Israel, Black Lives Matter and the Ideology of Victimhood
The support by members of minority protest groups for the Boycott-Divestment-Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel is one of the most puzzling political developments of recent years. Not only does making a connection between the Civil Rights Movement and the Palestinian cause require blacks to spit on the support Jews gave them during the Civil Rights era, it also necessitates ignoring 2,000 years of Jews being an “oppressed minority.” But none of that seems to matter to those who want to turn history on its head and make Jews out to be the enemy.
One way to understand why Black Lives Matter activists and others have turned on Jews and Israel is to dissect the ideology of victimhood.
The rally cry of the Civil Rights Movement was equal opportunity. When the formerly segregationist Lyndon Johnson became an advocate for equal rights, Americans had reason to believe peace between the races was within sight. Instead, today we have anything but peace. The message protesters convey is that conditions are worse than ever, and anyone (no matter what race) who disagrees is told to suppress his “white privilege.”
Being a second-class citizen, which clearly was the status of blacks and other minorities in the past, has become a positive attribute 50 years after the passage of Civil Rights legislation designed to eliminate inequality. Being a victim today means no one can challenge what you say. It means you don’t have to obey “white people’s” rules of discourse or behavior. You can shout down opponents. You can shut out the press. You can justify criminal behavior. You can even condone terrorism against civilians.
That is the path Black Lives Matter supporters take in order to identify with the Palestinians in their claims against Israel. Acts of terrorism are not forbidden if you consider yourself a victim. If you’re a victim, you’re not responsible — whether stealing from the corner store or knifing an innocent woman and her children in her home.
Of course, black lives have improved dramatically since the 1960s. Individual blacks have reached the pinnacles of American society and blacks have entered the middle class by the millions. It is ironic that many of the young people most likely to cry racial victimhood are attending elite academic institutions and come from upper-middle-class homes.
That’s not to say that black ghettos no longer exist, but I would venture that the leaders of those communities are (or should be) more concerned about housing, health care, schools and jobs than ending Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian lands.
It should also be pointed out that those who preach the ideology of victimhood benefit personally from events that justify their complaints. Proof that nothing has changed is often drawn from one or a few instances. Such proof then becomes the basis for demanding more scholarships, more faculty and administrative positions, as well as more courses, conferences, books and the like to bring the victims’ situation to light.
To be a victim in the 21st century is to be untouchable. Victims cannot be challenged, for to challenge a victim is to deny his or her victimhood, which is proof that one is a victimizer. Speaking of feminists who have joined the victimhood chorus, Phyllis Chesler states, “They fear that by criticizing barbaric behavior when committed by formerly colonized men of color, especially Arabs, in particular ‘Palestinians,’ they themselves will be demonized as racist ‘Islamophobes.’”
Ironically, victimhood does not apply when it comes to Jews or Israel. The victimhood crowd sees American Jews as the ruling class, and the Jews of Israel are considered colonizers. That Jews started to return in large numbers to their ancient homeland in the late 19th century to escape persecution apparently doesn’t count. Some BDS-ers deny that Jews ever lived in Israel in ancient times.
Not that Jews revel in being victims. Like most people who truly are victims of discrimination, rather than those who claim victimhood by virtue of belonging to an “oppressed” ethnic or racial group, Jews only want to be treated as others are treated. Nevertheless, the ideology of victimhood judges Jews by separate criteria. Some of the haters say Jews cannot be considered victims because they never were. Some even deny the Holocaust took place, or if it did, that Jews died in reported numbers; some even wish more had died.
The ideology of victimhood needs to be confronted head on. College administrators need to make sure those who would challenge the victimhood ideology are allowed to speak. On too many campuses the right of pro-Israel speakers to present their views has been denied –– in some cases violently. Conferences, classrooms and the like must be open to conflicting viewpoints, and security should be provided to make sure protesters don’t interfere with sanctioned events. Further, there should be consequences when victimizers fail to adhere to academic standards. First year Oberlin Professor Joy Karega’s reliance on Nation of Islam’s Elijah Mohammad as a source that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks should be grounds to question her appointment.
By engaging in inflamed rhetoric, distortion and complete fiction for political ends, the ideology of victimhood harms actual victims as much as its political enemies. It can prevent people who are being discriminated against, who are receiving inferior services and who are not being represented from being heard over the orchestrated roar of the self-identifying victimizers. Only when challenged can the ideology of victimhood be pushed aside and those truly in need be recognized and given their due.