The massive protests in the US have sought to confront police brutality and have tapped into growing anger among many young people over a variety of issues. In many ways the mass protests are unprecedented, as is the crackdown.
However, like many protests there are always attempts to hijack the original agenda and steer it in a new direction. In the US this sometimes intersects with groups that embrace a radical anti-Israel dogma while trying to connect it to a “Black Lives Matter” slogan.
The issues here once again puts Jews in the crosshairs. After years of rising antisemitism there has been an increasing crescendo of voices attacked Jews as “white Jews” or attacking Israel as somehow responsible for the racial problems in the US. This is part of the usual social media-driven conspiracies that often try to shift issues to be about Israel and Jews, regardless of whether the debate is about Israel.
It is important here to separate out the dogmatic aspect of those hard core official Black Lives Matter activists who may be anti-Israel, and the vast majority of people who say “black lives matter.”
What is essentially a local American issue, the abuse of black men by police departments, has become global and some want it to intersect with issues in Israel. For instance the killing of a Palestinian man by Israeli police has been seen by some as similar.
In addition pro-Palestinian activists have pushed campaigns on social media to claim Israel “trains” US police. This flips logic on its head because the history of US racism and segregation is deeply rooted in US history and pre-dates Israel. Zionism and pro-Israel voices historically were linked to civil rights groups in the US, not white supremacy. However in recent years there has been an attempt to hijack the civil rights discourse and portray Israel as a “settler” state linked to “white supremacy.”
Now that Black Lives Matter is once against in the media the question is whether the protests in the US alienate pro-Israel voices because they are assumed to be linked to radical left politics, which has become increasingly hostile to Israel.
That hostility is clear when voices such as Marc Lamonte Hill retweet a Ben and Jerry’s tweet supporting the protests with the comment “we dealing with justice in illegal settlements too or nah?”
There are several related threads that intersect with the protest movement and make it difficult for some pro-Israel voices to connect with the protest while fearing that antisemitism may be lurking within it. For instance, Ice Cube tweeted a meme that shows people of color being suppressed by elderly white men who could be construed as Jewish characters, which some found antisemitic.
A protester in New York City said the protesters would attack the “diamond district” if they didn’t get what they want. This appeared to be coded messaging against Jews in New York, who are associated with the trade in diamonds. The recent film Uncut Gems likely fed that assertion. In addition Jewish places of worship and businesses have been targeted in California.
Unfortunately in the US there is a radical fringe among some African-American activists who blend antisemitism with their activism. This includes references to Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam and conspiracies that Jews were involved in the slave trade, that Jews are involved in rent scams or business exploitation, or that Jews are “white” and “fake.”
This has been a narrative of some “Black Hebrew” activists and there have been targeted killing of Jews, in Jersey City last year, and dozens of attacks on Jews in New York city.
All of this seems to come together to make the protests seem to have an anti-Zionist or anti-Jewish undercurrent lurking among some of the radical fringes. It may not be helped by articles suggesting armed “white supremacists” are involved. As the protests grow there are more attempts in the US to try to portray Jews as “white” which is a way to try to distance Jews from the idea that they are part of the milieu of people of color fighting for equality.
This kind of bifurcation where Jews are called “white” but no other group is singled out as “white,” whether it be Armenians or Copts or Arabs, Kurds or even Irish Catholics, is a way to signal that Jews are part of “white privilege,” as opposed to allies and fellow travelers.
The reason that the “white” label has been put on Jews, unlike any other group in the US, is because those who use it know that Jews were not historically considered “white” and that Jews were gassed and genocided, pogromed and inquisitioned, precisely because they were not seen as part of the white majority, but rather seen as a foreign minority.
Yet in the US, because Jews are seen as “white passing” the concept is to push them into the “white” category. If it was widely accepted that Jews were obviously “white,” the way Irish are generally seen as “white,” no one would need to point it out. That is why no one uses the term “white Muslims,” even if many Muslims are “white passing.” This issue, singling out Jews as “white” also made the Women’s March a toxic environment for Jews when Jews were singled out within the movement.
The issue facing pro-Israel Jews in the US and abroad amid the protests is whether to allow the fringe antisemitic voices to hijack this mass movement the way the Women’s March or other groups were hijacked. The reality of the protests is that for ninety-nine percent of participants Israel is not the main issue.
As the people fight with police or are tear gassed, Israel is not the central argument. Making Israel a central argument is part of the agenda of the Israel-obsessed activists who try to inject anti-Israel views into everything in the US, from cuisine to fashion. But there is no reason that pro-Israel voices should be wary of the protests.
The intersectionality dogma, trying to make the pro-Palestinian struggle “intersect” with the Black Lives Matter protests, inevitably want pro-Israel voices to be excluded. But that only creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of seeing the protest as hostile, siding with those against it and then making Israel increasingly a partisan issue where Israel only exists in the right wing camp in the US.
The goal of some who always try to put Israel into discussions will be to try to bring up Israel in every protest, but so far those have been a fringe and they don’t represent the mainstream. Tarring the protest as some kind of extreme left Antifa plot run by anti-Israel activists surrenders the field to what is a loud but small group who always try to hijack every protest in the US.