Media Analysis

Israel advocates land on Alexander’s MLK/Palestine piece as ‘strategic threat’ and ‘shameful appropriation’ of King’s memory

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The US discourse was rocked this weekend by the opinion piece in the New York Times by columnist and “New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander saying that it was time for her to break her silence on Palestine no matter the career cost, in the spirit of Martin Luther King coming out against the Vietnam War in 1967.

Advocates for Israel have responded accordingly. Perceiving the piece as a huge blow to Israel’s reputation among elites, and to the traditional alliance of blacks and Jews, Israel’s cheerleaders have leaped to denounce Alexander as vicious in her views, and dead-wrong on facts.

Michael Oren, the American-born scribe, former Israeli ambassador and now member of the parliament, sees the piece as an attempt to delegitimize Israel and a “strategic threat.”

Israel has to take serious steps to defend itself. By equating support for Israel with support for the Vietnam War and opposition to MLK, Alexander dangerously delegitimizates us. It’s a strategic threat and Israel must treat it as such.

It’s hard to say which country David Friedman is an ambassador for in his attack on the piece, which references “an Arab” as the greatest beneficiary of Israel.

Michelle Alexander has it all wrong in today’s . If MLK were alive today I think he would be very proud of his robust support for the State of Israel. An Arab in the ME who is gay, a woman, a Christian, or seeking education & self-improvement can’t do better than living in [Israeli flag].

The ADL made sure to hail Alexander’s work as  a civil rights attorney before attacking her latest writing as her wading into waters she doesn’t understand:

We have great respect for Michelle Alexander & her path-breaking civil rights work, but her piece on the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dangerously flawed, ignoring critical facts, history & the shared responsibility of both parties to resolve it.

Like Friedman, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee says that Martin Luther King would be on Israel’s side. He tweets: 

Michelle Alexander’s piece: •in essence, calls for ’s end •approvingly cites extremists •invokes support of w/ no factual basis •ignores Israel’s search for peace since ‘48; nature of Hamas; terrorism; Jewish refugees from Arab world

His organization, the American Jewish Committee, is angrier in this tweet, saying that everyone is flawed and Alexander undertook the “shameful appropriation” of MLK against “democratic Israel.”

MLK’s memory is not a moral cudgel to wield against any cause or country you disapprove of. Michelle Alexander’s op-ed is a shameful appropriation. We all have a long way to go to reach the mountaintop. There’s no need to take potshots at democratic Israel

B’nai B’rith International calls the piece an error-ridden “rant”, and it will surely only exacerbate the enmity between Israel and the progressive community:

Michelle Alexander’s anti-Israel rant in the New York Times was filled with errors of both commission and omission. There was no mention of Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran, not to mention decades of terror against Israelis.

Camera has posted an article deploring the original commentary as the “NY Times’ latest anti-Israel smear.” Tamar Sternthal writes that contra Alexander there is no silence to be broken; that the real silence is about Palestinian crimes; that two activists Alexander embraces, Temple professor and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill and author/activist Angela Davis were “calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology,” and that Alexander “herself flirts with anti-Semitism” when she speaks of a “political lobby” with “well-documented power.”

The notion that the Palestinian issue is ignored, that a “silence” currently surrounds it, or has surrounded it in years past, and that pro-Israel advocates muzzle opposing views, is a common canard of anti-Israel activists.

Ali Abunimah deploys savage irony against the American Jewish Committee.

After its vicious attacks on and Angela Davis, the Israeli apartheid lobby comes for New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander. The goal: to intimidate and bully Black intellectuals and activists into silence over Israel’s horrific crimes against Palestinians.

And he emphasizes the new politics of the issue, with leftwing blacks vocally opposing Israeli policies:

Extremist Israel lobby group lectures New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander on the rules for how she’s allowed to talk about MLK Jr.’s legacy. Israel lobby not only trains US police in Israel to oppress African Americans, but polices how Black intellectuals think too.

Ira Stoll in the Algemeiner suggests that the piece is anti-Semitic. “Alexander’s analysis is so far off the deep end that it almost doesn’t merit a response,” he says, before overcoming his distaste to try to counter the political damage in Alexander’s defense of boycott:

Maybe — hopefully — one of The New York Times‘ Zionist voices such as Bret Stephens, Bari Weiss or Matti Friedman will rise to the occasion with a powerful rebuttal of Alexander, the way Stephens did recently when another Times op-ed columnist, Michelle Goldberg, defended anti-Zionism. But there’s something vile about the notion that something as blatantly bigoted as a boycott of Jewish banks — by a Christian church, no less! — is something to be politely debated, with voices on each side, on the Times op-ed page, as if it were immigration policy or the optimal marginal tax rate.

Alexander never comes out explicitly for boycott, but she does honor those “guided by… moral clarity” in their response to Palestinian conditions, and mentions two Christian denominations’ endorsement of boycott aimed at the settlements and the support by new Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

In a column on the column in the Times of Israel,  Harris of the American Jewish Committee says that MLK would be “appalled” by the piece as an effort to “hijack” his legacy.

outrageously, Ms. Alexander tried to link her column to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., though she presents no convincing evidence that he would have agreed with her premise. To the contrary, the Dr. King that AJC leaders worked with on civil rights and other pressing issues, in the 1960s, was a staunch friend of Israel (and the mainstream Jewish community).

I can’t help but wonder how Dr. King would have reacted to such a piece that seeks to shamelessly exploit his memory —and hijack his legacy — by turning an outspoken friend of Israel into a would-be moral cudgel against the world’s only Jewish-majority country. My guess is he would have been appalled.

Harris lists the “countless outrages” in the piece, including:

She unabashedly applauds boycotts of Israel; falsely accuses the Jewish state of apartheid; approvingly cites extremist voices like the misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace; endorses the Palestinian “right of return,” which would mean the end of Israel; veers dangerously close to anti-Semitism with references to Jewish money; and charges the country with endless acts of oppression against both its Arab citizens (who, in reality, are fully active in just about every aspect of Israeli life, including the Supreme Court) and Palestinians.

He expected more sympathy:

Nowhere does she show any understanding of Israel, much less even an ounce of sympathy for its unenviable situation in a rough-and-tumble region where the weak don’t last long and, tragically, peace has proved elusive.

Stoll says that Alexander’s comment about the Israel lobby links to the Washington Post “rather than to any actual documentation of such power,” as if the Post is controlled by Israel. “Never mind that the lobby isn’t ‘Israel’s’ but America’s, consisting of American Jews and Christians who support Israel for many excellent reasons,” Stoll elaborates.

This is Alexander’s reference to the Israel lobby and apartheid:

Our elected representatives, who operate in a political environment where Israel’s political lobby holds well-documented power, have consistently minimized and deflected criticism of the State of Israel, even as it has grown more emboldened in its occupation of Palestinian territory and adopted some practices reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the United States.

This is Alexander’s reference to money:

[C]ivil rights activists and organizations have remained silent as well… because they fear loss of funding from foundations, and false charges of anti-Semitism

Harris is obviously worried. He claims that Palestinians are doing great in the occupation:

Of course, there’s not even a hint that, absent a peace partner to achieve a two-state accord, Israel tried at the very least to minimize the impact of occupation, as evidenced by a growing Palestinian population, rising life expectancy, improving standard of living, substantial self-government, and the founding of several universities in the West Bank.

P.S. The piece has drawn praise from Noura Erakat, Naomi Klein, Jamil Dakwar, IfNotNow, Yousef Munayyer, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Glenn Greenwald among others, tho that is not our concern here.

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The critics of Michelle Alexander’s article deploy the usual dishonest tactics clearly described by Zionist strategists in the documentary about the Israel lobby, The Lobby. 1. They avoid a straightforward, face to face debate based on facts. 2. Instead they attack the character of their opponent. 3. They deploy the “anti-Semitism” canard and the “canard” canard. 4. They rely on extravagant emotion to cover up their lack of a coherent case, aiming to scare and… Read more »

The fact that these shameless shills are sinking to whitesplaining to a woman of colour who is an authority on MLK and Jim Crowe is truly mind boggling. If you read the comments to Oren’s Tweet and others, it’s truly amusing to see them taken to the woodshed. No one is buying their crap anymore.

“it’s truly amusing to see them taken to the woodshed” the appropriation of King by the mainstream American culture is incredible and so dishonest “A March 1968 FBI memo, from the month before King’s death, discussed ways to “prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement.” The memo, which is redacted, hinted that a leader like King “could be a real contender for this position should he… Read more »

Gotta give Michael Oren one thing: “delegitimizates ” is a fantastic new word. I’m going to go right out and do some delegitimizating right now…

I can’t help thinking of all those who have been the recipients of the rhetoric of feigned horror, feigned hurt, what JWalters calls extravagant emotion, the slander of anti-Semitism, the super-hyperbole of strategic threat and anti-Israel smear, the lie that a call for equal rights among people is an anti-Semitic act and more, those who were subject to it when the general populace bought it. Lost jobs, public condemnations. I really think it’s possible that… Read more »