My Word: Minority opinions matter

The politically-correct world is literally black and white, voices sharing different views are not welcome.

Demonstrators hold up signs during a Black Lives Matter protest in Whitehall, London, on June 7. (photo credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS)
Demonstrators hold up signs during a Black Lives Matter protest in Whitehall, London, on June 7.
(photo credit: HANNAH MCKAY/ REUTERS)
In a mix of a Freudian slip and tiredness, earlier this week I typed the words “United States” as “Untied States.” I almost left it without correction. After an intense period of watching and reading reports on the demonstrations and riots in the US, the mistake about the States unraveling was understandable. Was this what the end of the Roman Empire would have looked like had there been social media, I wondered.
Like every other decent person I felt sickened when I saw the footage of a police officer painfully suffocating George Floyd to death last month. I am also saddened by the scenes of looting and attacks that followed. The atmosphere was obviously charged and it spilled over. In certain areas, such as the Los Angeles neighborhood of Fairfax, a number of kosher stores and synagogues were vandalized, looted and defaced with antisemitic graffiti in apparent targeted attacks. There is a certain irony in protesting violence with violence. The assaults on police officers (and police horses) elicit publicity but not my sympathy. Robbing stores destroys livelihoods and the further loss of lives was tragic.
Protests in solidarity were held in various cities around the world, including in Israel. The struggle for justice for Floyd – and more importantly to prevent future victims – is important. People everywhere need to be reminded of the evils of racism. But one of the saddest aspects of the Floyd case is the way it has been hijacked.
It didn’t take long for Black Lives Matter and other groups to take over the cause to, among other things, condemn Israel and single out Jews as an enemy. Images of Floyd wearing a Palestinian-style keffiyeh were quickly created; there were claims that the local police force had been trained by Israel; and, most absurdly, the Jewish people became the major sponsors of slavery, which lies at the root of African-American suffering.
In the new narrative, that has been promulgated by Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam among others, there were no Arab slave traders and the European colonizers were somehow all part of a Jewish conspiracy. Intersectionality recognizes the rights of all minorities – except the Jews.
But this politically-correct world is anything but correct – it is not so much untied as being tied in knots. “You’re either with us, or against us,” read the sign of a keffiyeh-wrapped protester in London on June 7. It’s meant to be literally black and white. Voices sharing different views are not welcome.
Last week, The New York Times, the bastion of liberalism, dared publish a contrary opinion piece by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, titled “Send in the Troops.” Op-ed editor James Bennet obviously didn’t take into account that there are some people who wholeheartedly support free speech only if they share the same views. Among those denouncing the publication of the GOP senator’s viewpoint were several current and former members of staff. The uproar was so great that the Times first added an apology for having run it and then announced Bennet’s resignation.
In certain circles it’s no longer acceptable to make the simple statement “All lives matter.” It’s taken to be a negation of the Black Lives Matter movement. TV host Ellen DeGeneres was blasted for condemning Floyd’s murder with the words, “People of color in this country have faced injustice for far too long.” As columnist Ruthie Blum noted, DeGeneres was promptly scolded: “Not people of color. George Floyd was black. Why are [you] being so cautious? Serious[ly]?”
Self-identifying “Jews of Color” are possibly more at risk than most.
“Do you classify yourself as white?” I was asked. I don’t classify myself according to skin color at all, I responded. That’s an American obsession of which I want no part. I am proudly part of a minority, however: There are fewer than 15 million Jews in the world. The Exodus from Egypt and the return to Israel through Zionism were the greatest freedom movements of all time, in my opinion, and Jews stood shoulder to shoulder with civil rights activists in the US and elsewhere. Over the millennia, we have learned a lot about what it means to be victims – victims of expulsions, forced conversions, blood libels and the Holocaust. “White privilege” didn’t save us because we are neither homogeneously “white” nor privileged.
My colleague Seth J. Frantzman has noted that “no other group is singled out as ‘white,’ whether it be Armenians or Copts or Arabs, Kurds or even Irish Catholics, [it] is a way to signal that Jews are part of ‘white privilege,’ as opposed to allies and fellow travelers.”
Black lives matter, but some seem to matter more than others. Writing in “Religion Unplugged” on June 9, Lela Gilbert pointed out that attacks on Christians in Nigeria by Boko Haram, Jihadist Fulani militias and other Islamist terrorists “have taken place in such increasing numbers that it has been difficult to keep up with the reports.” Being a black victim is apparently a matter of geography – and access to social media.
In a post that appeared on the Secret Jerusalem Facebook group this week – and which later was deleted together with its weighty load of comments – a young English-speaking woman announced she was collecting a list of “Black-owned businesses in Israel” and “Black-owned businesses anywhere in the world that ship to Israel.”
Some of those who responded thought she was naive but meant well; others accused her of being patronizing or of “virtue signaling” – publicly trying to garner praise with a meaningless gesture. I thought the idea of drawing up a list of businesses based on an identity – be it skin color, religion or ethnic origins – is problematic at best, and racist at worst.
The murder of George Floyd should give us all pause for thought, but the solution does not lie in importing the skin color-oriented divisions of the US.
From my “privileged” position in Jerusalem, I didn’t at first fully understand that the calls to disband the local police forces in places like Minneapolis were serious. Deadly serious.
As Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner has pointed out, after the case of alleged police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014, police were less willing to endanger themselves in the line of duty and the result was an increase in crime whose main victims were, of course, those living in poor, largely black, neighborhoods.
During a long and painful conversation with a rabbi friend in one of the US’s southern states midweek, she shared some of the systematic abuse of the black community that she herself has witnessed and heard of. We both concurred that what was needed was inclusion and compassion. But being open-minded is not the same as automatically accepting all that is being done in the name of a cause, no matter the original trigger.
As the ADL Los Angeles tweeted in the face of what some described as the mini-pogrom in Fairfax: “Vandalism is never ok. Antisemitism is never ok. The answer to hate and bigotry is not more hate.”
Many commentators rightly noted that the violent protesters were a minority. That’s no justification. Sadistic cops who would slowly kill a man pleading for his life are also thankfully a minority.
The police need to root out officers who abuse their power and people need to decry demonstrators who assault the police – if the police cannot do their jobs and protect the general public, society will unravel.
Strength comes from unity, not division and violence. The United States isn’t “untied,” but the radical fringe is making it fray at the edges.