Pro-Israel Groups Smear the Movement for Black Lives for its Solidarity With Palestine

Racial justice organizers say they won’t back down in the face of vicious attacks accusing them of "terrorist" sympathies.

Photo Credit: Black Lives Matter / Facebook

Pro-Israel media outlets and organizations are aggressively attacking the Movement for Black Lives (MBL) for releasing a bold policy platform declaring solidarity with Palestinians forced to endure a U.S.-backed occupation.

The MBL, which describes itself as “a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people from across the country,” was attacked just days after its release of 40 policy proposals. The new platform takes on a broad array of issues, including demands for reparations, economic justice and “a world where those of us most impacted in our communities control the laws, institutions and policies that are meant to serve us.” The MBL also tackles U.S. war and empire, calling for a cut in military expenditures, a halt to the militarization of Africa and a stop to the violence perpetrated by the War on Terror.

In identifying key problems, the platform highlights the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel:

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. Everyday, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.

MBL calls for federal government to "Build invest/divestment campaigns that ends US Aid to Israel’s military industrial complex and any government with human rights violations."

For many in the MBL network, this issue is personal, as movement leaders have organized numerous delegations in recent years to witness human rights abuses against Palestinians firsthand. “Traveling to Palestine, one of the biggest parallels I saw was the way that Palestinian people are criminalized for defending themselves against their oppressors, just like Black people fighting oppression in the U.S. are criminalized,” Rachel Gilmer, an organizer with the civil rights organization Dream Defenders, which helped create the MBL platform, told AlterNet. “The way Palestinians are labeled as ‘terrorists,’ Black people are labeled as ‘thugs.’”

But now, Gilmer and other Black organizers face a fierce backlash for taking this stand.

Just two days after MBL issued its platform, the the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Boston released an outraged statement in which it declared, “we dissociate ourselves from the Black Lives Matter platform and those BLM organizations that embrace it.”

“We are deeply dismayed by elements of this platform, specifically the co-opting and manipulation of a movement addressing concerns about racial disparities in criminal justice in the United States in order to advance a biased and false narrative about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” the organization said. “To conflate the experiences of African-Americans and Palestinians oversimplifies complex matters and advances false equivalencies that diminish the unique nature of each.”

The JCRC has a powerful pro-Israel lobbying arm and has aggressively backed legislation criminalizing Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Israel across the United States. Its Boston chapter, which released the statement, has been targeted by protests for its unsuccessful efforts to pass anti-BDS legislation in Massachusetts.

In their statement, MBL called to “Fight the expanding number of Anti-BDS bills being passed in states around the country. This type of legislation not only harms the movement to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but is a threat to the constitutional right to free speech and protest.”

When asked about the Boston JCRC’s rebuke, Ciara Taylor of the Dream Defenders appeared to be unfazed. “Good,” said Taylor. “We’re living in a time right now when we need to know who our allies are. As a movement fighting for the liberation of Black people everywhere, it is important that we are not aligning ourselves with people obstructing resistance struggles anywhere.”

The Boston JCRC is not the only organization lashing out. T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, which claims to “protect human rights in the United States, Canada, Israel, and the occupied territories,” also took at shot at the Black activists. The organization released a statement which declares, “While we agree with many of the policy recommendations, we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide.”

“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,” the group continued. “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.”

Peter Beinart, a liberal Zionist author and pundit, echoed Truah's comments, tweeting, "[the Movement for Black Lives] has every right to criticize Israel. But 'genocide?' Bring solidarity. Don't bring stupid." (Beinart is fervently opposed to the tactic of BDS and once called "to divide the West Bank in three chunks" in an op-ed co-authored by pro-Israel super lawyer Alan Dershowitz).

In fact, growing numbers of global leaders and legal scholars have embraced the term “genocide” following Israel’s 51-day military assault on Gaza during the summer of 2014 that killed more than 2,100 residents and wounded over than 11,000. Among them is the late Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Martin Shaw, a leading expert on genocide from Roehampton University, has argued that the campaign of ethnic cleansing waged in 1948 by the Zionist movement to establish the state of Israel did indeed fit the definition of genocide.

Influential figures in the Israeli government have openly called for genocide, among them Ayelet Shaked of the far-right HaBayit HaYehudi, appointed as Benjamin Netanyahu’s justice minister last May. During the summer of 2014, Shaked called for the destruction of Gaza, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” As a deputy speaker of the Knesset, the Likud Party’s Moshe Feiglin released a plan in 2014 for the flattening of Gaza with “no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage.’” For his part, Netanyahu has openly referred to the 20 percent of Israel residents who are Palestinian as a demographic threat and called for policies to prevent "demographic spillover" from the West Bank.

“Genocide refers to the eradication of a specific group of people,” said Taylor of the Dream Defenders. “We wanted to be very clear about how the U.S. government is contributing to the eradication of a certain group of people.”

The right-wing pro-Israel press has published a series of breathless tirades about the policy platform. In the Times of Israel, reporter Eric Cortellessa suggested that MBL and its supporters had joined up with "terrorist" organizations like Hamas.

The latest flood of attacks follows a July 18 blog post from the shadowy website known as Canary Mission, which vilifies and defames U.S.-based students, academics, and activists who campaign for Palestinian human rights—and seeks to damage their future career opportunities. In the post, the website implied that Black activists are being manipulated by a BDS movement that has “moved to harness and leverage Black anger — hijacking the shooting to fraudulently mischaracterize Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza as racially motivated.”

According to Ramah Kudaimi, director of grassroots organizing for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the crescendo of condemnations “exposes the true side of what it means to be pro-Israel. For so long, pro-Israel groups have claimed that they are concerned with human rights. There are a lot of mainstream pro-Israel groups that talk about anti-police brutality and say, of course, we support the rights of Black people in this country. The moment these Black activists say they also support the rights of Palestinians, the response is, ‘we will dictate how your struggle will be fought.’”

“It is very courageous of Black Lives Matter to take this position at this time, when they are already facing heat from white supremacist movements, Donald Trump and the Democrats doing everything they can do delegitimize Black Lives Matter,” Samia Assed, a Palestinian-American activist and president of the Coordinating Council of the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, told AlterNet. “Palestinians have been vilified over and over, even though they are the victims. For the Movement for Black Lives to have this bold statement says that we will not stand for selective oppressions, we are going to stand with a human rights agenda no matter where it is.”

The latest outpouring of solidarity stems from a long history and was revitalized by the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2015, nearly 50 Black-led organizations signed a statement in solidarity with Palestinians, proclaiming, “While we acknowledge that the apartheid configuration in Israel/Palestine is unique from the United States (and South Africa), we continue to see connections between the situation of Palestinians and Black people.”

Palestinian civil society organizations and activists have sent letters of solidarity to Black Lives Matter organizers in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore. During the height of the Ferguson uprisings, Palestinians took to social media to offer support and advice about how to deal withstand tear gassings. Palestinians have sent delegations meet with Black organizers in the United States, and Black organizations have done the same.

A Pew poll conducted in the midst of Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza found that Blacks and Latinos were far more likely to hold Israel responsible for the violence than their white counterparts.

Despite the backlash they face, MBL is showing no signs of backing down. Dream Defenders organizer Jonel Edwards told AlterNet, “At the end of the day, we are in the belly of the beast of the empire, and much of what is happening in Palestine is due to large amounts of money from U.S. aid to Israel. We can’t ignore that.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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