Jewish Groups Respond to Movement for Black Lives Platform

Most — but not all — Jewish organizations in the United States strongly condemn platform, while others offer nuanced responses.

Protesters rally against police brutality at City Hall Park in New York City, August 1, 2016.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images, AFP

Most Jewish organizations in the United States have strongly condemned the Movement for Black Lives platform, published last week, which accuses Israel of “genocide,” refers to it as an “apartheid state” and endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — but not all.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS organization highly critical of Israel, endorsed the platform in its entirety. IfNotNow, an anti-occupation group started by Jewish millennials, urged the Jewish community not to lose sight of “the real threat” it faces: the occupation, not the 11 references to Israel in the Movement for Black Lives platform.

Even among organizations critical of the platform, some responses were more nuanced than others. For example, J Street, the pro-Israel organization that opposes the occupation, said in a statement issued by its president that notwithstanding the language used by the Movement for Black Lives, “we must not disassociate ourselves from its quest for justice and equality.” The Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, on the other hand, urged a complete break with the Movement for Black Lives.

The following is a roundup of responses issued by prominent Jewish organizations and individuals in recent days:

Jewish Federations of North America:

“We are dismayed by the acceptance of a platform that vilifies Israel, diverting attention from urgent, unresolved problems that African-Americans and other people of color continue to face in the United States. The American Jewish community has a strong tradition of commitment to social and racial equality and we will continue to work with leaders in all communities to achieve this goal.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League:

“We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being ‘complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.’ The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.

“Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as ‘genocide.’ And the platform completely ignores incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza. Unfortunately, these phenomena are not new but have been challenges that have faced the Jewish state since its inception more than half a century ago.

“We strongly disagree with the platform’s erroneous broad-brush conflating of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with civil and human rights abuses discussed in the document. Although Israel is far from a principal focal point in the more than 40,000-word document, it’s the irresponsible and completely over-the-top references to the Jewish state — as well as later gross mischaracterizations of Israel as ‘an apartheid state,’ and calls for support of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) that alienate us and bear little resemblance to reality. These points are wrong on the facts and offensive in tone. Importantly, for ADL and many in the Jewish community, such false characterizations and misguided calls to action distract us from the task of addressing other, critically important justice and equality priorities.

“So let’s work to keep our eyes on the prize.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

“The Movement for Black Lives platform’s claim that U.S. support for Israel makes it ‘complicit in the genocide committed against the Palestinian people’ and labeling of Israel as ‘an apartheid state’ are offensive and odious. In calling for divestment from Israel, the platform ultimately does little to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This language also wrongly and harmfully conflates the urgent need to address the systemic racism faced by people of color in the United States with another challenging and related but different set of moral and political questions within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We recognize that the Movement for Black Lives is working to address deeply rooted societal challenges. As they do so, we urge them to reject the platform’s characterizations of and positions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We stand ready to work in relationship to achieve shared goals of a racially just society, nation and world.

“Anti-Israel rhetoric like that found in the Movement for Black Lives policy platform is especially troubling because it falsely suggests American Jews — both of color and white — must choose between their commitment to combatting racism in the United States and their Zionism. We reject wholeheartedly the notion that effective anti-racism work can only be done by denouncing and excoriating Israel. Rather, as progressive Zionists committed to the future of a Jewish and democratic State of Israel, we see it as our fundamental responsibility to stand up in the face of injustice and fight against the evils of racism, extremism and intolerance wherever they exist.”

Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice:

“From its founding, Bend the Arc has focused its vision and advocacy on domestic social justice issues only, taking no positions on international issues, including war, militarism and the Middle East. We know some within the Jewish community, including members of our own organization, are expressing deep pain and outrage over some of the language and policy solutions proposed in some elements within the international section of the platform released this week by the Movement for Black Lives. We also acknowledge the pain and outrage felt by some members of the Movement for Black Lives that prompted the inclusion of this language in the first place. It is with sincere anguish that Bend the Arc holds these two realities simultaneously. We see this perceived collision of values as related to the decades of growing distance between the Jewish community and communities of color, and the invisibilization of Jews of Color within the Jewish community and progressive movement. Authentic relationship building and meaningful coalition work is the way our communities will find repair with one another, over time.

“In this volatile moment, our north star continues to be our commitment to eradicating racism and white supremacy in the United States. We recognize that, at times, advocates may disagree on specific policy issues. While profoundly challenging, these differences should not distract from the broad agreement that exists within the progressive and Jewish community on the need for a bold racial justice agenda. We look forward to continuing to advance racial justice and affirm the value of Black lives.”

T'ruah, the Rabbinical Call for Human Rights:

“While we agree with many of the policy recommendations, we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide. We are committed to ending the occupation, which leads to daily human rights violations against Palestinians, and also compromises the safety of Israelis. Our work aims to build a just and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom deserve the same human rights protections as all people.

“However, the military occupation does not rise to the level of genocide — a term defined as ‘the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.’ While we agree that the occupation violates the human rights of Palestinians, and has caused too many deaths, the Israeli government is not carrying out a plan intended to wipe out the Palestinians. There is no basis for comparing this situation to the genocides of the 20th century, such as those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, or Armenia, or the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, each of which constituted a calculated plan to destroy specific groups, and each of which killed hundreds of thousands to millions of people. The Black Lives Matter platform also does not address the use of violence by some Palestinians, including the rocket attacks against civilians that Human Rights Watch has classified as a war crime. One can vigorously oppose occupation without resorting to terms such as ‘genocide,’ and without ignoring the human rights violations of terrorist groups such as Hamas.”

The statement goes on to say that “while we support Black Lives Matter in calling for the protection of free speech, we reject the call to embrace BDS as the appropriate way to bring about a better future for Israelis and Palestinians."

Boston Jewish Community Relations Council:

“JCRC cannot and will not align ourselves with organizations that falsely and maliciously assert that Israel is committing ‘genocide.’ We denounce an agenda to wage economic and cultural warfare against Israelis, including efforts to mobilize against state and local efforts that reject the BDS movement. We reject participation in any coalition that seeks to isolate and demonize Israel singularly amongst the nations of the world.

“As we dissociate ourselves from the Black Lives Matter platform and those BLM organizations that embrace it, we recommit ourselves unequivocally to the pursuit of justice for all Americans, and to working together with our friends and neighbors in the African-American community, whose experience of the criminal justice system is, far too often, determined by race. We will not allow this profoundly disturbing development to deter us from values and principles we hold dear regarding the character of our nation and the pursuit of equality for all Americans.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street:

“The platform recently released by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 60 organizations, is a detailed and complex document that contains many vitally important policy prescriptions for addressing systemic racism. Yet, in its discussion of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it also contains some truly unfortunate and highly counterproductive uses of the type of extreme and hyperbolic language described above.

“The platform’s assertion that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people is outrageously incorrect, and deeply offensive to those who have lived through an actual genocidal attempt to exterminate an entire people or who are descended from and related to victims and survivors of genocide — as many J Street members are.

“The characterization of Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ is also misleading and unhelpful. The best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation is to address the unique and specific circumstances and conditions underlying them, without insistence on fitting them within the ill-fitting framework of a different conflict from a different time and place.

“The use of this language and these assertions has deeply upset many in the American Jewish and pro-Israel communities, including many of us who feel serious concern for the Palestinian people and who strongly support the Movement for Black Lives.”

Jewish Voice for Peace:

“JVP endorses the Movement for Black Lives platform in its entirety, without reservation.”

IfNotNow:

“We refuse to be distracted or lose sight of the real threat facing our community today. It’s not 11 words in the Movement for Black Lives platform — it’s the occupation and our community’s support for it that compromises our values and integrity.

“We refuse to follow leaders that force us to choose between Jewish community and one of the most powerful movements of our time. We recognize the explicit links between Black, Palestinian and Jewish liberation. We support relationships of solidarity and mutual support among marginalized peoples, understanding that anti-Semitism and the fear that comes with it so often get in the way. While it is our task to battle anti-Semitism, we cannot do it without battling injustice wherever it lives, in the United States and in Israel-Palestine.”