To the members of the Black Lives Matter Movement:
I write to you on behalf of myself and many Jewish people who love and support racial justice, but who are now deeply troubled. By joining forces with BDS, by labeling us as perpetrators of genocide, you are actually joining forces with privilege and oppression, not liberation and peace.
The concern I feel, together with many Jewish people, is precisely because the BlackLivesMatter movement has so much to teach the world about making sure that voices are heard. It has so much to teach about the importance of listening, of being still and giving due credence to the narratives of the oppressed, the misunderstood, the marginalized. When those in the BlackLivesMatter movement witness the unjust consequences of the continuing conflict, you are naturally moved to compassion and action for the Palestinian people. However, by supporting BDS and labeling us Jews as perpetrators of genocide, you are unwittingly promoting a message of hatred and injustice.
Movements that struggle for racial justice teach us that privilege blinds us. In America, good-hearted white people can delude themselves, believing that they understand black people because they care. But BlackLivesMatter and similar movements remind them that, while they may care, privileged people cannot understand what it is to be denied privilege. Until white people–and all people–realize that they cannot, in fact, understand, then we can’t make progress. It is only when each and every one of us accepts our ignorance and truly listen to the voices of the non-privileged that we can respond to those who have been silenced, and effect true justice.
When BlackLivesMatter supports BDS and labels the Jewish people as perpetrators of genocide, then BlackLivesMatter is falling into the very oppression that it seeks to dismantle. BDS and similar groups are the product of privileged people who care about Palestinians, but who cannot understand the full complexity of dynamics in Israel-Palestine.
From their position of privilege, BDS, and all movements that seek to deny the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, distort and oversimplify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The result is a dangerous narrative that denies the voice of human beings–Israelis–who genuinely struggle for safe and just lives alongside their Palestinian brothers and sisters. The reality is that the Jewish State is an incredibly diverse and complex democracy, where the majority of Jewish people are struggling to end the occupation in a peaceful and just way.
On behalf of the countless people–Jewish, Christian, Druze and Arab–for whom Israel is our homeland, I implore you to reconsider your affiliation with hateful groups of privileged people with their hateful labels of the Jewish State. I implore you to treat the Jewish people the way you ask this nation to treat black people: to be still and to listen to us; not to presume you understand us because you care, but to acknowledge that you cannot understand what it means to be Jewish or Israeli. In acknowledging this uncomfortable truth, we can truly hear each other, and act to support each other in effecting justice. Only in acknowledging what we cannot understand, then together, all people–blacks, whites, Jews and Palestinians of many colors and religions — can walk together in peace and justice in the Promised Land.
Rabbi Gil Steinlauf is senior rabbi at Adas Israel Congregation, the oldest and largest conservative synagogue in Washington, DC.