Credit: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen / ANP / AFP / Getty

July 10, 2020   4 mins

The aim of most supporters of Black Lives Matter, which is equality, is urgent and just. Even so, some BLM activists embrace anti-Zionism and, as they do so, they segue into anti-Semitism too. It seemed for a while that the movement would be defiled by this. But this week, it looks like the tide is rolling back.

It began badly when Black Lives Matter UK tweeted: “As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler-colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades. FREE PALESTINE.”

Here is a libel about disproportionate Jewish power. No one is “gagged of the right” to critique Zionism. This is nonsense. The Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy has called for sanctions against Israel if the annexation of the West Bank proceeds. That is fair criticism, and no one called it anti-Semitic, because it isn’t.

But this tweet was. It places all Zionists from liberal to insane in the same space. It excludes liberal zionists from so-called progressive movements. This, considering what Jews have contributed to progressive thought — the creation of Communism, for instance — is what Jeremy Corbyn might call ironic.

Because inside this FREE PALESTINE slogan there is no answer to what should happen to the Jews of Israel when Palestine is free. The question is not even asked. It is as if it does not matter.

I asked BLM UK for details because I think their cause is essential: what does freedom for Palestine mean to them? Are BLM UK for two states in Israel / Palestine, or one? What is the goal of their activism in Israel / Palestine? What do they seek?

They did not answer. Why should they? Why should support of a cause, long denied justice, be dependent on a caveat: that Israel must, as Martin Luther King said, exist. I would answer that it should matter to Jews, morally and practically, that we support victims of murderous racism, in which we have so much experience; but we should also be allowed to support self-determination for Jewish people without being named murderous racists.

It should matter to BLM too. Some Jews among the young ultra-Orthodox of New York City protest with them. Other Jews and allies fear BLM because they think it calls Israel an illegal state and imperils Jewish life.

None of this will surprise Jews, for whom the price of admittance into progressive spaces is denunciation of Israel in any form. And so, if they proceed, they protest with only half themselves. This is long a dilemma of the Jew in the secular world: a holding back of something. Jewish lesbians were thrown off the Chicago Dyke March for holding a rainbow flag painted with a Star of David. Women’s march leaders praised Louis Farrakhan, who calls Jews “satanic”.

Almost no one on the Left acknowledges that the UN voted for partition in Israel / Palestine in 1947 and the Jews said yes and the Arabs said no; or that Jordan and Egypt swallowed much of the Palestinian state after 1948 and they are not damned because they are not Jewish states; or that more that 800,000 Jews left or were expelled from Arab lands after 1948 and they cannot go home. These Arab Jews are erased from this conversation: what is that but racism?

There is a strong moral case for Israel within its 1967 borders, but you will not hear it: demonisation is preferred. In 2016, BLM affiliated groups called the occupation a genocide. It is unjust, and regularly murderous, but it is not a genocide. Zionism is called a 19th century invention, when it is, in fact, a Bronze Age invention: ignorance then, the foundation of all racism.

There is more anti-Semitism within BLM activism, and it looks further back than Israel for inspiration. The American rapper Ice Cube published the infamous Mear One mural on Twitter — the anti-Semitic Monopoly game in which Jews oppress the world that caused Corbyn so much agony — as part of his BLM activism. So did BLM Oxford, although it apologised; it had not realised it was anti-Semitic. This does not surprise me, because the discourse on Israel / Palestine on the Left is an affront, and idiotic, full of insinuations, omissions and performative lies.

This week, DeSean Jackson, an American Football star, posted a false quote attributed to Adolf Hitler on Instagram: “because the white Jews knows [sic] that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas [sic] secret the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were…” He has since apologised too. But Stephen Jackson, a former basketball star and BLM activist, defended DeSean Jackson, saying, “He’s speaking the truth”.

This is a libel, but there is light too: after the DeSean Jackson affair African Americans began to address their communities on anti-Semitism. Zach Banner, an American Football player, said: “I want to preach to the black and brown community: that we need to uplift them [Jews] and put our arms around them just as much when we talk about the BLM and we talk about elevating ourselves. We can’t move forward while allowing ourselves to leave another minority race in the dark.” It was a humane intervention into a schism that threatened to become a tragedy; and there have now been many others.

Zach Banner is right, and that humanity should go both ways. Jews have a responsibility to support his kind of BLM. If you would educate yourself about racism you should educate yourself about all racism. They rise ever together, and, if you don’t know that, you’re a fool.

Tanya Gold is a freelance journalist.