From the moment the statement dropped on Twitter, it was entirely predictable what would happen next.
After Sunrise DC announced they were withdrawing from a voting rights coalition because of the participation of three major Jewish organizations on Tuesday, Oct. 19, many leaders in the Jewish community labeled Sunrise DC’s behavior as antisemitic, which major Jewish media outlets immediately covered.
Sunrise DC’s statement was certainly sloppy — singling out Jewish organizations’ support for the actions of the Israeli government, especially when other organizations in the coalition espouse similar positions, both fuels antisemitism and falsely conflates Judaism and Zionism.
It is also undeniable that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and National Council of Jewish Women — the organizations singled out by Sunrise DC — have championed importing voting rights legislation in America and other parts of the progressive agenda. In fact, on the same day that Twitter was ablaze with commentary about the Sunrise DC statement, the CEO of the NCJW spent 12 hours lobbying Congress for the Build Back Better Act.
The statement also failed to account for the ways in which other non-Jewish organizations in the voting rights coalition have tacitly supported the Israeli government’s policies as well. For example, the American Federation of Teachers is openly against the BDS movement and the Center for American Progress has hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu.
But at the same time, condemning Sunrise DC’s actions without acknowledging the grave harm Zionism causes Palestinians is anti-Palestinian.
The proclaimed progressive values of the RAC, NCJW, and the JCPA are precisely the reason that these organizations’ support for the Israeli state is so disappointing. Palestinian lives are consistently devalued in comparison to Jewish lives in our national politics, including in otherwise progressive circles, and such moral hypocrisy must be called out.
While a post about a voting rights rally was certainly the wrong forum in which to make this argument, the essential reality should not be lost: many major US political organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, are invested in upholding Israeli oppression of Palestinians. It is time we call on those organizations to extend their fundamental values of democracy, freedom, and equality to the Palestinian people.
The clearest way that each of these progressive Jewish organizations support Israeli violence against Palestinians revolves around their active opposition to any restrictions, conditions, or cuts to the $3.8 billion a year in unchecked funding for the Israeli government.
As these organizations lobby our government for funding for important domestic programs — from health care to housing to education — they simultaneously continue to support direct US subsidies to the Israeli military, which routinely and systematically targets Palestinians.
These organizations’ purported support for Palestinian rights is belied by their consistent support for aggressively anti-Palestinian policies. The constellation of American organizations and leaders that work together to uphold Israeli apartheid includes Jews and non-Jews. But the American Jewish community has a unique responsibility to be on the right side of history.
The JCPA, the Union for Reform Judaism (including its advocacy arm, the RAC), and NCJW have all supported anti-BDS legislation that the ACLU labels as patently unconstitutional. By seeking to outlaw BDS, these organizations are not only complicit in a deeply illiberal project that undermines the First Amendment, they are also providing material cover to the Israeli government (which views BDS as a serious threat). Anti-BDS legislation seeks to outlaw Palestinian nonviolent organizing, taking away a key tactic that most Palestinian leaders argue is critical in the fight for equity in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Since these commonplace tactics are some of the few remaining avenues Palestinians have to nonviolently protest Israeli apartheid, anti-BDS legislation functionally works to silence Palestinian voices.
At one point during the recent flurry of statements and tweets about Sunrise DC’s action, the RAC posted that the statement suggests that they “consider the Jewish community expendable in the fight for social justice.”
RAC’s tweet implies that supporting the Israeli military and government is a necessary Jewish commitment — and therefore the choice is between opposing the occupation or welcoming Jewish people in our movements.
But although this particular statement was poorly executed, it is perfectly reasonable to ask American organizations — Jewish and not — to end their support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinians if they want to be considered full partners in the fight for equity and democracy here in the US.
More and more Americans want our government to spend less money on weapons and more money on domestic programs intended to alleviate poverty and racism. In order to be full partners in the fight for equality and multiracial democracy, American Jews must be willing to acknowledge that our safety cannot come at the cost of another people — the same standard we should ask of anyone else.
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Eva Borgwardt is a leader in IfNotNow and is currently involved in the organization’s strategic planning process. She is a former national president of J Street U and is from St. Louis.
Sunrise DC was wrong. But liberal Jewish groups remain complicit in occupation