On Monday, an alliance of groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement unveiled their first official platform. The 40,000-word manifesto contained many recommendations, including concrete policy proposals, for rectifying the wrongs perpetrated against America’s African-American citizens in the past and present. Unfortunately, the platform also contained a vicious bigoted slur against the Jewish state, which the document’s foreign policy section accused of perpetrating “genocide” against Palestinians. (The platform also labeled Israel an “apartheid state” and joined with the BDS movement in calling for the total academic, cultural, and economic boycott of the country—a demand made for no other state.)
Needless to say, this did not go over well with Jewish groups—including some of Black Lives Matter’s hitherto staunch progressive allies. The rabbinic human rights organization T’ruah, which previously distributed original prayers for Black Lives Matter, and has run anti-occupation educational trips to Israel and the Palestinian territories for years, released a measured yet pointed response:
While we agree with many of the policy recommendations [of Black Lives Matter], we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide. We are committed to ending the occupation, which leads to daily human rights violations against Palestinians, and also compromises the safety of Israelis. Our work aims to build a just and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom deserve the same human rights protections as all people.
However, the military occupation does not rise to the level of genocide—a term defined as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” While we agree that the occupation violates the human rights of Palestinians, and has caused too many deaths, the Israeli government is not carrying out a plan intended to wipe out the Palestinians. There is no basis for comparing this situation to the genocides of the 20th century, such as those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, or Armenia, or the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, each of which constituted a calculated plan to destroy specific groups, and each of which killed hundreds of thousands to millions of people. The Black Lives Matter platform also does not address the use of violence by some Palestinians, including the rocket attacks against civilians that Human Rights Watch has classified as a war crime. One can vigorously oppose occupation without resorting to terms such as “genocide,” and without ignoring the human rights violations of terrorist groups such as Hamas.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, which has crafted and introduced Black Lives Matter lesson plans into local school curricula, labeled the genocide slur “repellent”:
ADL’s longtime dedication to fighting bigotry in all forms includes building a just society where fair and equal treatment is guaranteed for all. Along with coalition partners, we are tackling critical civil rights issues such as ending racial profiling, addressing educational equity and economic inequalities, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming our criminal justice system…
But would-be allies in the struggle for civil and human rights along with justice and fair treatment cannot ignore the Platform’s false and blatantly one-sided position on US-Israel relations and Israeli-Palestinian issues. We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.
Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as “genocide.” And the Platform completely ignores incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza. Unfortunately, these phenomena are not new but have been challenges that have faced the Jewish state since its inception more than half a century ago.
Greenblatt went on to emphasize that disingenuous non-sequitur swipes at Israel only distract from the urgent work of American policy and social reform. (The ADL’s extensive material on Black Lives Matter, including school lesson plans, has now been quietly removed from its website, while the site’s racial and criminal justice section remains.)
Peter Beinart, one of the Israeli occupation’s most public Jewish critics, and who recently returned from a civil rights-style protest in Hebron against the occupation, was even less circumspect:
— Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) August 4, 2016
Beinart’s upset is understandable. It should go without saying that Israel is not committing genocide against the Palestinians under its control. In fact, that population has burgeoned exponentially since Israel’s founding. As the Palestinian news service Ma’an reported in a celebratory piece in May 2011, in 1948, “the population that year was 1.4 million, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said, while at the end of 2010 it was estimated at 11 million globally, and 5.5 million in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.” The numbers have only grown since then. This past February, the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics announced that the global Palestinian population stood at 12.37 million, with half living in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The implication of these figures is unmistakable. Falsely accusing the state founded by Jews in the ashes of their own genocide of committing genocide is, simply put, a blood libel on a national scale. It is a slur against the 6 million Jews in Israel and the vast majority of world Jewry that supports them. That Black Lives Matter would indulge in such ignorant and incendiary claims undermines its standing as an anti-racist organization.
Now, to be clear, given the platform’s 40,000-word length and numerous sections and subjects, it is extremely unlikely that most activists involved in its drafting had anything to do with the small portion pertaining to Israel. Doubtless most of the many thousands of Americans, including American Jews, who deeply sympathize with the aims of Black Lives Matter and similarly seek criminal justice reform, see no connection between this activism and assertions of Israeli genocide.
But it is sadly just as clear that those select activists who shoehorned such a slur into the Black Lives Matter platform, whether out of ignorance or malice, have needlessly driven a wedge into the very necessary alliance to ensure equal treatment of America’s African-American brothers and sisters.