As 5780 is coming to an end we are eagerly awaiting 5781 in the hope it will be a better year. We have experienced an unprecedented disaster on a global scale. The spread of a lethal virus has brought the world to a standstill. Empty airports, lines of airlines parked on the tarmac, and empty streets provided for an eerie picture.
News of hospitals flooded with dying patients were unnerving. Due to the enforced closure, the public health disaster resulted in an economic disaster of an unprecedented magnitude. If that was not bad enough, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer ignited massive social protests, some of which have turned violent and destructive. The sense of personal safety and community safety was no longer taken for granted.
Yet for Jews there was an added worrisome dimension. Old blood libels have resurfaced, and Jews were blamed for creating the virus, spreading it, and benefitting (financially) from developing treatments against it. The protests were troubling when turned violent, but for Jews it was doubly so: In addition to damage to Jewish property, synagogues were vandalized and graffiti “kill Jews” was scrawled on the entrance to Beverly Hills. The ADL reported that antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached the highest on record in 2019. Such incidents are on the increase around the world.
The protests against police brutality also had an added antisemitic flair. The so-called Jewish Voice for Peace perpetrated the blood libel that police exchanges with Israel train American police to kill minorities and this was elevated by claims that Minneapolis officers were trained in 2012 to brutalize minorities, thus implicating Israel in the killing of George Floyd. These blood libels use the Big Lie technique, promoting an egregious lie and repeating it numerous times until people start to believe it as fact. Needless to say – or perhaps it is important to say – that such charges are unfounded not only because there is no evidence but because it is simply not true. I know the Israel police instructor who trained the Minneapolis officers and I know the content of his briefings. He focused on how Israel handled terrorist incidents and did so from personal experience. He was the chief of the Netanya Police, who experienced terrorist bombs in the city mall and in the Park Hotel (the Passover seder massacre). Teaching brutality is simply not part of his curriculum, nor is it the training curriculum of the Israel police. I know firsthand as I have been conducting exchanges with the Israel Police since 1992.
The artificially forced invented causation that Israel is responsible for U.S. police brutality is particularly worrisome with the Black Lives Matter leadership. Feeding off the Nation of Islam and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to defame Israel, its police force, and any exchange programs with Israel, such as the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), ADL and the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), is increasingly rampant. The Jewish community is caught between wanting to support a just grievance on one hand and being defamed as the “problem” on the other.
This coming year, more than ever, we should focus on friend-raising. Reaching out to other communities, promoting dialogue and understanding and doing so without having to hide our identity as proud Jews who support Israel is key to navigate these stormy waters and reach a more solid ground. In these difficult times, there is room for hope. The normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the pending agreements with additional Arab countries is refreshing and invigorating. Maryam Al-Zaabi, a 19-year-old student at Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi, wrote that “As an Emirati, what I truly hope for is for us and Israel to have real and warm relations.” When the new generation thinks in terms of friendly coexistence, it augers well for the future, and when peace will flourish in the Middle East, the BDS will lose its very reason for existence.
Robbie Friedmann is a professor at Georgia State University and founding director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange.