Reject false vilification of Israel by Movement for Black Lives
On Aug. 1, the Movement for Black Lives coalition of over 50 organizations and partners released a comprehensive manifesto designed to eradicate systemic racism and its destructive symptoms, including economic insufficiency and discriminatory policing. The manifesto, a culmination of racial activism, is meant “to articulate and support the ambitions and work of Black people,” according to the document.
During and after the riots and protests following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a steep comparison between the plight of black people in America and that of Palestinians in Israel and the Palestinian territories surfaced. Groups such as Black-Palestinian Solidarity, Dream Defenders and Black for Palestine emerged, beginning to associate the two causes.
This flawed comparison comes partially as a result of the parallel between two groups of oppressed people worldwide and their struggle against interlinked systems of oppression.
While this parallel can be applied logically in some realms, it cannot be applied without reserve to these two particular causes. Each is a unique set of circumstances with its own causes and implications. To align the the two to such a degree is misleading. Worse, what emerged in 2014 as a specious, superficial comparison has now degenerated into a clear vilification of Israel.
To be sure, I am in full support of the equal treatment of peoples of all races — that’s why I care about the positions of the MBL, a coalition that does tremendously important work for racial equality. But the reputation of Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people, need not be sacrificed to achieve that end.
The platform falsely libels Israel as an “apartheid” state that is committing a “genocide … against the Palestinian people. ” While racism exists in Israel, as it unfortunately does in the United States and elsewhere, Israel’s parliamentary democracy is by no measure a governmentally mandated discriminatory state commensurate with what the South African black majority endured through 1994.
Richard J. Goldstone, a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court, is most famous for leading the now-infamous investigation on the 2009 Gaza conflict and publishing the Goldstone Report, which notoriously accused Israel of a whole slew of crimes against humanity and human rights violations. In an Apr. 1, 2011 Washington Post article, however, Goldstone retracted many of the document’s allegations, saying, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
Later that year, in an Oct. 31, 2011 op-ed in the New York Times, striving to “separate legitimate criticism of Israel from assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize it,” he confirmed a change of belief. Speaking of Israel proper, he wrote, “In Israel, there is no apartheid … Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset [the parliament] and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court.”
Countless more examples demonstrate this reality. In April, Arab police officer Jamal Hakrush was promoted to the position of deputy commissioner, the second in command of the Israel Police, according to an Apr. 14 BBC article. Further, Arabs are increasingly enlisting in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), according to a Feb. 9, 2014 Haaretz article, thereby demonstrating their loyalty and shared values with Israel. This may suggest that conditions for Israeli Arabs are improving. Since the first Arab-Israeli enlisted in 2010, according to an Oct. 13, 2010 YNet article, many more have joined and reached ranks of acclaim.
Ultimately, Goldstone concludes: “The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.”
More and more, though, detractors of Israel point to the West Bank as the place where Israel implements apartheid policies. They often cite the accurate reality that Palestinian residents there cannot vote in Israeli elections as evidence.
But as Eugene Kontorvich, professor of International Law at Northwestern University, wrote in the June 2014 edition of The Tower, “the idea that Palestinians should have a right to vote in Israeli elections, however, rests on the false assumption that Israel governs them — and more specifically legislates for them.” In actuality, according to the same Tower piece, 95 percent of Palestinians in areas A and B of the West Bank as well as Gaza are administered civically by the Palestinian Authority, a governmental entity entirely separate from Israel.
Parallel to the apartheid claim is the defamatory and incendiary charge of genocide, which is uniquely and profoundly offensive to the Jewish people given their history of persecution and close acquaintance with the catastrophe that murdered millions of their population less than a century ago.
Worse, this accusation goes beyond insensitivity and offensiveness — it’s simply false. According to census reports from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, the Arab population of both Israel and the West Bank has multiplied more than four-fold since 1950, and the growth rate of Arabs in Israel is higher than that of Jews — 2.1 percent versus 1.7 percent. Moreover, according to the English NGO thinktank Human Security Centre, “The overall health of the Palestinians has significantly improved since 1967, whether you look at life expectancy, infant mortality or health care.”
These very population and quality of life increases over the last half-century defy the definition of genocide, which, according to the UN, is the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” In fact, the International Criminal Court, the most prominent international judiciary, has not charged Israel of genocide.
Sadly it is not difficult to detect potential anti-Semitism in the MBL’s platform, one that falsely accuses the Jewish state of genocide while conveniently failing to mention the domestic human-rights abuses perpetrated today by Syria, Somalia, Sudan and many other nations.
Indeed, the United States Department of State itself cites “applying double standards” as a way in which “anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel” in their official fact sheet titled “Defining Anti-Semitism.”
The MBL also cites the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as a source of inspiration — a movement whose co-founder Omar Bargouti has not only opposed a two-state solution but also suggested countless times his aim to dismantle the Jewish state. He even co-signed “The One-State Declaration,” a document calling for the demise of Israel as a Jewish state, among other things, published by the Electronic Intifada on Nov. 29, 2007.
This support of a movement as intolerant as BDS is even more shocking after examining the history of American civil rights movements; many American civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were staunch supporters of Israel. In fact, at the 68th annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly on Mar. 25, 1968, MLK, Jr. declared, “The whole world must see that Israel must exist and has the right to exist, and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.”
United States Representative John Lewis, a civil rights leader who worked with MLK, Jr., has said the following of the monumental figure: “[MLK] understood that a special relationship exists between African Americans and Jews … He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history.”
In other words, our two communities have more in common overall than most realize.
Past American civil rights leaders embraced the Jewish community with commendable tolerance. Forgoing this is hypocritical and weakens the MBL.
Instead, the MBL should renounce its pernicious demonization of and irrational focus on the Jewish state.
Whatever the exact cause of the manifesto’s unbefitting language — namely, “apartheid” and “genocide” — their hostility toward Israel is based on ignorance. Next time, the MBL should consider checking the facts more carefully before publishing such an encompassing document.
There’s hope; Brandeis Bridges and similar initiatives that promote dialogue between the Jewish community and the black community can continue to foster a mutual, genuine understanding of their dual narratives to combat further propagation of these and other erroneous accusations.