We are all aware of the recent spotlight shone on the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in May. The support for the movement across the globe, including protests in sixty countries, demonstrates an international step in the right direction in the fight against racism.
However, hot on the heels of racism, another issue of prejudice has recently been highlighted within the UK. For while the UK has nearly 2 million people who identify as black, it also has a population of nearly 300,000 people who identify as Jewish.
Both groups bear the weight of an age-old hatred from other social groups, both have experienced violence as a result of that hatred, and both still endure persistent stereotypes. However, this is where I shall end the comparisons between these two groups. Trying to determine which group suffers the most does not aid the overall fight against prejudice and hatred. Their struggles cannot be made to compete against each other, even if recent police brutality in the US demonstrates a particularly urgent need to promote anti-racism.
But comparing the struggles of black people and Jewish people is exactly what people in the media have recently and repeatedly tried to do.
This issue first caught our attention when Black Lives Matter UK tweeted,
“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. FREE PALESTINE.”
Within this valid criticism of Israel’s plan to annexe the West Bank, there is a sub-narrative about disproportionate Jewish power. The claim that people are “gagged of the right” to critique Zionism has been disproven, especially since the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, has called for sanctions against Israel if their annexation continues. The perpetuation of the stereotype that Jews control the media, subtly suggested within this tweet by the idea of such “gagging”, distorts the anti-racism and anti-prejudice message of BLM.
And shortly following the loss of support for BLM by offended Jews, DeSean Jackson, an American Football star, posted a false quote attributed to Adolf Hitler on Instagram:
“Because the white Jews knows that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep America’s secret the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were…”
While he has since apologised, a former basketball star and BLM activist, Stephen Jackson, also defended DeSean Jackson, saying, “He’s speaking the truth”. This pitting of the black population against the Jewish population goes against the central message of acceptance and civil justice which the Black Lives Matter Movement promotes. It is no good to fight racism with another form of prejudice.
And we continued to see anti-semitism in the media when the grime artist ‘Wiley’ began to tweet statements such as, “There are two sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge. Jewish and KKK … Red Necks are the KKK and Jewish people are the Law … Work that out” and “I don’t care about Hitler, I care about black people”. Now apologetic and banned from Twitter for life, Wiley once again suggested that black people and Jewish people are in direct competition, and that the latter do not support the former.
So can the two movements ever work together? Can we fight both issues at once, or does that dissolve our social justice efforts?
There are, of course, some people who are working to fight racism and anti-semitism together. For example, Zach Banner, an American Football player, said, “I want to preach to the black and brown community: that we need to uplift them [Jews] and put our arms around them just as much when we talk about the BLM and we talk about elevating ourselves. We can’t move forward while allowing ourselves to leave another minority race in the dark.”
He highlights the important message that any prejudice against one minority group will always denigrate the overall struggle for equality. Each movement must strive to uplift the other, while still campaigning strongly for their own cause. This means the Jewish population can’t let certain tweets stop them from supporting anti-racism, and the black population can’t let certain stereotypes distort their vision of equality. And we must stop trying to compare the struggles of black people and Jewish people. At particular points in history one may be more pressing, but we should never rest until both are properly addressed.
And this has also been the view of one of the most famous civil rights groups in black history. The NAACP has always been quick to root out any anti-semitism amongst its membes, starting black-Jewish dialogues in communities where friction has occurred. In November 2018, former US attorney-general Eric Holder spoke on “saluting our Jewish and black founders” at a large NAACP fundraiser. He asked his audience to “resist those who would try to put asunder the historic Jewish/black alliance that has meant so much in the fight for equality for both groups”.
So yes, I think the fight against anti-semitism can share the spotlight with Black Lives Matter. For if both movements work together, they can intensify the light shone on prejudice, and aim to seek a more egalitarian society for both minority groups.