A group advocating that American Jewry end its support of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank staged a protest of the mainstream Jewish community’s rejection of the Black Lives Matter’s policy platform in front of a major Jewish organization’s local office.
Fifty members of IfNotNow rallied at McPherson Square and headed north, singing “Olam Chesed Yibaneh” (“We will build this world with love”) and other songs in the Aug. 11 gathering. Protest leaders addressed the crowd when everyone arrived in front of the American Jewish Committee’s office in Washington.
“The call for justice for black Americans and Palestinians are inextricably linked,” demonstration leader Jenna Bluestein said. “And it is for that reason that I feel I must heed both their calls. I will not condemn the Movement for Black Lives in favor of the immoral occupation.”
The platform of the Movement for Black Lives coalition, released this month, calls Israel an “apartheid state” and accuses the United States of complicity in Israel’s “genocide” against the Palestinians.
After the speeches, several protesters approached the building to deliver a letter addressed to Alan Ronkin, AJC’s Washington regional director. Denied entrance to the lobby, they were told the letter would be delivered to the AJC.
The letter’s message was: “To truly be Jewish, and to stand in the legacy and history of Jews as leaders of civil and social justice, we need to be bold in our actions moving forward,” according to IfNotNow member Ethan Miller. The letter supported the Black Lives Matter Movement and opposed Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
Asked why the group chose the AJC as its protest site, Miller did not explain, saying that “this isn’t an issue limited to one organization.”
Eliana Fishman, who attended the protest, had a warning for the organized Jewish community. “Our goal is to force the American Jewish community to realize that if they do not stand for Black Lives Matter, and if they don’t stand against the occupation, they will lose an entire generation of young American Jews.”
Jason Isaacson, AJC’s associate executive director for policy, said in an email that the protesters were “conflating two separate situations, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the aspirations of African Americans,” and not advancing the interests of either.
“The continuing struggle in the U.S. for civil rights, a cause AJC has championed for more than a century, often in partnership with the African American community, is vitally important,” his email said. “But the worthy cause of addressing racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system is undermined by those who insist on inserting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into unrelated American political discourse.”
The Black Lives Matter platform struck a nerve with many in the Jewish community over its criticism of Israel when it was released this month.
“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people,” it reads. “Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.”
On Aug. 8, IfNotNow demonstrated against the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council, which condemned the platform.
The co-author of the platform, Ben Ndugga-Kabuye, said he understood why Jewish groups were angered, but stood by what he wrote, JTA reported.
“The way we look at it is, we take strong stances,” Ndugga-Kabuye said. “The demand we’re making is we’re against the U.S. continuing funding and military aid to the government of Israel. These are all things that are going to be in debate.”