Israel, Ferguson and the global Left
It may not seem as if Ferguson, Missouri has much to do with Israel, but some of the activists protesting the events in that Missouri city seem to also have Israel on their mind. What happened in Ferguson and why does Israel factor into the picture?
Ferguson was a case of a white policeman shooting and killing a black civilian. There are between 300 and 400 cases of police killings in the United States each year (there are a smaller number of police killed in the line of duty). A majority of the victims of police shootings are not African-American. Some of the African-American victims (10-20 percent each year) are killed by African-American police. There are maybe 100 or so cases a year of white policemen killing blacks, and the great majority of these cases are non-controversial. The half dozen or so that are controversial are now becoming the biggest news stories of the day and the year.
In an average year, about 16,000 Americans are murdered, so police killings are maybe two percent of that number. Over half of all murder victims are African-Americans, and almost all of them are killed by other African-Americans. Overall, African-Americans commit murder in the United States at a rate seven times their share of the population. While 16,000 is a big number, the U.S. murder rate has sharply declined the last 20 years, by about 40 percent. In New York City, the scene of the latest race-related controversy over a police killing (in this case from a chokehold,) the murder rate has dropped 85 percent.
One might think that the far larger murder toll that does not involve police would be a much bigger story than the few controversial cases of white cops killing black civilians. That this is not the case reflects the role of today's media, which feeds off of the white cops killing black civilian stories almost as much as they love hurricanes and tornadoes and airplane disasters. Stories that enable the 24- hour cable news networks to fill their time reporting updates for days and weeks is the news that is fit to broadcast. America is an extremely polarized nation at this point on issues involving race, but also on broader political questions, like immigration, and Obamacare chief among them, and conflict is good for news departments. And this, unfortunately is where Israel has begun to filter into the frame.
In every one of the recent controversial cases involving a black victim, whether Trayvon Martin, who was shot by a community watchman, the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson and now the latest killing of Eric Garner in New York, the protestors now include members of the local black communities, blacks from other communities, students (some of whom are white), the professional crowd of agitators/anarchists, race hustlers, and always some anti-Israel demonstrators. In several cities where demonstrations followed the St. Louis County grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson, there were prominent signs comparing the occupation of black communities by racist police with Israel's racist occupation of Palestine.
Paul Miller has provided a brief history of how African-American leaders fought attempts to link their struggle with anti-Israel forces decades back, but seem far less uncomfortable with this linkage today.
"Nearly 40 years after African-American leaders fought against anti-Semitism and the co-opting of the civil rights movement, the same hatred toward Israel and Jews has reared its ugly head in Ferguson -- seeking the same opportunity to exploit the struggles of African-Americans to shape public opinion against Israel.
But this time around, African-American leaders are silent about the abuse of their cause. In a few cases, such as the social media pages of Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush, we have witnessed the embrace of Israel detractors. Bush, who forfeited his 2005 Heisman Trophy after allegedly receiving improper benefits while playing at University of Southern California, posted a photo of a protestor holding a sign that read: "The Palestinian people know what mean [sic] to be shot while unarmed because of your ethnicity #ferguson #justice."
The white cop versus black man on the street divide is an opportunity for the anti-Israel crowd in the United States (consisting of Muslims but also many others on the Left) to solidify their position among minority groups and make their cause one and the same with the grievances held by other groups.
The anti-Israel crowd is now very much at home among the Left. A University of California professor, Judith Butler, helped create a conference on "pink-washing" Israel to decry those who praise Israel for its progressive practices and laws regarding gays. Israel can never be up to any good, so long as it is a country identified by the Left as practicing oppression toward one of the Left's favored victim groups, the Palestinians. Butler argued that supporting the Palestinians has become a key component of the global Left's agenda, so trashing Israel trumped any false narrative perpetrated by Zionist defenders about progressive Israeli policies toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
This week a chapter of the United Auto Workers (!) union, with members who are mostly teaching assistants at nine University of California branches, will hold a BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) vote, thereby introducing the BDS movement to unions for the first time in America. The resolution seems to endorse the Palestinian right of return, suggesting Israel can no longer exist as a majority Jewish state in any form or within any boundaries.
The role of academics and students in all of the "take it to the streets" protest movements is a particularly dangerous one for Israel's defenders in the United States. From Occupy Wall Street to any scene taken over by race hustlers such as Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, campus groups are always well represented. There was already a surge in anti-Israel activism at colleges and universities even before the Gaza war this past summer, with Students for Justice in Palestine pushing BDS measures among student bodies, and academic organizations (e.g., the American Studies Association) doing the same. So far, with the exception of Hampshire College, no university has succumbed to any student/professor sentiment to actually take any such action. But this year there are more SJP chapters, more BDS resolutions, more of these resolutions that are passing, and more threats and violence against pro-Israel students and groups. Over time, more universities will bend, thereby legitimizing the effort.
One might argue that the four most significant issues that draw people to the streets these days, or make the college Left angry are Wall Street, Israel, the police, and global warming. Minority students at many campuses have signed up with the BDS movement, which of course requires the anti-Israel crowd to provide support on the streets of Ferguson, or in any other predictable hotbed of street agitation -- Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle.
There is, I think, a not-so-silent partner in all this. U.S. President Barack Obama was a community organizer, a student of Saul Alinsky, before he started his legal and political career. While he might stand out for being more professionally dressed among those who march and scream, and he has been careful not to endorse any violence by demonstrators, Obama has clearly been encouraging those who are angry to get out there and make themselves heard, knowing full well what happens when these angry groups take to the streets. When the president spoke the night the decision of the Ferguson grand jury was announced, on a split TV screen one could also watch the black-owned businesses on the main streets of Ferguson being looted, set ablaze and destroyed. In the aftermath of this lawlessness, the president and his chief spokesperson on racial issues and the law, Attorney General Eric Holder, made no bones about their unhappiness with the grand jury action, but said almost nothing beyond offering some perfunctory statements about the violence. In this, their behavior modeled that of weak-willed American university presidents who have increasingly turned a blind eye to violence and threats against Jewish or pro-Israel students on campus. It is only a matter of time before life for pro-Israel students is about as "safe" as being visibly Jewish on the streets of pretty much any Western European city.
There is a saying that everything good or bad starts in California, including its universities, but at this point in time, it is pretty much only noxious developments that are sweeping through academia, to be mainstreamed into the rest of American society. Hostility to Israel is one of these rapidly moving trends. Just as it is becoming more difficult to defend the police when media sympathies are all on the other side, the same is happening with defenders of Israel. The goal of the BDS movement is to make life very difficult for Israel's supporters, especially on campus and among America's growing minority population. America's demographic shifts are threatening to the historical pro-Israel consensus in America, not only because of high levels of Muslim immigration, but because other rapidly growing minority groups, as well as minority groups already here, are increasingly joining up with the anti-Israel movement. And when minority groups are on one side of an issue, you know where the major media will be to make that message resonate.