Racism affects us all. Injustice affects us all. Jewish values underscore our responsibility to seek justice and fight against prejudice.
Within that framework, I am extremely troubled by the fissures in American society that have resulted in violence – sometimes in response to violence – driving further divides in our country. I remain deeply committed to addressing the structural and institutional racism that exists in the United States and believe that the best and most powerful path is to do so in partnership with like-minded activists in other communities of color, communities of faith, communities of sexual orientation and communities of national origin.
The Jewish community has long been a staunch ally in the fight for racial justice in our country. At the same time, the Jewish community has a strong, extensive and profound relationship with the State, land and people of Israel. These two positions have not been and need not be in conflict with one another.
In early August, about 50 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement released a list of six platform demands and 40 policy priorities. The document adroitly outlines deep-rooted social, political, economic and educational injustices that deserve discussion – whether or not you agree with every proposed strategy – to create forward progress on many of these ills.
But the document also includes – almost out of nowhere – the call for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. The authors of the text describe the United States as complicit in a “genocide” taking place against the Palestinian people and characterize Israel as an “apartheid state.” These incendiary terms are not only inaccurate, but serve to incite and divide, rather than to unite, around our shared priorities. As ADL noted, the section on Israel is far from a principal focal point in the more than 40,000-word document; but it remains a divisive, irresponsible and gross mischaracterization of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, the authors of this section, who some report have ties to anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian/pro-BDS organizations, completely ignore incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza.
But, we should resist the temptation to generalize. BLM is a complex social phenomenon; it is not a single, unified organization with a street address, bylaws and defined leadership. The platform was published by the Movement for Black Lives, an amalgamation of 60+ organizations, some of which did not sign on to the platform. As one briefing paper noted: “… there is no unanimity about the direction of BLM. And, because BLM is a decentralized movement, it is impossible – and inaccurate – to make sweeping claims such as ‘Black Lives Matter supports BDS’…”
Members of our local clergy, notably Cantor Kevin Wartell, the immediate past chairperson of the Lehigh Valley Jewish Clergy Group, have devoted time and energy to bring Jewish and African-American community leadership together. I have participated in some of the opportunities to sit around the same table and discuss our collective opportunity to heal the breaks in our American society. From subsequent conversations with a few leaders of our local African-American community, I more fully understand the wisdom of the briefing paper cautioning against generalizations.
There are organizations that align themselves with the BDS movement, deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation and attempt to isolate Israel among the family of nations. Clearly, we denounce such positions. But, as we have learned from dealing with certain mainline Protestant conventions, such pronouncements are far from being accepted by every member congregation or every congregation member. Applying sweeping generalizations would lend nothing to our cause for Israel or other causes in common.
We remain steadfast in our support for Israel and our rejection of any alignment with the BDS movement. But, we should not allow the distressing, anti-Israel terminology in the Movement for Black Lives platform to detract us from our commitment to social justice. We should remain committed to working to overcome the issues of inequality and racial injustice impacting any lives in America today, just as we are committed to working for equality for all people in all places. We should continue to mobilize the Jewish community in efforts to ensure equal opportunities and treatment for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, country of origin or any other classification used to unlawfully and immorally divide or demean people.
Our faith demands it, and our world requires it.