3: Black Lives Matters, Jews, and Israel
Support Black Lives Matter but do not ignore the long history of Black antisemitism
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
The Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement formed in 2013 to respond to the rash of police killings of African Americans in the U.S. On July 13, 2013, the day a Florida court acquitted George Zimmerman. On February 26, 2012, Zimmerman shot to death African-American teen Trayvon Martin, who 17 in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, 28, was the part of the neighborhood watch program and claimed self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, Martin was temporarily staying in the community. 
Oakland resident and activist Alicia Garza was upset by the acquittal and took to Facebook, where she wrote, “Black lives matter.” Garza felt “a deep sense of grief” over the acquittal. She was especially upset that the public was blaming Martin when she believed it was about racism. Patrice Cullors, Garza’s friend and a Los Angeles community organizer responded to her post. He took the sentence and turned it into a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, using it as a hashtag for the first time on social media. Soon the tag caught on on Facebook and Twitter. With the help of another and friend activist Opal Tometi, the three built a “network community organizers and racial justice activists” under the name Black Lives Matter. History.com notes, “Perhaps more than any other phrase since ‘Black Power,’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ became a singular rallying cry for the American and global racial justice movements.” 
Garza described the loose network as an “online platform that existed to provide activists with a shared set of principles and goals.” In 2015, Matt Pearce wrote the article “Why the term ‘Black Lives Matter’ can be so confusing” in the Los Angeles times to explain the movement. Pearce wrote, “The words could be serving as a political rallying cry or referring to the activist organization. Or it could be the fuzzily applied label used to describe a wide range of protests and conversations focused on racial inequality.”
In the summer of 2014, the movement gained prominence after the deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City. On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown Jr., 18 “was fatally shot by 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.” Wilson’s friend Dorian Johnson, 22, witnessed the events. The events leading to Brown being shot six times in the front of his body was murky, Wilson claimed Brown attacked in through the window of his police car, while Johnson said Wilson grabbed brown through his window. Then Brown and Johnson fled with Wilson in pursuit of Johnson and Wilson differ that Brown turned around and charged Wilson or that Brown put up his hands and said, “don’t shoot.” The FBI could not conclude Brown did that. Wilson, however, shot at Brown 12 times, two in his car. Brown’s death led to a week-long and often violent protest in Ferguson as the summer raged on. The Department of Justice chose not to charge Wilson and determine he shot Brown in self-defense.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner’s death by chokehold also led to protests. Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer chocked Garner in Staten Island while arresting him for selling single cigarettes without tax stamps just because he pulled his hands away. New York City outlawed chokeholds in 1993. Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe” 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk. Pantaleo left Garner unconscious as they waited for an ambulance to arrive, the hospital announced him dead an hour after he arrived. The medical examiner found Garner’s death a homicide based on video footage. Police did not charge Pantaleo, and they only dismissed him from the force in 2019 for his actions. 
Both deaths increased the Black Lives Matter profile as protesters took to the streets protesting police brutality. The movement grew to 30 chapters from 2014 to 2016. In 2020, after Floyd’s death, BLM gained support from a majority of Americans. In 2014 #BlackLivesMatter was the word of the year. By June 10, 2020, the hashtag was tweeted nearly 47.8 million times, 18 million times in the last month. On May 28, 2020, nearly 8.8 million tweets of the hashtag Black Lives Matter. Among the slogans used in marches in cities where there had been instances of police brutality included “Black Lives Matter”, “Hands up, don’t shoot” “I can’t breathe,” “White silence is violence”, “No justice, no peace”, and “Is my son next?”
Support for the movement increased exponentially in May 2020. BLM organized rallies in the U.S. and worldwide with calls to defund the police after Floyd’s death. On June 10, the New York Times wrote, “In the last two weeks, American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much as it had in the preceding two years.” According to Civiqs a survey research firm, support for BLM jumped by “a 28-point margin.” The survey found that a majority of American voters support the movement, up from a 17-point margin before the most recent wave of protests began.” 
On June 2, 2020, a Monmouth University poll agreed with the Civiqs one and “found that 76 percent of Americans consider racism and discrimination a “big problem,” up 26 points from 2015, 57 percent of voters thought the anger behind the demonstrations was fully justified, and 21 percent called it somewhat justified.” The New York Times reported, “Polls show that a majority of Americans believe that the police are more likely to use deadly force against African-Americans and that there’s a lot of discrimination against black Americans in society. Back in 2013, when Black Lives Matter began, a majority of voters disagreed with all of these statements.” 
The New York Times finds the rise in support an exception to the rule in American history and they note:
“American public opinion can sometimes seem stubborn. But the Black Lives Matter movement has been an exception from the start. Public opinion on race and criminal justice issues has been steadily moving left since the first protests ignited over the fatal shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. And since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, public opinion on race, criminal justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement has leaped leftward.” 
The Pew Research Center finds, “Most Americans express support for the Black Lives Matter movement,” 38 percent strongly supporting it and 29 percent somewhat supporting the movement. BLM is considered one of “the largest movements in U.S. history.”
From the start, BLM aligned itself with the Palestinians and against Israel. In 2016, the Black Lives Matter movement released its first official platform. The 40,000-word platform, along with policy proposals to improve the condition of African Americans and police reforms, the platform was explicitly anti-Israel. In their platform’s foreign policy section, they accused Israel, which they named an “apartheid state” that committed “genocide” against the Palestinian people.  The BLM also stood in solidarity with Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement calling for “the total academic, cultural, and economic boycott of” Israel, the only country they singled out.  The platform states:
“The U.S. 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… Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.” 
BLM’s position contradicted those of the major civil rights leaders fifty years before. Martin Luther King Jr. had stated explicitly, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews; you’re talking antisemitism.”
In 2014, African Americans and Palestinians renewed their bond, as the Black Lives Matters movement took off, and Israel had to fight a war with the Palestinians in Gaza. Historian Robin D.G. Kelley recounts in his essay, “From the River to the Sea to Every Mountain Top: Solidarity as Worldmaking” “A resurgence of the Black-Palestinian transnational solidarity (BPTS) began in the summer of 2014 when a wave of fatal police shootings of unarmed African Americans in the United States coincided with Israel’s brutal fifty-one-day assault on Gaza. Much has been written about the expressions of solidarity between Black and Palestinian activists resisting racialized state violence, especially in Ferguson, Missouri, where mass protests erupted after police killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown and left his lifeless body in the streets for over four hours.” 
In 2016 it was not only Black Lives Matter that supported BDS and opposed Israel but a coalition of sixty organizations. Kelley explains:
“In other words, we might think of the Ferguson-Gaza convergence as catalyzing rather than commencing the resurgence of BPTS. Thus, when Black4Palestine, born of this political firmament, issued its “Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine” in 2015, it garnered over eleven hundred signatures from activists, artists, and scholars. The document unflinchingly endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and condemned Israeli apartheid based “on ethnic cleansing, land theft . . . the denial of Palestinian humanity and sovereignty,” as well as racist attacks on African asylum seekers. A new generation of young activists from Black Lives Matter, the Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, and many other organizations visited the West Bank to bear witness to the intolerable conditions of Palestinian life under occupation.
Black activists quickly emerged as prominent advocates for Palestine. In August of 2016, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of over sixty organizations, rolled out an ambitious policy statement aimed at dismantling racism, patriarchy, inequality, and militarism that included
a forceful statement labeling Israel an “apartheid state” and characterizing the ongoing situation in Gaza and the West Bank as “genocide.” Predictably, conservatives and liberals attacked the statement — especially the charge of genocide — as misleading, incendiary, and antisemitic. But even faced with the potential loss of funding, M4BL never backed down.” 
Even staunch allies of the groups opposed the anti-Israel platform. T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights issued a statement that called out the platform:
“While we agree with many of the policy recommendations [of Black Lives Matter], we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide. We are committed to ending the occupation, which leads to daily human rights violations against Palestinians, and also compromises the safety of Israelis. Our work aims to build a just and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom deserve the same human rights protections as all people.
However, the military occupation does not rise to the level of genocide — a term defined as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” While we agree that the occupation violates the human rights of Palestinians, and has caused too many deaths, the Israeli government is not carrying out a plan intended to wipe out the Palestinians. There is no basis for comparing this situation to the genocides of the 20th century, such as those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, or Armenia, or the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, each of which constituted a calculated plan to destroy specific groups and each of which killed hundreds of thousands to millions of people. The Black Lives Matter platform also does not address the use of violence by some Palestinians, including the rocket attacks against civilians that Human Rights Watch has classified as a war crime. One can vigorously oppose occupation without resorting to terms such as “genocide,” and without ignoring the human rights violations of terrorist groups such as Hamas.” 
Jonathan Greenblatt, the executive director of the Anti-Defamation League also issued in a statement in objection:
“ADL’s longtime dedication to fighting bigotry in all forms includes building a just society where fair and equal treatment is guaranteed for all. Along with coalition partners, we are tackling critical civil rights issues such as ending racial profiling, addressing educational equity and economic inequalities, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, and reforming our criminal justice system…
But would-be allies in the struggle for civil and human rights along with justice and fair treatment cannot ignore the Platform’s false and blatantly one-sided position on US-Israel relations and Israeli-Palestinian issues. We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.
Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as “genocide.” And the Platform completely ignores incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza. Unfortunately, these phenomena are not new but have been challenges that have faced the Jewish state since its inception more than half a century ago.” 
Some Jewish organizations felt the platform was too offensive to support the Black Lives Matter movement at all. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston (JCRC) was one such group. The JCRC issue a statement about their position, writing, “JCRC cannot and will not align ourselves with organizations that maliciously assert Israel is committing genocide.” In 2016, a survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), found that only 57 percent of Jews support Black Lives Matter, while the number was large it was not all Jews, Jews still supported the movement more than Muslim’s the next religious group to support BLM by large numbers. 
Black Lives Matter still supports Palestinians and opposes Israel. On June 28, 2020, Black Lives Matter in the United Kingdom made that position clear as they 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.”
Almost immediately, British Jewish organizations criticized BLM UK over the apparent antisemitism.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the BLM UK tweet was an “antisemitic trope” from “a supposedly anti-racist organization.”
“It is beyond disappointing.. @ukblm has leaned into the antisemitic trope that UK politics is “gagged”, but “..failings of this particular group will not stop us standing alongside black people in their quest for justice” -
The Jewish Labour Movement’s leadership called BLMUK a “fake” group engaging in a “hurtful fantasy.”
After the backlash, BLM UK doubled down. They tweeted their support for Palestinians saying, it has “always” been a “shared struggle.” Their tweet also quoted academic Angela Davis. 
“One more time for those at the back. From the British Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter, solidarity and learning from Palestinians in the fight against systemic racism has always been part of our shared struggle, and shared strength.”
BLM also tweeted:
“We stand with Palestinians at this most urgent time, and against the accelerated attacks on their rights laid out above and in many other sources. Ours is a united fight against colonialism in all its forms. Justice is indivisible.”
A Palestinian organization Palestine SunBird responded with mutual support for BLM, tweeting:
“Palestinians have long supported Black people’s struggle against racism. There has been a very important connection between the two struggles for many decades.” 
Afterward, BLM UK posted a longer article on their website criticizing Israel and repeating the false accusation that Minneapolis learned the chokehold move that caused Floyd’s death from Israeli police.
BLM UK wrote:
“Criticising the state of Israel is not antisemitic and we support BLMUK’s call for solidarity with the Palestinians.
This anti-BLMUK witchhunt weakens the fight against all forms of racism.
Of course, the focus of the black lives matter movement is on fighting anti-black racism but we see the connections to other forms of racism.
Attacking BLMUK for standing up for Palestinians is an attempt to weaken the anti-racist movement, and this would appear to be the aim of much of the media and the right in this country.
As Amnesty International has pointed out, Israeli police forces have played a key role in training militarised US police forces.
Whether this involves training in the restraint methods used to kill George Floyd is not known but we note that this specific allegation has been denied by the Israeli state.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has again come into the spotlight with George Floyd’s murder. This time, Jewish support for BLM is greater even though their platform and position towards Israel has not changed despite erasing the offensive words from their website. Organizations that found issues with BLM in 2016 now are supporting it; T’ruah issued 10 rules for engagement, advising, “It’s not too late to build relationships. The time is now. This is a movement, not a moment.”  While JCRC even erased their 2016 condemnation and signed the joint letter supporting the movement. American Jewish organizations have overwhelmingly supported the movement. At the end of June 2020, “More than 600 Jewish organizations and synagogues in the United States have signed on to a joint letter that asserts “unequivocally: Black Lives Matter.”
The joint letter from the myriad of American Jewish organizations states” called the Black Lives Matters movement the “current day civil rights movement” in the United States.
“We support the Black-led movement in this country that is calling for accountability and transparency from the government and law enforcement. We know that freedom and safety for any of us depend on the freedom and safety of all of us.
When politicians target Jewish people and blame us for problems, it leads directly to violence against us. When Black movements are undermined, it leads to more violence against Black people, including Black Jews.
When Jewish people join together with our neighbors across racial and religious differences, as we have in the past, we can protect each other and build the future of freedom and safety we all deserve.”
Meanwhile, already in the beginning of June, 800 American rabbis and cantors from the three major denominations signed a statement supporting “peaceful protest against racism and in memory of George Floyd.” The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center distributed the letter. The leaders of the three progressive denominations signed the statement including, “Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis; Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, chief executive of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism.”
The statement invoked Civil Rights supporter Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel an ally of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The letter read:
“As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, to march is to pray with our feet. Throughout American history, the right to protest peacefully has been a hallmark of free expression. In the past week, clergy of all faiths have joined in and supported protests happening in cities nationwide, spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. Like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, and too many others to name, Mr. Floyd was a victim of the nation’s long history of brutality against people of color, and particularly Black men. Protests are a just response to all-too-familiar anger, frustration, and pain. I stand for the right to peaceful protest and call on our nation’s law enforcement and elected officials not to interfere with this bedrock First Amendment expression.” 
Throughout BLM supports anti-Israel and antisemitic positions in the movement and even among their leadership, even with Jewish support. Jewish community organizer Carly Pildis, who is a staunch supporter of African-American issues, asks, “Can I financially support the fight for racial justice while refusing to compromise on my stance on Israel?” In her Forward article entitled, “You don’t have to choose between Black Lives Matter and Israel,” Pildis admits among BLM, “Certainly, there are people in the racial-justice movement who hold views that are anti-Zionist and inflammatory on Israel. Black Lives Matter is a diffuse and decentralized movement. There are debates and disagreements.” 
Jewish Journal editor David Suissa recently wrote the article entitled, “Dear Jews: The Summer of 2020 Is Not About Us” where he acknowledged Jewish concern of antisemitic actions among the movement:
“But instead of allowing blacks their moment, I’m seeing an outpouring of hysterics from some in the Jewish community about “antisemitism rearing its ugly head again!” A small fraction of the countless businesses that have been damaged and looted across the nation have a Jewish connection. I get it. Even one is too many. After 2,000 years of persecution, we’re always on edge. Any sign that “they’re coming after us” is cause for alarm. 
Suissa admits there are anti-Zionist, BDS supporting, and antisemitic elements within the BLM ranks and down in the movement and its supporters.
“I know that Black Lives Matter officially supports the BDS movement against Israel, which is a vile and discriminatory movement. But here’s the new reality: In the protests against racism, “black lives matter” is as much a slogan and rallying cry as an organization. And yes, I’m disgusted by anti-Jewish graffiti on a synagogue wall or anywhere else. This is the mark of Jew-hatred. It is eternal and irrational. It will always be with us.” 
Suissa goes too far in writing, “Nothing about the plight of Jews in America can compare to the racism against blacks. While we have our own global history of horrible suffering and persecution, the difference between the suffering Jews and blacks have experienced in this country is not merely in degree, but in kind.” Nothing is right in the rash of the killing of Jews in their synagogues or homes celebrating, Shabbat, Pesach, or Hanukkah, no Jew should diminish the fact that antisemitism is more prevalent than any other racist acts in not only America but North America. The police do not love Jews more than African Americans. We should never make light of antisemitism, as Jews that is like giving a stamp of approval on reprehensible actions. 
Harvard Law Professor and Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz also weighed in his article “Is the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Platform Antisemitic?” Unlike others, Dershowitz condemns the antisemitism coming from the BLM movement. 
“In 2016 I wrote an op-ed demanding that Black Lives Matter rescind the portion of its platform that describes Israel as an “apartheid state” involved in “genocide … against the Palestinian people.”
Condemning the nation-state of the Jewish people alone, in a world with far greater offenders, cannot be justified by any moral principle. It is antisemitic, pure, and simple. And the Black Lives Matter platform is guilty of the serious sin and crime of antisemitism.
Unless Black Lives Matter explicitly rescinds its antisemitic platform, the organization should not receive the support of decent people. That would be a tragedy because Black Lives Matter does so much good. But throughout history organizations that did good also promoted racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Their good deeds do not excuse or justify their bad ones.”
On July 1, a Washington, DC protest supporting Black Lives Matter and the Palestinians’ Day of Rage attacked Israel. Over 200 people attended the march which traveled from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building Christian Tabash, a Harvard University senior studying Government organized the march. Tabash, a Palestinian, repeatedly said the Palestinian movement is “intrinsically tied to Black Lives Matter.” At the event, Tabash read a poem calling Israel, “puppet master of continents,” and as they marched protested chanted, “Israel, we know you, you murder children, too.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement responding, “We are horrified by this vicious hatemongering by Black Lives Matter protesters. The Black Lives Matter platform is filled with anti-Israel and antisemitic lies. It is deeply disturbing, but not surprising, to hear those sentiments chanted in the streets of Washington, DC.” The RJC called on Vice President Joe Biden, “as the standard-bearer of the Democrat Party, to condemn these antisemitic chants by BLM protesters.” 
 Robin D. G. Kelley. “From The River To The Sea To Every Mountain Top: Solidarity As Worldmaking,” Journal of Palestine Studies. Vol 48(4); 2019; 69–91.
 Ibid., Kelley. “From The River To The Sea To Every Mountain Top: Solidarity As Worldmaking,” 70.
 https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/black-lives-matter-demonstrators-in-dc-chant-israel-we-know-you-you-murder-children-too https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/intrinsically-tied-to-black-lives-matter-harvard-student-leads-anti-israel-march-on-capitol
About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, & historian. She is the author of Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896, The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish goal of whiteness in the South, and the viral article, “OTD in History… October 19, 1796, Alexander Hamilton accuses Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with his slave creating a 200-year-old controversy over Sally Hemings.”
Ms. Goodman has a BA in History and Art History, and a Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval & Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, particularly American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.”
Ms. Goodman contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature and on the Times of Israel. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu. She has over a dozen years of experience in education and political journalism.