The US-based insurance company Geico has cancelled a scheduled speech by Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour at their offices, following a backlash from pro-Israel and Jewish groups who decried her criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
Geico had scheduled Sarsour to speak on 5 April at an internal event celebrating Middle East and North African Heritage Month – the official celebration recognised by the US government is Arab American Heritage Month, which occurs every April.
However, the insurance giant reversed course on Thursday, saying on Twitter that “we apologize to our employees, customers, and others for our initial plan to invite Linda Sarsour to speak.”
“GEICO does not condone hatred of any kind, and we do not stand with anyone who does. We are not aligned with any form of exclusion,” the company’s statement said.
In response to the cancellation, more than 60 groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), Jewish Voice for Peace, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, came together on Friday to demand Geico apologise to Sarsour, saying their statement was an attack on the activist’s character.
‘Geico’s defamatory attack on Linda Sarsour is an attack on all Americans who dare to criticize the Israeli government and other human rights violators’
– Statement from groups demanding apology from Geico
“GEICO must immediately delete its false, defamatory and unacceptable attack on Linda Sarsour, who has vocally advocated for justice for all people and repeatedly fought against Islamophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, and all other forms of hatred,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“GEICO’s defamatory attack on Linda Sarsour is an attack on all Americans who dare to criticize the Israeli government and other human rights violators.”
Cair also sent a letter addressed to Geico’s CEO Todd Combs demanding both an apology as well as a meeting with Arab and Muslim community leaders.
The progressive advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace separately came to Sarsour’s defence, saying that Geico should “retract their defamation and apologize to Linda Sarsour immediately”. They called the company statement “an insulting, libelous public tweet”.
Sarsour “is a beloved, principled organizer who fights for our collective liberation and has made invaluable contributions to movements for racial and economic justice”, the group said on Twitter.
“Is that not aligned with your values, @GEICO?”
“GEICO decided they were more comfortable publicly vilifying and dehumanizing a prominent advocate for Arab Americans, U.S. Muslims, Palestinians and other marginalized communities, than simply having a conversation,” the petition reads.
Conflating Israel criticism with antisemitism
Several Jewish organisations condemned Geico’s initial plan to host Sarsour, with the Anti-Defamation League saying it was “shocked” the company was partnering with a person involved in “delegitimizing Israel”.
Sarsour is a leading activist in the US who has advocated for a number of causes including the rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territories, as well as women’s issues, and Muslim American rights. She was also an organiser of the 2016 Women’s March.
She is a well-received figure among Arab and Muslim progressive circles, however, her staunch support for Palestinian rights, her criticism of Israel, and support for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has often drawn the ire of pro-Israel organisations, as well as conservative and right-wing commentators.
In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, the campaign of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden attacked Sarsour after her appearance at a panel at the Democratic National Convention.
Sarsour has not publicly commented on Geico’s decision, and Geico did not respond to MEE’s request for comment.
Source: Middle East Eye