Activists shouldn’t coopt Black Lives Matter slogan

Activists shouldn’t coopt Black Lives Matter slogan

Abraham Gross, Staff Writer

Violence in Israel-Palestine is on the rise once again, with almost daily attacks on soldiers and civilians. Amid the carnage and sorrow, pro-Israel groups have begun sharing hashtags like #IsraeliLivesMatter and #JewishLivesMatter. The two terms are by no means synonymous — not all Israelis identify as Jewish, or vice versa — but the tags have one thing in common. They are part of a social media campaign that is insensitive to the Black Lives Matter movement it so blatantly appropriates from, and are unhelpful in progressing dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wholesale appropriation from other movements for a political agenda is insensitive at best and undermines any credibility activists may be trying to maintain in their respective movements.

But #IsraeliLivesMatter and #JewishLivesMatter are not the first derivative slogans propagated by pro-Israel individuals and advocacy groups. Last April, 276 young schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram. #BringBackOurGirls became a trend on Facebook and Twitter, one joined by First Lady Michelle Obama. The following June, three Israeli students were kidnapped and eventually found murdered, but not before the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys had gained a considerable following. Even the Israel Defense Forces’ official Twitter account tweeted a reference #BringBackOurBoys campaign.

This previous campaign received criticism, but that clearly did little to dissuade further appropriation from the Black Lives Matter movement this time around. Movements like Black Lives Matter use specific phrases and slogans to unify people behind their cause and draw them to action. “Hijacking” symbols — to use the language of Sigal Samuel — distorts the slogan to the point where the connections are spread too loose and the symbolic net can no longer unify. It is arguably one reason why many Jews and Israelis alike protest the liberal use of the term Holocaust out of fear that the term will be diluted through continual application and exploitation. The current ideological profiteering off of the renown of other oppressed and suffering communities is equally as perverse. Given the already divisive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, introducing divisive dialogue to further one political agenda in said conflict is counterproductive and undermines the credibility of advocacy.

In the influential “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, ”Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.” While he was more likely commenting on the repetition of stale slogans, the idea that imitation hinders creative discourse is still applicable to modern conflicts. Hitching on the popularity and name-recognition of other movements for narrow political gains is a shallow, intellectually lifeless endeavor that betrays an unwillingness to engage in serious discussion. Parroting may be an effective short-term propaganda tool, but it does nothing in the long term to advance new, constructive dialogue the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so desperately needs.

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Email Abraham Gross at [email protected].