Frustrated and confused: A Liberal Zionist and the Black Lives Matter movement

Black Lives Matter protest (photo credit: REUTERS)
Black Lives Matter protest
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I am Jewish. I am a Zionist. I fight for social justice. These three aspects shape my identity. Growing up, Judaism, Zionism and social justice complimented each other to create someone who loves Israel, is a strong Jew and cares deeply about the world around her. Why then, am I suddenly confused, conflicted, and hurt? Because the Black Lives Matter movement, one of if not the most important social justice movements of my generation, released a policy platform that inexplicably includes language that demonizes and dehumanizes Israelis.
From a young age, I understood the concept of being treated differently because of one’s heritage and the importance of fighting for social justice for all. At family dinners, I heard how my great-grandfather escaped a deadly anti-Semitic Eastern Europe. They and my grandparents were proud Jews, even though being Jewish meant a harder and more dangerous life. They identified as an oppressed minority. When Martin Luther King Jr. marched in the streets of Washington, DC, for justice for African Americans, my great-grandmother boarded a bus to join him, because she, like many other Jews, believed that oppressed minorities had the responsibility to help each other out.
I hold the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for racial equality in America close to my heart and believe they are deeply connected to my people’s history. When I was young, I always chose to read about the underground railroad, Brown vs. Board of Education, incarceration and inner city schools and communities. I learned about the role American Jewish rabbis, business leaders and politicians played in helping to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s. I became passionate about helping to change the oppression that is so often perpetuated within the American education, judicial and economic systems. In Judaism we call this “Tikkun Olam” (repair the world) and I take this to heart.
However, as a freshman in college these three aspects of my identity were challenged, not by me but by others declaring that civil rights, Israel and Judaism could not coexist or compliment each other, but actually contradicted one another.
Saddened, angry and frustrated at the violence and racial tensions between police and African Americans – similar to other students – I attended a demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. It seemed natural, almost instinctive of me to participate. Yet, it was at this protest against racism that I encountered racism against Jews for the first time. I overheard many students blaming my community for “privilege and control of the government and media.” This was confusing and hurtful, and only the start of my realization that the current world of social justice, that I have always been so passionate about, did not want me and all parts of my identity.
This sentiment of exclusion was further validated when the BLM movement released an anti-Israel platform.
The Movement for Black Lives platform’s statement that Israel is an enforcer of the “genocide taking place against Palestinian people” is absolutely false. There is no genocide taking place against the Palestinians, nor has there ever been. In 1967 after the Six Day war, Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza with its half a million Palestinian residents. Since 1967, the Palestinian population there has more than tripled. Add to this the endless Palestinian lives that have been saved and treated in Israeli hospitals, and through preventative military measures in Gaza to reduce civilian casualties, preserving Palestinian lives, not destroying them.
The further claim that Israel is an apartheid state is not only false but offensive to those who actually suffered apartheid. None of Israel’s laws promote apartheid, nor does it practice apartheid in the West Bank or Gaza. Israeli law protects equal rights for all of its citizens, who are able to freely participate in all aspects of society. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have their own governments and the vast majority want their own state, not citizenship in Israel.
Additionally, why does BLM focus solely on Israel as the only one responsible for the conflict and ignore how Palestinian leaders continue to make decisions that harm Israelis and Palestinians alike? And why is there no mention of the brutal human rights violations inflicted against black people by Arab states and racist terrorist groups like Hamas?
By overreaching into matters that have nothing to do with systematic racial inequality in the United States, BLM is alienating Americans who are or can be their best allies. By demonizing Israel, ignoring the struggles of Israelis and supporting the racism of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, BLM is fostering further hate and racial biases rather than working to eradicate racial inequality.
I want to support BLM. However, I cannot ignore my identity and the history of my people to fully support a movement that unfortunately disregards the facts related to Israel and the Jewish struggle, and thus perpetuates anti-Semitism.
I will always support the fight to end systematic racism, and work hard to bring racial equity to this country and world, but it deeply saddens me that I cannot wholeheartedly support the BLM movement any longer.
The author is a sophomore at Boston University and the StandWithUs Emerson Fellow.