In the wake of the tragic murder of George Floyd, ample debate has dominated the public square in the United States, as well as around the world. The horrific crime has brought an age-old question to the forefront: Have we achieved racial equality as a society? If not, how can we?
These are obviously some loaded questions. Myriad books and essays have been written on the subject, tears have fallen, and blood has been shed in order for changes to be made. As such, these questions must be given the proper amount of attention and respect when pondering them.
No matter where one lies on the political spectrum, we can all agree that there are issues that must be dealt with when it comes to racism and police brutality. The full scope is very hard to measure, but many believe that major policy steps must be taken in order to remedy the situation—policies ranging from incremental (such as more funding for education on these matters at both scholastic and professional levels) to paradigmatic changes and more. The entire range of proposed remedies is well beyond the scope of this article.
These issues are serious and can ultimately cost human lives. They are far too important to be used for personal gain. Yet many individuals and groups have been accused of “hitching a ride” on these protests in order to further their own agenda. There are many examples, some as harmless as shameless “Instagram influencers.” Others, however, are more harmful, like a new collaborative petition circulating through the University of California system signed by hundreds of campus organizations that aims to further its political agenda of endorsing the BDS movement against Israel under the guise of anti-black discrimination.
Needless to say, the issue of police brutality in the United States is in no way connected to Israel or Zionism, nor does Zionism represent the overuse of violence and abuse of authority. Furthermore, the training programs that the aforementioned letter berates focus on terrorism and not domestic police issues or tactics. Prominent programs, like the one organized by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), do not contain any field or arrest technique training whatsoever. As a source, the petition references a half-day counter-terrorism conference between Minneapolis and Israeli police from 2012, which focused on techniques for preventing commonly utilized terror tactics, such as suicide bombings, and touched upon concerns about civil-rights violations .
Not letting facts get in the way of a political agenda, the petition spouts unfounded claims that there is a direct connection between alleged human-rights atrocities in Israel and the aforementioned issues occurring in the United States. They fail to mention that these kinds of horrific deaths predate joint military-police training, sometimes even predating the existence of Israel itself.
It takes logical gymnastics par excellence in order to draw connections between disputed territories in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and police brutality in the United States. Using false claims and “sourcing” with unverified references and various blogs, the petition directly blames Israel for many of the issues plaguing the African-American community. This pro-BDS letter circulating in the UC system is a thinly veiled anti-Zionist, racist attempt at pinning responsibility for various moral calamities on Israel. This is classic hyper-focus on Israel that causes us to lose focus on issues actually plaguing society.
The hijacking of such a serious issue for narrow-minded political gain is detrimental to both constructive debate and to efforts towards creating change in the wake of these horrible acts of violence. Take, for example, the Associated Students of UC San Diego ASUCSD’s decision to remove Israel-related condemnations and a call to boycott companies that support Israel from a recent resolution. Many in the student senate felt that this inclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was unnecessarily divisive, unrelated and ultimately “felt the inclusion of these issues detracted from the overall intention of the resolution to express support for the black community.” The creators of the UC petition must learn from the ASUCSD’s decision and remove all mention of Israel.
In layman’s terms, such cynical use of an important issue sullies the name of Mr. Floyd and others like him who have died at the hands of police brutality. Moreover, it does nothing at best and is counterproductive at worst to help advance critical thought and discussion vis à vis the conflict by simply lodging baseless attacks on Israel.
We have real injustices to fight both in Israel and America. Advancing a fringe, dangerous political ideology completely unrelated to the case at hand is disrespectful. Clearly, no cause is off-limits, and nothing is holy as long as Israel-bashing is involved. We must act as a society that furthers righteous causes, brings justice to the world and ensures that no more wrongful deaths take place at the hands of authorities or civilians alike.
Straw-manning Israel is a surefire way to do just the opposite.
Dov Guggenheim is a CAMERA Fellow at Hebrew University and works in the Bank of Israel’s Foreign Exchange department.