Sabrina Sojourner said she was “dismayed and heartbroken” when the Black Lives Matter movement released a platform in which it referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” in its support for the Palestinians.
“The US 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,” the platform reads.
“I feel like it’s using an old framework that contradicts much of the other things that are in the platform,” said the Rockville resident who is also an African-American Jew. “I appreciate the solidarity with other oppressed peoples around the world. Using the word ‘genocide’ is more problematic on many levels than I have time to explain.”
Sojourner is not alone in her conflicted response to the Black Lives Matter platform, which was released Aug. 1. The organized American Jewish community, which has long been a supporter of both Israel and civil rights, was forced into a corner by a civil rights program that accused Israel of racism.
The language echoes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls upon people and organizations to stop doing business with Israel until it ends its occupation of the West Bank.
In addition to criticizing Israel’s settlement policies, the platform also expresses disgust with the U.S. practice of giving 75 percent of its annual military aid to Israel and Egypt. This comes as the United States and Israel are putting the finishing touches on a 10-year memorandum of understanding that could raise the annual amount of U.S. aid from $3.1 billion to as much as $5 billion.
The movement’s anti-Israel stance has prompted condemnations from Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
The human rights group T’ruah, which opposes the occupation and BDS, issued a statement that supported the goals of Black Lives Matter while explaining why Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians should not be compared to genocide. And it argued that that the Palestinians are not completely innocent in the conflict.
“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,” it stated. “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.”
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, called the apartheid comparison “outrageous and hateful.” But he rejected the option of his organization issuing a press release condemning the platform. Instead, he plans to reach out to members of the African-American community to discuss the issue.
“I think that several of the Black Life Matters goals are good, and the Jewish community shares some of their aspirations,” he said, adding that his agency has not contacted the local Black Lives Matter movement locally.
“Right now, hopefully the best result would be that they’ve realized they alienated the regular allies of the Jewish community, and hopefully they’ll remove it,” Halber said. “But I just don’t see Jewish groups around the country working with a movement that says Israel is guilty of apartheid.”
The Baltimore Jewish Council did issue a statement. On Monday it said that African Americans’ struggle for civil rights should not be compared with the Palestinians’ struggle for a state.
“The coalition’s platform falsely conflates the need to address racial inequities in the United States with misconceptions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” it stated. “By calling for economic and cultural warfare against the nation of Israel and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, the coalition undermines efforts to promote peace in the region.”
Howard Libit, the council’s executive director, said while he opposes the platform’s position on Israel, he supports its general call for civil rights.
“Living in Baltimore, we appreciate and understand the many issues of living and working in a community that has violence that needs to be addressed,” he said, referring to the African-American community.
For Sojourner, the issues surrounding both Israel and the struggle for racial justice in the United States are complicated. But she would explain to her 10-year-old grandson that well-meaning groups can sometimes unintentionally cause conflicts.
“I believe in fairness and equity for all people,” she said. “We have not perfected what that looks like yet, and there are some people who may be very well intentioned, however they pick on groups that are in the minority position and start pitting people against one another.”