The Electronic Intifada / June 29, 2020
For those who yearn for an end to systemic racism, these are exhilarating times as Black activists and organizations lead a global uprising against symbols and structures of white supremacy.
But if you are a racist group masquerading as a civil rights organization, these days are fraught with the danger that you’ll get found out.
It’s a balancing act that has for years bedevilled the Anti-Defamation League, a major Israel lobby group in the United States.
Its counterparts in the UK are facing the same challenge.
The crisis is particularly acute right now as the ADL tries to portray itself as an ally of Black Lives Matter while also shielding Israel from criticism over its plans to annex Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, further entrenching the system of apartheid.
A leaked memo obtained last week by Jewish Currents writer Josh Leifer highlights the dilemma of ADL leaders.
The memo sets out how the lobby group can, in Leifer’s words: “find a way to defend Israel from criticism without alienating other civil rights organizations, elected officials of colour and Black Lives Matter activists and supporters.”
The gist of the strategy is to allow some soft criticism of Israel while fending off more precise and accurate descriptions of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights as “apartheid” and “separate but equal” – the latter a term long used to whitewash violently enforced, legalized racial segregation and subjugation in the United States.
The authors of the memo fear that a clash with progressive forces over annexation could put ADL on the “wrong side” of the Black Lives Matter movement and “challenge relationships between ADL and many civil rights organizations and coalitions.”
It is ironic that the ADL fears Israel being associated with apartheid.
While the Israeli-armed South African apartheid regime was still destroying Black lives in that country in the 1980s and 1990s, the ADL ran a massive spy ring in the United States.
As well as infiltrating Palestine solidarity groups, the ADL spy passed on confidential files about anti-apartheid activists to South Africa’s brutal intelligence agency.
The latest ADL leak confirms concerns that were revealed in a private report obtained by The Electronic Intifada in 2017.
That report – jointly written by the ADL and the Reut Institute, an Israeli think tank – lamented that Palestinian rights campaigners have been “able to frame the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of the struggle of other disempowered minorities, such as African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.”
The report recommended that Zionist groups try to disrupt this dynamic by “Partnering with other minority communities based on shared values and common interests such as on criminal justice reform, immigration rights or in fighting against racism and hate crimes.”
Today the ADL sees Black Lives Matter as a chance to burnish its “civil rights” street cred while advancing its anti-Palestinian agenda.
Call for tighter censorship
The ADL is one of several lobby groups – which like the Israeli government – have long seen Black Lives Matter as a major strategic threat.
Its effort to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement – in order to manage and diffuse criticisms of Israel’s harsh racist regime against Palestinians – is currently on full display.
The group is a partner in the Stop Hate for Profit campaign which is pressuring major corporations to pull advertising from Facebook during the month of July to protest the social media giant’s supposed failure to crack down on hate speech.
Already, major names such as Unilever and Starbucks have agreed to comply.
There are real reasons for concern about this campaign: In effect it demands that Facebook act as a censor and arbiter of truth, a role no one should want an unaccountable private company to play.
It’s especially concerning given that Facebook has already appointed a former Israeli government official with responsibility for censorship to its new oversight board.
While few may have qualms about seeing white supremacists and Nazis having their public platforms taken away, the reality is that Palestinians have been among the main targets of online censorship, particularly by Facebook.
Israel lobby groups, including the ADL, have been promoting a misleading and politically motivated definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of Israel’s policies and its racist state ideology Zionism, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.
They have pushed governments, institutions and social media companies to adopt this bogus definition in order to muzzle advocates for Palestinian human rights.
The Stop Hate for Profit campaign explicitly demands that Facebook “find and remove public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, anti-Semitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation and climate denialism.”
However much one may loath such viewpoints, that is a fairly sweeping demand for censorship and regulation of opinion that is unlikely to stop there.
Yet, notably, there is no demand that anti-Muslim groups be removed, despite rampant Islamophobia on the platform. That kind of hate is apparently just fine!
The Stop Hate for Profit campaign also provides an opportunity for big corporations to gain positive publicity while doing very little to address structural racism. No doubt such corporations will be happy to start advertising again on a Facebook sanitized of any dissenting views.
Boycott for me, but not for thee
There is also the rank hypocrisy of the ADL, which is calling for a boycott of Facebook, while attacking and smearing BDS – the peaceful campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions to end Israel’s racist abuses and crimes against Palestinians.
The Anti-Defamation League has even supported anti-BDS legislation, knowing full well that such laws are unconstitutional because they violate free speech.
Undoubtedly, the ADL values its own constitutional right to call for a boycott of Facebook even as it seeks to trample the free speech rights of others, including those who believe that Palestinians should not have their rights denied in their own homeland just because they are not Jewish.
But in backing the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, ADL is joining forces with Black mainstream liberal civil rights organizations such as Color of Change and the venerable NAACP – and thus using these relationships to gain entirely undeserved credibility as an anti-racist ally.
Black activists in UK call for Israel sanctions
The problem faced by the ADL and the Israel lobby more broadly was highlighted over the weekend when Black Lives Matter UK, an anti-racist coalition, tweeted its support for the Palestinian struggle:
“As Israel moves forward with the annexation of the West Bank, and mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism, and Israel’s settler-colonial pursuits, we loudly and clearly stand beside our Palestinian comrades,” the group tweeted.
The tweet got tens of thousands of likes and retweets.
Black Lives Matter UK followed that with a series of tweets debunking Israel lobby claims that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.
One tweet declared that as annexation looms, “we stand with Palestinian civil society in calling for targeted sanctions in line with international law against Israel’s colonial, apartheid regime.”
The tweets were particularly significant as British politics remain in the grip of a witch hunt against critics of Israel, especially within the main opposition Labour Party.
Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said he was “sad” to see the tweets from Black Lives Matter UK.
He also claimed that members of his organization “reject annexation and settlements.”
That can be seen as another effort to steer criticism of Israel into an acceptable “soft” form focused only on a limited number of Israeli actions, while trying to put criticism of Zionism off limits.
The Board of Deputies, a British Jewish communal organization and leading pro-Israel group, predictably accused Black Lives Matter UK of engaging in an “anti-Semitic trope.”
But the Board insisted that this would “not stop us from standing alongside Black people in their quest for justice.”
But, in fact, supporting Israel and Zionism is totally incompatible with any quest for justice. All the slick spin and PR campaigns cannot hide this simple truth: You can’t be an anti-racist racist.
Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books