Why #IsraeliLivesMatter Matters

On 21 October 2015, Jewschool.com published “A letter to #JewishLivesMatter/#IsraeliLivesMatter” by Gaydol Hador. In this offensive, anti-Zionist letter, Jews and Israelis are lambasted for co-opting, denigrating and delegitimizing the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The Judean People’s Front was shocked and insulted by this letter and would like to set the record straight:

Hador’s letter first expresses outrage at a blog post on the Times of Israel written by Dan Shlufman, a board member of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. In this blog post, Shlufman describes #BlackLivesMatter as a “protest against unintentional, albeit some times improper actions by the police against people killed while accused of committing a crime.” Hador rightly calls Shlufman out for mischaracterizing BLM in such a way. However, Hador does not seem to understand it himself.

.#BlackLivesMatter came about (from the view of this Hebrew outsider) because of a feeling in the African-American community that greater American society did not view their lives as having equal value. Given that this is based on an emotional response (as many movements are) it is entirely irrelevant whether one believes Michael Brown had his hands up (like BLM) or down (like Shlufman) when he was shot. It is entirely irrelevant if one believes the high numbers of black men killed by the police and their disproportionate presence in prison is a statistical anomaly. This is because the fact remains that not only have these actions continued, but the media also does not report on crimes committed by African-Americans in the same way it reports on those committed by others all leading to a feeling in the black community that this is intentional.

By rallying and tweeting around #BlackLivesMatter, discontented African-Americans are giving voice to their frustrations at being invisible victims. To them, their lives are devalued by the police and government while the media runs interference calling them rioters and looters.

What #WhiteLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter got wrong was their inability to recognize the unspoken “also” in Black Lives (also) Matter. There is no real reason for either of those other hashtags because no one questions them. #BlackLivesMatter arose precisely because they perceive society around them as saying ONLY white lives matter or recognizing the value of African-Americans only when they are adequately obscured and placed among a faceless “all.”

This is exactly the same reason why some Jews and Israelis have been tweeting #IsraeliLivesMatter. Israelis see themselves under constant attack from terrorists mingling among civilians and journalists while the media spins the stories to paint the Palestinian attackers as victims of Israeli “excessive force” or “cold-blooded executions” and the Israeli victims as deserving of their fate.

We see protests around the world in support of Palestinians, often chanting “Intifada! Intifada!” and “Slaughter the Jews!” while our attempts to even just mourn our dead are protested by Students for Justice in Palestine.

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And now Jewschool.com has allowed itself to become a forum for a one-sided, hypocritical and hateful message against the Jewish State.

In order to present the other side, let’s examine exactly what Hador said:

.#BlackLivesMatter is not analogous to your hashtag movements. But it is not the incommensurability of translation from one language to another, from English to Hebrew, that has rendered your comparison false. In fact, you left the hashtag in its native tongue.

This faux-outrage at using a hashtag in English, is emblematic of Hador’s willful misunderstanding of the issue at hand. Perhaps Hador would like to condemn #BringBackOurGirls for not having their hashtag in Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba, as well.

Since the very idea of the X Lives Matter movements is to gain the most visibility and shout loudly, “We matter too!” to people who would otherwise ignore you, it is perfectly reasonable and expected that this would be done in English. What good would it do to have such a hashtag that would only be accessible to members of the in-group? Such a hashtag would have no value, just like Israeli lives in the view of Hador.

You are not counter-hegemonic movements. You are the incarnation, par excellence, of hegemony.

With this statement Hador advocates the image long propagandized in the Arab media of an Israeli Goliath versus a Palestinian David. Israeli defense against terrorism is presented as illegitimate in any form and an expression of hegemony… and yet he wonders why we feel the need to remind him and the world that Israeli Lives Matter.

You have, in the most racist of ways, co-opted the language of a real counter-hegemonic movement entrenched in battle with the American state. You have transported a slogan to contextualize the situation of another people, another place, another state, and diluted it of all meaning.

The level of misplaced anger and vitriol in this statement is striking. Where was this anger when Palestinians started chanting “Ferguson to Palestine?” Where was this anger when Palestinians took over the Occupy Wall Street movement with signs reading “Occupy Wall Street Not Palestine?” Where was this anger when the Palestinians and Arab states turned the Durban conference against racism into an anti-Semitic hate-fest? Where was this anger when the Palestinians robbed “apartheid” of all meaning, dishonoring those who actually suffered under that regime? Where was this anger when one of the most homophobic peoples on Earth inserted itself as a cause célèbre for the LGBT community? The fact of the matter is that the Palestinians have a long history of co-opting nearly every “progressive” movement in the West in order to turn the focus on themselves.

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For Hador and other anti-Israel activists, all movements are fair game for manipulation and domination by the Palestinian Cause, but if a small group of Israelis or Jews (though not many and hardly a movement, this is the first time the JPF has used it) use the language of another cause in a similar way (not trying to replace the movement itself or change its course in any way), apparently this is the worst thing in the world. With his focus on “counter-hegemonic movements,” Hador has bought into the premise of Christian Liberation Theology where righteousness is determined not by one’s actions, but by one’s status as oppressed. This non-Jewish ideology is not only dangerous but immoral in that it can justify any action in the name of “fighting oppression” and absolves individuals of any responsibility for their own actions.

Worse yet, through comparison, you’ve enacted violence upon lives and bodies that never authorized you to draw the comparison in the first place.

Apparently Jews can only assert their right to life when non-Jews ask them. It’s hard to think of a statement that more clearly shows why #IsraeliLivesMatter is important.

Yet again, Hador does not accuse the Palestinians of “enacting violence upon the lives and bodies” of the supporters of the manifold causes they have hijacked over the years. Since they are “oppressed,” such actions are to be forgiven or celebrated.

The Israeli government, its police, and its carceral state protect the lives of its Jewish citizens. The same cannot be said of the American government, its police, and its carceral state as it murders black bodies.

As shocking as the horrific descriptions of the United States and Israel as carceral states are, the point Hador makes here is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. The Black Lives Matter movement came about not just because of a failure - real or perceived - by the government to protect its black citizens, but because it was felt that this was happening while the rest of the country looked away or noticed only long enough to tell them they had it coming. Sure the IDF and Israel police are out trying to protect Israeli citizens but it is doing so at a time that the rest of the world sees Jews being stabbed to death and is more outraged that the stabber gets shot because “Israel made them do it in the first place.”

Jewish lives do matter. And so do Palestinian lives. And so does the vibrant matter, the water, the orchards, the dirt and stones under which houses and settlements lie, that the Israeli state extracts from Palestinians to steal for its own.

As the state steals, you smuggle in the language of the oppressed.

The JPF has already shown that based on the history of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria, it would take 5000 years to settle the entire territory. What’s more, Israel has substantially scaled back building in the settlements to the point where Prime Minister Netanyahu - Hador’s incarnation of Israeli hegemony - has actually overseen the least amount of building of any Prime Minster since Oslo. But none of this matters to Hador as he seeks to promote lies about Israeli theft of water and land while attempting to portray any Jews living their ancestral homeland as thieving foreign interlopers.

Jewish Lives do matter. Israeli Lives do matter. But your careless comparison does not lend credence to your cause.

Jewish Lives do matter. Black Lives do matter. But Hador’s heartless comparisons don’t lead us to believe he actually means the former.