Jewish advocates for racial justice are struggling to maintain their efforts at battling racism, even as many deplore the anti-Israel rhetoric included in a 37,000-word platform of the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of 50 groups that includes Black Lives Matter.
The platform, issued on Aug. 2, declares that “Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people,” and says the United States “justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”
The platform called for boycott, sanctions, and divestment efforts aimed at Israel and urged for an end to American military aid to Israel.
According to an Aug. 9 JTA report, the controversial lines were written by two African-Americans, Ben Ndugga-Kabuye and Rachel Gilmer, who was raised as a Jew.
Ndugga-Kabuye told JTA he understood why Jewish groups disagree with the statements, but was perplexed that it has received so much attention. He compared it to the accusations of genocide that black activists have leveled at the United States, and he called the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of many international conflicts U.S. black activists feel connected to.
Eight days after the statement was released, the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ reacted with a press release.
“This incendiary and divisive language is deeply troubling, representing a callous and shockingly shallow understanding of the Jewish people’s experience and the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” said the CRC statement.
“To our knowledge, no local clergy, organizations, or civic leaders in the African-American community here either support or have publicly signed on to this statement. Nevertheless, the CRC of Greater MetroWest will use this unfortunate event to communicate the deep affront this statement has brought to our community by reaching out…to begin a new conversation [and] to forge new relationships with our African-American neighbors and work to strengthen old ones,” it said in part.
“My gut reaction is that 90 percent of the people involved in Black Lives Matter have no idea that the issue regarding Israel is in the platform and have no idea why it’s there,” said Mark Dunec, a Livingston resident who chairs the CRC’s Committee on Community Partnership. “But I am not going to give BLM a pass,” Dunec added, noting that he was “speaking only as an individual, not as a representative of the CRC.”
He said the platform should not discourage Jews from working toward racial justice. “We will continue to do what we need to do because it is the right thing to do. But in terms of BLM, no, we won’t do anything with them, and if they want to know why, we will tell them why. I personally will continue working for racial justice — but I will not work with that movement.”
Asked whether the statement on Israel could dampen Jewish participation in the movement for racial justice, Dunec said, “I would hope most people would be reasonable and rational and the answer would be ‘no.’”
In an Aug. 4 press release, a coalition of Reform Jewish organizations said it is still ready to cooperate with the Movement for Black Lives, which is “working to address deeply rooted societal challenges. As they do so, we urge them to reject the platform’s characterizations of and positions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We stand ready to work in relationship to achieve shared goals of a racially just society, nation, and world.”
In an Aug. 11 e-mail to his constituents, Keith Krivitzky, CEO of the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, said he sees “more and more opportunities where local extremism, anti-Semitism, and hatred can be expressed with impunity — from comments in chat rooms, to anti-Semitic incidents.”
Krivitzky wrote, “We all need to be aware that the ground may be shifting somewhat — and to focus our collective and communal efforts on building more bridges and promoting more understanding within our broader communities and with our neighbors…. While I personally believe there is much that needs to be taken seriously about the Black Lives Matters movement, I draw the line when it comes for delegitimization of Israel; calling out such attacks when we see them is a given.”
Gideon Aronoff of South Orange is CEO of Ameinu, which describes itself as “a broad community of progressive American Jews seeking social and economic justice in Israel and the United States.” He said, “I think it is a challenge for the Jewish community to remain authentically angered at the mischaracterization of Israel but also to keep the anger about the platform in perspective.”
The characterization of Israel “is just a tiny piece” of the document, said Aronoff, and “Jewish anger and distress do not warrant writing off the Black Lives Matter movement,” although, he predicted, “some in the Jewish community will do that.”
He suggested instead of such a rejection that pro-Israel advocates “sit with partners in the Black Lives Matter movement and try to figure out ways to work more constructively together without papering over differences.”
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, discussed the issue during an Aug. 10 conference call with representatives of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Federations of North America, and the Israel Action Network.
“We are trying to learn more about the statement and the platform,” he told NJ Jewish News.
Toporek said the issue will be “high on our agenda” at a meeting later in August with the three full-time and the several part-time CRC administrators at the state’s nine Jewish federations. “We are also trying to learn more about the criminal justice reform efforts in the state.”
John Rosen, NJ director of the American Jewish Committee, said his organization is “dismayed that a collective of more than 50 organizations affiliated with the Movement for Black Lives has included in its platform hateful and false accusations.” In an Aug. 11 e-mail to NJJN, he wrote, “Singling out the actions of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and the only democratic ally of the United States in the region, will do nothing to resolve the problems that the Black community faces in the United States.”
Joshua Cohen, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey region, said his organization “has no official relationship” with Black Lives Matter or the Movement for Black Lives.
“The platform lays out what is blatantly a false and one-sided statement of Israeli-Palestinian issues,” he said. “But what is interesting is that ADL is deeply committed to a lot of the other issues laid out in the platform — mass incarceration, racial inequities, and a lot of socioeconomic issues facing the African-American community today. There are vital issues of racial justice that we face in our communities in New Jersey. We need broad coalitions and clear-headed, fact-based approaches. We are ready to work with all who are prepared to undertake this type of effort.”