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Hilary Aked

Why Israel fears Black Lives Matter

A protester waves a Palestinian flag at a protest about the Ferguson shooting [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 27 October, 2016

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Comment: Black Lives Matter's solidarity with Palestinians and support for BDS fits into a wider programme of progressive politics that is beginning to rattle Israel, writes Hilary Aked.

Why would Israel, a highly militarised Middle Eastern nation state, be afraid of Black Lives Matter, a campaign against racist police violence in the USA?

The answer is threefold. Firstly, activists linked to the Black Lives Matter movement have drawn direct parallels with the racist state violence experienced by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military and that which African Americans are subjected to by US police.

Making the connection explicit, the Black Palestine Solidarity campaign uses the slogan "when I see them, I see us". Likewise, the BLM-linked Dream Defenders group has declared that "fighting Israeli apartheid" is "inseparable from fighting racism in America".

By abstracting the fundamentals of both situations in this way, the underlying racist dynamics are laid bare for all to see. In the process, Israel's victim-blaming practices are severely undermined, while the justice movements' common enemies are highlighted. For instance, US police have long been known to receive training from Israeli forces in "counter-terrorism" operations.

Similarly, tear gas canisters used in Ferguson were made by the same US company that provide this so-called "non-lethal" ammunition to the Israeli military for use in the West Bank. Thus, the Black Lives Matter solidarity delegation which visited the Palestinian village of Bil'in in August was part of a process of linking up global opposition to arms companies which already profit from repression around the globe.

The second reason that Israel is terrified of such moves is that Black Lives Matter is bringing new constituencies more deeply into the Palestine solidarity movement. In particular, it is further strengthening the ties between communities of colour and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

BLM could be a symptom of - and a catalyst for - a monumental process of realigning power relations

When the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group of over fifty organisations, including the Black Lives Matter network and the Center for Constitutional Rights, released its policy platform, entitled A Vision for Black Lives, earlier this year, it called Israel an "apartheid" state, noting that it has "over fifty laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people".

Its foreign policy section also spoke of Israel's "genocide" of Palestinians, called for an end to US military aid to the country and expressed opposition to the anti-BDS legislation sweeping across the US.

Importantly, this shows how solidarity with Palestinians and support for BDS fits into a wider programme of progressive politics. Black Lives Matter can hardly be accused of "singling out" Israel since it focuses, of course, on the US. But it also calls for an end to US aid to the Egyptian government and for divestment from fossil fuels.

Nonetheless some liberal American Zionists expressed inner turmoil - claiming they wanted to support Black Lives Matter but found it difficult given its official stance on Israel/Palestine, a tension that exposed the hypocrisy of their support for the ethnocratic system in Israel/Palestine.

However, many Jewish Americans simply became more alienated from pro-Israel groups as a result and continue to support Black Lives Matter instead, including Jewish Voice for Peace which endorsed the entire BLM platform and supports BDS.

Today, more representative American and British political institutions could profoundly influence US and UK policy on the Middle East

By contrast American pro-Israel lawyer Alan Dershowitz slammed Black Lives Matter and demanded that the movement "rescind its anti-Israel declaration". The smears and attacks even extended to an accusation by the American Jewish Committee that BLM's position was "anti-Semitic".

Accusations of racism levelled at people of colour for showing solidarity with Palestinians also appear to be increasingly common in the UK, where a Black Lives Matter has also emerged. Notably National Union of Students president Malia Bouattia - a longstanding anti-racist activist - has been targeted for making critical comments about Zionism.

But the mass expressions of support, in defence of Bouattia, suggest that the tide may be changing. This is the third factor underlying Israel's fear of Black Lives Matter: The nagging worry that in the long term, BLM could be a symptom of - and a catalyst for - a monumental process of realigning power relations, entrenched for so long along race lines, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the 1980s an increase in the number of black members of Congress helped the growth of the movement to isolate Apartheid South Africa. Today, more representative American and British political institutions – more people of colour in positions of power – could profoundly influence US and UK policy on the Middle East.

The prospect of a shift away from a longstanding policy of impunity is the spectre haunting Israel's supporters when they see the Black Lives Matter movement grow.

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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