Recently in Washington, D.C., protestors in the Black Lives Matter movement marched through the streets, saying “Israel, we, we know you. You murder children, too.”
On Juneteenth (June 19), Linda Sarsour held a rally with her group Muslims4Abolition, advertised as “open to all, minus cops and Zionists.”
How did this happen? When the horrific murder of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer occurred, I had the immediate impulse to take to the streets, don a Black Lives Matter shirt and join in with the demonstrators.
(July 6th, 2020 / Newsweek)
I am far from the only Jew who felt that way. The Union for Reform Judaism put out a statement that argued “Black Lives Matter” is a Jewish value. And this is not limited to Reform Jews; some Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn were so moved that they demonstrated by chanting, “Black Lives Matter” and “Jews for justice”.
The impulse towards social justice is extremely strong within the Jewish community. Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., we Jews know what it is like to be a resented minority—whether in the Eastern lands, under the dhimmi laws, or in Europe, in the pogroms and inquisitions that culminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
We are constantly admonished in our teachings to always remember that we were slaves in Egypt. Empathy for the underdog is what led Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner to register Black people to vote in Mississippi in 1964—which ultimately resulted in their murder, along with their friend James Chaney, by the Ku Klux Klan. It is what led Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to link arms with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 and to march from Selma, Alabama for equal rights for Blacks.
And it is a beautiful impulse.
However, we have been told that if we want to participate in these demonstrations, we must check our Zionism at the door.
Zionism should be held up as the paradigm, for all downtrodden peoples, of a successful national liberation movement. In 72 years, the Jewish people who had suffered from centuries of persecution have transformed themselves into a dynamic, vibrant, thriving nation.
Israel is a nation where there are Muslim and Arab members of the Knesset, Supreme Court justices, doctors and lawyers. It is a nation where there are a plethora of civil rights groups to ensure equal rights for all Israeli citizens, from LGBTQ to Palestinians. Is there a “Peace Now” movement in the Muslim and Arab world? How many Jews sit in Arab nations’ parliaments? (In case you are unaware, the answer is zero.)
A large part of the problem lies in academia. Ever since the advent of Edward Said’s “Orientalism” in 1978, the university has been instilling anti-Israel hatred into the minds of America’s youth. It is almost impossible to step into a higher education classroom in Middle East studies without buying into the premise that Israel “was born in the original sin of displacing the Palestinian people.”
Another falsehood. If that were the case, why are there approximately two million Israeli Arabs in Israel today?
Nonetheless, young American Jews are constantly being imbued with a sense of moral ambiguity about the rightness of Israel’s cause.
More recently, the term “intersectionality” has sprung up all throughout the discourse. It was originally coined by Kimberly Crenshaw of the University of Chicago to explain how certain minorities face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. (For example, “a Black woman.”) However, it is currently bandied about to mean that different minority communities who are discriminated against should work together against intersecting oppressors.
Jews are now considered “white” and therefore part of the community of oppressors. Of course, the moment one lands in Ben Gurion Airport, one is immediately struck by the fact that we Jews come from every continent—and our complexions come in every hue under the sun.
The irony is that throughout the 1930s and 1940s, when Jews were desperately trying to flee Europe and get into this country, the State Department still employed the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act to limit the entrance of Eastern and Southern European Jews who were considered less “racially desirable.”
The linkage between anti-Zionism and the Black Lives Matter movement is not an accident. Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, recently uncovered a video on Jordanian TV dating back to 1990. In the video, James Zogby suggested that American Jews are not monolithic in their views towards Israel and are not unified—and that they could be utilized to serve the Palestinian cause. Zogby envisioned portraying Israel as an anti-democratic regional force and instigating a coalition of progressive Jews, academics, media elites and some from the Black community.
In those golden years, support for the state of Israel was such a bipartisan and consensus issue that the Jordanian TV host had a difficult time finding plausible Zogby’s strategy.
The Movement for Black Lives, a broad coalition of Black organizations, published its policy platform in 2016. It outrageously states that “Israel is an apartheid state, with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as four years old without due process. Every day, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the U.S.-funded apartheid wall.”
Anyone who has spent any time in Israel knows that these statements are demonstrably false.
Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, Zogby’s vision was proven prescient. Tragically, far too many members of the Black Lives Matter movement have bought into the incendiary rhetoric about Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinian movement has used the soft underbelly of the American Jewish community’s strong moral conscience to turn us against ourselves.
As American Jews who care passionately about equal rights under the law, we have a monumental task. We should not be required to check our Zionism at the door, nor should we be required to participate in incendiary slogans against our own people in order to participate in calling for justice for others. We must educate others to know that our compassion for their plight does not eclipse that of our own—for ours is a deeply moral cause, as well.
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