nov. 12 by the Canary Mission of what the group says is a Nov. 7 event, Sarsour gives a Palestinian-flag-waving crowd the following piece of advice: “There are provocateurs all across the city. And what they’re waiting for you to do is to waste your energy ripping down their little posters so they can record you and try to get you fired from your job. Sisters and brothers, you are better than that… So when you go home tonight, they have their little people all around the city. Trust me, I know them. I got a radar for them. You think they’re your people? You think they’re ordinary people? Trust me when I tell you they are everywhere.”
Without going back in time a century or two, you’ll have a hard time finding quite as fevered a description of Jews that doesn’t actually name us, as if using the word will conjure the sudden appearance of Beetlejuice in a shtreimel. But even putting that aside still leaves us with a telling piece of wild-eyed paranoia. It’s a trap! The posters aren’t meant to draw attention to the plight of the kidnapped; they’re bait on the end of a fishing line.
This is not the first time this particular theory has cropped up. Here’s a headline from the Daily Dot earlier this month: “Are posters of Israeli hostages drawing awareness or baiting pro-Palestinians into getting canceled when they tear them down?” The original printing and distribution of the posters may have been done “innocuously enough,” we are told. But now “some are wondering if the posters are being strategically placed to entrap those who tear them down, many of whom support the Palestinian people.”
Really makes you think.
The underlying assumption here doesn’t actually sound all that “pro-Palestinian.” The idea is that pictures of Jews have the same effect on critics of Israel that a full moon has on a werewolf.
But it’s revealing. I can’t help noticing that in all the testimony of Hamas’s Oct. 7 slaughter, there is a kind of ghoulishness that shocks the soul. The Washington Post’s story on Hamas’s war planning also includes this line: “militants cut open the belly of a pregnant woman and dragged her fetus onto the ground.” Charles Lane wrote after watching a screening of Hamas’s recordings of the attacks that “the fact that the killers were clearly having so much fun is a special aspect of the massacre that must be reckoned with in any historically and psychologically complete account.”
This is a consistent element of the mind-virus of antisemitism through the centuries: people become gleeful monsters at the opportunity to harm a Jew. These aren’t barfights that got out of hand. They are the stuff of horror movies. Watching a society gripped with antisemitism is to watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers in real time. To see people be replaced by their dead-eyed pod-person doppelganger.
The silliness of the poster theory and those like it, the idea that the only reason someone would put up a picture of a Jew is to see it torn down, is quickly replaced by the horrifying realization that people around us actually believe that the only reason someone would put up a picture of a Jew is to see it torn down.