Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

Why do Jews recognize the racism of George Floyd’s murder but not Iyad Hallaq’s?

On Saturday, when the U.S. was already engulfed in protests over the brutal murder of George Floyd, Iyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old Palestinian with special needs was shot and killed by Israeli border police in Jerusalem’s Wadi Joz neighborhood. The officer who shot him claimed he believed Hallaq was holding a gun.

They chased him. Hallaq, who rarely left the house alone, got scared and ran to an alley with dumpsters. He was shot at seven times, though he was unarmed, autistic, and according to his cousin, “didn’t even know there was such a thing as Jews and Arabs in this country.” He was laid to rest on Sunday.

Hallaq’s death was condemned by politicians, and protests were held in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. The police officers, whose identities are sealed, have not been fired and are awaiting an internal investigation.

It is easy to compare Hallaq’s murder to Floyd’s. Floyd was an African American man who was held down by a white police officer, whose knee bore into Floyd’s neck for eight minutes until Floyd died. Both men were murdered by the police while posing no threat beyond belonging to the wrong race or ethnicity. And although both murders have been called “unjustified” by politicians on both sides of the isles and oceans, the system and logic that lead to their abhorrent murders are justified, at least implicitly, by many in the U.S. and in Israel.

The disproportionate arrest and murder of black people by police in the U.S. has been sanctioned over decades thanks to racism, segregation, stop and frisk, and a biased legal system. And in Israel, killing Palestinians has been legalized through occupation, martial law, and the Supreme Court. Thus, in the U.S., a policeman got away with choking Eric Garner to death, and in Israel, secret service agents continue to torture Palestinians despite it being illegal and Elor Azaria, a soldier who killed a disarmed, wounded terrorist, served just nine months in jail before being released and becoming a national hero.

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.

And at the head of both governments are two leaders who incite violence and justify racism, and who unleash waves of nationalism to gain a political edge.

But despite all these similarities, there one stark difference, not in the way the systems are built but in the attitudes people hold towards them. 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.

In the U.S., people young and old from all walks of life, have gone out to protest and support their black brothers and sisters, calling for an end to police violence and the racist system that is the foundation of their country. This message has resonated throughout the world, and people from New Zealand to Germany have gone to the streets to show solidarity with the struggle of everyday Americans. Even in war-torn Syria, two artists commemorated George Floyd. And in the Jewish community, at least 20 organizations spoke out, including the Anti-Defamation League which put out a statement in “solidarity with the black community.”

But in Israel, thousands have not gone on the streets. Politicians have offered only tepid renunciations. American Jews didn’t condemn Hallaq’s brutal murder and call to end this racist and violent system.

This is because for many, acknowledging the inherent racism in the U.S. system is relatively easy. The distinctions are clear. Yet when it comes to the almost exact same system that oppresses the lives of Palestinians, they find ways to justify it.

Israelis are mostly desensitized to Palestinian suffering because we are educated from childhood to see our neighbor as our enemy. We are told that his every move, every gesture, is a potential threat not only to our lives but to the future of our country. Like their white U.S. counterparts, many Jewish-Israelis think their country is the greatest country in the history of the world. And they will do anything to keep its structure in place. And though U.S. Jews are empathetic to the Palestinian cause, they still have a hard time grasping that Israel is no longer what it once was. We are not in 1965 anymore; Israel is a superpower, from its military to its economy to its educational achievements.

In Israel as in the U.S., those who benefit from inequality will never want to dismantle the system that nurtures it. So instead of acknowledging that times have changed, when confronted with the unequal treatment of Palestinians, many Israelis revert back to history, to the origins of the conflict, to 1929, 1967, 1987, 1992, 2000. But those historic events do not erase the simple fact that the lives of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are simply worth less to the powers that be than those of Jewish lives, just like black lives in the U.S. Any historical excuse is a justification of present inequality. Terrorist attacks by Palestinians on Israeli Jews don’t justify the structured violence against them.

Those of us, white Americans and Jewish Israelis, who don’t suffer the daily blows of the system must come to come to grips with our privilege. True solidarity isn’t maintaining the fiction that Israelis and Palestinians, white Americans and black Americans, are one. It’s recognizing that we are born apart.

Etan Nechin is an Israeli journalist and author.


Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.