We have heard a lot over the last few weeks about the need to identify and address racism and prejudice within our own communities.
Last week, we published the phrase “Black Lives Matter” on the cover of the Jewish News. I saw the move as a small, necessary gesture, the next step in our community’s long journey toward racial justice and understanding.
Many of our readers agreed, but not all. We’ve already lost at least two subscribers over our coverage of the nationwide protests that have erupted in recent weeks. Others have sent us hostile comments accusing Black Lives Matter of being an anti-Semitic movement. (There have been some honest questions about the roots of this, too, which I will address further down.)
As it happens, shortly before the protests began, some JN subscribers targeted black staffers here at Renaissance Media with racist calls and harassment. I don’t want to repeat what was said to my colleagues, but it makes me sick.
We have heard a lot over the last few weeks about the need to identify and address racism and prejudice within our own communities. Well, the Jewish community is not immune to this. We, of course, wrestle with our own widespread intergenerational trauma, but that doesn’t excuse us from doing the hard work of recognizing when we may be, consciously or unconsciously, expressing bigotry of our own toward other groups. It is far past time for us to reckon with such realities.
One of the best things we can do, in this moment, is to talk to friends, family and loved ones who are expressing these kinds of views, and help each other not only recognize that such beliefs are wrong, but also try to work together to overcome them.
So, I’ll start here, by clearing up this one thing. Why are some calling Black Lives Matter anti-Semitic? It dates back to a 2016 charter from an affiliated organization named the Movement for Black Lives, which had expressed solidarity with Palestinians and used words like “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe the Israeli government. The language was roundly criticized by many Jewish groups at the time, and the group’s current charter doesn’t mention Israel.
There have also been cases of vandals using cover of the protests to target synagogues with anti-Semitic graffiti in places like Los Angeles and Richmond. Such hate absolutely must be called out by the Jewish community. But there is no evidence that those responsible for these horrible attacks were anything other than opportunists who seized on a moment of social unrest in order to spread hate. And in fact, there have been other reported cases of peaceful protesters stopping other people from defacing synagogues.
Regardless, the “Black Lives Matter” slogan itself has taken on a life of its own, and stands for something much larger than one political movement today. It is a statement of raw power, purpose and intent. We can affirm its truth, and the underlying problems of American systemic racism the phrase points to, without qualification.
And American Jews should, in fact, be wary of sitting out this moment, due to Israel or any other reason. Because seeking justice doesn’t just help the black community. It helps us, too.
Are you having these difficult conversations about race with people you love right now? Write to email@example.com and let us know how those talks are going.