Anti-Black and Anti-Palestinian Racism in the U.S. and Israel
In a 2020 op-ed for Forward, Israeli journalist Etan Nechin asked the question “Why do Jews recognize the racism of George Floyd’s murder but not Iyad Hallaq?”
Both George Floyd and Iyad Hallaq were murdered by police on different sides of the world during the same week in May 2020. Floyd was a Black American who was arrested in Minneapolis after a store clerk alleged that he had used a counterfeit $20 bill: one officer pointed a loaded gun to Floyd’s head and another knelt on his neck to restrain him despite being handcuffed. Floyd’s distressed cries “I can’t breathe” and bystanders’ pleading that the officer remove his knee from Floyd’s neck did not prevent him from killing Floyd.
Iyad Hallaq was a 32-year-old, autistic Palestinian man who was shot dead by Israeli police at a checkpoint on his way to Elwyn Al-Quds school. Officers claimed he looked like he was holding a gun and chased him. As Hallaq ran away, his teacher and caretaker, Warda Abu Hadid, alerted the police multiple times that Hallaq was severely autistic and could not understand the officers’ demands. Hallaq was hiding behind a dumpster near his school “curled up like a baby” and unarmed crying “I’m with her, I’m with her” when the Israeli police shot him dead in the chest.
Palestinians mourned Hallaq’s death and used the social media hashtag #PalestinianLivesMatter, echoing the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag that Americans spread in response to Floyd’s murder. Many netizens have used both hashtags together to express the similar deadly racisms of both cases. While 26 Jewish organizations spoke out about the unjust murder of George Floyd, Etan Nechin points out that many Israeli Jews American Jews remained silent about the killing of Palestinian Iyad Hallaq.
Different Countries, Similar Systems
The Black and Palestinian Lives Matter movements have drawn similarities between the systemic mistreatment experienced by Black Americans and Palestinians under Israeli control. American activist, author, and academic Angela Davis drew comparisons between U.S. police militarization and brutality and Israel’s military presence in the occupied Palestinian territories at a talk in 2015: “Palestinian activists were identifying with our struggles with racist violence… It was Palestinian activists who noticed not only the militarization of the Ferguson police but the similarities of some of the weapons used in Ferguson with some of the weapons used in occupied Palestine.”
For example, the teargas American police deploy on protestors is manufactured by Combined Tactical Systems, which is also the primary supplier of Israel’s teargas used against Palestinians. The United States and Israel have an exchange program in which the U.S. provides weapons and Israel provides training on how to use them. The knee-on-neck pinning tactic U.S. police used in the murder of George Floyd is a common occurrence for Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation.
U.S.-Israel Deadly Exchange Programs
In 2005 the Washington Post reported that since 2001, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and police officers, sheriffs, and bomb technicians have been travelling to Israel for “lessons on terrorism.” In 2016, Amnesty International reported that the Baltimore Police Department (which had recently been reported by the Department of Justice for using aggressive tactics and having “widespread constitutional violations, discriminatory enforcement, and [a] culture of retaliation”) received its training in crowd control, use of force, and surveillance by Israel’s national police, military, and intelligence services.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also funded an exchange program since 2004 in which American law enforcement officers travel to Israel for training in Israel’s paramilitary approach to law enforcement. Between 2004 and 2020, between 500‒600 American law enforcement officers and partners have been involved, costing approximately $200,000 per trip. Jewish Voice for Peace calls this program the Deadly Exchange.
After the murder of George Floyd, two Vice Presidents of the ADL—reported by Jewish Currents—sent an internal memo recommending that the program end. The memo states: “…it is not clear that those officers change policies to reduce antisemitism upon their return [to the U.S.], or that they increase activities to counter white supremacy. We have not performed an impact evaluation for the program… we must ask ourselves why it is necessary for American police, enforcing American laws, would [sic] need to meet with members of the Israeli military. We must ask ourselves if, upon returning home, those we train are more likely to use force.” The ADL has since dismissed this critique.
Systemic: Recognizing Israel’s Deadly Racism
Etan Netchin writes in his op-ed: “The systems in both countries are set up to allow and then justify these callous murders; to U.S. police, every black man is a suspect; to the Israeli military and police, every Palestinian is a potential terrorist.” However, he argues that there is one stark difference between the two systems: “In the U.S., it feels like George Floyd’s murder is a watershed moment towards recognizing systemic racism, whereas in Israel, Hallaq is seen as just another casualty, if an unfortunate one.”
Nechin points out that Israelis are desensitized to the suffering of Palestinians because “we are educated from childhood to see our neighbor as our enemy.” Israeli academic Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan has found through her research that Israeli K‒12 textbooks promote Israel’s system of separation as the only way to guarantee the prevention of another Holocaust.
What is often ignored in the story of Iyad Hallaq’s unjust murder is where it occurred: an Israeli checkpoint. Military accosted Hallaq while he and his caretaker attempted to cross the Lions’ Gate checkpoint in Jerusalem. These checkpoints restrict movement for Palestinians across Israel and the Occupied Territories. Hallaq had to cross this militarized checkpoint on his daily walk from his home in East Jerusalem to the special-needs school he attended in the Old City.
The Human in All of Us
In an op-ed about Jewish Americans speaking up for Palestinian rights, Etan Nechin reminds his readers: “…let’s remember the word of Hillel who taught, ‘Where there is no man, be thou a man.’ Where there is injustice, one need not be a Jew to oppose it. It is enough to simply be human.”
Read more of Etan Nechin’s articles, essays, and stories on his website.
To learn more about Israel-Palestine, take a tour of the Promised Land Museum’s free online galleries.