Palestinians walk past a mural of George Floyd painted on a section of the security barrier in the city of Bethlehem, on June 8, 2020. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90.
by Dan Diker
(JCPA/JNS) — The murder of George Floyd, a black American who was killed on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis triggered the most widespread racially charged protests in the United States and Europe since the 1960s. International protests over Floyd’s death, led by the Black Lives Matter movement, have generated expressions of sympathy and support from Western prime ministers, legislators, law-enforcement officials and local government. Prominent members of the U.S. House of Representatives “took a knee” in a historically unprecedented public display of solidarity for any civil- or human-rights protest movement.
Jewish leaders have similarly demonstrated solidarity. In the spirit of the 1960s black-Jewish unity in the civil-rights movement, American Jewish leaders unequivocally condemned the Floyd killing. World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder denounced it as a “horrific racist act.” The Union for Reform Judaism issued a statement that read, “Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value.” The Orthodox Union declared, “Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a political issue. It is a real and present danger that must be met head-on.” Anti-Defamation League director Jonathan Greenblatt, declared, “We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system.”
Despite universal Jewish support for BLM, it failed to prevent a surge of anti-Semitic violence across the United States in the aftermath of the Floyd murder. Jewish storeowners were assaulted; Jewish-owned stores and restaurants were defaced and looted. Social media has been rife with anti-Semitic libel denouncing the Jewish state and delegitimizing Jews. In the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles, demonstrators were heard screaming, “Kill the Jews.” Synagogues were defaced with graffiti reading, “F**ck Israel,” and “Free Palestine.”
BDS organizations have exploited simmering racial tensions by accusing Israel of complicity in the Floyd murder. The BDS strategy is not new. The Jewish state has, for some years, been recast as an illegitimate “white oppressor.” BLM leader Patrisse Cullors drew parallels between her view of the oppression of American blacks and Palestinians in “Palestine,” referring to pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. Cullors referred to Palestine as “the new South Africa.”
‘Israel as accomplice’ and the new ‘collective anti-Semitism’
Demonstrations across the United States and Europe have reflected a more profound, more worrying phenomenon that Steven Windmueller has called “collective anti-Semitism,” in which the Jewish people as a whole and their nation-state have been targeted. These BDS-led accusations have moved from the margins to occupy the mainstream U.S. discourse. For example, social media has been flooded with claims that Jews ran the slave trade.
Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam and an avowed anti-Semite who has regularly traded in Nazi propaganda, has taken a lead role in disseminating these mendacious theories. His ideas have influenced BLM leaders and BDS activists. For example, BLM Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah, a Farrakhan acolyte, accused CNN of “Standing with a Zionist Israel that murders and terrorizes the Palestinian people.”
Farrakhan is not an exception. Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American activist, has regularly incited against Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state in her work as a leader of the Women’s March. Sarsour has also drawn a direct parallel between the United States’ treatment of its black citizens to Israel’s “racist” treatment of Palestinians. She has also publicly condemned Israel for American police brutality, claiming that U.S. police were trained by their Israeli counterparts. BLM activists have also worked to export their campaign to Israel, pointing to tensions between the Ethiopian community and police as proof of “institutional racism” in Israel.
Ongoing demonstrations across the United States have reenergized the intersectional solidarity between those protesting anti-black racism in America and BDS organizations’ demands to “Free Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea”—a clarion call to dismantle the State of Israel. The BDS-BLM narrative rebrands Israel as it has the United States: as a paradigm for white supremacy. The BDS-BLM convergence, then, as it relates to the Palestinian issue, has removed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from its territorial framework and has recast the Jewish nation-state as a racial issue—“apartheid” and illegitimate by definition.
BLM and BDS’s participation in the July 1 “Day of Rage” demonstrations against Israel’s proposed application of civilian law in areas of the West Bank as part of the U.S. peace plan illustrate the point. “Day of Rage” protesters in Brooklyn declared, “Jaffa, Haifa, and Tel Aviv—were stolen.” Nerdeen Kiswani, the Palestinian-American leader of “Within Our Lifetime,” a BDS organization, declared, “We don’t wanna go just back to our homes in Gaza and the West Bank. We want all of it!” The implication is far-reaching. It renders the Palestinian Israeli conflict unsolvable and irrelevant, rejecting both liberal and progressive approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian political impasse.
The BDS-BLM call to dismantle ‘white supremacist’ Israel
BDS-BLM solidarity first took root in 2014 and quickly spread. The BLM-aligned group “Dream Defenders” traveled to Israel on a Palestinian solidarity mission in 2015, triggering broad condemnation by liberal and progressive Jewish groups. BLM leader Patrisse Cullors and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill led the mission together with Carmen Perez, a Women’s March co-chair. While in Israel, the group visited Israeli Arab cities such as Nazareth, where they underscored support for BDS calling for the “liberation” of pre-1967 Israel, the West Bank and the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip.
Groups acting under the BLM umbrella, such as “the Movement for Black Lives” (M4BL), championed by activists like Hill, accused Israel of genocide and apartheid in its 2016 policy briefs. These charges were subsequently shelved in its 2020 mission statement. Instead, M4BL watered down its current policy brief, noting that Israel contributes to the “shackling of our community.” In the same brief, M4BL lists the BDS movement as one of its partners. M4BL leaders have not disguised their neo-Marxist ideological positions that prescribe the necessary dismantling of American institutions and the dissolution of the State of Israel. Cullors has openly admitted that she and BLM’s co-founder Alicia Garza are “trained Marxists.”
Hill, a professor at Temple University, has defined both the United States and Israel as examples of international “settler colonialism … requiring a violent response.” Hill said during a June 2020 webinar on South African Youth Day:
“I’m listening to the radical calls from Palestine and the radical calls from the United States, and I’m super-energized by that. A friend of mine from Umm el-Fahm [an Arab city in northern Israel] texted me and said, ‘I love that you all are tearing shit down.’ And I’m all like, yes, this is exciting. And that kind of reenergized solidarity … So now we’re talking about an international fight against settler-colonialism and imperialism and authoritarianism, and I couldn’t be prouder and happier to be part of this moment because there’s so much possibility in front of us.”
Hill also referred to Israel as “’48”—to delegitimize Israel’s founding in 1948—and described the Jewish state in neo-Marxist terms as engaging in “state violence,” labeling Israel as “authoritarian, totalitarian, imperialist and colonialist.”
Hill and his fellow BLM and BDS activists’ dedication to identity politics’ universalist view of oppression thrusts Israel into the middle of the domestic U.S. debate. Online petitions by various American organizations, including the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace, that accused Israel of training U.S. law enforcement forces to abuse black Americans, have gone viral.
Several prominent BDS groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, also penned a petition directly linking accusations of racism in the United States to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The “Justice for Black Lives” petition reads, “the knee-to-neck choke-hold that [Derek] Chauvin used to murder George Floyd has been used and perfected to torture Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces through 72 years of ethnic cleansing and dispossession.” These accusations by BDS groups, though easily refutable by a review of Israeli counter-terrorism and policing policies and methods, have nonetheless become part of the mainstream American media discourse.
Palestinian BDS groups exploit U.S. racial tensions
Leaders and activists from both U.S.-based Palestinian and other pro-Palestinian BDS groups have leveraged spiking tensions in the wake of the Floyd murder. Organizations including the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine, Al-Awda, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and Within Our Lifetime organization have exploited frustration and anger characterizing the national mood across the United States and Western Europe by accusing the Jewish state of being complicit in Floyd’s murder. This network launched the “We Can’t Breathe” campaign to demonstrate support for BLM, fusing black and Palestinian “resistance.”
U.S.-based Palestinian BDS organizations have also exploited the protest momentum. Samidoun held a “Day of Rage” recently opposite what their event publicity poster called the “Zionist” consulate in Los Angeles to protest the Trump plan and “Israel’s Land Theft.”
The BDS movement has long used intersectionality arguments to cement black-Palestinian solidarity in recasting Israel as the world’s meta-civil rights violator. It has equated George Floyd’s murder with the accidental death of Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian teenager who was mistaken for an armed terrorist and tragically killed by Israeli police on May 30. U.S.-based anti-Israel groups have also co-opted the Arabic term intifada, connoting armed uprising, and injected it into BLM protests.
Palestinian terror groups back the BDS-BLM campaign
BDS’s appropriation of BLM protests has also revealed the backing of Palestinian Marxist-Leninist terror organizations. For example, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a member organization of the PLO and a terror group so designated by the United States and the European Union, issued a public statement of support. This tactic is not new. It also occurred in 2014 when the Ferguson violence in Missouri following the police killing of Michael Brown coincided with the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
At that time, Khaled Barakat, a member of the PFLP, wrote in the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, “When we see the images today in Ferguson, we see another emerging intifada in the long line of intifada and struggle that has been carried out by Black people in the U.S. and internationally.” BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, a resident of Israel, noted that he was “proud” that the PFLP sits as a full member of the BDS National Committee in Ramallah.
The current wave of anti-Semitism and Israelophobia in the United States in the shadow of the Floyd murder continues in this vein. In recent years, Sarsour and Hill have been prominent advocates of the “Israel apartheid” libel, casting the Jewish state as complicit in violating the civil and human rights of black Americans and blaming U.S. military support of Israel for diverting government funds away from black communities.
Palestinian Israeli territorial conflict recast as a race war
Hill, Sarsour and their intersectional neo-Marxist fellow travelers’ goal is to build a broader political base for the America-Israel racist-colonialist narrative. Hill has called for “rebellion,” “revolution” and “resistance” against the American government and its institutions in the wake of Floyd’s death. Similarly, BDS leader professor Hatem Bazian of UC Berkeley, founder of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), has called for an intifada in America.
Hill’s infamous “from the river to the sea” speech at the United Nations on Nov. 28, 2018, underscored his goal of international solidarity for the radical and racial “Ferguson-to-Palestine” linkage. Hill has employed classic Marxist nomenclature against Israel: “colonialist,” “imperialist,” “fascist” and “racist,” forming the basis for the apartheid libel against Israel, most recently in a webinar after the Floyd murder, along with Palestinian and South African anti-Israel activists. Similarly, IfNotNow, a Jewish anti-Zionist organization, recently tweeted an article encouraging solidarity between the BDS and BLM movements, in the shadow of the Floyd killing.
Implications for Israel and the Jewish Diaspora
BDS-BLM intersectionality, as the face of the current deepening identity-politics phenomenon in the United States, mobilizes racial minorities against what they see as a white-supremacist established order they seek to replace. In parallel, the BDS and BLM movements share a vision for the replacement of Israel, which they see as an extension of the white United States—inherently unjust, racist and illegal. In this view, Israel is the result of a historical sin—an error that can be corrected only by Israel’s replacement by Palestine.
This deepens the challenge to Israel and American Jewry posed by BDS, BLM and Antifa, who demand the dismantling of the United States and Israel and their rebuilding from the ground up. The rebranding of Israel as a white supremacist entity also categorizes Diaspora Jews as “white supremacists” by extension, unless they disavow Israel as a centerpiece of their American Jewish identity.
This new radicalized discourse demands that American Jews sacrifice their liberal and progressive worldviews. Traditional Jewish affiliations accept the existence of the Jewish state, yet they are deemed unacceptable by this more extreme, unforgiving American dialogue. The refusal of the 2018 intersectional Women’s March to allow Jewish progressive Zionist women to march despite their unequivocal support for women’s rights serves as a case in point.
These attitudes have begun to penetrate some progressive Jewish circles. In July 2020, Peter Beinart, former editor of the liberal New Republic, authored an opinion piece titled, “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State,” which appeared on the first page of the international edition of The New York Times. This was a truncated version of an 8,000-word treatise that appeared in Jewish Currents, where Beinart today serves as a senior editor. Beinart’s denunciation of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people places him in the same ideological orbit as Hill, Sarsour and the BLM-BDS movements. Israel adversary Sarsour applauded Beinart’s recent disavowal of Israel. She praised Beinart for legitimizing Palestinian rejectionism of Jewish sovereignty, saying, “Maybe Zionists will listen to one of their own. Peter has evolved over the years, and I welcome his evolution.”
This Israel “cancellation” discourse is a dangerous development for Diaspora Jews because it positions Israel, not as a solution to anti-Semitism, but rather as a primary cause of anti-Semitism. The BDS-BLM alignment also erases Jewish indigeneity in the Middle East and Israel’s 3,000-year-old Jewish history in the Holy Land. In short, it spawns a political replacement theology that Palestinian activists have been propagating for years, claiming to be the descendants of the original Canaanites, charging the Jews stole “Al-Quds” (Jerusalem) from them, and denying that the Al-Aqsa mosque was built on the remains of the Jewish Temple.
This inversion of history is a necessary reconstruction to anchor the allegations against Israel of “white supremacism, imperialism and settler-colonialism.” This assault against the historical and international legal legitimacy of the nation-state of the Jewish people also delegitimizes, criminalizes and dehumanizes Diaspora Jews by extension. According to the BDS-BLM narrative, any Jew who supports Israel’s existence is automatically branded a “racist robber of Palestinian land.” If left unchallenged and uncorrected, this increasingly mainstreamed and radicalized narrative poses one of the gravest dangers to the American and European progressive and liberal Jewish communities since the end of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Dan Diker is a foreign-policy fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at IDC Herzliya.
The author thanks JCPA researcher Tirza Shorr for her invaluable assistance in the preparation of this article.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.