Black Lives Matter is an important movement, whether in America or abroad. Although the Civil Rights Act was passed 52 years ago, Black people–especially men–are beaten or killed by police officers at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group in the US, even more than Latinos. Black men are also disproportionately imprisoned for minor drug crimes, even though a White rapist can get away with only 3 months in jail. The Justice System–or perhaps it should be called the Injustice System, particularly in light of the Brock Turner case–is in need of dire reform, and all Americans should be thankful that BLM and other similar organizations are bringing to light the corruption and racism within it that far too long has remained in the shadows. That’s why it is so sad, disappointing, and frustrating for me, as a Black Jew, to see such an important movement be hijacked.
A few weeks ago, the Black Lives Matter movement adopted as part of its platform language that accused Israel of being “colonial” and “genocidal” against Palestinians. We’ve seen this pattern before in other leftist movements. The 1999 “Battle in Seattle”, waged by disgruntled members of Generation X against the World Trade Organization (WTO), saw a legitimate protest against the ills of globalization become co-opted by anarchist loons. Occupy Wall Street, which earlier this decade criticized the 1-2% wealthiest Americans being taxed less than the rest of us while making higher salaries, was soon infiltrated by anti-Semites who blamed Jews for the economic ills of the USA. And BLM, which is supposed to focus on social justice and end systemic racism in our court system, is now itself infected by racists. In all three cases, the “crazies” were only a small portion of activists, just like the looters in many protests against police brutality are a small fraction of opportunists in a larger movement. But the media cracks down on incidents like these, and presents an opportunity for opponents of these protests and movements to delegitimize them among more moderate strains of the American public. As a result, the movements largely become irrelevant. The WTO and its globalist agenda only increased its power and influence after 1999; the economy has slowly recovered, but little has truly been done to address large-scale income inequality, despite Occupy Wall Street; and BLM still faces hostility from many corners of society while the Justice System still remains unreformed. BLM is far too important a movement to be overshadowed and delegitimized–it needs to learn from the mistakes of former left-wing organizations and movements and quickly separate itself from extremist anti-Zionists.
How did Black Lives Matter get to this place? After all, isn’t it only supposed to be focused on criminal justice reform, especially in regards to the Black community? Why is Israel, the only Jewish country in the world, singled out in its platform, rather than nations that abuse human rights and Black rights far more? These are all important questions, but have many different answers. The answer to the first question is yes, BLM is supposed to be focused mainly on reforming the criminal justice system so that Blacks and other people of color are fairly treated. The fact that it’s now focusing on international issues that have nothing to do with the mistreatment of Black people is rather puzzling, and opens it up to further delegitimization and distraction from its core concern, which is as of yet unresolved.
When I attended the 2015 Annual ACT! for America Conference, the founder, Brigitte Gabriel, made very clear to leading activists from the organization that ACT was only to be focused on issues of national security; gay marriage, abortion, gun rights, economic issues, and the like were not to be discussed or adopted formally into the platform of the organization, lest it open up the movement to critiques, distract the movement from its main goals, or alienate potential allies. This is a smart move on her part. While some people may feel that the movement is mainly a conservative one, liberals could easily join if they’re concerned about national security, as there would no disagreements formally aired in forums, conferences, or meetings regarding domestic policies such as the ones mentioned above. This creates an inclusive environment that brings Americans together. BLM, however, is doing just the opposite. Many Jews, especially Millennials, see criminal justice reform as the civil rights movement of our time–this is even more true in light of the legalization of gay marriage. For many of us, our grandparents marched with civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Medgar Evers, sharing the goal and dream of equality for all Americans. In 1964, two Jews, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered alongside James Chaney, a Black man, in Mississippi. They were all members of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. Like Black people, Jews also have been oppressed, murdered, or enslaved throughout the ages. Black people were stolen from their homelands by Arab and European slave traders; Jews were mostly displaced from theirs by Europeans, Arabs, and other occupiers of the Holy Land. So it’s only natural that there is some form of bond between the two peoples, if not a sense that we’re kindred spirits.
But then why is there increasing anti-Semitism in certain segments of the BLM movement? Why is it Israel, of all countries, that is criticized? Some of this can be attributed to the anti-Semitism that’s been prevalent among some Black Christian and Muslim circles, and has been passed down to the younger generations. But much of it is for the same reason we see it among the EU, UN, and other bodies. Young liberals traditionally want a cause to champion: in the 1960s and 1970s, it was free love, women’s rights, and civil rights. In the 1980s, it was the AIDS crisis and the Ethiopian famine. In the 1990s and 2000s, it was gay rights and the WTO. Now it’s “the Palestinian cause”, among other things. Not everybody that espouses these views is a racist: some people are genuinely misinformed and brainwashed, and some even later come around to realize the truth and become pro-Israel activists. But unfortunately, many remain intransigent in their views. We live in an age of media apartheid–where conservatives mostly watch Fox News, Newsmax, or One America News Network, while liberals mainly watch MSNBC, CNN, or foreign networks. It’s very rare that a liberal would watch a conservative channel to hear their viewpoints, or vice versa. Conservatives are convinced that liberals are America-bashing freaks, and liberals are convinced that conservatives are racist hicks–in some cases, both sides are right. But this environment that only fosters extremism on both sides diminishes the importance of the moderate middle-ground espoused by the majority of Americans, according to some polls. This is why young LGBT Americans or African-Americans or Asian-Americans will watch AJ+ (Al Jazeera Plus) videos on their Facebook feeds, thinking it’s progressive and hip for highlighting certain issues in society, but will not realize, criticize, or acknowledge the bigoted and hypocritical agenda from the Qatari-backed media outlet that whitewashes the continuing enslavement of Blacks by Arab countries, abuse of Asian migrant workers in the Gulf, or atrocious treatment of homosexuals in the Islamic World. They will, however, be exposed to AJ+ videos accusing Israel of big words such as “apartheid” and “colonialism” that are trendy on college campuses among progressive activists, and they will seek to automatically relate the “Palestinian cause” to the ‘African-American struggle” merely because they perceive both peoples to be dark-skinned victims of European imperialism.
This narrative, of course, is wrong. Despite the Left seemingly despising the idea of marginalizing people, this assumptions of Israel as a “European settler project” marginalizes the thousands of African, Asian (including Middle Eastern), and Latin Jews that immigrated to Israel, not to mention the thousands of Jews of mixed heritage that make up the majority of Israel’s population. It also ignores the fact that Jews, even Ashkenazi Jews, are the aboriginal people of Israel and are themselves Middle Eastern (as genetics prove), not European. Moreover, plenty of people of color (including Jews) have what some would say are “White features”–does that make them White? Of course not! (My own sister is Black, Jewish, and Native American, like me, but has straight blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes.) The Jewish community has failed in driving these points home, and instead relies on the arguments of being “the only democracy in the region”. This is, of course, important to mention, but it doesn’t delegitimize the false and racist narrative spread by Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) and their sympathizers into groups like BLM that should be our natural partners. We need to start doing a better job of explaining our people’s history, and rebuilding the broken bridges between our communities. Flat-out rejecting all of BLM because of a few anti-Semitic crazies is not the answer. The answer is a bottom-to-top identity revolution in the Jewish community (where we proudly reclaim our aboriginal heritage and throw away the “European” label forced on us) and an unmasking of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), BDS, AJ+, and all the other similar “movements” as shallow opportunists who could care less about Black lives, and often support their continued oppression in Arab countries.
If Black Lives Matter wants to get involved in international affairs, it would be better off condemning human rights abuses in dictatorships, especially those in the Arab World, where Blacks are treated and viewed as sub-human, or in sub-Saharan Africa, where too many of our brothers and sister suffer under conditions of civil war, disease, famine, and corruption, and are neglected by the UN and international community at large. Why is it that Syria’s war receives more coverage than the even bloodier conflict in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)? How come the refugees of Dadaab are left to starve or be killed in the desert for 25 years, but Syrian refugees are of primary concern? Why was Rwanda left to genocidal slaughter while the UN stood by? And let’s not forget how slavery is still practiced in Mauritania. This is because Black lives didn’t–and don’t–matter to the UN. If BLM wants to get involved with Israel, it would be more useful to address the sharp disadvantages the Ethiopian Jewish community still faces in contrast to other groups in the country, or to the poor treatment many African migrants still receive there. But BLM needs to realize the mistake of its progressive processors (giving voice to extremists) if it wants to last and remain influential. It should revoke the false allegations of “apartheid and genocide” against Israel in its platform, and disassociate itself from racist members that will taint the movement’s image. BLM will come under especially harsh scrutiny as it is, due to racism, and engaging in anti-Semitism and extremism as well as spreading blatant lies isn’t going to help: in fact, it’s alienating potential allies. BLM can also expand to cover issues within our community, such as the Black-on-Black crime rate, which tragically takes too many lives, notably in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Baltimore.
The fact is that the BLM movement has a stronger potential to build allies with the more numerous Jewish community than with conspiracy theorists and bigoted, lying opportunists of the fringe-left. Given the shared experiences of our peoples and the relatively recent intertwining of our communities during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, this realignment makes a lot of sense. But BLM needs to first decide whether or not it wants to go extinct like its leftist predecessors, or if it wants to thrive and expand until its goal is largely achieved, as did many of our grandparents 50+ years ago.