As usual, anti-Israel extremists, especially some on the hard left, are trying to exploit the tragic and inexcusable death of George Floyd to level their typical baseless charges against Israel. Signs and chants at several protests have either tried to blame Israel – falsely as it turns out – for training the policemen who are responsible for Floyd’s death, or to compare police brutality in America with legitimate efforts by the Israel military to prevent acts of terrorism against civilians.
A cartoon that is being circulated on social media shows an American policeman with his knee on the neck of an African American man and an Israeli soldier with his knee on the neck of a Palestinian man. The policeman and soldier are embracing. The caption above reads: “Black Lives Matter,” though there is no evidence that the organization has anything to do with this bigoted cartoon. A painting of George Floyd wearing a Palestinian keffiya is also being circulated, and BDS proponents at the University of California are accusing Israel of training racist American policemen. Anti-Israel graffiti – “F…K Israel,” “free Palestine” – has been sprayed on synagogue walls in Los Angeles during anti-racist demonstrations.
This “blame it on Israel” or “blame it on the Jews” bigotry is common throughout the world at demonstrations for legitimate causes, that are unrelated to the Mid-East. Anti-Israel extremists from the hard left try to promote the intersectionality propaganda that all the evils of the world are produced by privileged white democracies, such as the US and Israel. Islamic extremists – who are hard to classify as left or right – use any excuse to demonize Israel. Antisemitic extremists from the hard right have always tried to blame the Jews for all of the world’s evils. An old Polish expression summarized it well: “If there is trouble in the world, the Jews must be behind it.” Today that has been expanded by the hard left and Islamic extremists to include the nation state of the Jewish people among those who cause the world’s problems, ranging from capitalism, to destruction of the environment, to police violence.
The organization “Black Lives Matter,” which does much good, is not immune from this bigotry. Its own platform blames Israel for police violence against African Americans, and compares such violence to what it falsely calls the “genocide” of the Palestinian people. Many good people who support the organization are unaware of its gratuitous demonization of Israel, and would oppose such distractions from its core mission. George Zeiden, a Palestinian activist, has urged his followers to “leave Palestine out of the current protests lest it take attention away from “this watershed moment in Black American history.” Not everything is about the Palestinians, despite efforts by intersectionalists to make it so, and not everything is about Israel and Jews despite the obsessive focus of the hard left and hard right on these tiny elements of the issues facing the world.
Historically, the Jews have always been caught between the black of Fascism and the red of Communism. This was true in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Europe, and there is a danger that it could now manifest itself during this time of extremism, when bigots on both sides are prepared to scapegoat the Jews and their nation state.
Those of us who are both Jewish and Liberal – who support Israel and oppose unjustified police violence – must be willing to participate and encourage legitimate protests against police violence, such as that caught on video in the Floyd case. We must stand up and be heard in condemnation of such violations – but we must stand up and be heard against those who would exploit tragedies to foment violence against Jews and the nation state of the Jewish people.
We should not generalize: the vast majority of protesters are focused on the injustices of police misconduct. But we cannot ignore those – even if they are relatively few in number – who would turn these protests into bigoted attacks against Israel. Bigotry unanswered grows in size and intensity.
Silence is not an option in the face of any injustice. Black lives matter greatly; so do Palestinian lives; so do Jewish and Israeli lives. We must not be afraid of being criticized for condemning bigotry on all sides. As the great sage Hillel put it 2000 years ago, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I?” He ended his statement with a call to action: “And if not now, when?”
Now is the time to protest the injustice against George Floyd and other African American men and women who have been unjustly targeted by overzealous – and often racist – police. But now is also the time to speak out against those who would hijack this tragic history to manifest the oldest continuing prejudice known to mankind, namely antisemitism.
This Op-Ed was originally published in the Jerusalem Post.