Why it is antisemitic to claim that Israel was to blame for the killing of George Floyd
Rebecca Long-Bailey was sacked for sharing an article in which the actress Maxine Peake claimed that Israel was to blame for the racist killing of George Floyd. Ms Peake is reported in The Independent to have said: “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
Some people are wondering why this claim is antisemitic.
The idea that American police officers learned the techniques that caused Mr Floyd’s death from their Israeli counterparts is popular on the far-left. Sometimes reference has even been made to an Amnesty USA article that some, including the rapper Lowkey, the columnist Owen Jones, Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani and the expelled Labour member and antisemite Jackie Walker, understood to be evidencing the theory. In its interview with Ms Peake, The Independent also referenced the article, but mistakenly attributed it to Amnesty International.
However, not only did the Amnesty USA article not say that American police forces had learned specific policing techniques from Israel — merely that American police train with Israeli police, as police forces across the world do — but Amnesty International released a statement explicitly denying any linkage between Israel the death of Mr Floyd, saying that “the precise nature of the training offered to US police forces by Israeli officials is not something we’ve documented. Allegations that US police were taught tactics of ‘neck kneeling’ by Israeli secret services is not something we’ve ever reported and the article in question has rightly been amended to acknowledge that.”
The architect of the bilateral training programmes between American and Israeli police forces has also rejected the theory as “not only false, but dangerous,” elaborating to say: “Despite suggestions to the contrary, there is no field training involved in either the conferences or trips, and no training on holds or arrest mechanics. The exchanges, which are hosted by the Israel National Police, focus on effective techniques in thwarting terrorism. Participants learn how Israeli law enforcement deters, disrupts, and responds to terrorist attacks. They explore the ideology of suicide bombers and other attackers, ways to de-escalate an ongoing incident, and the intelligence-gathering and -sharing process.”
The theory is, therefore, without evidence, and accordingly a conspiracy.
Conspiracy theories make people stupid, because they allow them to believe stupid ideas — in this case that the Jewish state invented kneeling on people’s necks and taught American police how it is done — and to believe those stupid ideas in the absence of evidence.
This particular conspiracy theory is antisemitic, because it observes an evil — police brutality or systemic racism in the United States — and looks to link it with Israel, in order to associate the Jews through the Jewish state with that evil. Moreover, for antisemites, associating a phenomenon with Jews not only makes Jews look bad but can also make the phenomenon itself seem worse.
The conspiracy theory has also regrettably tied into revolting claims that Jewish interests and the interests of the black community are somehow at odds or that fighting antisemitism might itself be racist against black people — claims that have repeatedly been made by far-left MPs in the Labour Party.
Some understood the condemnation of the conspiracy theory linking the death of Mr Floyd to Israel as showing that criticism of Israel is silenced by claims of antisemitism, for example by Leanne Wood, the former leader of Plaid Cymru. The Communist activist Ash Sarkar also said that the “disgraceful decision” to fire Ms Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet “undermines the position the Labour Party has insisted on all along that it’s possible to criticise Israeli policy without being antisemitic. Shameful, shameful stuff.”
But the linkage of Mr Floyd’s death to Israel is not criticism of Israeli policy. It is criticism of American police brutality or systemic racism in the United States that unnecessarily — and, as we have seen, baselessly — blames the Jewish state for that evil. It has nothing to do with Israel or Israeli policy and serves only (and deliberately) to tarnish Israel by attaching it to a foreign evil entirely unrelated to it.
It is antisemitic.