Troubling Dynamic Emerges as Anti-Semites Attempt to Seize Narrative of “Black Lives Matter”
The nationwide movement to confront systemic inequalities in America’s policing system has motivated thousands to protest in favor of change. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month shined a light on this injustice. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement, an organization founded in 2013, has been front and center in this cause throughout. Yet at some protests, a disturbing development has emerged as certain individuals have attempted to seize the movement, in an effort to spread anti-Semitism.
This troubling dynamic was most recently on display on July 1st, at a protest in Washington, DC. The Washington Examiner reported that justice-inspired chants of “Black Lives Matter” were repeatedly replaced by anti-Semitic rhetoric like “Israel, we know you, you murder children, too,”. The intermingling of these chants complicates the efforts of Jewish voices who share the BLM’s overall goal of rooting out injustice in policing.
They immediately switched to the more standard “Black Lives Matter” chant after the “Israel kills children” one. pic.twitter.com/6oBVtlVpU8
— Nic Rowan (@NicXTempore) July 1, 2020
This particular event was organized as part of the “Day of Rage”, a series of protests around the country against Israel’s territorial claims on the West Bank. About 200 people joined the march from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol. Perhaps best embodying the complicated nature of the protests, a woman held a sign with “Black Lives Matter” written on one side and a Palestinian flag drawn on the other.
Beyond chants in favor of the Palestinians, language was used that evoked anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories. The protest leader, a rising senior at Harvard University, led the crowd in the chanting of anti-Israel poems. One of the poems included an accusation that Israel is the “puppet master of continents”, an age-old conspiracy theory that Jews are somehow in control of the world. The same protest leader went on to levy heavy criticism at President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, accusing both of committing various war crimes.
On multiple occasions, protest leaders directly linked BLM with pro-Palestinian efforts, claiming that Palestinian rights are “intrinsically tied to Black Lives Matter”. They also chanted, “And that’s why we say police from Palestine to Mexico to the United States — police as a whole — need to go!” While demands to defund police departments were echoed throughout the DC protest, it is unclear what exactly the protestors were calling for in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Signs (like the one pictured above) questioned the US’ foreign aid commitment to Israel and others supported calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) towards Israel. After more anti-Israel poems and speeches were delivered, the protest concluded outside the U.S. Capitol.
The Forward also reported that a similar protest unfolded in Brooklyn, which again saw some individuals attempt to hijack the movement in favor of anti-Semitic rhetoric. In Brooklyn, Day of Rage protestors chanted “intifada, intifada”, in an apparent reference to two previous waves of Palestinian terrorism which resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths.
The simultaneous rise in anti-Semitic incidents and movement against police brutality creates the opportunity for true progress in America: fighting anti-Semitism and ending police brutality together. Progress cannot truly be made on either front, however, if good, collective efforts are masked by the hate of a few. As the movement to reform police departments progresses, it remains to be seen whether that objective wins out, or if individuals with anti-Semitic motives turn this positive effort into a negative cause for concern.