Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90. Kaffiyeh image by Jean-François Gornet
Jonathan Greenblatt in Jerusalem, June 5, 2017.

God help me, I’m going to lose all my friends, possibly my job, too, and all because of ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who should have visited Israel on Purim, any Purim, even this year, and seen for himself that Israeli Jews are enamored with the keffiyeh, the traditional Arab headscarf that comes in black stripes, red-on-white, and black-on-white patterns. I, for one, have worn all three kinds many times, on class trips, and with my gold, Saudi Jalaiyah which I wear with sandals to celebrate Mordechai and Esther’s victory over Ahmadinejad.

In late March, on the Joe and Mika Scarborough show on MSNBC, Greenblatt likened displaying the black-and-white patterned keffiyeh, which admittedly was Chairman Yasser Arafat’s favorite of the three known species, to wearing a swastika.


Watch the video. You can’t miss the uncomfortable silence that followed his declaration, which was also interrupted a couple of times by Zoom-related issues.


I’ve been reporting here on the resurgent wave of antisemitism in America, and especially in American academia, since October 7, so I’m not trying to knock Greenblatt’s view that the new Nazis are taking over the campuses and the streets. All I’m saying is that of all the symbols the new antisemites are displaying, the keffiyeh is the least offensive. Especially because I’m pretty sure I still have one somewhere in my closet, and as a rule, I don’t keep Nazi memorabilia.

Turns out that in the process of their integration and their admirable prosperity, Arab Americans have not developed a great sense of humor. It’s OK, Jews have lost theirs on several occasions. So it’s no wonder that the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim organization calling itself a “civil rights and advocacy group,” pretty much modeled on the ADL, was not amused, declaring:

“Sadly, this is part of a pattern for the ADL. For far too long, the organization has launched dishonest attacks on Black Americans, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, Jewish Americans, and others who stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people. The ADL has also platformed anti-Muslim hate speakers like Pastor John Hagee, shared the same stage as anti-Palestinian racists, dehumanized Palestinians by justifying the Israeli government’s attacks on civilians in Gaza, questioned the Palestinian death toll, pressured colleges and other institutions to silence students who peacefully advocate for Palestinian freedom, and downplayed hate crimes against Palestinian-Americans.”

Other than avoiding Pastor John Hagee’s stuff, I admit to having committed just about everything on the above list, especially the part about questioning the Hamas death toll, specifically the fact that only women and children appear to have been killed in Gaza. Hamas men live forever.

CAIR got more than 60 dignitaries and groups to sign this petition:

“We join American Muslim organizations and dozens of other communities in condemning the ADL and its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt for enabling anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim hate. Mr. Greenblatt’s reckless, dangerous comments about the Nazi swastika and the Palestinian keffiyeh were simply the latest example of how far the ADL will go to smear and silence critics of the radical Israeli government. We applaud the Arab, Black, Jewish, and other communities that have condemned Mr. Greenblatt and we encourage those that maintain relationships with the ADL, including the White House, to do the same.”


Was Greenblatt driven to political suicide merely by his cultural shortcomings and lack of visiting Tel Aviv on Purim day? Probably not. Greenblatt has had it up to here with ADL’s Arab doppelganger. In 2021, the ADL published a thorough report on CAIR that spells out the cousins’ Jew-hatred in great detail. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Founded in 1994, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization that seeks to position itself as the leading American Muslim civil rights organization in the U.S. While ostensibly focused on responding to the proliferation of anti-Muslim incidents and sentiment nationwide, key CAIR leaders often traffic in antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric. In fact, some of its leaders have cultivated suspicion among the public toward a wide array of American Jewish institutions. For instance, Zahra Billoo, CAIR San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director, declared that “Zionists” are “your enemies.” She warned followers to “pay attention” to “Zionist synagogues,” Hillels (the premier U.S. Jewish student organization) and Jewish Federations. When Billoo faced criticism for her remarks, CAIR National released a statement in support of her comments.
Nihad Awad, CAIR’s Executive Director, has engaged in similar antisemitic rhetoric, claiming that “Zionist organizations” are “enemies of the Muslim community” and that “Zionist organizations make up the core of the Islamophobia network in the United States.” He has also alleged that pro-Israel groups have “corrupted” the U.S. government and that Israel’s existence has no legitimacy.
CAIR leaders have posited that pro-Israel organizations are responsible for U.S. police brutality and that “Zionists” and Israel are analogous to the Ku Klux Klan and ISIS. Billoo has expressed support for Hamas firing rockets at Israel and has called for “Zionists” – the vast majority of Jews, who believe Israel has a right to exist – to be banned from antiracist, interfaith, and pro-LGBTQ+ work. Such rhetoric is an affront to the vast majority of American Jews, as well as to the vast majority of Jews around the world, for whom a connection to Israel is integral to their Jewish identities. (ADL defines Zionism as the movement for self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.) CAIR has also recently drawn controversy for its stances on LGBTQ+ issues, including its opposition to pro-LGBTQ+ materials in public school classrooms.

See? When he’s not appearing on TV shows hosted by Republicans on a progressive network, Greenblatt can be both thorough and effective.


We’re not done. A dyed-in-the-wool small L liberal Jew, I enjoy reading views that disagree with mine. Last week, Eric Rozenman, former Washington director of CAMERA, wrote in the Washington Jewish Week (Keffiyeh as Neo-Swastika Fashion Statement):

Did you notice the three members of Congress wearing swastikas during President Biden’s State of the Union address early in March? They adorned U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Summer Lee (D-Pa.), of the Democratic Party’s progressive squad, now up to eight sworn members.
They sported not the hooked cross symbol of Nazism, but rather its contemporary equivalent, the keffiyeh. The traditional Arab head-covering is de rigueur among friends of Hamas. One sees them everywhere in the West, from London streets to American college campuses, and now in the U.S. Capitol.
In nations on the winning side of World War II, the swastika as an emblem of Adolf Hitler’s imagined Jew-free Thousand Year Reich remains a bit déclassé. The keffiyeh, however, provides a wonderful workaround for adherents of re-ghettoized diaspora Jewry and a Jew-free Middle East.

Like the proverbial rabbi whose wife wondered why he sided with both claimants in his court, I would say to Rozenman, “Yes, you too are right.” But just like the swastika had been a harmless Asian symbol before the 1920s in Bavaria, so are the roots of the keffiyeh harmless. And when we assign a piece of wardrobe so much political malice, we should not expect a whole lot of sympathy or even comprehension. As in the uncomfortable silence in Joe and Mika’s studio.

I would have stuck with the “from the river to the sea” map, that visually contemplates my murder and the murder of all my brothers and sisters in the sweetest democracy the Jews ever had. It’s a figurative map of Auschwitz. I’d go with that.


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