A Controversy Over Anti-Israel Statements in the Movement for Black Lives Political Platform Shows the Long History of Tension between Jews and Blacks in the U.S.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders as they begin the march to the state capitol in Montgomery from Selma, Ala. on March 21, 1965. The demonstrators are marching for voter registration rights for blacks. Accompanying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (fourth from right), are on his left Ralph Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. They are wearing leis given by a Hawaiian group. (AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. links arms with other civil rights leaders as they begin the march to the state capitol in Montgomery from Selma, Ala. on March 21, 1965. The demonstrators are marching for voter registration rights for blacks. Accompanying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (fourth from right), are on his left Ralph Bunche, undersecretary of the United Nations, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. They are wearing leis given by a Hawaiian group. (AP Photo)

Last Thursday, the Movement for Black Lives got together for an emergency conference call. One week after the drafting committee released its political platform—a long document that covers everything from U.S. policing to education reform to mass incarceration—the activists felt they needed another “deep internal discussion,” as they called it, on one small section toward the end: their statement on Israel and Palestine.

Of all the positions included in the platform, this is the one that has generated the most backlash. The conflict is largely one of language: Jewish groups have been most upset about its use of the words “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, describing the terms as “offensive and odious.” Some progressive, social-justice-oriented organizations have condemned the statements in part; others have condemned the movement in full. Church groups have repudiated it. Jews of color have struggled with it. In the wake of what should have been a powerful moment, black activists have found themselves at odds with the one group that may have been most ready to support them as allies.

But this is also a conflict of history. Jews and blacks in America have long danced around one another, at times feeling solidarity and at others, opposition. Both groups have developed a self-understanding rooted in a history of oppression and struggle, often in solidarity with others in need. Their clash on Israel may be a testament to how much U.S. views have changed on this issue, or how much Israel’s self-vision has changed since 1948. But it’s also a sign of how thoroughly elements of these groups have become alienated from one another—hoping for justice, but hearing different things when they try to speak its language.

It’s not clear what the Movement for Black Lives will do about the backlash against this part of its platform, if anything. An informal spokesperson for the drafting committee, Zakiya Scott, declined interviews, saying, “Folks have been getting a lot of criticism for the divest / invest piece of the platform. Before we say anything as a group, it has to be agreed upon by the members of the leadership team and the endorsing organizations.”

On every side, the clash over language and history in the Movement for Black Lives platform is a story of loss. Relationships have been damaged, and political momentum lost. And the hope of liberation, cherished by black and Jewish Americans alike, has been cut with resentment.

* * *

The word “genocide” was coined to describe the Holocaust. Six million Jews were systematically eliminated from the earth on the basis of blood and faith. Subsequently, a nation was formed where those who survived could go—including those fleeing the homes they tried to return to, only to be met with rejection and renewed violence. The dream of the state of Israel—of freedom, radical equality, and survival—antedated the Holocaust, but in its wake, it assumed new urgency.

Yet, that was not the genocide the Movement for Black Lives elected to highlight. “The U.S. justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people,” the activists wrote in the platform. They go on to call Israel an “apartheid state,” condemning Israeli settlements and the “apartheid wall”—presumably the security barrier that roughly follows the country’s border with the West Bank.

These two words—“genocide” and “apartheid”—have been the focus of the outcry in Jewish communities. “We were stunned and outraged by the erroneous and egregious claims of genocide and apartheid,” the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement said. T’ruah, a progressive organization that describes itself as “the rabbinic call for justice,” said it was “extremely dismayed” by the use of “genocide.” The Union for Reform Judaism went a step further: “We reject wholeheartedly the notion that effective anti-racism work can only be done by denouncing and excoriating Israel,” it said.

Click here to read more

Source: The Atlantic | EMMA GREEN