Many in the Jewish community have expressed shock, frustration and anger — justifiably — upon learning that the new platform of Black Lives Matter (BLM) singles out Israel as “an apartheid state” waging “genocide” against the Palestinian people. Of all the countries in the world, only Israel is cited in the statement for its domestic policy, described as blatantly racist.
A number of major Jewish organizations, in their decades-long battles against anti-Semitism, have championed freedom and equality for all, and consistently sought to foster relationships in the black community, often with much success. So there is a sense of betrayal that the new movement, a coalition of more than 50 groups supporting the rights of black Americans and opposing police brutality, went out of its way to denigrate the Jewish state. Statements from both the Anti-Defamation League and AJC noted the unfairness and inaccuracy of conflating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the civil rights struggles of black Americans.
They were careful in their language not to reject BLM as a group, or its primary goals, while at the same time repudiating its views on Israel. Abraham Foxman, the former national director of the ADL, was not as subtle. “Enough, and no more,” he told The Jewish Week, noting that he learned his lesson after Jewish groups, including the ADL, were too slow to speak out against the racist elements of the Crown Heights riots 25 years ago. “We hesitated at the time because we didn’t want to offend them [the black community], and I said I would never do that again.”
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston this week disassociated itself from the BLM platform “and those BLM organizations that embrace it.”
On the liberal end of the Jewish organizational spectrum, Bend the Arc, which promotes economic and racial justice, praised the work of BLM and did not cite the group’s references to “genocide” or “apartheid.” It noted that some Jews are offended by the platform’s language while also inferring that the pain some blacks feel about Israel’s policies prompted such language to be included in the platform.
One of the lessons from this episode is that, justified or not, Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians have driven a wedge between Jerusalem and a growing number of younger American Jews on the left. Another lesson is that words matter. According to Jewish tradition, God created the world by speaking — “Let there be light, and there was light.” And we must always be aware of the power of language, for good or for harm.
Finally, an American Jewish community with a proud record of promoting social justice and equality cannot be dissuaded from its mission because of one organization. Robert Kaplan, the community leadership director of the Jewish Community Relations Council here, tells us that many leaders of the local black community were unaware of the BLM platform and were upset to learn of its section on Israel. Kaplan said he and his group would continue to work with the majority of the black community here, and to seek to strengthen ties with all communities. As we all should.