AJC and the National Urban League push for new hate crimes legislation, even as some Jewish groups oppose the Black Lives Matter movement.
In celebration of the ever-evolving relationship between America’s Black and Jewish communities, and in opposition to racism and antisemitism, the National Urban League and American Jewish Committee (AJC) have partnered to establish the week of September 7 as Black-Jewish Unity Week.
The hashtag #BlackJewishUnity has been used on social media platforms all week to promote the week’s events and to strengthen Black-Jewish understanding and joint advocacy.
A key objective of Black-Jewish Unity Week is urging Congress to pass the National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act, which would improve hate crime reporting through law enforcement trainings, the creation of reporting hotlines, increasing resources to liaise with affected communities and public educational forums on hate crimes. On June 27, 2019, the bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), read twice, and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains today.
“Hate crimes are on the rise all over the country,” National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said in a joint press release. “Yet a shocking number of cities are failing to report these crimes to the FBI, hindering the nation’s ability to address this increase.”
“Jews have for too long been the primary target for religiously-motivated hate crimes, while African Americans are by far the most targeted for racially-motivated crimes,” David Harris, AJC’s CEO, said in the joint statement. “When we stand together against bigotry and hate, we stand stronger.”
The organizations have observed the week with a series of events aimed at “fostering a deeper cultural and historical understanding and appreciation” between the two communities.
U.S Rep. Brenda L. Lawrence (D-Mich.), whose suburban Detroit district includes large Black and Orthodox Jewish populations and who is also the leader of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, knows how groundbreaking a week like this is.
“This week solidifies the reason why I started the Black-Jewish Caucus,” Rep. Lawrence told the JN. “Our shared history, our history of being African-American, being enslaved and fighting for rights and freedoms, and the unfortunate history of the Jewish community and the Holocaust.”
“Look at the way we’ve taken our oppression and struggle and made it a rally call for today’s justice, for reform, for fighting against racism and antisemitic hatred. And so we have an opportunity again to show throughout history how we’ve locked arms and to me, to reemphasize to a new generation to step up and recognize the power we have when we stand together.”
The context of the shared week takes on particular resonance right now, amid a divide in some Jewish groups over whether to support Black Lives Matter and associated movements.
Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella organization loosely affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, was roundly criticized by Jewish groups in 2016 for inserting language into its charger that accused Israel of perpetuating “genocide” against Palestinians. The latest version of that charter, released a few weeks ago, does not include the language, and the Black Lives Matter movement has become far more decentralized in 2020, with 16 distinct chapters in the U.S. and Canada; nevertheless some Jewish critics of BLM continue to link it to the 2016 M4BL charter.
NCSY, an Orthodox youth group, removed its name from a recent New York Times ad in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that had been signed by hundreds of Jewish groups.
“BLM’s platform includes values we do not share,” NCSY International Director Rabbi Micah Greenland told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Moreover, the BLM movement has become a political issue, and NCSY does not involve itself in political matters.”
NCSY’s removal means that no mainstream Orthodox Jewish group remains among the letter’s 600 signatories.
When contacted by the JN, the Detroit chapter of NCSY deferred comment to a PR representative, which in turn pointed to a June 1 statement made by the national Orthodox Union expressing outrage over the death of George Floyd. The statement did not mention Black Lives Matter. Rabbi Tzali Freedman, Regional Director of NCSY Central East, also told the JN that NCSY is an apolitical organization.
Rep. Lawrence strongly disputes any charge of antisemitism. “Black Lives Matter is absolutely not antisemitic,” she told the JN.
Some synagogues have also been vandalized during recent BLM-spearheaded protests. Lawrence condemned these actions.
“I condemn any vandalism to any synagogue and I would stand in front of a crowd to stop that if I saw it,” she said.
“I would say to my Orthodox community that the fight we’re in is so pure that I would hope, [regarding] those who are throwing trash into it and damaging it, that you don’t hold the whole movement guilty of that.”
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, says that while they support and embrace the idea of Black Lives Matter, they’re not signing up to or aligning with any specific Black Lives Matter organization.
Rabbi Lopatin believes that in these tough times of so much on the Black and Jewish communities plates, it’s the perfect time for the two to become closer than ever.
“I feel like we’re actually entering an era of celebrating our two communities and how much we have to learn from each other and how much we can help each other,” Lopatin said. “We’ve both suffered so much, but I see this as a very exciting chapter in our history where we can really give each other strength.”
Morial and American Jewish Committee president Harriet P. Schleifer wrote a joint article in USA Today on Wednesday, asserting that Black and Jewish leaders are standing together in the face of bigotry.
The article notes that the Black-Jewish connection is at a point where they’re not only standing side by side against sources of hate targeting each other’s communities, but also supporting each other in the “delicate task of confronting prejudice within each of our own communities”.
The article also acknowledges how the Jewish community is currently making a true effort to engage more in progressive movements such as Black Lives Matter, which they previously avoided because of disagreements over Israel.
“For generations, Blacks and Jews have marched together to demand equal justice,” the article states. “#BlackJewishUnity takes us another mile on that long walk. Together we will continue to press on, using the tools of our democracy to make America’s founding promise a reality.”