Violence against African Americans in our nation, especially when it is committed by law enforcement officers, is a source of terrible anguish. It is a known fact that African Americans are stopped and harassed by the police more often than whites or people of other races. As an example, a report released by the Department of Justice asserts that Baltimore Police Department “engages in unconstitutional practices that lead to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans…” We should all be concerned about racism in American society—black lives do indeed matter.
The organization known as Black Lives Matter has noble aspirations—to secure freedom and justice for all black lives. Here is their foundational belief, according to their website:
Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.
True, Black Lives Matter is not without its controversy. Its critics assert that some of their leaders encourage violence, especially against police. These are troubling accusations which, if true, cannot be tolerated or ignored. Violence can never be encouraged, and can never be seen as a solution to our nation’s problems. Still, achieving social justice for all American citizens is a noble cause, and if Black Lives Matter can pave the way to a more harmonious society in which all people regardless of their race are treated with dignity, then more power to them.
But as a Jew and a Zionist I have to draw my own lines in the sand. One of those lines gets drawn when a clear defense of, and advocacy for, Israel is called for. And in the platform released earlier this month by the Movement for Black Lives (a coalition of approximately 50 organizations of which Black Lives Matter is a member), Israel was attacked. As so many anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic voices so often do, Israel was singled out and labeled as an apartheid state that is committing genocide. This accusation is blatantly false and reflects the same double standard that is applied to Israel by haters of the Jewish state. Granted, the Israel bashing passage in the platform represented just a few words in a 100,000-word document, much of which is worthy of consideration. It makes many meaningful and important suggestions for policy changes and legislative action that could improve the lives of black people, changes that, if enacted, would represent a change in attitudes about race in this country.
But those few Israel-bashing words spoil the soup. For me, calling Israel an apartheid state that commits genocide, especially while ignoring the gross offenses of other nations and states committed against human beings, including black people, yanks the credibility rug out from under the feet of the platform. By overlooking, and thereby excusing, true abuses of human rights committed by other countries, by refusing to see that Israel is a genuine democracy that is struggling with a political problem, the platform loses its effectiveness. For me, these two small but powerfully grotesque references to Israel form a line in the sand that I can’t and won’t cross. It doesn’t matter that the passages were co-authored by a Jewish African-American in her late 20’s who associates the racism that she experienced growing up with the suffering of Palestinians that she has seen in the occupied territories. I cannot shrug off language that blindly and unfairly calls Israel an apartheid state and wrongly accuses Israel of committing genocide, an especially hurtful and insensitive accusation for a people that barely survived genocide just a few decades ago. It gives sanction to Israel haters and cover to anti-Semites. Those few words legitimize Israel’s staunchest critics whose true agenda is not peace or co-existence, but the dissolution of the Jewish State.
I continue to care about, and will never stop caring about, justice for African-Americans. I continue to oppose, vehemently, racism in all forms. But the inclusion of blatantly anti-Israel language in the platform written by the Movement for Black Lives and endorsed by Black Lives Matter means that I can’t support those organizations. That’s because I care about fairness for Israel and seek to protect the Jewish state from those who seek to weaken or destroy it. Yes, black lives matter. And because I am a staunch Zionist, so does the welfare of Israel.