Editorial: The antisemites next door

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Editorial: The antisemites next door

Hate and ignorance can spring from anywhere, even from civic-minded people with seemingly good intentions who run for political office.

Meet Jamie Zahlaway Belsito – who, in case you missed it, briefly served as the Massachusetts State House Representative in the 4th District this past year. That district includes Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rowley, Topsfield and Wenham.

Last year, the Topsfield resident won a special election and became the first Democrat to be elected in the district in 163 years.

On the campaign trail, she seemed to align with the traditional left-of-center North Shore voter. Her platform included everything from maternal mental health, the environment, and food insecurity to senior care and gun reform. A former trustee at Salem State, she had described herself in the past as a “middle class white woman in the North Shore suburbs of Boston,” who “almost lost my home during the last housing market crash,” and knows “what it’s like to struggle and make choices between putting food on the table or buying diapers.” On her State House legislator biography she lists her roots as “the granddaughter of a Syrian immigrant and daughter of a hard working union floor layer.”

Belsito did not run for reelection this year, and this week was her last at the State House. But last month she took to Twitter to talk about a subject that did not include health or the environment. Instead, she decided – not that anyone asked – to let her true feelings about Israel be known on social media. She accused the only Jewish country in the world of genocide, apartheid and terrorism. On Dec. 29, she wrote on Twitter: “The US must acknowledge that the @Israel administration is an apartheid run thuggery terrorist regime on a mission to kill Palestinians. Killing and land taking has nothing to do with anti-semitism. It is genocide.”

On Dec. 22, she wrote on Twitter: It is imperative that the @POTUS administration challenge this alt right incoming @IsraeliPM administration. The world cannot allow a 60+ decade genocide to continue as they continue to kill Palestinians, bulldoze their homes and take over their land. #Palestine.” And on Dec. 11, she criticized Israel after watching the film “Farha,” which Israel has described as a false narrative. “1948 European British Zionists created a hell on earth. This movie is about visceral hate, ethnic cleansing, terrorism and apartheid,” she wrote.

There was immediate pushback from the local Jewish community. “We vociferously reject and denounce her comments regarding the state of Israel, said Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Director Jeremy Burton.

“Criticism, even harsh criticism, of any duly elected government and its policies, or of the ongoing relationship of occupation between Israelis and Palestinians, is legitimate – even when it is painful to hear. Characterizing Israel – an American ally and itself the target of an enduring antisemitic campaign of elimination since its founding – as a ‘terrorist regime’ engaging in ‘genocide’ is both unacceptable and repugnant.”

While Belsito is no longer in the State House, there is an important lesson to be learned here. It is imperative that members of the Jewish community press political candidates on where they stand on the Middle East conflict and Israel. It matters little what level of office they are seeking. In this highly polarized political state where Jews come under attack daily, and radical elements of the left and right seek to demonize Israel, this is crucial information that voters need to know. Θ

2 Responses

  1. Too many elected officials get away with viral antisemitism/anti-Zionism…. They should be pulled off committees and censured, made an example of—so that they don’t get re-elected.

  2. Cole Harrison, Roslindale; Jeff Klein, Dorchester; Susan Nicholson, Gloucester; Sunny Robinson, Gloucester; Clare Sheridan, Medford says:

    In your recent editorial you agree with Jeremy Burton that  “Criticism, even harsh criticism, of any duly elected government and its policies, or of the ongoing relationship of occupation between Israelis and Palestinians, is legitimate— even when it is painful to hear.” Yet in the next sentence you cite Israel as an exception to this rule, and castigate a private citizen, former state representative Jamie Belsito, as antisemitic because she has the temerity to call out the Israeli government. (“The antisemites next door,” 1/5/23). You can’t have it both ways. 

    Yes, there is rising antisemitism, but that is not the same as criticizing a foreign government that has made it clear  it will continue to harass and kill Palestinians and destroy their homes and occupy their land. 

    Belsito is basing her statements, however harsh, on facts that cannot be denied. Major human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as two of Israel’s own leading human rights organizations, agree that Israel is an apartheid state: it gives rights to Israelis while denying those same rights to Palestinians under military occupation. Israel is behaving in a way that most Americans who care about civil rights would label as racist.

    Your editorial cites a definition of “antisemite” as one who is hostile to Jews as a religious group.  Belsito’s problem is not with Jews, or Jews as a religious group,  but with the policies of a particular state, which like every other state can be criticized for the way it treats the human beings under its rule. One need not agree with every element of Belsito’s criticism in order to reject the false characterization of her as antisemitic. 

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