MARBLEHEAD – Marblehead resident Karen Tal-Makhluf’s has started a petition on Change.org to remove the Black Lives Matter flag from the high school’s cafeteria, citing a pro-Palestinian tweet from the organization during last month’s Israeli-Hamas conflict and support among some in the movement for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
“We the community of Marblehead as well as the communities in the surrounding towns demand that the Black Lives Matter flag currently hanging in the Marblehead High school cafeteria be removed,” states Tal-Makhluf’s petition.
One supporter named Karen Russo wrote: “Take it down – All lives matter.”
While the petition has drawn 100 signatures so far, the effort to remove the flag faces resistance from the school superintendent and others in the community, who, while troubled by statements from some Black Lives Matter activists, see the need to support the cause of civil rights the flag represents.
“The BLM flag is displayed for one reason and one reason only,” said Marblehead Superintendent John Buckey, in an email. “As a message against racism, which is a philosophy that we, along with the rest of the community, must be committed to eliminating.”
The issue has not been discussed by the School Committee, he said, “and it is not planned at this time.”
The Change.org petition cites a tweet the Black Lives Matter organization posted on May 17, during the height of the Israel-Hamas conflict, that read in part: “We are a movement committed to ending settler colonialism in all forms and will continue to advocate for Palestinian liberation (always have. And always will be) #freepalestine.”
The Change.org petition states: “BLM publicly declared their support for a Palestinian terrorist group known as Hamas who has been shooting rockets into Israeli civilian centers.”
The May 17 BLM social media post did not mention Hamas, or state that BLM supported Hamas.
“What I’m trying to do is raise awareness and shine a light on the problem of rising antisemitism,” Tal-Makhluf said in an interview, “and the most recent manifestation of antisemitism is anti-Zionism, and a lot of people don’t understand it’s one in the same.”
“There is nothing wrong about promoting racial justice and having students participate in social justice programs,” she said, however, the problem is the school should be kept free of political issues.
The BDS movement, according to its website, “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.” Tal-Makhluf said it has been infiltrating social justice movements.
She said if school leaders don’t do their due diligence, “they will perpetuate the very thing they are trying to stop.”
“What BDS did, it uses the intersectionality argument to appropriate black struggles in white societies,” she said. Her petition states this is a “false narrative.” What is happening in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians, she said, has nothing to do with the push for civil rights and social justice in America.
“It sounds good,” she said about the argument, “but when you take the time to see what BDS is doing, they do nothing but spread hatred.” She said it puts Jewish lives in danger when terms such as “genocide,” “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” are used in relation to the situation in Israel. “It emboldens antisemitism.”
Tal-Makhluf also noted that when something happens in Israel, such as last month’s Mideast conflict, there is a rise in antisemitism in America. The Anti-Defamation League said last month antisemitic incidents increased by 75 percent nationwide after the outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas.
“This is a difficult and complex matter, especially for the Jewish community, as I’ll explain,” said Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El of Marblehead in a statement. “I do not believe that we must necessarily demand the removal of the BLM banner in the school cafeteria, even given our concerns about the movement. That would be interpreted – incorrectly, I know, but with certainty – as indicating that the Jewish community does not believe in the pursuit of civil rights for all. Of course, it is most regrettable that anti-Israel and antisemitic comments have been made by some activists among the leadership of BLM, accusing Israel, in a misguided expression of intersectionality, of racism and genocide against the Palestinians.”
“Supporters,” Meyers said, “should call out and distance themselves from such falsehoods, smears, and blatant antisemitism. Still, the urgency of the cause of racial justice remains the essence of the BLM message, and one can be nonetheless supportive of the worthy goals of fair and equal treatment for people of color by our nation’s institutions, including law enforcement. Like it or not, BLM is the predominant expression of the civil rights movement in America today, and we cannot afford to absent ourselves from the table – especially when we look to our non-Jewish allies to help us stem the tide of hatred.”
“I have recently explained to other members of the community why we allow a ‘Black Lives Matter’ flag to be displayed,’ Buckey said. “I have made (it) abundantly clear that the flag is not displayed in support or approval of any particular group, the people affiliated with it, or their speech, methods and actions. To do so would involve the schools in what could be seen as taking a stance one way or another on a political matter, which we will not do.”