Middle East Eye / June 8, 2020
‘At what point in time was AIPAC ever committed to equality, freedom, or justice?’ Jewish-led anti-occupation group IfNotNow tweets in response.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has faced a storm of criticism on social media after it released a statement in support of the Black American community two weeks after George Floyd’s death.
The pro-Israeli lobbying group tweeted its support for Black Americans on Sunday, and faced a backlash from pro-Palestinian activists who labelled the statement hypocritical, given Israel’s well-documented history of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
“On the eve of George Floyd’s funeral, we join with millions of Americans who continue to mourn his murder. His death is a shattering reminder of the injustice & inequities that Black Americans still endure in our society,” AIPAC’s statement read.
“The scourge of racism, intolerance & inequality must end,” it continued, without mentioning by name the Black Lives Matter movement, which has led the call for justice in the wake of Floyd’s killing.
The group’s statement came in response to mounting outrage over Floyd’s death, who was killed by a white police officer on 25 May after pinning his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest over an allegedly fake $20 bill.
“At what point in time was AIPAC ever committed to equality, freedom, or justice?” the Jewish-led anti-occupation group IfNotNow tweeted in response to the statement.
AIPAC did not respond to Middle East Eye’s request for comment by the time of this article’s publication.
Days after Floyd’s killing, an Israeli police officer fatally shot Eyad al-Halak, an unarmed autistic Palestinian, just outside his special needs school in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Israeli forces killed Halak after claiming he was armed, shooting him several times with an M-16 as he was trying to run away.
Halak’s teacher told Israel’s Channel 13 news that she had tried to warn police, shouting “He’s disabled! He’s disabled!” at officers before they proceeded to gun him down.
Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian political cartoonist whose work is often critical of Israel, shared AIPAC’s statement with a drawing that depicts a Black American activist and a Palestinian activist reaching out toward each other, while police from their respective countries point guns at their heads.
Halak’s killing has sparked solidarity protests in both Israel and Palestine. While the protests in Israel were initially attended by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, they have now grown in size and diversity and the messaging has begun to shift, leaning toward an anti-annexation movement.
Israel has for decades been criticised by human rights groups for its extrajudicial killings of Palestinians, which are often carried out during anti-occupation protests in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
In 2019, Israeli forces killed at least 132 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, compared to 296 in 2018, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“AIPAC actually stands for HYPOCRISY,” Israeli-American journalist Mairav Zonszein tweeted in response to the group’s Sunday statement.
Jo Kaur, a Sikh civil rights attorney, warned that rights movements should be wary of groups “who engage in oppression against other marginalized communities but suddenly want to support your cause”.
For her part, journalist Rania Khalek pointed to AIPAC’s history of attacking Black activists who support Palestine as antisemites.
“How many times has AIPAC and its affiliates smeared black activists as anti-Semites for supporting equal rights for Palestinians?” she said.
The Black Lives Matter movement notably connected with Palestinian activists in 2014 when large nationwide protests erupted in the US following the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
In support of the movement, Palestinian activists began tweeting advice to American protesters on how to handle things such as tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets, both of which are common “less-than-lethal” Israeli crowd control measures also used by US police.
Too little too late: Pro-Israeli backlash
AIPAC also received criticism from its own supporters who were disappointed with the organisation for its “late response”.
Writers for Forward, an American news website and magazine focused on Jewish-Americans, were among some of the most critical.
Last week Aiden Pink, the magazine’s deputy news editor, published an article slamming AIPAC for not having commented on the killing of Floyd or the nationwide movement it sparked.
“Both black and white AIPAC activists are outraged by the organisation’s silence,” Pink said in a post to Twitter.
In the article, which has now been updated, Pink said current and former employees and advocates of AIPAC had been pushing for the group to come out in support of the Black American community.
Pink said Tiana Woods, a former AIPAC employee who is Black, went so far as to launch a petition calling for the group to speak up.
The Change.org petition, which names Jenna Conwisar as the organiser, had received 290 signatures out of its goal of 500 by the time of this article’s publication.
“AIPAC’s silence is loud and glaring,” the petition reads.
“For over a week now, protests and outrage over George Floyd’s unjust murder have taken hold of the world, and we have waited for AIPAC to reaffirm its support for the lives, safety, and equality of its Black activists and activists of color, as countless other organizations have done. We have waited to no avail.”
Following AIPAC’s statement, some of its supporters were still not satisfied with what was deemed a cookie-cutter response.
“It took them how many days to put out a statement that reads almost identical to those put out a week ago by other major Jewish organisations? Beyond disappointing,” Tema Smith, a columnist at Forward tweeted.
AIPAC’s website boasts of its support for the Black American community and its outreach programme. The group also sponsors events and trips to Israel for Black American leaders and has featured panel discussions at its annual policy conference about the importance of Black activism for the Israeli cause.
Meanwhile, Israel has frequently come under fire for its ill-treatment and “over-policing” of Jewish Israelis of African descent, a community that has in the past launched its own protest movements in Israel.
Sheren Khalel is a Washington DC-based journalist who has previously worked throughout the Middle East, focusing on human rights, refugee issues and conflict