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A giant "BLACK LIVES MATTER" sign is painted in orange on Fulton Street on June 15, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP) A giant "BLACK LIVES MATTER" sign is painted in orange on Fulton Street on June 15, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP)

A giant "BLACK LIVES MATTER" sign is painted in orange on Fulton Street on June 15, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 24, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Black Lives Matter is more of a diverse movement than a top-down organization, so it’s difficult to flatly state what Black Lives Matter beliefs are.

  • More than 600 Jewish organizations have declared support for Black Lives Matter.

  • Some organizations affiliated with Black Lives Matter have expressed anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian sentiments that some Jewish groups view as anti-Semitic. 

Black Lives Matter has been labeled a terrorist organization (a claim we rated False) and a Marxist movement (we found little evidence). 

Now readers have asked us whether Black Lives Matter — a diverse movement more than a formal organization — is anti-Semitic. 

What we found, outside of isolated incidents involving recent Black Lives Matter protests, is concern among some Jewish leaders about statements linked to Black Lives Matter about  Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. 

But hundreds of Jewish organizations express support for Black Lives Matter.

Anti-Defamation League spokesman Todd Gutnik acknowledged in a statement that some individuals and organizations within the movement are spreading anti-Semitic rhetoric and "that raises serious concerns." But the league praised Black Lives Matter overall as the largest civil rights movement in at least 50 years.

"It is important to separate fact from fiction around claims that the huge, decentralized, nationwide Black Lives Matter as a whole is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, or that it is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. It is none of these," the league statement said.

Black Lives Matter’s origins

Black Lives Matter was formed in response to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager who was walking home after buying Skittles and juice at a convenience store in Sanford, Fla. 

The group says it has "committed to struggling together and to imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic and political power to thrive." Polls suggest that about 15 million to 26 million people in the United States participated in demonstrations in the weeks following the death of George Floyd, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis in May.

Alicia Garza, one of the three co-founders of Black Lives Matter, was raised Jewish by her Black mother and white Jewish stepfather. She identifies as Jewish, according to the Jewish Women’s Archive, which documents Jewish women’s stories.

Concerns about BLM

Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the Indiana University Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, told PolitiFact that Black Lives Matter was linked to the Movement for Black Lives, which had a 2016 platform that included what he characterized as "anti-Semitic, anti-Israel expressions." 

The Movement for Black Lives platform was written by more than 60 organizations that had sprung up as part of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, the Washington Post reported at the time. That platform is no longer on the group’s website. The 2020 platform, which notes the 2016 platform, does not mention Jews, Israel or Palestinians.

Georgetown University Jewish civilization professor Jacques Berlinerblau told us there is still wariness about what was in the 2016  platform. Jewish leaders at the time criticized the platform for saying that the United States, by providing aid to Israel, is "complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people," and for describing Israel as "an apartheid state."

Certain Black Lives Matter members have criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. In June, for example, Black Lives Matter United Kingdom 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."

There have also been isolated incidents stemming from demonstrations. 

A Black Lives Matter protest on May 30 in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles turned violent. A Los Angeles Times account and a local CBS TV affiliate report made no mention of Jewish targets, but there were reports that synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized. 

"As we watched the fires and looting, what didn’t get covered were the anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents," Los Angeles Councilmember Paul Koretz said, according to the Jewish Journal, which reported that Congregation Beth El was vandalized with graffiti stating "free Palestine" and "f— Israel."

More recently, some Black celebrities have been criticized for statements viewed as anti-Semitic. Those statements have gotten conflated with the Black Lives Matter movement, said Terrence Johnson, a Black religion and politics professor at Georgetown University.

Johnson, who has coauthored with Berlinerblau a forthcoming book on Blacks and Jews, said he has not seen evidence that the movement overall is anti-Semitic.

Widespread support of Black Lives Matter from Jewish organizations suggests that incidents of anti-Semitism have been isolated and have been overshadowed by overall agreement with the organization’s larger aims.

Support from Jewish organizations

A month after Floyd’s death, the Anti-Defamation League and more than 600 other Jewish organizations and synagogues declared support for the movement, saying: "The Black Lives Matter movement is the current-day civil rights movement in this country, and it is our best chance at equity and justice."

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, one of the other organizations declaring support, said

"When Jews are asked to march with or just assert ‘Black lives matter,’ we are not being asked to ‘check’ our love of Israel at the door or embrace an anti-Semitic agenda. To most invoking the phrase, Black Lives Matter is an inspiring rallying cry, a slogan, and a demand for racial justice. That fight for racial justice is also a fight for our own multiracial, multiethnic Jewish community."

Berlinerblau told us: "The majority of the Jewish community is overwhelmingly in favor of the Black Lives Matter agenda."

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Our Sources

U.S. State Department, "Defining Anti-Semitism," accessed Aug. 20, 2020

The Conversation, "Anti-Semitism is on the rise, 75 years after the end of the Holocaust and Second World War," Aug. 3, 2020

Anti-Defamation League, "Anti-Semitism," accessed Aug. 20, 2020

PolitiFact, "Is Black Lives Matter a Marxist movement?", July 21, 2020

The Algemeiner, Alan Dershowitz column, July 9, 2020 

Daily Caller, "Sen. Loeffler Speaks Out On WNBA Players Protesting Her Senate Campaign," Aug. 17, 2020

Jewish Council for Public Affairs, "Black Lives Matter, American Jews, and Antisemitism," accessed Aug. 20, 2020

Newsweek, "Will Anti-Semitism Undermine the Black Lives Matter Movement?", July 24, 2020

Associated Press, "Jewish leaders condemn ‘hurtful’ words by Nick Cannon," July 15, 2020

Medium, "600+ Jewish Organizations and Synagogues say: Black Lives Matter," June 25, 2020

New Yorker, "The Matter of Black Lives," March 14, 2016

Los Angeles Times, "LAPD cars set on fire near the Grove amid violent clashes between police, protesters in Fairfax District," May 30, 2020

Movement for Black Lives, "Vision for Black lives," accessed Aug. 21, 2020

Email, David Bernstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Aug. 20, 2020

KCAL TV, "Looting, Violence And Vandalism: Peaceful Protests Take A Turn In Fairfax District, Beverly Hills," May 30, 2020

Jewish News Syndicate, "Kids are dying. Why are we enabling forces that contribute to the slaughter?", Aug. 5, 2020

Email, Jewish Studies professor Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the Indiana University Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, Aug. 20, 2020

Email, Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which works to bridge the Jewish community with Republican decision makers, Aug. 20, 2020

Australian Jewish News, "‘No wonder Jewish groups are wary of BLM,’" July 9, 2020

Facebook, Alicia Garza post, Aug. 19, 2017

Email, Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, which says it works to educate people about the "relentless Arab/Islamic war against Israel and to promote U.S.-Israel relations, Aug. 20, 2020

Jewish Journal, "LA City Councilmember Condemns Targeting of Jewish Institutions During Protests," May 31, 2020

Middle East Monitor, "The Black Lives Matter movement’s stand with Palestinians has a history," July 1, 2020

JewishPress.com, "The LA Black Lives Matter Rally That Became a Pogrom," June 22, 2020

Jewish Women’s Archive, "Organizers," accessed Aug. 21, 2020

Twitter, Black Lives Matter UK tweet, June 28, 2020

Email, Todd Gutnick, senior director of communications, Anti-Defamation League, which works to stop defamation of Jewish people, Aug. 20, 2020

Die Welt, "You can't fight racism with anti-Semitism"; After attacks on synagogues and anti-Semitic slogans, doubts are growing about the Black Lives Matter," Die Welt, Aug. 20, 2020

Interview, Jewish civilization professor Jacques Berlinerblau, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Jewish Civilization, who teaches a "Blacks and Jews in America" course, Aug. 21, 2020

Interview, Georgetown University religion and politics professor Terrence Johnson, Aug. 24, 2020 

Washington Post, "Jewish groups decry Black Lives Matter platform’s view on Israel," Aug. 5, 2016

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