Black Lives Matter's Anti-Semitic Bedfellows
With the Black Lives Matter movement’s adoption of a formal manifesto charging Israel with genocide, militant anti-Zionists are threatening to sabotage yet another progressive cause.
Obsessed with spreading demonization of the Jewish state across the Western world by any means necessary and at any cost, time and again anti-Israel campaigners have fought tooth and nail to insert defamatory anti-Israel language into resolutions and bylaws of unions, NGOs, political parties and other institutions advancing unrelated progressive agendas. Time and again, this hijacking has driven more enlightened activists out of the host movement, contributing to its decline.
The phenomenon was first evident during the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War, when many Jewish American peace activists encountered a threatening environment at antiwar rallies due to aggressive anti-Zionist campaigning. “I didn’t feel comfortable or safe outside the Jewish contingent,” said Betsy Tessler, leader of the Philadelphia chapter of the staunchly antiwar New Jewish Agenda.
By the time the next Gulf War came around, militant anti-Zionists had become far more organized and determined not merely to piggyback their issue onto the antiwar agenda, but to push out those who were unwilling to accept it. The antiwar movement was primarily led by two far-left coalitions, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Violence) and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), an uneasy partnership strained greatly by the former’s promotion of anti-Zionist activists before the war even began. When Tikkun editor and leading UFPJ leader Michael Lerner openly criticized the anti-Israeli bent of the demonstrations in January 2003, ANSWER banned him from speaking at its rallies. This led to a splintering in UFPJ and an overall weakening of the antiwar movement.
Much the same thing happened to the Occupy Wall Street movement that swept through New York and other major U.S. cities in 2011. The official Twitter account of the main OWS leadership in New York briefly endorsed the so-called “Freedom Waves Flotilla” that attempted to break through the Israeli blockade of Gaza in November 2011, while Occupy Oakland had an “Intifada tent” and the official Occupy Boston web site promoted an “emergency march” on the city’s Israeli consulate. Mainstream OWS organizers refused to denounce protesters who carried anti-Israeli, and often brazenly anti-Jewish, signs and banners.
Daniel Jonathan Sieradski, a liberal Jewish writer and activist who led a well-attended Kol Nidre prayer service across the street from the protests in Zuccotti Park on Yom Kippur, warned that the growing infusion of anti-Israel messaging into official OWS activities was leading “many Jewish supporters of OWS who do not identify as anti-Zionist” to believe “that they could no longer be associated with the movement.” “Once this movement becomes explicitly anti-Israel, you’ll have effectively alienated three times more people than you’ll attract,” he predicted. Within a few months, the movement was effectively dead.
A related dynamic was evident in the unraveling of Britain’s Labour Party this spring, driven by the reluctance of Jeremy Corbyn and others to disavow a small minority of radical anti-Zionists within the party’s ranks. Britain’s Jewish community, which “once looked to Labour as its natural home,” wrote leftist Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, one of the country’s leading Jewish journalists, “is fast reaching the glum conclusion that Labour has become a cold house for Jews.”
It’s difficult to find a progressive cause that hasn’t been compromised in some way by the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, from the antiglobalization movement to the fight against sexual assault. “BDS destroys everything it touches,” observes Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson.
Perhaps the most thoroughly wrecked, ironically, is the Palestinian cause. Having occupied the commanding heights of Middle East Studies departments in many major Western universities, anti-Zionist “progressives” have tiptoed around religious extremism, oppression of women and other social maladies in the Palestinian territories for fear of distracting attention away from Israel.