Earlier this week a student at the University of Indiana, Bloomington (USA) posted a video about their encounter with a Palestinian student. The student, Hailey Toch, whose (former) account on TikTok went under the username Hailey’sUnfortunateLife, talked about her encounter with the unnamed Palestinian student. 

In the video Ms Toch talks about how she is proudly Jewish and her neighbour, a Christian or Catholic, had mentioned that a boy “was cute” but then points out that the boy was from Palestine. Ms Toch then says: “like, he probably wants to kill me right now”. She continues that she would like to “kick that guy right out”. The young man in question seems to have offended her simply because he was from Palestine. “I wouldn’t even have opened the door for him if I’d known he was from Palestine”. Although the Palestinian has never threatened her she ends the video with the message “if he ever comes near me I have pepper spray ready to go”.

The original video has been taken down and what is left are numerous replies which explain just how wrong Ms Toch is. The largest sharer of the video, @JamesGetsPolitical shared the video over 16 thousand times with 2.4 million views and nearly 300,000 comments. It has sparked a debate about the role of Zionism, though from her comments it is unlikely Ms Toch is doing anything more than repeating unfounded fears. That this is motivated by Zionism is hardly proven since it is hard to see that she has any political position at all beyond an irrational fear of Palestinians.

Racism is very real in America, as it is elsewhere. Whilst it is Black Americans who face the worst of the racism there are still pockets of anti-Arab sentiment and antisemitism. Accurate figures are difficult to trace but a 2017 Pew Research Centre report found that anti-Muslim attacks showed a steady upward trend. At the same time the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics found increasing numbers of racist attacks throughout America. But whilst it is easy to focus on the Jewish-Palestine issue the fact is that the majority of racist attacks in the USA are by white supremacists.

A 2022 Pew Research Centre survey found nearly a third of Americans having favourable views of Israel with 63% having negative views of Palestine. The same survey also showed that the largest supporters of Palestine were found in the under-30s age group and the largest theistic support from Atheists and Agnostics.

Prejudice against Palestinians is growing. In Germany, anti-Palestinianism is on the rise with employers dismissing pro-Palestine workers on grounds of antisemitism as well as denials of public space for pro-Palestinian Events.  As Al-jazeera correspondent Majed Abusalama, a Palestinian now resident in Germany, says: “I was constantly warned to be careful what I was saying because it did not reflect “German values”. I was told that I am an anti-Semite, that I am a terrorist.”

Palestinians remain the victims of what a number of human rights groups, and the United Nations, have declared an apartheid state, but they so often go unheard. That anti-Palestinian movements are showing a rise in Germany and now rearing their head in a university hall in America demonstrates that the battle of public opinion on Israel-Palestine is one that still needs to be fought. The language used to describe the occupation of Palestinian land and the portrayal of Palestinians as terrorists has been going on for a long time as a 2001 article from Brian Whittaker in The Guardian made clear: “The illegality of the settlements under international law also often escapes mention. The phrase “illegal settlement”, used in an Israeli-Palestinian context, appeared only eight times during the last 12 months – and three of those were in readers’ letters to the editor.”

Given this context it is hardly surprising that ill informed young women view any Palestinian as a potential terrorist. What is less forgiveable is taking the time and effort to use Tik Tok to voice such views without the slightest provocation or evidence. What it shows is the way in which some sections of American society have internalised racist views and can express them without any thought for the consequences. This is probably the most insidious form of racism. We can confront those who march and daub, but it is a lot harder to confront what is inside people’s heads because most people don’t take to Tik Tok to share their racist attitudes. At the time of publication there is no word on whether the University of Indiana plans to take any action against Hailey Toch.

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