Move to hijack Black Lives Matter to turn it into an anti-Israel movement intensifies
A controversy brewing in St. Louis progressive activist circles sheds light on how the anti-Israel movement’s effort to demonize Israel by hijacking the Black Lives Matter agenda is intensifying.
At issue is an offensive poster and cartoon featuring the image of a prominent St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve. Both were circulated last week on social media by HandsUp United, a “social justice organization” based in Ferguson, Missouri.
The anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace is supporting the effort to demonize Rabbi Talve, and the vile anti-Israel cartoonist Carlos Latuff has created a cartoon meme that is spreading.
This is all part of an effort to turn Black Lives Matters into an anti-Israel movement, an increasing focus of anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists.
Targeting St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve
Rabbi Susan Talve, who leads St. Louis’ Central Reform Congregation, is a well-known and nationally respected figure in St. Louis’ interfaith community and in the Ferguson protest movement. Last year, she was named one of America’s most inspiring rabbis by the Forward.
For years she’s taken a leading progressive position on racial issues in the United States. Since the Michael Brown fatal shooting in Ferguson, just outside St. Louis, in August 2014, she’s also voiced opposition to racial profiling and policing policies at numerous public events.
HandsUp United is an activist group based in Ferguson, Missouri. Formed in the summer of 2014, it primarily organizes training sessions for activists and collaborates with other organizations in the BlackLivesMatter movement to convene protest events and other programming.
Recently, it’s also spearheaded a “#Real Terrorist” social media campaign calling out “St. Louis power brokers” for their role in perpetuating “systems of racial oppression”. According to the campaign’s proponents, it’s an effort to “illustrate society’s hypocrisy about the use of violence” by applying the label “terrorist” to Missouri and St. Louis elected officials, along with other politicians nationwide.
In reality it’s an abusive and nasty drive that involves character defamation. It prevents serious conversations about gun violence in St. Louis and elsewhere and how to stop the actual terrorists out to harm us and our country. Case in point: the campaign now has in its sites Rabbi Talve who is being attacked as a “Real Terrorist” for supporting Israel and criticizing Palestinian terrorist violence.
While the poster is the brainchild of HandsUp United, readers should note that the cartoon is an illustration by Carlos Latuff, an Arab Brazilian political activist who a few years ago won second place in Iran’s notorious Holocaust Cartoon competition.
Today, Latuff is among the most prolific anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic cartoonists. On the web, he has a staggering amount of work dedicated to advancing explicitly anti-Semitic political imagery.
Latuff’s cartoons, many of which play on the blood libel motif and suggest a moral equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany, are much beloved by BDS activists who routinely disseminate his work on social media sites.
A future post will cover Latuff’s anti-Semitic political hate cartoons in progressive outlets and among BDS supporters, and their impact on reinforcing negative stereotypes about Jews and the Jewish state.
BDS Supporters Defend the Slander of Rabbi Talve
According to HandsUp United’s Facebook page, Talve is being condemned for “simultaneously supporting lies and untruths while coveting [herself] as an ally of the movement for black lives”.
Insisting that “you can’t support Black liberation while upholding Zionism”, the group has also posted on its Facebook page that “Standing with black people isn’t a get out of jail free card for any of us pertaining to the other forms of oppression”.
Basically Talve is being castigated for being a “Jewish supremacist”. As one supporter of the HandsUp United’s meme for Talve noted, “a leader for social and racial justice must also speak out against Zionism or be called out on this hypocrisy”.
An article published on December 3 by the notoriously anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss offers more insight as to why Rabbi Talve is being targeted.
In it, a “morally outraged” Sandra Tamari explains that it’s appropriate to refer to Talve as a “Real Terrorist”. According to Tamari, Talve is faking a commitment to justice because she supports “Israel apartheid and its oppression of Palestinians”.
As evidence for Talve’s “racism”, Tamari references an AIPAC-organized trip that she took with a group of other progressive rabbis; her hosting an AIPAC representative for a synagogue event; her alleged (without a shred of proof) attempt to censor Palestinian voices from a “black and brown alliance” panel at the Missouri History Museum; her view that Hamas must shoulder the blame for Palestinian casualties during the 2014 war; her praise for the Israeli army’s “morality and courage” under fire; and (horror of horrors!) her criticism of Palestinian terrorism.
But what really infuriates Tamari is that Talve refuses to disavow her Zionism even as she’s taken the time and effort to serve at the “center of social justice movements in St. Louis”.
As an indignant Tamari remarks in her article, “Zionism has no place in liberation spaces led by people of color”.
Jewish Voice for Peace Contributes to the Character Assassination
Also joining the Talve pile-on this week is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a so-called Jewish, anti-Zionist organization which, as we’ve noted in many prior posts (see, for example, here, here, and here), has established itself as the “Jewish wing” of the Palestinian solidarity movement.
On December 3, JVP’s St. Louis chapter penned an “Open Letter” to Talve, inviting organizations and individuals to sign on in support.
The letter also appears in Mondoweiss, who’s founder and co-editor, Philip Weiss, appears to be somewhat obsessed with the lady, having posted two of his own articles last year (see here and here) attacking Talve for being a “PEP” (progressive except on Palestine).
In them, Weiss takes issue with the letters that Talve sent to her congregation summarizing her impressions from the AIPAC-sponsored tour. Weiss seems to think that she should have kept her synagogue in the dark about some essential facts that she learned there. Like how Israel ensured that tons of medical supplies and food went into Gaza during the 2014 war, even as Israelis were being bombarded by Hamas rockets and missiles, and its terrorists were burrowing into the earth in order to kill and kidnap Jews.
He also reprimands Talve for making Israeli children victimized by rocket fire consequential to the conversation. While Rabbi Talve reminds her congregants that “there is horrific suffering on both sides”, Weiss doesn’t think that she should be expressing any sympathy for Israeli kids who are “afraid when the sirens go off”.
For Weiss, these facts are simply “Zionist incantations”.
Here’s a short 4 minute video of what Israeli children growing up within range of Gaza’s rocket fire experience:
And here’s a 20 minute documentary of the PTSD that Israeli children in Sderot, on Gaza’s border, are trying to overcome:
Given Mondoweiss’ previous attacks on Talve, it’s no wonder that Weiss was keen to publish JVP-St. Louis’ four-page letter this week.
In it, the chapter commends the rabbi for taking a “courageous” and “outspoken stand” in the post-Ferguson protest movement, and for her “nationally acclaimed” social activist work in support of “Black struggle and many other social justice issues”.
But it then proceeds to berate Talve for failing to support the “solidarity between the Black Lives Matter and Palestine movements [that] has become an increasingly central tenet of both struggles”.
What ticks JVP off is that while Rabbi Talve is obviously a sympathetic fellow traveler on “behalf of peace and justice in our community”, she simply refuses to make the “Black struggle about Palestine”.
She’s also too committed to “Zionism and the defense of Israel” for their taste. By way of example, the JVP letter rants about how Talve spent too much time during a speech she gave at a march last month publicizing the fact that Israel has provided medical treatment to Syrian refugees. It’s an extraordinary and underreported humanitarian effort that we highlighted in a prior LI post.
But for JVP it’s the height of indecency. How dare she present Israel as “heroic and underappreciated”!
So apparently for JVP’s St. Louis chapter it’s not enough that Talve graciously (and a bit naively in our view) opened up her synagogue to their group. Nor is it sufficient that she’s dismayed too by the loss of innocent Palestinian lives.
All that’s simply not good enough.
Now, Talve’s JVP-affiliated Jewish neighbors in St. Louis are telling her that they “can no longer patiently sit by” as she “defends the oppression of Palestinians at Israeli hands”:
This hypocrisy tears at our local community and ripples painfully far beyond it…your admirable actions in Ferguson have served as a shield for you, as you continue to justify Israeli state violence…you have brought Zionist oppression into this beautiful movement…We write today because to whitewash the lived alliance between Ferguson and Palestine is to silence the very voices we seek to hear”.
A “Mockery of Common Sense”: Framing Palestine as Ferguson
Despite JVP’s threats and hurled accusations, Rabbi Talve would do well not to cave in.
The reality is that comparing Gaza to Baltimore or Jerusalem to Ferguson “isn’t just inaccurate or unfair—it’s insulting,” as noted this week in an important op-ed by Yoav Fromer, who teaches politics and history at Tel Aviv University. Fromer writes that there is “something very wrong” with the BDS vision that links Palestine to Ferguson. Fromer rightly argues that framing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that
consciously seeks to create an analogy between recurring shooting and killing of unarmed black men in the United States and the deaths of Palestinians…invests Palestinian terror with a moral legitimacy that does violence to the facts, and will only inflame rather than help end the conflict…”
Fromer also correctly notes that before comparing Palestine to Selma, Israel’s critics should consider that:
the only reason Israelis are unwilling to get out of Judea and Samaria is the existential fear that like in Lebanon (2000) and Gaza (2005), history will repeat itself a third time and a unilateral withdrawal will transform the West Bank into yet another terror state on their borders…Portraying Israel as a colonial and apartheid state purposely belies this security rationale and falsely stipulates the racial motive for the political one…Israelis would be very glad if Palestinians wished to align themselves with the African American cause that [Martin Luther] King, maybe more than anyone else, embodies. So it is curious and revealing that they have time and again rejected non-violent protest…When Palestinian knife-wielding attackers admit that they set out to ‘stab Jews’ and are soldiers in a holy war we need to consider the grim fact that their tactics are so different because their goals may be so far apart: most African Americans sought emancipation from their enemies; too many Palestinians seek the destruction of theirs”.
Conclusion – Progressivism turns on itself in the service of BDS
As we’ve highlighted in a number of LI posts (see here for a complete list) the anti-Israel BDS movement has for some time been appropriating unrelated issues in the United States (police problems in Ferguson or the Baltimore riots, problems along the Mexican border, gay rights—even divestment from fossil fuels, and most recently, demands for tuition-free education on college campuses).
BDS activists invent a connection between these issues and the fight against Israel, portraying a common enemy. Israel and the U.S. are lumped together in this perspective, both dominated by a “systemic racism”, structures of white privilege, and white settler colonialism.
It’s a completely “distorted historical model”.
Nonetheless, this “Palestine to Ferguson” meme of the conflict as “racially motivated imperialism” has now become an entrenched feature of the BDS movement. So much so that anyone who refuses to characterize both America and Israel as “white supremacist” and “racially oppressive” can now expect to be subjected to a character assassination, and to a boycott and banishment from progressive circles.
St. Louis Rabbi Susan Talve may be the first casualty.
A rabbi active in the Ferguson protest movement is here demonized as a terrorist because of her ties to Israel. https://t.co/OxJykmXTnJ
— Adam Holland (@ad_holland) December 4, 2015
A progressive social activist, Talve has been an “inspiration and steadfast worker for justice in St. Louis for decades”, according to many who have this past week come to her defense. Now—because she also happens to be a Zionist—she’s being defamed by pro-BDS activists in St. Louis as a “real terrorist”.
It’s inexplicable, really. (Other descriptions of this “Real Terrorist” campaign against Talve were also shared over the last few days on the HandsUp United Facebook page, including: “despicable”, “absurd”; “obscene”; “disgusting crap”; and “anti-Semitic”).
Bottom line: the bizarre uproar unfolding in St. Louis shows how myopic the BDS movement is if they can shun someone like Rabbi Susan Talve—a left-of-center critic of state policies in both Israel and the U.S., a person who is deeply “conflicted on the occupation”, and someone who recognizes that “on all sides [in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] there are human beings, there are families with children who want to live in peaceful neighborhoods”.
If BDS is really about changing Israeli policies and ending the “occupation”, people with viewpoints like Rabbi Talve’s should be considered allies. That they’re not says a lot more about the BDS movement and its ultimate goals than it does about Talve, the most recent target of its vitriolic abuse.
Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She writes and teaches on international and national security, religion and politics in the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.DONATE
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