Battle against hate: Violence, bigotry toward Palestinian Americans spiking across US

Battle against hate: Violence, bigotry toward Palestinian Americans spiking across US

Minnah Arshad
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Family of 6-year-old stabbing victim condemns anti-muslim rhetoricThe uncle of a 6-year-old boy fatally stabbed in Illinois, called on politicians to condemn anti-muslim rhetoric connected to the Israel-Hamas war.

Palestinian Americans are seeing two fronts in the Israel-Hamas war: One is the bloodshed in the Middle East. The other is emotional backlash from bigotry and hate in the U.S.

A U.S. Department of Justice hate crime investigation into the fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old Palestinian American Muslim boy in Illinois is one of several incidents of alleged hate being directed at Palestinian Americans, allies and people who look like them since the war began.

Among them:

  • In Dearborn, Michigan, police arrested a man last week for saying in a Facebook post that he wanted to gather people to “hunt Palestinians,” according to a screenshot of the post Dearborn police shared with The Detroit News.
  • On Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles called on the University of California, Los Angeles to open an investigation after a group of people intruded on a webinar, threatened to tear the heads off Palestinian supporters, calling them terrorists.
  • On Sunday morning, a person approached a Sikh teen wearing a turban on a New York City bus and said, “We don’t wear that in this country and take that mask off.” The suspect then punched the 19-year-old in the back of his head, face and back multiple times, police said. He also tried to forcibly remove the man’s turban, before fleeing on foot.
  • In Oregon, the Islamic Society of Greater Portland said community members have faced threats in recent days, which have been reported to law enforcement.

American Muslims for Palestine executive director Osama Abu Irshaid told USA TODAY his team is facing a myriad of fears and forms of grief, as they mourn familial losses, the collective mourning of human loss, and mounting fears of violence fueled by anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. One staffer has lost 18 family members to recent attacks in Gaza, Irshaid said.

“There are attempts to criminalize our voices,” Irshaid said, noting that Palestinian supporters, including Christian, Black, Jewish and other voices are being stifled.

The community feels under siege, Irshaid said, but at the same time, wants to show support and express grief in the war crisis.

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“They’re not out there to threaten anyone. They’re not there to delegitimize another narrative. They’re out there to assert a narrative that is being diminished,” Irshaid said.

Civil rights organizations report rise in hate

Joseph Milburn, a staff attorney at CAIR-Chicago, said the nonprofit civil rights organization has received an influx of calls since the start of the war from victims of hate crimes, including visibly Muslim women who have been taunted and targeted with slurs in public places. He also noted a lack of action from elected officials to protect Palestinian Americans and adjacent communities.

“In the best-case scenario, perhaps some politicians aren’t aware of the needs of marginalized communities. Or, in the worst-case scenario, they simply don’t care,” Milburn said.

In a recent alleged hate crime, 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume was fatally stabbed 26 times in his Illinois home. His mother, Haanan Shahin, 32, was stabbed more than a dozen times and survived with severe injuries. The family’s landlord, 71-year-old Joseph Czuba, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and two counts of hate crime.

CAIR-Chicago said the Muslim family had lived at the home owned by Czuba for two years with no reported problems. According to text messages between Shahin and the boy’s father that were shared with the CAIR-Chicago, Czuba yelled “You Muslims must die” during the attack.

Czuba’s wife, Mary, said her husband listened to a “conservative talk radio on a regular basis” and had been “heavily” interested in recent events in Israel, according to new court documents.

Advocates say one-sided narratives contribute to bigotry

Presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a campaign event the United States should not take in any refugees from the Gaza Strip.

“If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic,” he said.

In a social media post on X, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned a Palestinian rally in Times Square, calling it “abhorrent and morally repugnant.”

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox News: “We’re in a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place.” 

In statements released since the beginning of the war, President Joe Biden continued to offer unequivocal support for Israel and condemned violence against Israelis.

“The United States and the State of Israel are inseparable partners, and I affirmed to Prime Minister Netanyahu again when we spoke yesterday that the United States will continue to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself and its people,” Biden said on Oct. 9.

Following the stabbings on Saturday, Biden released a statement on the “horrific act of hate.”

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“As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred. I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate. We must be unequivocal. There is no place in America for hate against anyone,” Biden said.

To US Palestinian Community Network national chair Hatem Abudayyeh, Biden’s comments were “too little, too late.”

In a private call with State Department officials Monday, Arab American and Muslim leaders expressed outrage over the Biden administration’s rhetoric in recent days, POLITICO first reported. Leaders said the demonization of Palestinians, and of Arabs in general, had given way for rise in hatred against them in the US. They also noted calls for a cease-fire or restraint were absent from Biden’s remarks.

CAIR said in an analysis of statements that hundreds of U.S. corporations, including CEOs of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Pfizer, and JPMorgan Chase, condemned the attack against Israelis but failed to do the same for attacks against Palestinian civilians. 

Experts said statements that only acknowledge violence against one side imply the other side is either not facing violence or does not matter. 

“No group should be demonized,” Milburn said. “Jewish people should be protected and respected, and so should Muslims and Arabs and South Asians and everyone else.”

Law center reports increased FBI surveillance of Palestinian supporters, Muslim spaces

Suzanne Adely, president of the National Lawyers Guild, said there have been increasing reports over the last week of the Federal Bureau of Investigation visiting local mosques across the country and contacting individual Palestinian activists who had never had such an encounter before.

“It’s part of this larger onslaught of attack against Palestinians, Muslims and those that are supporting Palestine,” Adely said.

This is not the first instance Muslims have reported increased surveillance from the FBI. In June, CAIR released a report on FBI’s use of its terrorism watchlist, finding that 98% of the names on the watchlist were Muslim names, despite the fact that Muslims only make up about 1.1% of the U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. 

“An individual’s watchlist status is used by government agencies to harass and humiliate people when they travel, to outright forbid people from flying, to deny individuals licenses and permits, to refuse to hire people or fire people already employed, to delay or deny visas and applications for U.S. citizenship or a US passport and subject the innocent people on the list to dangerous and invasive law enforcement actions,” CAIR said.

“All of what is happening sort of builds some kind of false narrative of who Palestinian supporters are in order to justify the US’ continued and shameful support for the genocide of the Palestinian people,” Adely said.

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