Two days after the Movement for Black Lives — a coalition of more than 50 racial justice organizations from across the country — released its detailed, visionary policy platform, the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council released a statement to “disassociate from the Black Lives Matter platform and those BLM organizations that embrace it.”
As members of the Boston Jewish community, we were appalled.
We are young white queer Jewish women who recognize that our liberation is connected to the liberation of all people. Michelle is the Sephardic daughter of a Jewish educator and chaplain, and Ally was raised in an interfaith family that taught her values of social justice from a young age. Both of us share deep connections to young Jews across the country, many of whom celebrated the Platform’s release.
The Platform explains that racism and exploitation don’t stop at U.S. borders, and notes that funding that could be used for domestic social services is instead being used to kill Palestinians abroad. It specifically calls for an end to U.S. military and financial aid to Israel, outlines American citizens’ complicity in the state-sanctioned violence and discrimination against Palestinian people, and calls to fight the increasing amount of anti-BDS legislation that restricts Americans’ right to free speech and protest (the JCRC recently sponsored an anti-BDS bill in Massachusetts that was defeated last month).
JCRC’s statement distancing itself from the Movement for Black Lives because that movement dares to criticize the Israeli occupation provides further evidence of how out of touch the leadership of the American Jewish establishment truly is. JCRC is obstructing racial justice work, erasing black Jews, and attempting to maintain a status quo of Jews who are progressive on all issues except for Palestine.
By contrast, we see and affirm the Jews of color in our community, and we proudly and unequivocally support the Movement for Black Lives Platform and Black Lives Matter. We recognize the call for freedom and dignity of black lives as intricately linked to our call for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.
As members of IfNotNow, we are part of a movement of young Jews working to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation of Palestine. Guided by the lessons of our own Jewish history, we cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. Leo Ferguson recently wrote about his experience as a black Jew participating in a NYC Black Lives Matter march: “As Jews, we know what it means to fight for our survival while those around us do nothing. And as a Jew of color, I am tired of feeling abandoned by my friends and my larger Jewish community when they sit on the sidelines rather than fighting for my safety and full humanity… If the Jewish community isn’t part of the solution, then it is part of the problem.”
The Platform includes dozens of policy proposals calling us to become part of the global solution for black lives — and, yes, it references Israel critically 11 times. Israel’s military rule creates a system of violence against Palestinians, and simultaneously teaches Jews that Israel must exercise mechanisms of control over another people to survive. The manifestations of fear, suspicion and supremacy that the occupation creates resemble the underpinnings of racism in America.
The JCRC statement, like this piece published in the Forward, promotes the tired argument that Israel is being unfairly singled out. Israel is mentioned under the Platform’s framework of U.S. military expenditures. Given that Israel receives an enormous, unmatched percentage of U.S. aid dollars, the focus on Israel makes sense. Furthermore, the history of strong solidarity between black and Palestinian movements makes it natural that the Platform would condemn Israeli military aggression.
We refuse to be distracted or lose sight of the real threat facing our community today. It’s not 11 words in the Platform, but the occupation itself that compromises the values and integrity of our community.
By dismissing the entire platform over its critique of Israel, JCRC is complicit in perpetuating both racism and the occupation while standing in the way of black liberation. The Jewish community can’t keep boasting about our involvement in the civil rights movement while giving half-hearted support to the civil rights movement alive in our streets today. We can’t let the knee-jerk dismissal of any criticism of Israel force white Jews to choose between being part of the Jewish community and standing with black lives. The American Jewish community must be able to hold the complexity of different views on Israel while strongly believing that Black Lives Matter. And not just believing it, but also taking action to prove that Black Lives Matter, that Black Jews Matter.
It’s time to pick sides. Will we turn our backs on black lives because this movement dares to stand in solidarity with Palestinians? Or will we stand with and follow the call for black power, freedom and justice?
Boston JCRC, we call on you to retract your statement condemning the Movement for Black Lives Platform. It’s time to look in the mirror and recognize the links between black liberation, Palestinian liberation and Jewish liberation. These connections aren’t going away. As we near the Jewish High Holidays, we prepare to repent for our individual and collective wrongdoings. If they do nothing, the JCRC leaders can add their rejection of the Movement for Black Lives to their list of al chets, their confession of sins.
Ally Little and Michelle Weiser are members of IfNotNow Boston.