Americans of goodwill have rightly been concerned by violence, much of it by police, against unarmed black men, from the shooting of Trayvon Martin to the rough ride given to Freddie Gray. Jews are no exception in their reactions. The relative helplessness of segments of the black community in the face of powerful authority stirs up tribal memories across the centuries, from slavery in Egypt to genocide in Europe. Each killing offends our sense of justice and puts us further from a more perfect America.
That’s why the Black Lives Matter idea resonates with so many in the Jewish community. For older Jews, it is a continuation of the civil rights struggle. For younger ones, it is part of the 21st-century march toward the acceptance of diversity, including Jews of color.
And so it was deeply hurtful when a platform published on Aug. 1 by a coalition of more than 50 organizations, called the Movement for Black Lives, unceremoniously accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians. It also called on the United States to end military aid to the Jewish state and accused Israel of practicing apartheid. The reaction to the outrageous charges was quick, direct and very much on target.
Liberal Jewish groups that march ideologically and literally with Black Lives Matter quickly denounced the accusation of genocide. The Reform movement called it “offensive and odious.” T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group, said it was “extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide.”
The Movement for Black Lives platform puts liberal Jews in a bind, particularly younger Jews and Jews of color. “Anti-Israel rhetoric like that found in the Movement for Black Lives policy platform is especially troubling because it falsely suggests [that] American Jews — both of color and white — must choose between their commitment to combating racism in the United States and their Zionism,” the Reform movement statement said. T’ruah put it this way: “One can vigorously oppose occupation without resorting to terms such as ëgenocide’ and without ignoring the human rights violations of terrorist groups such as Hamas.”
In our view, zero-sum thinking diminishes our possibilities. One can be pro-black lives, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. But it appears that the Movement for Black Lives just doesn’t get it.
So, did the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council go too far in rejecting the Movement for Black Lives platform because of its stance on Israel? We don’t think so. The Movement’s odious declarations on Israel crossed a wide and bright red line. The Movement, in effect, spurned the very Jewish community that is so ideologically and practically supportive of their goals, and that move has consequences.
Black lives matter. But the dishonest accusations of genocide and the mislabeling of Israel as an apartheid state does nothing to protect black lives.