Public Jewish communal response to the Movement for Black Lives Platform

Hannah Weilbacher

In August 2016, the organized Jewish community processed the Platform that the Movement for Black Lives published “to articulate a common vision and agenda” among the growing movement. This processing happened among friends, family, and in staff meetings, as well as very publicly, through written statements.

 

This blog post is an attempt at rounding up those statements. The Roundtable believes it’s important that we, the Jewish social justice community, see the diversity among these statements as well as the common threads that run through them, if there are any. It's important we commit ourselves to the struggle for racial, economic, and social justice in our society.

 

Are we missing a statement? Email [email protected].

 

Statements from members and allies of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable

Excerpts are highlighted below; click the links to read the full statements

 

Ameinu, Moral Responsibility, Israel and Black Lives Matter

Still, acting with respect for the movement as a whole also means not ignoring the factually wrong and grossly insensitive nature of the Israel section of the Platform – characterizing Israel as “an apartheid state” committing “genocide” against the Palestinian people, and fully embracing the BDS movement without a word about Israel’s legitimate right to security or even sovereignty alongside an independent Palestine.  Silence would be a grave form of disrespect for that movement’s moral agency, since being victims of real injustice does not provide moral license to promote false and harmful positions without criticism.  As I see it, refraining from such criticism would be an unacceptable form of moral infantilization of BLM and an act of irresponsibility towards our community as moral actors seeking to promote justice.

 

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice

“We know some within the Jewish community, including members of our own organization, are expressing deep pain and outrage over some of the language and policy solutions proposed in some elements within the international section of the platform released this week by the Movement for Black Lives. We also acknowledge the pain and outrage felt by some members of the Movement for Black Lives that prompted the inclusion of this language in the first place. It is with sincere anguish that Bend the Arc holds these two realities simultaneously. We see this perceived collision of values as related to the decades of growing distance between the Jewish community and communities of color, and the invisibilization of Jews of Color within the Jewish community and progressive movement. Authentic relationship building and meaningful coalition work is the way our communities will find repair with one another, over time.”

 

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ)

We ask our community to be courageous enough to lean into discomfort because Black lives are too precious —  the lives of the Jews of Color in our community matter, and the lives of our Black and Brown friends, families, and neighbors matter. We won’t let anything distract us from that fundamental truth. The extraordinary challenge of building and sustaining a movement in the face of overwhelming oppression and indifference is necessarily messy and complex, with contradictions, challenges, and constant distractions.

 

JCRC of Greater Boston

JCRC cannot and will not align ourselves with organizations that falsely and maliciously assert that Israel is committing “genocide.” We denounce an agenda to wage economic and cultural warfare against Israelis, including efforts to mobilize against state and local efforts that reject the “BDS” movement. We reject participation in any coalition that seeks to isolate and demonize Israel singularly amongst the nations of the world.

 

National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)

NCJW has long been a staunch ally in the fight for racial justice in our country, and we know we have more work to do. Despite the areas in which we disagree, we are committed to working in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and people of color striving to build — as the platform states — a fundamentally different world. We look forward to continuing to build relationships with racial justice advocates, including the Movement for Black Lives, both in Washington and the more than 60 communities where NCJW affiliates exist to help achieve systemic change. We call for an open dialogue between the Movement for Black Lives and the progressive Jewish community on the areas where we agree in order to move the platform forward.

 

The Rabbinical Assembly

There is no greater measure of our humanity than to know the pain of the other. It is in this spirit that the Rabbinical Assembly has again called on its members to forge new bonds in their communities across religious and racial lines to be in solidarity with movements for racial justice, to continue to include and invest in Jews of color as leaders for better understanding, and to seek out additional training within our institutions in order to have important internal conversations about race, while working together with local leaders and law enforcement to strengthen relationships to limit the use of force and change the approach of law enforcement to protect all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity.

 

The Religious Action Center (The RAC), Reform Movement Leaders Reaffirm Commitment to Racial Justice, Condemn Movement for Black Lives Platform Language on Israel

 

(On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, ARZA: The Association of Reform Zionists of America, the American Conference of Cantors, Men of Reform Judaism, Women of Reform Judaism, and the North American Federation of Temple Youth)

 

Anti-Israel rhetoric like that found in the Movement for Black Lives policy platform is especially troubling because it falsely suggests American Jews – both of color and white – must choose between their commitment to combatting racism in the United States and their Zionism. We reject wholeheartedly the notion that effective anti-racism work can only be done by denouncing and excoriating Israel. Rather, as progressive Zionists committed to the future of a Jewish and democratic State of Israel, we see it as our fundamental responsibility to stand up in the face of injustice and fight against the evils of racism, extremism and intolerance wherever they exist.

 

T’ruah, T’ruah Statement on The Movement for Black Lives Platform

As supporters of a two-state solution that will guarantee the freedom and security of both Israelis and Palestinians, we are troubled by the BDS movement’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist, as well as by the movement’s toleration of antisemitism among some of its adherents. At the same time, we are deeply concerned, like Black Lives Matter, with the rise of anti-BDS legislation that infringes on the right of free speech. The very test of this constitutional right is whether we are prepared to defend speech that we find reprehensible. While we support Black Lives Matter in calling for the protection of free speech, we reject the call to embrace BDS as the appropriate way to bring about a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. We also note that Jewish, Black, and Israeli are not mutually exclusive terms. When we stand with Black Lives Matter for the safety and dignity of people of color in the United States and abroad, we also stand with Jews of color who are members of our own communities, including with Israelis who trace their ancestry to North Africa, Ethiopia, India, and elsewhere.

 
 
 

Statements from Jewish organizations not affiliated with the Roundtable

Excerpts are highlighted below; click the links to read the full statements

 

American Jewish Committee, AJC: Movement for Black Lives Disparages Jews, Israel

AJC has a proud, century-long history of championing civil rights. A great deal has been achieved in our nation, even as more work awaits. But the need to deal with the current, pressing issues is undermined by those activists seeking to hijack the movement and advocate for a platform that evinces contempt and bigotry toward Jews. Moreover, it is a platform that describes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms sharply at odds with reality, and which draws totally misleading parallels between that conflict and the situation in the United States. In asserting that U.S. support for Israel makes it "complicit in the genocide committed against the Palestinian people," and labeling Israel as "an apartheid state," the MBL libels Israel, while diluting the moral seriousness of those terms.

 

Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Eyes on The Prize: In Pursuit of Racial Justice, Stick to the Facts and Avoid the Fiction

For decades, we have been working closely with our civil rights partners in the hard fight to advance a shared agenda of equality, justice, and respect for human dignity through leadership work in education, legislation, and litigation. Where possible, we want to engage with a range of activists to achieve these goals. But would-be allies in the struggle for civil and human rights along with justice and fair treatment cannot ignore the Platform’s false and blatantly one-sided position on US-Israel relations and Israeli-Palestinian issues. We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.

 

J Street, On the Movement for Black Lives

For American Jewish and pro-Israel organizations, it is vital that we respond thoughtfully and measuredly in this moment. We must bear in mind that the goals and efforts of the Movement for Black Lives are not about us in the Jewish community, nor are they about Israel. Even as we differ with the movement over some of its language, we must not disassociate ourselves from its quest for justice and equality. We must maintain our awareness of and respect for the movement’s broader mission and achievements, even as we push back against its problematic assertions. While we know that we have serious disagreements and concerns about many elements of the movement’s stance and rhetoric on Israel, we also must recognize that their support for the Palestinian people comes from a place of very legitimate concern and solidarity.

 

Jewish Federations of North America, JFNA Statement on Black Lives Matter

We are dismayed by the acceptance of a platform that vilifies Israel, diverting attention from urgent, unresolved problems that African-Americans and other people of color continue to face in the United States. The American Jewish community has a strong tradition of commitment to social and racial equality and we will continue to work with leaders in all communities to achieve this goal.

 

Jews of Color Caucus, Jews of Color Caucus Statement in Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives

We recognize that the backlash experienced by BLM activists is part of a white supremacist power structure that is trying to maintain the status quo. We call upon the Jewish community to defend BLM activists from this backlash, especially since many Jewish institutions themselves have contributed to it by making the sweeping claim that solidarity between Black struggle in the U.S. and Palestine is antisemitic.

 

Minnesota Rabbis

For us as rabbis, we look to the coming New Year with profound concern and with hope. We are concerned that Jews will forget that the battle for inclusion in our society is one to which we must remain committed. Our own fight to address anti-Semitism in our society and to find allies with whom we could work to eliminate it, mandates that we now must also work even stronger to fight to eliminate racial bias in society writ-large as well. Hate is hate and it must stop now. And we stand firm and united in opposing those voices that seek to denigrate either or both the Jewish people and the Jewish State. These causes are not mutually exclusive and we will continue our work and our commitment to both. We pray that the coming year is a year of peace and reconciliation.

 

StandWithUs, The Demonization of Israel in Black Lives platform harms fight for racial justice in the U.S.

The platform's charges of “genocide” and “apartheid” and its alignment with the anti-Israel boycott movement are particularly problematic. This language demonizes and delegitimizes Israel, the embodiment of the Jewish people's inalienable right to self-determination, self-defense, and equality among nations. Anti-Israel boycotts are part of a wider, ongoing campaign to violate Jewish rights. By promoting BDS, the platform has injected racism into a movement that is supposed to be about fighting racism.

 

ZOA, BlackLivesMatter Platform Falsely Accuses Israel of Genocide, etc. – Yet ADL Still Promotes BLM

On August 1, #BLM published its radical, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anarchistic policy platform entitled “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice.” The #BLM platform falsely accuses Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinian people, “abuses,” “apartheid,” “discrimination” against Palestinians, bulldozing “Palestinian” land, and detaining four-year-old Palestinian children without due process.

 

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