Israeli Diaspora Minister sees American Jewish support for Black Lives Matter as a threat to Israel

Israel's Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai (Wikimedia)

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  August 12, 2021

Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai says Israel is at threat of “losing America” if Jews in the U.S. continue to support the Black Lives Matter and BDS movements, and view Israel as an apartheid state.

Israel’s Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai spoke last week on an American Jewish Committee podcast (‘People of the Podcast’), bemoaning the threat of ‘losing America’ because more Jews (and particularly young ones) are becoming more critical of Israel:

“When I briefed the cabinet the other day I said, if we see more of the radical left or the progressive liberal Jews continuing to support BDS and Black Lives Matter, as similar to the Palestinians, and they relate to Israel as a genocide state or an apartheid state and so on, we may lose America – because the bridge to the Democratic party and to the Republican party goes through the American Jewish community.”

This part was reported about with a partial quote by The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

Shai is a Labor minister (he failed to enter the list of seven as lawmaker in recent elections, but stepped in as a minister, which does not require membership in Parliament), and as such, he is a representation not of right-wing Israeli politics, but rather center-left.

Shai is lumping a lot together – Black lives matter, BDS (Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions), Genocide and Apartheid – suggesting that all of this is just “radical”, and that if people, particularly Jews, keep supporting these movements and framing Israel in these terms, Israel will lose them and lose America with them.

But Shai is also playing a dangerous game, which is likely to backfire. It is similar to when his former party leader Isaac Herzog called ‘intermarriage’ between Jews and non-Jews in USA a “plague”, (as head of Jewish Agency); or Herzog’s recent suggestion (now as President) that Ben & Jerry’s were engaging in a “new kind of terrorism”.

Part of the danger here is that the general perception of Israel as an Apartheid state is growing. According to a recent survey, 38% of American Jews under 40 believe Israel is an apartheid state. This is a sharp divergence from older members of the community (23% among ages 40-64, 13% among ages 64 and up), but it also seems to be a sign of where things are headed.

Still, the unhinged response from the Israeli government and political elite to Ben & Jerry’s decision to not sell ice cream in Israeli West Bank settlements (which is only a partial boycott), has shown precisely that Israel is bent upon maintaining its criminality, and rejecting any form of action against it as “radical”, so that it would not have to budge.

The young American-Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow has posted the news of Shai’s statements on Facebook, commenting:  

“Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister, Nachman Shai, doesn’t want our community to support #BlackLivesMatter — the most significant racial justice movement of our generation.”

It is typical for IfNotNow to be silent on BDS, which deserves mentioning as Shai said it in the same breath as Black Lives Matter, but nonetheless, this shows how that advocacy, lumping everything together, is backfiring.

The Times of Israel also noted how this lumping together is somewhat uncommon:

“Israel has long identified the BDS movement as a significant threat against which millions of dollars have been invested, but the lumping of the boycott movement together with the Black Lives Matter movement is less common.”

Times of Israel also fairly notes that the Black Lives Matter movement receives support from many U.S. Jews, and that even ADL sought to debunk claims that the movement was composed of “violent extremists”:

“Some major Jewish organizations in the US have expressed opposition to statements and positions made by some BLM activists. However, the movement has won the support of many US Jews, and the Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against portraying its supporters as ‘violent extremists’.”

So the Israeli Diaspora Minister is playing some risky bets. He wants Jews, especially young Jews, to see Black Lives Matter and the fight against racism as dangerous and “radical”. He wants people to tone down their fight against racism, Apartheid, persecution and institutionalized discrimination, so that Israel can be saved, and continue its oppression of Palestinians with no end in sight. And American Jews need to be the spearhead of the propaganda to protect all that. As Shai said on the podcast:

“We need you for this. Not only for your donations and other ways of support, which I appreciate very much. I speak about politics, I speak about the political game, I speak about lobbying, I speak about public diplomacy – we need you for that.”

“Public diplomacy” is what Israelis call hasbara in Hebrew. That’s what Shai wants you to be involved in as an American Jew. This boilerplate Zionist talk is becoming increasingly obnoxious for many American Jews. Israel is losing them. But “losing America” is apparently precisely the thing that needs to happen to Israel, for any justice to be achieved for Palestinians. Not that I think the Jewish community or the Israel lobby is the whole game – there are also imperialist interests and so called “shared values” at play, there are also fundamentalist Christian Evangelical Zionist movements at play and so on – but yes, the Jewish community has been playing a big part in the protectionism of Israel. And it is no longer “radical” to say that it is an Apartheid state, from the river to the sea.

When we reflect upon how Apartheid is now mainstreamed in public understanding, it is Black Lives Matter that is vindicated for being ahead of its time. It is now Nachman Shai who is out of touch with the times, which are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan sang. And maybe Shai, as well as the many moth-eaten elders of the American Jewish community, should listen to some more Dylan:

Come mothers and fathers

Throughout the land

And don’t criticize

What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters

Are beyond your command

Your old road is

Rapidly agin’.

Please get out of the new one

If you can’t lend your hand

For the times they are a-changin’.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark