NOTE: The following piece is purely my own view. While anything on this blog that is not a piece written for the Foundation for Middle East Peace may not reflect the Foundation’s view, this piece in particular is a personal opinion. To date, the Foundation has not decided whether to make any statement about the policy platform issued by the Movement for Black Lives. The views here are strictly my own. They should not be taken as being in any way reflective of FMEP’s views, nor should this disclaimer be interpreted as meaning that FMEP disagrees with the views expressed here in part or whole.
A collection of groups that are part of the Black Lives Matter Movement have released an historic document. It is a policy platform that is broad in scope and wide-ranging in vision. Naming themselves the Movement for Black Lives (MBL), the 50 organizations do not claim to speak for any but themselves, but they clearly represent a large portion of the Black community in the US and of the Black Lives Matter movement.
So far, the opposition to the MBL platform has mostly come from the right wing. Liberals and leftists are either supportive or, I suppose, silent about any reservations they may have. But one controversy has been raging throughout the political spectrum, at least with in the Jewish community, and, not surprisingly, it’s about Israel. Two paragraphs are at issue:
“The US military accounts for over 50 percent of discretionary federal spending, a total of 598.5 Billion dollars spent annually, as compared to 70 billion spent on education, 66 billion spent on healthcare, $63.2 billion spent on housing and 29.1 billion spent on social security and unemployment. In addition, approximately 3 billion dollars in US aid is allocated to Israel, a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades. Together with aid to Egypt — Israel’s most important regional ally — this figure represents nearly 75 percent of all US aid dollars. As these figures demonstrate, resources and funds needed for reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically are instead used to wage war against a majority of the world’s communities.”
“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people. The US requires Israel to use 75 percent of all the military aid it receives to buy US-made arms. Consequently, every year billions of dollars are funneled from US taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations, who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more foreign military aid. The results of this policy are twofold: it not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old without due process. Every day, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.”
Now, since this is my field of expertise, there are a good number of places I could quibble with the analysis, point out factual inaccuracies and note some points I disagree with. I also would not use the tone that is used here, but then, the tone is that of Palestinian solidarity activism, which is not where I come at this issue from.
The issues raised by a wide range of Jewish groups essentially come down to these three: that the platform fully endorsed Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel; that it referred to Israel as an apartheid state; and that it characterized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as an ongoing genocide.
The first two objections are both aimed at points that are natural ones for Palestine solidarity activists to make. Indeed, in these days, they come close to defining solidarity in this realm. You can see my view on support for the BDS movement here. As to the use of term “apartheid,” as many Israelis have pointed out, it is getting more and more difficult to defend Israel against this charge as the occupation grows deeper, harsher, and more entrenched, and while anti-Palestinian racism in Israel continues to grow. This is where the occupation, not the Black Lives Matter movement, is forcing Jews to choose between their liberal values and their support for Israel.
The third objection, the use of the term genocide is indeed troubling to me. It is not accurate. It could be soon, as the United Nations has stated that Gaza will be incapable of sustaining human life in a mere four years. If something doesn’t change dramatically before then, this is certainly a conversation that will need to be revisited. But for now, calling what is happening genocide is simply untrue and only enflames the conversation while it also tragically minimizes the reality of what occupation and the total siege and isolation of Gaza have done and continue to do to Palestinians.
But the response of some in the “pro-Israel community” to all of this is far more intolerable than the misuse of a loaded term. Some have even disavowed the entire Black Lives Matter Movement over this.
The entire platform is over 37,000 words and elaborates a vision of a world that most of us, including most of us white folks, and especially most Jews, would very much like to live in. It’s a world based on institutions meant to promote social, racial and economic justice.
The section on Israel is barely a drop in the bucket next to that.
Are people really that surprised to find out that a great many Black people in the United States feel solidarity with the Palestinians? Are the groups that are objecting even bothering to note that all of what is written is directed at changing United States policy and the criticism is specific to Israeli policy, not to Israel’s very existence or to Jews in general? This is not a case where a concept like “Israel” or “Zionism” is being used to mask an attack on Jews; this platform plank is clearly about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and nothing more.
Yes, the term “genocide” is incorrect and troubling. But most of what is stated in the platform about the occupation and about Palestinian marginalization in Israel is tragically true. To abandon support for such a crucial issue of justice, racism and freedom over that usage says a lot more about those doing the abandoning than it does about the Black Lives Matter movement.
US defense of Israel’s occupation enables terrible human rights violations. The MBL platform objects to that. I cannot, in good conscience, allow the misuse of one word, however loaded, negate that, much less negate a mass movement for social, racial and economic justice. If we don’t want Black people to see Israel as an apartheid state, we need to ensure that it does not have different sets of laws for different people as it does in the West Bank, or discriminatory laws and practices marginalizing its own non-Jewish citizens. If we want to make sure Israel is not accused of genocide, even falsely, we need to find a way to convince Israel and Egypt to allow the nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza to pursue a normal life. If we want Black people, who relate to the Palestinian experience for both historical and contemporary reasons, not to support BDS we need to end the occupation.
Yes, I’m disappointed in some left wing Jewish groups who seem unwilling to even point out that the term “genocide” is problematic, or even defend the use of that word. It is problematic, and we should acknowledge that in the spirit of dialogue with the Black and Palestinian communities. But I’m much more dismayed by how easily some supporters of BLM are moved to jump off that bandwagon. As white people who recognize the racism in our own society, we try to look at ourselves and see where we have internalized white supremacy. As Jews, we need to do the same thing with regard to our views of Israel and the Palestinians, but too often, this seems to be beyond our grasp.
The MBL platform addresses many global issues, not just Israel. Israel is certainly not singled out for criticism. But one of the things that has always been missing or in too short supply in discourse around the occupation within the Jewish community is how enormously immoral it is. Millions of Palestinians held without rights for almost 50 years with no end in sight is not a small thing. It should be the fundamental political imperative in this matter, because that condition is ethically intolerable. Yet, somehow, even some opponents of the occupation seem to think that it’s too “complicated” or somehow less offensive than other crimes. Black people who feel solidarity with Palestinians are not going to agree with that view. Deal with it.
I have no problem dialoguing with Black folks or anyone else about why I object to the use of the word “genocide” here, or any of the other quibbles, some of them fairly serious, I might have with the platform. But I will not condition my support for a broad movement for peace and justice on that. And, in the end, it’s not my platform. I can hold an opinion, and I’m happy to share it with BLM activists if asked, but ultimately, a platform for the struggle to end racism against Black people is for Black people to decide.
There is clearly no anti-Semitism here. If there were, that would be a different matter. But I support this platform, even if there are parts I disagree with or think need to be thought through more. After all, when talking about a platform that touches on so many issues, from local to global, no one is going to agree with every part of it, and it is inevitable that most people will have major disagreements with some aspects. I’m sure that is true for many Black folks as well.
I cannot agree with those Jewish groups who refuse to even point out a problematic issue here, but if people, especially white people, are going to withdraw support from, or even oppose BLM in general over this, I would have to question how supportive they ever really were.