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June 6, 2016 3:33 am

Israel, Black Lives Matter and the Ideology of Victimhood

avatar by Peter G. Pollak

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Black Lives Matter protestors on  July  17, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Jose Lopez, from Black Lives Matter website.

Black Lives Matter protesters on July 17, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Jose Lopez, from Black Lives Matter website.

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.

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  • Michael Caplan

    I think this analysis contains some important truth and some mistargeted polemic. Black Lives Matter arose primarily in response to the killings of young Black men by police officers who are rarely if ever held accountable for their violence. It is also a response to the more general situation, which was, I believe, justly indicted by author Michelle Alexander as “the new Jim Crow”. BLM is not an example of an “ideology of victimhood”, and should not be trivialized this way. It is rather an outcry against genuine, systematic and often murderous victimization. The problem arises when a false equivalence is made (also, far too often) between the sufferings of American Blacks and that of Palestinians in the disputed territories, whose suffering is of course equally real, but whose situation is critically different and therefore requires a different analysis and response. Propaganda works because it’s easy on the brain; truth demands more, but reality deserves – and, ultimately, demands – nothing less, whether in America or the Middle East.

  • Mike P.

    We may call this the post-modern African American form of anti-Semitism.

  • That Arab-Muslims spearheaded a continuation of the Nazi war against Jews is demonstrated in the fact that an Arabic translation of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a long-time and current best-seller in many Arab countries.
    The lion’s share of the British Mandate became Jordan in 1921.
    Jews whose families had lived there for hundreds of years were stripped of citizenship – only because they were Jewish – (the same thing that happened *later* to German Jews under the Nazis) – and got pushed into the remaining 25% of the British Mandate.
    Those same Jewish families, expelled from Jordan, became a target of Arab-led pogroms in that remaining 25% of the Mandate.
    When, in 1947, the U.N. proposed a two-state solution to the conflict, Middle Eastern Jews accepted the proposal; Arabs rejected it and their only counter-offer was a war with the Nazistic threat of “driving the Jews into the sea.”
    Had Arabs, like Jews in 1947 accepted the two-state proposal, there would have been no wars, no refugees, and there would have been mutual prosperity for the Jewish and the Arab states.
    What was the Arab world’s reaction to the failure to carry out the Nazistic threat to “drive the Jews into the sea”?
    Persecution, pogroms, theft of assets and expulsion of Jewish populations from Arab countries – though most of the Jewish families in those countries had lived there many hundreds of years.
    Where Jews in Arab countries were forbidden to go to Israel – Syria, for example – they were forced to wear identifying yellow patches – one of the same things that had been inflicted on Jews in Germany.
    And, just as Hitler and the Nazis blamed Jews for all of Germany’s problems, the Arab world today largely continues to act out against Jews, endlessly condemning Israel at the United Nations, while ignoring more deadly problems (i.e. the Syrian Civil War), and spreading Nazi-style rumors of “Zionist control of the world,” “Zionist control of everything” – it’s right out of the Nazis’ handbook – Mein Kampf – which as previously mentioned remains a best-seller in translation in Arabic.

  • It is an important point. When a “victim” acts against his “victimizer” nothing is unacceptable. No matter how heinous the action may be, it is “resistance” or “vengeance” and therefore supposedly acceptable. Of course, in a civilized world, even vengeance has to have limits, but that seems to be lost in the current conversation.

  • Sankha A Neru

    The most telling line in the article is “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.”

    She should be fired because you don’t agree with her sources? That is the exact power over our thought that I find abhorrent and will resist under any circumstance.

  • The 2016 #Blacklivesmatter National Convention will take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 14, 15 and 16. The theme is “PUTTING A NATIONAL TEAM, TOOLS, STRATEGY, MESSAGE TOGETHER.” As the days have passed what’s becoming clear is #Blacklivesmatter mantra lacking concept, approach, methodology and clarity. Glaringly, there appears no capacity to lift the movement to the next level. #Blacklivesmatter lacks depth in its articulation. We must better explain the theoretical perspective espoused. By attending #Blacklivesmatter activists will enhance the group’s “ability and competency” to better engender desired results. Interestingly, the group has “put in writing MORE THAN FOUR YEARS AGO” the same plan that the Urban League just announced and the national media appears to agree with. How many “BLACK LIVES” would have mattered if they would have listened to us more than four years ago? Nonetheless, we need “URGENT” philanthropy support in Pittsburgh for the 2016 National Convention. Your donation can be made online to PayPal account.–blacklivesmatter-activists.html