Black Lives Matter -The Anatomy of Bias  


Over the past week we have seen clearly how a domestic movement for human rights in the United States gets co-opted to become a forum for Israel bashing and then becomes a draw for disaffected American Jewish youth.  If it was not true it would be unbelievable.

Here is the process.

As a result of what is clearly a continuing situation of racial bias in the United States, 150 years after the elimination of slavery and 50 years after the reforms of the Johnson administration, a new movement for racial equality springs up named “Black Lives Matter.”  The movement generated as a result of statistics that were outlined in a recent study by USA TODAY:

  • Blacks are more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime. Nationwide, black people are arrested at higher rates for crimes as serious as murder and assault, and as minor as loitering and marijuana possession.
  • Arrest rates are particularly lopsided in some pockets of the country, including St. Louis’ Missouri suburbs near Ferguson. In St. Louis County alone, more than two dozen police departments had arrest rates more lopsided than Ferguson’s. In nearby Clayton, Mo., for example, only about 8% of residents are black, compared with about 57% of people the police arrested, according to the city’s FBI reports.
  • Deep disparities show up even in progressive university towns. USA TODAY found police in Berkeley, Calif., and Madison, Wis., arrested black people at a rate more than nine times higher than members of other racial groups. Madison Police Chief Michael Koval said most of the arrests happen in the poorest sections of the city, which are disproportionately black, and where some residents have pleaded for even more police presence.
  • Arrest rates are lopsided almost everywhere. Only 173 of the 3,538 police departments USA TODAY examined arrested black people at a rate equal to or lower than other racial groups.

Rightfully so, the leadership of America’s black community has risen up and formed a movement, Black Lives Matter, to call attention to the problem and make suggestions for changing the status quo.

Last week the leadership published a policy platform with demands in six areas, with specific proposals on the state and federal levels.  Their objective, which should be applauded, was to move from slogans and rallies to tangible policies.

And then, as often happens, the leadership got co-opted by those in the United States who see everything bad that is happening there as being caused by America’s traditional support of Israel.  As a result their policy platform adds, as well, a hateful, biased and totally unrelated position on Israel, calling Israel a perpetrator of “genocide” and an “apartheid state.”  In a word, the leadership of Black Lives Matter, whose goal is ostensibly to cure the ills of racial inequality in the United States, chose to focus its attention on Israel, while  choosing not to link its message with any of the many countries in the world who do, indeed, practice racial discrimination as a matter of government policy.  Ari Hart, in an op-ed in “The Forward” notes, for example, that in Mauritania, Somalia, Eritrea and the Sudan, there are an estimated over 1 million black bodies actually enslaved – as in chains, whips and forced labor.”

LGBT folks are executed in Iran, dissidents tortured in North Korea, civilians starving in Venezuela…yet none of that was worth a mention.

But we have seen this type of convoluted reasoning before so it does not come as any big surprise, disappointing as it might be.  The real downside is how American Jewish young people are buying the argument and becoming anti-Israel themselves.

Ally Little and Michelle Weiser, two young American Jews, members of the LGBT community, in an op-ed objected vigorously to the fact that the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council disassociated themselves from the Black Lives Matter group over their position on Israel.  Why do they feel that way?  Because, in their words, “The Platform explains that racism and exploitation don’t stop at U.S. borders, and notes that funding that could be used for domestic social services in instead being used to kill Palestinians abroad.  It specifically calls for an end to U.S. military and financial aid to Israel, outlines American citizens’ complicity in the state-sanctioned violence and discrimination against Palestinian people, and calls to find the increasing amount of anti-BDS legislation that restricts Americans’ right to free speech and protest.”

Once again, no evident concern at all for any other country in the world where (a) governments are regularly putting their citizens in jail, (b) where LGBT people are being routinely executed as we saw last week in Iran, and (c) where national leaders like Assad in Syria are prepared to kill hundreds of thousands of their own people so that they can stay in power.  None of that is of any concern to these young people. Only Israel is the target of their disappointment and that of Black Lives Matter.  And as a result, these two young people conclude “It’s not 11 words in the Platform, but the occupation itself that compromises the values and integrity of our community.  Boston JCRC, we call on you to retract your statement condemning the Movement for Black Lives Platform.”

It is both depressing and scary to contemplate what will happen to the American Jewish Community when these young people become the leaders there in the years to come.   We Jews have a long history of being in the forefront of those social movements that are inimical to our long term survival.  Someone in America needs to sit these young people down and educate them about our history and what we have learned about living as guests in another country.  We know the risks of getting too complacent about our place in an alien society but we seem to have failed in our ability to transmit that knowledge to the next generation.

George Santayana said “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  But we Jews know that we do not  have the luxury of repeating history…..we absolutely must learn from it and act accordingly.  That is the challenge today’s youth who are tomorrow’s leaders present to us.  Let’s hope we up to the task, but I have my doubts.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.