“Zion, won’t you call out to those who are oppressed?” Rabbi Yehudah Halevy, 11th century Spain
There has been much discussion recently regarding whether proud Zionists, like myself, can join marches where the slogan, both in the call to gather and in the marches themselves, is Black Lives Matter. I would like to challenge the Zionist Jewish community to seize the opportunity to work with the anti-racism and justice communities, and to shout loudly, “Black Lives Matter,” in order to fulfill the underlying principles of Zionism.
We must remember that Zionism is a Jewish Liberation Movement. It was and still is envisioned to free Jews from the shackles of a type of bondage in the Diaspora. Even those of us that live peacefully and happily in the pleasant Diaspora owe a great deal of our Jewish pride and security to the rise of the State of Israel.
Therefore, it is not surprising that so many of those involved in the Black Civil Rights movement were avowed Zionists who understood deeply the yearning of the Jewish people for our own freedom. This is a freedom we Zionists believe we can never really achieve without our own Jewish homeland. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Rep. John Lewis and the Baptist and COGIC Pastors we at JCRC/AJC work with in the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, the Black People understand, perhaps better than any others, that the struggle for liberation and freedom – for Exodus from Egypt to Zion – is ongoing and critical.
As I have experienced personally at several rallies and marches, when anyone goes to such a program or shouts “Black Lives Matter,” they are focused only on remembering George Floyd and fighting racism, injustice and inequality in our police forces and society. They are not thinking about Black Lives Matter (BLM), the organization, or the Movement for Black Lives organization, which has since dropped, but not altogether deleted, an anti-Israel platform piece from its website. There are certainly some vicious anti-Semites and anti-Zionists who associate with the BLM movement or organization, but that must not move us Zionists away from our principles of Zionist activism.
If BLM itself came out officially with an anti-Israel statement on their website, I would be the first to condemn it, because Zionism is all about Black Lives Matter.
The Jewish people and Zionists live by the verse from Exodus 3:16-17: “I have noticed you and what they are doing to you … And I have said, ‘I will take you out of slavery and suffering to the Land of Canaan… (to the Holy Land – Israel!)’” This is both the Zionist dream of ending the millennial oppression of the Jewish people in foreign lands, and it is the vision that gave hope to our Black brothers and sisters in their years of suffering in their “Egypt” – in America – and a vision of a better country.
In Egypt, God said, Jewish lives matter. Now that the Jewish people have the Jewish state, and we have strength and a modicum of acceptance in America, it is time for us to say: “Black Lives Matter.”
Our Zionism has taught us how important this narrative is, and we have succeeded. We have found our Zion and it is strong. Now let us Zionists give hope to those who are fighting to remove the “Egypt” from this country, and let us be allies with them find their Zion.
In those rallies I have attended, specifically in Detroit, the leaders of the Black community have emphasized how destructive violent protests and looting have been to the cause. This also is consistent with the way the Jewish people moved towards establishing Israel. Zionism is about purpose, focus and building, and not about violence and destruction. In fact, the early founders of Israel quashed rogue elements that took the focus away from the cause. Black Lives Matter must mean the same discipline for the sake of fighting racism and injustice.
The great Supreme Court Justice and Zionist Louis Brandeis said, “Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism.” For the sake of our Jewish and Zionist tradition, let no American say that Zionism is inconsistent with the fight for true patriotism. Black Lives Matter, and Zionism matters, in the battle for racial justice and equality for our African-American brothers and sisters.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the JCRC/AJC Executive Director