What Martin Luther King Jr. would teach Black Lives Matter about Israel
American Jews, and not just those who call themselves “progressives,” have identified with, and participated actively in, the movement for racial equality in the US since the founding of the NAACP in 1909 as well as the post-WWII civil rights crusade that transformed America.
This is why so many of us have been shocked by the recent manifesto from the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) moving anti-Israel bigotry from the fringe to the center of its movement. The BLM Platform declares that Israel is an “apartheid state” that “practices systematic discrimination,” including “genocide . . . against the Palestinian people.” It supports the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel, and declares that “via U.S. support of Israel in the global war against terror, America is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinians.”
There have been various reports about the origins and inspiration of the BLM’s new Anti-Israel platform that libels democratic Israel—which gives its Arab citizens full civil rights—by equating it with Apartheid South Africa.
Now, an organization has stepped forward to claim partial pride of authorship. The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) that describes itself as “the largest coalition in Palestinian civil society that leads the global [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] BDS movement… endorsed the inspiring and liberating policy platform issued last week by the Movement for Black Lives.”
The BNC claims that BLM’s anti-Israel platform grew out of 2015 meetings with “leaders from Black Lives Matter, the Dream Defenders and other organizations within the Movement for Black Lives. . . . The 2015 Black for Palestine statement shed a brilliant light on the organic relationship between the US’s domestic racial oppression and its racialized imperial oppression against people of color worldwide while sending a powerful message to all Palestinians about this movement’s commitment to solidarity with Palestinians and all oppressed people around the world.”
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) cheers on the BLM Movement for having “shaken the system of racism and white supremacy that allows police to gun down black people with impunity, to cage black people in obscene numbers, and to systematically impoverish and degrade the black community as a whole.”
The Palestinian BDS National Committee singles out for special condemnation “anti-Palestinian groups in the U.S.”—that is, Jewish groups—“that work to protect Israel’s regime of colonial oppression by ensuring the unconditional flow of billions in US taxpayers money. . . The latter feel that the growing joint struggle between Blacks and Palestinians, which is evolving through sustained and long-term intersectional grassroots efforts among our two communities and supported by progressive Jewish communities, may threaten US support for Israeli apartheid.”
Finally, the Palestinian BDS National Committee states that “the thinly-veiled racism”—that is, Jewish racism— “of the ‘white moderate’” is reminiscent of words spoken by Malcolm X.
Of course, these fanatics don’t remember that Malcolm, before his tragic assassination by hit men associated with Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic Nation of Islam (NOI), had second thoughts about his own earlier career with the NOI inflaming white-black relations in America. Nor do they remember that paragon of the civil rights movement and of African American-Jewish cooperation, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Just ten days before his assassination in Memphis in April 1968, King said: “I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can almost be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
Pro- Palestinian activists opportunistically showed up in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2015 carrying signs blaming Israel for anti-black police violence after riots erupted following the fatal shooting an 18-year-old African American man by a white police officer who was later exonerated.
Now, New York University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) alleges that Israel has African American blood on its hands. Under the hashtag— “#No Justice No Peace #From Gaza to Baton Rouge”—they accused Israel of responsibility for the shooting death in front of a convenience store by the police in Louisiana of an African American man Alton Sterling. An SJP post suggests that Sterling is the American equivalent of Ali Dawabsheh, a Palestinian baby killed in the West Bank.
Such false equivalencies libeling democratic Israel’s self-defense against Palestinian terrorism with the tragic consequences when African American men die, sometimes wrongly, at the hands of police are an insult to MLK’s memory. So too is the Black Lives Matter Movement’s new canard that Israel is guilty of “genocide” or “apartheid.”
African Americans and Jews need a new dialogue to build a revitalized civil rights alliance around issues like rectified police-community relations. Unfortunately, the Black Lives Matter Movement’s false screeds against Israel—encouraged and partly inspired by pro-Hamas fanatics—demonize American Jewry― including Progressive Jews who support Israel, and threaten future African American-Jewish cooperation.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and co-founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center