On Threats and Intimidation


Checkpoint 56, Hebron, February 2016 

I spent much of June and July feeling strangely optimistic. It is not a sentiment I am accustomed to feeling. But I was touring for my book and everywhere I went meeting people who were eager and excited to talk. Not all of them agreed with me about everything, which made me still happier, but I was heartened by the very clear fact that people in the US seemed ready, hungry even, for a conversation about the realities of Palestinian life under occupation, a subject that has for years been verboten in this country. Audiences were enthusiastically open to a perspective that they knew is far too rarely voiced here. My interlocutors were in some cases people with whom I disagree, but we were in every case able to speak and listen to one another with openness and respect. You don’t have to pay close attention to debates on Israel and Palestine in this country to know how remarkable that is. But it meant that I was able to end every talk I gave on a note of optimism that was sincere—the fact of our conversation, that it was occurring, and spreading, that it was becoming more and more possible to discuss the undiscussable, that alone gave me genuine hope. It was clear we had turned a corner.

But some realities have not gone away. I cannot think of anyone in the US, whether they are Jewish or Palestinian or neither, who has written critically about Israel who has not been smeared as an anti-Semite and an apologist for terror. And I know no one who has achieved any prominence while speaking out against injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state who has not received death threats for their work. Out of stoicism, stubbornness or shame, very few people talk about the threats they receive, but intimidation of the crudest sort forms the backdrop to the entire conversation about Israel and Palestine in this country. It marks and enforces the boundary line of what is say-able. If anyone does not know where that boundary lies, they swiftly find out. Any serious attempt to represent Palestinian realities is met with unrelenting threats and smears. The threats, fortunately, are rarely acted on. They nonetheless represent a brutal and consistent attempt to intimidate opposition into silence. And they are effective. Editors too receive death threats, and they rarely wish to risk receiving more. 

The crazy thing is that this is normal, and has been for years. In the chapters I wrote about the West Bank city of Hebron, I spoke about the strange idea of normalcy that reigns in that city, where having rocks and worse thrown into your home by settlers counts as “normal,” where beatings in the street by Israeli soldiers are entirely “normal.” I referred to Hebron half-seriously as if it were another planet because the norms of behavior there are so alien to our expectations. But this twisted sense of normalcy extends far beyond the extremist settler enclaves of Hebron, to Tel Aviv, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, any place where critical political discourse can be counted on to be met with naked threats and campaigns of intimidation.

I don’t see any point in remaining quiet about this. In the last week alone I have repeatedly been called a Jew-hater and a terrorist, a murderer of children and pregnant women. It has been suggested to me that I should, and may, suffer a terrorist attack. I have been wished a painful death and promised that I will “get what is coming” to me. I am not complaining. I knew what I was getting into. I know that others have endured far worse harassment, and actual attacks. But these tactics must be exposed. The climate of fear that they create must not be allowed to stand. There is too much truth out there, and too much hunger for it.




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Reader Comments (19)

Every single paragraph you write about Israel seems intentionally designed to demonize Israel, to always take the negative view of Israel. And every single paragraph you write about the deranged irrational lunatics that surround Israel seems designed to make excuses for their behavior.

You clearly seem out to get Israel, to promote hate of Israel, and now you're mad that people are noticing this.

Your Twitter feed also shows that you willingly retweet people who come off as anti-semitic and people who seem to reject Israel's very existence.

Rejecting the very existence of the world's only Jewish state isn't "criticism," it's anti-semitism.

You seem like a thin-skinned baby, and you seem like a bigot against Israelis/Jews.

That is my honest opinion, judging entirely by the writing of yours that I've seen, and of your Twitter feed.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

If you don't like Israel's "occupation," what do you think of the terror violence and wars against Israel that came before it?

If you don't like Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank, what do you think of the "NO JEWS ALLOWED" policy of the entire Arab areas in the rest of the West Bank?

If you don't like Israel's security checkpoints, what do you think of the constant murder attempts against Israeli Jews that were happening nonstop BEFORE Israel's security checkpoints existed and came to cut down on those attempts?

If you don't like Israel's security barrier, what do you think of the constant Palestinian attempts to murder Israeli Jews that were very successful before Israel's security barrier came to cut them down?

If you don't like Israel using DEMOCRACY and their MAJORITY CITIZENSHIP to declare themselves a Jewish state, what do you think of the dozens of Arab states that put Arabs ahead of non-Arabs, what do you think of the dozens of Muslim states that favor Islam over everyone else, what do think of Japan being a Japanese country that clearly favors Japanese and rarely lets anyone in, etc?

If you don't like that when Arab countries attacked Israel in 1948 and hundreds of thousands of Arabs left/fled Israel, what do you think of the fact that that entire Arab world then pushed 800,000 Jews out, and most of those Jews wound up fleeing to Israel for safety?


August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB


Criticizing Israel


Hatefully demonizing Israel
Consistently omitting mention of good things about Israel
Consistently omitting mention of bad things done to Israel that mandates Israel's need to defend itself
Consistently omitting mention of bigotry/violence against Jews in the countries near Israel


August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

To be clear, I don't approve of anybody threatening anybody.

Writers should be free to write one-sided garbage.

Readers should be free to call those writers out on their one-sided garbage.

But nobody should threaten anybody, obviously.

P.S. You clearly aren't interested in this, but feel free to also write about death threats against Jews, violence against Jews, violence against Israelis, wars and terror against Israelis, bigotry across the entire Arab/Muslim world against Jews, anti-semitic hate speech against Jews in mosques across Asia and Africa, etc.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

'Rejecting the very existence of the world's only Jewish state isn't "criticism," it's anti-semitism.'

If the world's only Jewish state is a racist Jewish supremacist state then it isn't racist to dismantle it in the same way as there was only one White supremacist state before it 2 was dismantled in South Africa.

Nothing to do with anti-Semitism but your experiences in Hebron were horrific

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commentertony greenstein

People go on about Israel being threatened by Palestinians. Israel is the 4th most powerful military power on the planet. If an elephant can be killed by a flyswatter then there may be something to that argument. The fact is the majority of Palestinians and Israeli Jews are tired. Time to bring walls down and for people to want for another what they want for themselves. Muslims and Jews coexisted peacefully before. The only thing that changed things was Zionism. The goal of Zionism today is to keep Muslims and Jews apart. New leadership and thinking is required.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAhmed

Keep up the good work, Ben. I'm sorry you have to put up with this kind of stuff, but take heart that the abuse is in part a sign that your work is getting attention and rattling people who would like to see Palestinian suffering go unnoticed. The excerpt from your book in the Guardian was excellent and will hopefully garner a lot of attention to the issue.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRP

Ben is a strong supporter of Palestine.

In Palestine any criticism of Mohammed or his appointed successor (Abbas) is met with swift ritual murder. Palestine kills about 500 folks at home each year - and kills hundreds of thousands abroad.

It takes a lot of chutzpah for someone who supports Palestine to suddenly whine about death threats. By supporting Palestine you lose any right to talk about human rights; and it is just silly to whine about being murdered. What do you think happens in Gaza for people who criticize Mohammed or Palestine? What about the 500,000 Syrians that Palestine killed because Mohammed?

Didn't they have a right to criticize Mohammed (just like you have a right to criticize Israel)?

Until you condemn Palestine you have no right to whine about human rights and complain about murder.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHypocrite Central

You're right. I can't name a single writer here who is critical of Israel and not been labeled anti-Semitic. Thanks for persevering.

August 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMBC

Lots of I-net access for their "intelligence agencies" 'with a little help from my friends...'

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRWood

From the very beginning the idea of a 'Jewish settlement' in Palestine was artificial, and what was worse, it threatened to transfer all the complications & insoluble problems of European life into a country which would have been happier without them. The Jews were not really going to return to one’s homeland; they were rather bent on making it into a homeland conceived on European patterns & with European aims. In short, they were strangers within the gates.There was nothing wrong with the Palestinians’ determined resistance to the idea of a Jewish homeland in their midst; on the contrary it was they who were being imposed upon & were rightfully defending themselves against such an imposition.

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBlake

Ben Ehrenreich, you are a very welcome breath of fresh air! I am American, Jewish, close to 80 years old, and a committed Palestinian solidarity activist for the past six-plus years. I've lived in Israel and have hundreds of family members who were born and raised there and still live there; and I also have many Israeli friends who live there. So I'm in constant and direct contact with people who live in Israel.

What strikes me about these knee-jerk supporters/defenders of Israel is their abysmal ignorance. They parrot what they've heard and read over the years without apparently having spent time in the West Bank, for example. For "Hypocrite Central" to claim that Palestinians have killed "hundreds of thousands abroad" ["Palestine kills about 500 folks at home each year - and kills hundreds of thousands abroad"] is preposterous and ignorant. Palestinians do not kill people abroad! Hypocrite Central is conflating Palestinians with "Muslims who kill". Useless to remind Hypocrite Central that Palestinians are Christian as well as Muslim. Supporters of Israel who live outside of Israel need a good reality check, which they're unlikely to get through the mainstream media. Luckily the Internet is helping us all to become better informed -- if we search out information, that is.

I'm so sorry about the death threats and the negativity that you're receiving. George Orwell said it best: "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Please keep doing what you're doing. There are many thousands of us who applaud your valuable work. Thank you so very much!

August 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Diane Kisch

Thank God for people like you Ben. If it wasn't for Jews of conscience like you, Noam Chomsky, Richard Silverstein, MJ Rosenberg, Glenn Greenwald, Gideon Levy, Peter Beinart, Amira Hass, Phil Weiss, Norman Finkelstein et al, we gentiles that object to our American tax dollars going to fund an oppressive apartheid Jim Crow state in the ME would all be screwed, blued and tatooed (as my daddy used to say). Because if a non-Jew dares criticize Israel that automatically makes him or her an antisemite.

I remember the first time someone called me an antisemite for speaking out about Palestinian human rights I actually felt my pulse quicken. Not anymore. Because of desensitization. Now I just get surly and surlier.

So I guess they call you an antisemite too, right, even though you're Jewish. Well, I wouldn't worry about that too much because times are changing and I happen to know for a fact that help is on the way. It's probably going to get a little bit worse before it gets better, but the Internet is a game changer and they are losing control of the narrative. And when people realize how they've been lied to and bullied, the backlash isn't going to be pleasant. You, on the other hand, will come out looking like the hero you are.

So screw them.


August 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVirgil Caine

excellent work. please don't be intimidated. there are so few voices speaking of the Palestinian cause in the united states which is a surprise and not a surprise to me
I can't believe how easily someone gets labeled anti-semetic. How about anti-christian and anti-muslim as a slur. It lacks that bite. Damn!

August 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdm


I have been looking, but don't see (yet?) any substantive response to the criticism that you have glossed over the Tamimi family's violent history including embracing of the Sbarro bomber, who has expressed pride in her actions.

Why not start there?

There are many unreasonable people in this debate who will not veer from their point of view, but how about addressing the reasonable people?

August 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOK

Anyone supporting Palestine openly can expect to have - death threats, racist comments of all flavors, comments about one's sexuality, about one's gender identity, about one's sanity. Jews have the additional benefit of antisemitic slurs. Women have the additional benefit of rape threats and trolls mulling over their imagined details of one's appearance and sex life. The 'antisemitic' or "terror supporter" labels are just the tip of the iceberg - I've seen people stalked, doxed, physically attacked, just for having a pro-Palestinian political opinion and have experienced much of that myself. And the best part is, those in charge of public safety, who are willing to indict students for exercising their right to protest an Israeli spokesperson, will do nothing about any of this.
And yet, this is but a fraction of the Hell that Palestinians have to endure, so we keep fighting. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

August 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJO

Dear Ben,

You are brave to speak out against the Jewish violence perpetrated on Palestinians that you have witnessed in the occupied West Bank. The regular slaughters Israel inflicts on Palestinians living in Gaza, a largely defenseless people, are crimes against humanity. It embarrasses me as an American that Samantha Power will raise her hand at the UN to defend these war crimes when virtually the rest of the world votes against Israel in condemnation.

Israel's crimes against humanity, the slow drip drip of genocide against the Palestinians, as the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe put it, can only be committed because the US funds and arms Israel to the tune of over 4 billion a year. Israelis get free health care, meanwhile. It is time to stop the Palestinian slaughter and time for us Americans to stop backing it legally and militarily. As Gideon Levy said (I'll paraphrase): "Israelis cannot stop the madness, they've lived in a militarized, hate-fueled country too long. They are too deeply invested in their hatred for Palestinian Muslims and Christians to change. Change will have to come from outside Israel."

It is non-Israelis who have to be the force for morality, Israelis are incapable. Certainly, Jews likely have an easier time criticizing other Jews. Not that it will stop non-Jews from opposing Zionism. For example, I'm particularly proud of the BLM movement and their anti-Zionist platform. Alan Dershowitz, professional Zionist, came out with a criticism of their work in the Boston Globe recently. (The same Alan Dershowitz who is now accused of "having sex with an underage girl" and since underage girls are incapable of consent, he is actually accused of child rape. Dershowitz also apparently beat his first wife Sue Barlach so badly she had to go to the hospital. He then divorced her and stripped her of custody of their two young sons. Sue Barlach then committed suicide by jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge.)

It is people like Alan Dershowitz you are up against, Ben. They are vile and worth fighting.

Thank you Ben for your commitment to human rights. I look forward to reading your work.

August 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlynn

Hang in there, Ben. You are being slimed for having written a brilliant and necessary book on a harsh subject. I've been reading it. Your book fits with what I saw in and near Beit Sahour in 2010. What I saw in 2010 fits with what Charles M. Sennott, a reporter for the Boston Globe, described in "The Body and the Blood", published in 2001. Life is probably worse -- less livable -- in the Occupied Territories now than in 2001.

I have seen the settlements and the doubled-fence-protected roads that make the settlements bedroom communities back to Israel.

Well done, Ben.

August 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Welch

Dear Ben, thank you for your courage and determination to expose the brutal and inhumane treatment meted out on the Palestinians by the IDF , settlers, judiciary and politicians of Israel. A lot of people have become aware of the situation in Palestine following the massacres that occurred in Gaza in 2009 and 2014. Unfortunately for the Israeli regime it shone a spotlight on its brutal oppressive regime for all to see. The Israelis are no longer the under dogs in this conflict, they are the oppressors and should be ashamed.Courageous authors, writers, historians, celebrities continue to speak out and tell the truth. Justice will be done and the Palestinians will be free.

August 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Doris

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