The death of Jewish man Yosef Salamsa barely raised an eyebrow among the white communities in Israel. His suicide, though, has ignited a series of volatile demonstrations in Tel Aviv organised by black Ethiopians who accuse the Zionist state of racism and police brutality.
Now the hugely influential and growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is targeting Israel over the state’s treatment of “Jews of Colour” as well as the Palestinian people. Criticism of Israel by the US-born BLM adds fuel to the claims that it is operating an apartheid-style regime with its treatment of and dealings with Palestinians and black Africans. Indeed, there are some within the movement who are asking if police exchange programmes between the US and Israel are leading to the escalation of black people being killed by police officers across America because of what is seen as the almost routine nature of extrajudicial killings in the Zionist state.
BLM has already attracted world attention to its cause in America and, more recently, in Britain, where police authorities also stand accused of institutionalised racism towards black people. Streets protests have been organised in places as far apart as Baton Rouge and Minnesota; from the Freedom Square encampment in Chicago across the Atlantic to the UK. It seems that wherever widespread racism exists, BLM wants to shine a light on the situation and call for action.
Racism is not just America’s problem, insists Natalie Jeffers, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter UK. While gun crime in the UK is not as serious as in America, she told journalists, “There is a war going on against black people.” Supported by grim statistics revealing an alarming gulf between the experiences of black and white people in Britain – in education, in the justice and prison systems, and in employment — her argument is compelling.
It’s a trend that can also be evidenced in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. BLM has updated its July statement about the crisis of anti-Black policing to highlight the equally disturbing anti-Black and anti-Palestinian attitudes amongst Israelis and their supporters. The movement is working alongside the Jews of Colour Caucus, organised in partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace, to publicise the problem.
“In this particularly painful moment,” said the BLM, “we reach out to the Black Jewish members of our constituency, who in addition to the struggle of being Black in the United States, face white supremacy and erasure in the broader Jewish community.” The intention is to extend BLM’s transnational focus on dismantling state-sanctioned anti-Black racism across the globe.
“We are also in solidarity with Ethiopian Jews protesting [against] police violence and racial profiling in Israel, following the death of Joseph [sic] Salamsa and many others. We mourn them with you. Our hearts go out to the often forgotten victims of Israeli anti-Black violence: Sudanese and Eritrean refugees, Afro-Palestinians, and Black Hebrews. Your struggle must not be erased because your identities don’t grant you citizenship or fit into the common logics of Israeli nationalism. We extend this solidarity without placing conditions on personal beliefs or state affiliation, because racist state-violence is never justified.”
BLM organisers have also criticised some groups for trying to divert attention from their cause. “We are appalled at the actions of the white US institutional Jewish community in detracting and distracting from such a vital platform at a time when Black lives are on the line, simply because the organisers chose to align their struggle with the plight of Palestinians. US Black relationships to Palestine and Israel have never been monolithic, but there are deep historical ties between Black and Palestinian struggle that go back to the Black Power Era. Any attempt to co-opt Black struggle while demeaning these connections, is an act of anti-Black erasure.”
The movement acknowledged “the backlash” experienced by BLM activists which is, it suggested, part of “a white supremacist power structure” that is trying to maintain the status quo. “We call upon the Jewish community to defend BLM activists from this backlash, especially since many Jewish institutions themselves have contributed to it by making the sweeping claim that solidarity between Black struggle in the US and Palestine is anti-Semitic.”
In its hard-hitting statement, BLM added: “Similarly, Jewish organisations fail Black people when they intentionally avoid critique of Israel in their solidarity with BLM. Israeli state violence has long targeted Black lives alongside Palestinians, and hiding under the pretence of focusing solely on ‘domestic issues’ does not absolve US Jewish groups of complicity with and perpetuation of Israeli anti-Black racism and settler colonialism.”
Rejecting attacks on Palestinian organisers, who are condemned as anti-Semitic for simply talking about their own dispossession and struggle, BLM pointed out that such condemnation is inaccurate and racist, and amounts to a violent form of silencing. “We reject similar attacks targeted at Jews of Colour and other Jews organising in solidarity with Palestinians.”
Due to what it claims are “ties” to abusive tactics used against protesters in communities like St Louis, New York City and Oakland, BLM called for an end to police exchange programmes between Israel and their western counterparts, especially in America. “Atlanta’s Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) programme sends US police to Israel to learn violent and Islamophobic ‘counterterrorism’ methods tested on Palestinians living under occupation, and brings Israeli police officers to Atlanta where they learn tactics of the US War on Drugs, which are later deployed against mostly Palestinian, Mizrahi and Ethiopian communities.”
Israel, of course, denies most strenuously any and all accusations that it is a racist, apartheid state, but the brutal killing of an asylum-seeker last October left the Israeli media in no doubt as to why Eritrean Haltom Zarhum was killed. “Just because of his skin colour,” was the stark headline.
Zarhum was shot repeatedly by a security guard then kicked and spat at by a mob after going to the southern Israeli city of Beersheba to pick up his renewed work visa. He was walking past the central bus station with a group of friends when an Israeli Bedouin armed with a gun and knife attacked a bus, killing an Israeli soldier and injuring 10 others. In the panic which followed the attack, Zarhum was targeted based on nothing more than his skin colour, according to Yedioth Ahranoth.
Similarly, the killing of Fadi Alloun near Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem last year shocked many when video footage showed the 18-year-old being hunted by a group of Jews, many of them apparently religious, who called on police officers present to kill him. The police made no attempt to arrest the teenager and gunned him down. His death happened two weeks after another 18-year-old, Hadeel Al-Hashlamoun, was also the target of extrajudicial killing in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron
BLM and its supporters say that while American and Israeli methods of militarised policing are different in some ways, there is still concern and “cause for alarm to all those committed to racial justice” adding: “As those promoting militarised police violence against our communities form alliances, so must those organising in resistance to them. Jews of Colour in solidarity with Palestinians feel doubly committed to ending race-based international state violence.”
The Jews of Colour Caucus make four specific demands:
- We call on the US Jewish community to end its legitimisation of anti-Black racism through its combined attacks on the Black Lives Matter Platform and US Palestine solidarity. We call on the US Jewish groups that have engaged in this anti-Black violence to retract their racist and harmful statements.
- We call on the US Jewish community to end its legitimisation of US and Israeli state-violence, police militarisation, and violence through its role in promoting and organising police exchange programmes that contribute directly to violence against Black and Brown people in the US, Palestinians, and Jews of Colour.
- We call on the US Jewish community to examine the ways it promotes an image of Jews as necessarily “white allies” to Black struggle, thereby erasing the strong presence and leadership of Black Jews.
- We call on the mainstream US-based Zionist movement to stop simultaneously promoting tactics that harm Jews of Colour while erasing Jew of Colour struggle. We call on you to cease the use of our bodies as a moral shield for Israeli occupation.