Black lives matter. Does Israel?

Print More
Members of Miles Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., join in prayer as the church observed "Black Lives Matter" Sunday on Dec. 14, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Members of Miles Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., join in prayer as the church observed "Black Lives Matter" Sunday on Dec. 14, 2014. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Black Lives Matter has just come out with a statement that is over the top anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. It repeats the libel of Israel being an “apartheid” state. It accuses Israel of “genocide.” It backs the BDS movement.

I am sad. I am angry. I am disappointed.

But, in the words of Crosby, Still, Nash and Young: “We have all been here before.”

American Jews spend a lot of time — and rightly so — waxing poetically over the fabled relationship between Jews and the nascent civil rights movement. Perhaps the most quoted American Jewish text was the statement by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, when he marched with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “I felt that my feet were praying.”

But, there has also been a dark side to the relationship between American Jews and the black community — a dark side that is very complex, very troubling, and very nuanced.

The last fifty years:

Now, I get it.

I get the fact that, for decades, some black leaders and activists have wanted to walk the path that they find necessary — without having to look over their shoulders at what (white) Jews think.

I also get the fact — and I have massive difficulties with this fact — that many leftist groups are now touting the pseudo-social science of intersectionality — in which every leftist cause is automatically connected with every other leftist cause — with nothing close to six degrees of separation.

And I also get the fact: that the hard Left has a “stellar” record of turning on the Jews who have supported their causes — in Europe (going all the way back to Karl Marx, and the peasant rebellions in Russia) as well as in the United States.

Yet, still: I think of the historical path that American Jews and blacks have walked together.

  • Has the statute of limitations run out on the memory of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney –– murdered by Southern racists and buried in a shallow grave? Schwerner and Goodman were New York Jews, which was probably enough to get them killed.
  • Has the statute of limitations run out on the memory of Southern synagogues that were bombed in the 1950s and 1960s — because of the integrationist preaching of their rabbis? Or, the fact that Rabbi Perry Nussbaum of Jackson, Mississippi, barely escaped with his life when his own home was bombed?
  • Has the statute of limitations run out on the memory — it was just last summer! — of my colleagues who marched through the South, from Selma to Washington, DC — arm in arm with black leaders and activists?
  • Has the statute of limitations run out on the memory of Dr. King, who said these fiery words about anti-Israel sentiment in the black community?

 You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely ‘anti-Zionist.’When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews–this is God’s own truth.

Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land…

The best statement on the Black Lives Matter anti-Israel screed, thus far, comes from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston:

To conflate the experiences of African-Americans and Palestinians oversimplifies complex matters and advances false equivalencies that diminish the unique nature of each…

…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.

So, what are we going to do, we Jews who care about racial justice?

Just walk away from the fight for racial justice?

I’m not letting myself off the hook. And I know of no Jewish group that is even suggesting that.

That would be far, far too easy.

Here is the challenge.

We Jews who care about black lives, and about racial justice, must continue to believe in the essential message of this cause. That is what justice demands.

At the same time, we must simultaneously condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the anti-Israel stance of Black Lives Matter. Because that is also what justice demands.

Or, let me put it another way. We should not let the anti-Israel position of Black Lives Matter give us permission to walk away from our concern for the state of black lives in this country.

I might disagree with Black Lives Matter — the movement.

But I totally agree that black lives matter — the sentiment, the idea, the prayer, the dream.

I am not walking away.