The Radical Israeli Activists Who Golda Meir Famously Called “Not Nice”

The Black Lives Matters movement has rich precedents not just in the American Black Panthers movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but in an Israeli activist group of the same name. Back in 1971 a group of Mizrahi young people gathered in the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem. Fed up with Israeli policies that discriminated against its non-Ashkenazi citizens (including, notoriously, medical experimentation) they formed their own protest party, and called it the Israeli Black Panthers.

At the time, Mizrahi Jews made up more than half of Israel’s population, and the Israeli Black Panthers took off quickly, holding protests that attracted thousands of disaffected Mizrahi young people. The Panthers also engaged in some Robin Hood activism, stealing milk from the doorsteps of wealthy Ashkenazi homes, and delivering it to poor Mizrahi families.

Representatives of the Panthers met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, who famously dismissed them to the press by saying, “They’re not nice.” Just when the Panthers were gaining momentum in the upper echelons of the government, the Yom Kippur War abruptly shifted the public’s attention to security. Some Panthers went onto be influential members of political parties across the left/right spectrum, but they never again held one of their infamously raucous protests. The Panthers got the last laugh, though. In 2011 some activists renamed two streets in Israel: “Black Panthers Way,” and “They’re Not Nice” Alley.

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