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Forget about Kanye’s tweets — Black members of Congress stand with Israel

Jews should remember whose voices matter and who is just making noise

During one of the recurring instances of hand-wringing over Black antisemitism some years ago, I stumbled upon an item worth keeping in mind: Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have consistently voted in support of Israel.

I made a mental note of that as the ultimate counterpoint to whatever Jewish hostility or misinformation a Kanye or Kyrie might be tweeting out. While rappers and sports figures do a great job of capturing public attention, usually with crazy stuff, what matters most are the actions, and especially the votes in Congress, of those with the power and position to carry them out.

There have been individual exceptions, such as former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat from Georgia, or more recently, Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democrat who in her advocacy for Palestinians has raised the ire of Jews with indelicate comments on Israel bordering on antisemitic tropes. But as a whole, Black members of Congress were and remain a reliable pro-Israel voting bloc.

That should be indisputably clear right now, with one of the most vocal calls for emergency aid to Israel coming from New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In the early hours after Hamas’ unparalleled attack on Israel Saturday morning, Meeks said on CNN: “We’ve got to work with Israel to make sure that we wipe out Hamas so that we don’t have a vicious attack like this ever again.”

There was a political component to his appeal, of course. One reason the House has not granted immediate emergency aid is because it can’t, thanks to the Republican disarray after the ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy. That has left the chamber unable to conduct any business — and given Meeks an opening to slam his adversaries across the aisle for not rushing to help the Jewish state.

An AIPAC ad touts the organization’s support of Congressional Black Caucus members in the 2022 election. Courtesy of AIPAC

But Meeks isn’t alone. “The majority of Black members of Congress have been in support of Israel,” said retired Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Michigan Democrat who served from 2015 to 2023.

Lawrence co-founded the Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus with the late Rep. John Lewis, and is now executive director of the Black and Jewish alliance group Spill The Honey. (Disclosure: I am on Spill The Honey’s board.)

“Within the CBC,” she said, “so many of the members represent Jewish and Black communities and have been connected locally to the communities and stayed close to their issues.”

One of those representing such a multiethnic constituency is Minnesota’s Omar, who tweeted on Saturday: “I condemn the horrific acts we are seeing unfold today in Israel against children, women, the elderly, and the unarmed people who are being slaughtered and taken hostage by Hamas.” Should she follow that up with a vote for Israeli aid, the caucus’ support for Israel may come in at 100%.

All this is worth noting because the situation is as fluid as it is horrific. While anyone with a pulse should be outraged over the murders and hostage-taking of innocent civilians in the attack, that sentiment may fade as Israel launches its inevitable counterstrikes. Be prepared for social media to explode with no end of images of war crimes that will be attributed to the Israel Defense Forces.

And equally predictable, some celebrity will blurt out an antisemitic trope. Should a Black celebrity join the fray, Jewish organizations and Jews in general may do well to remember whose voices really matter and whose are just noise.

“These are people who know what they’re talking about,” Gamal J. Palmer, an international leadership and diversity and inclusion consultant, said of Black congressional leaders. “The Black folks who matter in this conversation,” added Palmer, who is also on the American Jewish World Service board, “are the ones who have been on the ground and sat at tables with Palestinians and Israelis and collaborated on peacebuilding.”

Those voices deserve to be uplifted by Jewish organizations, especially now, because it’s at least as important to tell the world who your friends are as it is to give air to the rants of your enemies. And now more than ever, we need all the friends we can get.

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