Photo: Alexander Clegg/Detroit Jewish News
Linking Black Lives Matter to Israeli affairs is inaccurate and dishonest.
On Oct. 8, the Jewish News online published an op-ed by IfNotNow Detroit activists Rebecca Driker-Ohren and Zak Witus titled “Palestinian Lives Matter.” Of course, Palestinian lives matter — that is not in dispute.
What one can dispute is Driker-Ohren and Witus’ conflation of one-sided denunciation of Israel with the movement for racial justice in the United States. Indeed, the authors seem to believe that the Metro Detroit Jewish community’s alleged reluctance to sufficiently admonish Israel renders its leaders nothing more than moral hypocrites.
As Driker-Ohren and Witus describe it, “We in the anti-occupation movement were left questioning whether this enthusiasm for [Black Lives Matter], with its attendant principles of universal equality and freedom, would extend to the arena of Israel/Palestine.”
To the authors, the fight for “universal equality and freedom” seems to necessitate myopic and context-free censure of Israel. Unfortunately, the piece employs myriad falsehoods to make its case.
Driker-Ohren and Witus open their arguments by touting an IfNotNow-led protest against “the Trump-Netanyahu plan to formalize Israeli annexation of more Palestinian lands on the occupied West Bank” outside the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s headquarters, as if an American Jewish institution is obligated to endorse IfNotNow’s positions regarding territorial disputes. They describe such “annexation” as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
However, this is an erroneous premise: There are persuasive legal arguments in favor of an Israeli extension of sovereignty within certain areas of the territory.
As the international law scholar Eugene Kontorovich points out, the International Court of Justice-affirmed principal of uti possidetis juris (“you possess under law”) posits that “When new countries emerge from old ones or from colonial empires, the last official international borders constitute the new boundary lines.” After the British relinquished control of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, Israel was the state that declared independence within that geographical area without specifying its borders.
Therefore, per Kontorovich’s reasoning, Israel has substantive territorial claims in the West Bank. There is plenty of precedence for this: Jordan’s and Iraq’s internationally-recognized borders, for example, are based on colonial-era Mandatory administrative divisions.
The territory within the armistice line established after Jordan’s 1948 invasion of Israel now known as the West Bank has never been wholly controlled by a Palestinian Arab political entity. The limited Palestinian self-governance within certain areas of the West Bank established after the 1990s Oslo peace process marked the first such instance in history, and the areas eyed by the Israeli government for an extension of sovereignty lie within “Area C” of the West Bank, which Israel controls, in accordance with the Oslo Accords. That means that Israel would not be illegally “annexing” the territory of a foreign sovereign country.
Painting Israel as an apartheid state
Driker-Ohren and Witus go on to detail their desire to end Israeli “occupation,” also described as “hafrada” (Hebrew for “separation”). In case the metaphor was unclear, they clarify that “It is no accident that the meaning of this Hebrew word resembles the Afrikaans word ‘apartheid’…” We are to believe that this system “needs racism and militarism in order to function,” and that the “occupation” “denies Palestinians freedom and dignity by depriving them of civil, political and economic rights.”
An uneducated reader of Driker-Ohren and Witus’s piece would have no idea that the vast majority of the West Bank’s Palestinian Arabs live under the purview of the Palestinian Authority, and that the Gaza Strip is ruled by the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas. If Palestinians are denied their “freedom and dignity” and “civil, political and economic rights,” wouldn’t the bulk of the blame fall on their own rulers?
In any case, Israelis (whether Jewish or Arab) and Palestinians live under separate political entities. In no way does this constitute apartheid. There are multiple territorial arrangements around the world in which separate political entities share a piece of land; for example, Lesotho is an entirely independent state surrounded by South Africa, as is San Marino within Italy. (While it’s true that Palestinian rulers exercise limited self-rule, as opposed to full statehood, the point is that it’s not “apartheid”-esque to separate peoples based on national citizenship.)
Israel’s security apparatus within the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip are not in place to impose racial hegemony, but to protect Israeli citizens against stabbing attacks, car-rammings, rocket attacks, suicide bombings and other terrorist assaults. To ignore this context, as Driker-Ohren and Witus do, is dishonest.
Settlements and the Movement for Black Lives
Another glaring contradiction stands out: the authors reassure us that IfNotNow “affirms the right of Jewish Israelis to live in the land with freedom and dignity, just as [they] affirm the same right for Palestinians.” Yet, they also laud poll results that indicate increasing support for evacuating “Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank” among American Jews, ostensibly to achieve a two-state solution (the settlements are not “Jewish-only”).
But if all should be free to live in the land with “freedom and dignity,” why do Jewish-majority areas in the West Bank need to be evacuated? Why couldn’t — theoretically — Jews live as a minority in a future Palestinian state just as Arabs live as a minority in the Jewish state? Perhaps it would be possible if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas didn’t insist, “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.”
Driker-Ohren and Witus also incorrectly state that past Jewish criticism of the Movement for Black Lives platform was based on its supposed “[alignment] with the Palestinian freedom movement …” In reality, the Jewish community objected to the platform’s entirely false assertion that Israel is committing “genocide” against the Palestinians, and the equally absurd canard that Israel practices “apartheid.”
Entirely Different Issues
America is not the Levant; the national conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is an entirely different geopolitical issue than racial tension in America. As CAMERA UK’s Adam Levick puts it, “the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict in general, and the occupation of disputed land in particular, isn’t fueled by race, but by the failure of two people to reach a political agreement on how to share the land.”
In large part, these two peoples have failed to reach a political agreement because of Palestinian leaders’ unwillingness to accept a Jewish state in any part of the land between the river and the sea and repeated rejections of peace agreements. Hamas officials assert that “the Jews have filled the land of Palestine with corruption” and that “Allah said that [Jews] are ‘the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah’” — the group’s founding charter proudly glorifies the murder of Jews, and they have orchestrated countless terror attacks within Israel, including suicide bombings.
The “moderate” Palestinian Authority grants hundreds of thousands of dollars to those who kill Israelis in terror attacks, and deems land sales to Jews “high treason,” which is punishable by death. According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “1,360 people have been killed by Palestinian violence and terrorism since September 2000.”
Accordingly, many Israelis (understandably) fear that “ending the occupation” of the West Bank would invite a Hamas takeover of the territory as it did in Gaza following Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the area. If that happened, Hamas would gain access to the Judaean hills — high ground that provides a perfect vantage point to launch rockets into the heart of Israel’s densest cities. Such a situation would likely lead to further Israeli efforts to defend its citizens, thus worsening Palestinian life.
Driker-Ohren and Witus do not consider this in their piece. In fact, the piece doesn’t acknowledge any Israeli security concerns, likely because doing so belies the superficial caricaturizing of Israel’s actions as unjustifiably militaristic and “racist.”
Any analysis that characterizes this conflict as an Israeli Goliath mercilessly oppressing a Palestinian David does not tell the whole story. Sadly, it seems that Driker-Ohren and Witus would like acceptance of such a narrative to become a “progressive” value within the Jewish community.
Originally published in Detroit Jewish News.
Contributed by CAMERA on Campus’s managing editor Zac Schildcrout.