Thursday, August 11, 2016
Black Lives Matter and Israel
A war of words has erupted between groups affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement and pro-Israel commentators over the characterization of Israel in their policy document released recently. The policy platform titled A Vision for Black Lives, is a wide-spanning document that was drafted by more than 50 organizations known as the Movement for Black Lives. It goes beyond criminal justice and touches on many issues including education and economics. In the Invest/Divest section of the platform, the group criticizes the US government for providing military aid to 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 platform says. “Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.” This characterization drew ire from pro-Israel commentators, and in the time since its release many have penned op-eds and statements condemning the movement. On his personal Medium page, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt wrote that, while he agreed with the majority of the document, he called the treatment of Israel “one-sided” and “unfair”. “We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel,” he wrote. “It’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as ‘genocide’.” Other groups such as the T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the Boston chapter of the Jewish Community Relations Council expressed “dismay” over the platform. The JCRC said that it could no longer support Black Lives Matter while T’ruah said that it will “insist on standing up for the dignity and safety of both Israelis and Palestinians”. Dream Defenders, one of the groups that wrote the Invest/Divest section, wrote a rebuttal to some of the criticism in which they stood by the platform. Several other pro-Palestinian groups have also come out in support. The description of Israel as an apartheid state is particularly contentious. Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director for Human Rights Watch said that while apartheid does not have a specific legal definition, there are definitely laws that discriminate between Palestinians and Israelis in Israel. This is most prevalent in the West Bank. “The problem is that you have completely distinct systems of law that apply to Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Palestinian residents,” Bashi said. “Israeli settlers have a whole host of rights and privileges that Palestinian residents in the West Bank do not have.” Bashi said that, among other things, Palestinians are subject to military law in the West Bank while Israelis are subject to civil law, which is far more forgiving. The platform also drew criticism for its support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It called for an end to anti-BDS legislation being passed in a number of states. “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,” the platform said. BDS is a movement started in 2005 that was inspired by the boycott of South Africa for its apartheid policies. It calls for supporters to boycott Israel in various ways, this includes businesses, academics, artists and more. Activists also call on universities to divest stocks and funds from corporations that are involved in selling weapons or profiting from the conflict. The movement has gained traction on college campuses in the United States, leading to many critics to decry the organization as antisemitic, and linked to radical Islam. A campaign was started to outlaw BDS, with several legislators putting forth anti-BDS bills, with the backing of prominent lobbyist such as Sheldon Anderson. Anti-BDS legislation has now been passed in more than 20 states. Rabbi Dan Dorsch, of Atlanta, outlined his disapproval for the movement in a piece for Haaretz. “The mainstream Jewish community – not to mention the leaders of the Palestinian government – reject the BDS movement as harmful to progress, discriminatory and antisemitic,” Dorsch said. The rabbi added that claiming the oppression of black people in America is linked to the struggle of Palestinians is “unquestionably shortsighted and will only undermine the credibility of the movement and the important cause of civil rights in America”.