Another anti-Israel charade from a group that isn’t Jewish and isn’t for Peace
We wrote recently about the Black Lives matter platform statement (under the name MB4L: Movement for Black Lives) and, in particular the “Invest-Divest section,” which attacks Israel and accuses Israel of ‘genocide’ and being an ‘apartheid state’.
As reported, the statement was condemned by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Boston, and the Anti-Defamation League. Subsequent condemnations were issued by the American Jewish Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism, as well as the more left-wing J-Street (the liberal “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobby group), and T’ruah: the rabbinic call for human rights.
— Peter Beinart (@PeterBeinart) August 4, 2016
These statements joined by others from the more liberal end of the Jewish community were met with fierce criticism by radical left groups and BDS activists.
Leading the Charge: JVP’s new front organization
Only three days after the publication of the M4BL statement on August 1st, a group that calls itself “Jews of Color Sephardi Mizrahi” announced its formation as:
an autonomous group of Jews of Color (JOC) organizing in solidarity with the movement for Palestinian liberation and in partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). We are focused on combating U.S., Israeli, and other state-based racisms with the understanding that the liberation of Palestine, the liberation of JOC, and the liberation of all People of Color (POC) communities are interconnected and dependent on one another.
We use “Jews of Color” as a term that unites us but also has its limits. We acknowledge that we are not all equal under dominant U.S., Israeli, and otherwise transnational racial hierarchies. Some of us are Sephardic, Mizrahi, African, Romaniote, Ashkenazi, and some of us identify as Arab and/or Palestinian Jews. Some of us are mixed race, of mixed heritage, Black, indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and/or Jews by choice. Some of us are not. We hold different degrees of privilege given colorism, racialization, and continued legacies of orientalism and colonialism.
In case the summer has caused you to forget how college students view politics, the manifesto is worth quoting from extensively:
Our analysis is informed by our position at the intersections of transnational white supremacy, zionism, and antisemitism where we have been marginalized, exploited, sexualized, erased, tokenized, silenced, othered, oppressed, patronized, and infantilized. We have also witnessed our cultures destroyed and appropriated in service to the white supremacism and settler militarism that are at the basis of zionism. We believe that given these experiences, JOC have a unique role in fighting state-sponsored racism in both the U.S. and Israel.
Our critique is directed first and foremost at the U.S. and Israeli nation-states. However, we also seek to combat white Ashkenazi centrism and other forms of discrimination in our own Jewish communities. Additionally, we believe that U.S. Palestine solidarity and other racial justice movements benefit from a JOC analysis in order to build principled solidarity and pursue a thorough intersectional anti-racist agenda. This includes combating white supremacy and antisemitism whether they manifest in movement spaces, at the nation-state level, or in our own U.S. communities of color.
As the statement makes clear, this caucus is part and parcel of Jewish Voice for Peace, of whom we’ve written voluminously. JVP, apparently uncomfortable with the relatively exclusive and elitist lineage of its leadership (or perhaps to deflect criticism that not many of JVP’s members are actually Jews), decided to display a caucus of JoC’s to state its case.
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) August 5, 2016
In fact, on the same day as the formation of the caucus was announced (August 4th), JVP released its statement on the platform (calling itself ‘white supremacist’, but presumably implying the same for its opponents):
Because the leadership team of JVP is currently all white Ashkenazi Jews, we are slowing down to ensure our members who are Jews of Color can lead the way, particularly in matters of racial justice. This is part of our ongoing project to dismantle white supremacy inside of JVP.
JVP endorses the Movement for Black Lives platform in its entirety, without reservation. Please check back here shortly for a full statement from the Jews of Color in Solidarity with Palestine organizing in partnership with us.
On the following day (August 5th) a statement of “Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives” was published . In order to address the obvious suspicion that this caucus was created for the very purpose of exploiting the controversy surrounding the M4BL statement, the solidarity statement begins with:
This statement was first drafted two weeks ago to address the nationwide crisis of anti-Black police violence and show solidarity with nationwide Black Lives Matter organizing. It has since been updated to address disturbing anti-Black and anti-Palestinian actions taken by members of the organized US Jewish community in response to the release of the Movement for Black Lives Platform.
With that out of the way, the statement attacks those Jewish organizations that condemned the MB4L statement:
The Movement for Black Lives Platform:
As a caucus we fully endorse the Movement for Black Lives Platform in its entirety without reservation. We do this first and foremost because it was created as “a response to the sustained and increasingly visible violence against Black communities in the U.S. and globally.” This fact must be foregrounded in all discussions of the Platform, which was created to protect Black Lives.
We are appalled at the actions of the white US institutional Jewish community in detracting and distracting from such a vital platform at a time when Black lives are on the line, simply because the organizers chose to align their struggle with the plight of Palestinians. US Black relationships to Palestine and Israel have never been monolithic, but there are deep historical ties between Black and Palestinian struggle that go back to the Black Power Era. Any attempt to co-opt Black struggle while demeaning these connections, is an act of anti-Black erasure.
We recognize that the backlash experienced by BLM activists is part of a white supremacist power structure that is trying to maintain the status quo. We call upon the Jewish community to defend BLM activists from this backlash, especially since many Jewish institutions themselves have contributed to it by making the sweeping claim that solidarity between Black struggle in the U.S. and Palestine is antisemitic.
And seizing its newly self-declared moral-ethnic high-ground:
Furthermore, we condemn the delegitimization of Black and Palestinian struggle, especially by white Ashkenazi Jews that attempt to assert sole claim to the limits and bounds of what constitutes “actual” genocide. As a heterogenous Jewish people who have endured multiple genocides, the historical retellings of which have often erased the narratives of Jews of Color, we embrace rather than shut down the multiple uses of the term “genocide” for what it can reveal about our current crises. The violence experienced by Palestinians and by Black people at the hands of the state is well-documented, and is arguably genocidal, as many activists have claimed. To respond with specific markers that are unmet in the current genocide against Black people and Palestinians is an act of violence and complicity in the systemic, state-sanctioned murder of Black people and Palestinians.
Recent statements by the Boston JCRC, Truah: the Rabbinic Council for Human Rights, and The Union for Reform Judaism condemning the BLM Platform also send the message that the lives of Black Jews (along with Black gentiles) directly affected by US police brutality are less important than protecting Israel from scrutiny. We reject this message and call on these groups to commit themselves to honor the leadership of Jews of Color, including those critical of Israel.
Who are the members of the Jews of Color Caucus?
— JFREJ (@JFREJNYC) August 11, 2016
It’s not clear how many ‘voices’ are being heard from here. The caucus seems to have formed at or around a conference organized in May called the “Jews of Color National Convening”. The meeting which had a distinctive left wing political orientation, was organized by Jews for Economic and Racial Justice (JFREJ), the Jewish Multiracial Network, and Bend the Arc.
Some of these, especially JFREJ (which has been visibly involved in Black Lives Matter), have significant overlap with JVP. Not surprisingly, therefore, while the JOCSM caucus is not explicitly ‘part’ of JVP, it is ‘supported’ by JVP, and in partnership with it, a distinction whose content is less than perfectly clear.
The membership seems to include JVP activists and a few activists from the smaller group IfNotNow, which formed as a leftwing splinter of J-Street U (IfNotNow came to the attention of many over the spring, including much discussion of the differences between INN and JVP, surrounding the brief appointment of Simone Zimmerman [of INN] as Bernie Sanders’ liaison to the Jewish community).
If Not Now also released a statement calling on JCRC to retract their condemnation stating:
We refuse to follow leaders that force us to choose between Jewish community and one of the most powerful movements of our time
Why it is the leaders of the Jewish community who reacted to the M4BL statement, rather than the leaders of M4BL itself who wrote those words, who are categorized as those forcing this choice is not explained.
In a widely published response to the Boston JCRC’s statement from two “members of the Boston Jewish community” by two young activists who identified as If Not Now members (but, interestingly, whose photo on the Forward piece was courtesy of JFREJ), warning the Jewish community, yet again, that it risks losing its millennials. Their piece began with the obligatory (and by now tedious) statement of identities:
We are young white queer Jewish women who recognize that our liberation is connected to the liberation of all people. Michelle is the Sephardic daughter of a Jewish educator and chaplain, and Ally was raised in an interfaith family that taught her values of social justice from a young age. Both of us share deep connections to young Jews across the country, many of whom celebrated the Platform’s release….
JCRC’s statement distancing itself from the Movement for Black Lives because that movement dares to criticize the Israeli occupation provides further evidence of how out of touch the leadership of the American Jewish establishment truly is.
By contrast, we see and affirm the Jews of color in our community, and we proudly and unequivocally support the Movement for Black Lives Platform and Black Lives Matter. We recognize the call for freedom and dignity of black lives as intricately linked to our call for freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.
We refuse to be distracted or lose sight of the real threat facing our community today. It’s not 11 words in the Platform, but the occupation itself that compromises the values and integrity of our community…
It’s time to pick sides. Will we turn our backs on black lives because this movement dares to stand in solidarity with Palestinians? Or will we stand with and follow the call for black power, freedom and justice?
In what seems now to become a recurring event, INN then protested outside the offices of JCRC Boston:
Rabbi Brant Rosen of JVP, and active BDS supporter, went one step further condemning the T’ruah statement: “T’ruah does not give the BLM ‘the benefit of the doubt’ when it issues an immediate counter-statement such as this; tantamount to a group in a position of power saying to an oppressed group, ‘we will stand in solidarity with you but only on our terms.’”
Further Intrigue: M4BL Author is formerly Jewish
Adding to the intrigue, it appears that one of the two co-authors of the statement, Rachel Gilmer, was raised Jewish but no longer identifies as one. Gilmer, who works for a group called Dream Defenders (which includes Angela Davis and Linda Sarsour on its board). From Ms. Gilmer’s story it emerges that she felt excluded and mocked by her fellow Jewish peers as a child and harbors much resentment towards the Jewish community.
Her response to JCRC?
I don’t think it’s a loss…just made it clear that they weren’t real allies.
On the word ‘genocide’:
Using the word genocide wasn’t a haphazard piece of work…was a yearlong process of bringing together 60 organizations about our vision of the world a black people. We’ve been in community with Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now and individual Jewish people who are against the occupation…
To get a glimpse into the worldview of someone who considers what Israel is doing as ‘genocide’ and linked to racial relations in the United States. Consider this explanation by Ms. Gilmer of the parallels she sees between Palestinians and American blacks:
Gentrification [in the US] parallels home demolition. Going to the apartheid wall and seeing how it broke up communicates…it’s the same systems of patriarchy, imperialism and colonialism that we’re up against.
Is the ‘genocide’ we’re talking about something on the order of magnitude of hipsters moving to Bushwick and the construction of the South Bronx Expressway? Or does she really think that those events are on the scale of horrors of real genocides?
In an interview with the Forward, Gilmer says:
Long history of those in power telling Black, Brown and all oppressed people how they can describe the violence inflicted upon them….those…suffering the brunt of oppression…have the right to name what is happening to them
Message to Liberal Zionists: Get Lost!
Dream Defenders’ organizational reaction was fierce, referring to “Zionist organizations [that] have condemned the platform” (presumably the AJC, the Union for Reform Judaism are merely ‘Zionist’ rather than Jewish organizations), Dream Defenders writes:
Those who have previously claimed to be allies of the Black lives matter movement have shown us that they are comfortable with our resistance so long as it fits within particular confines and restrictions. It is convenient to endorse black lives matter when it benefits you…We want no part in this quid pro quo form of politics. True solidarity does not come with strings attached.
We’ve been dealing with this type of hypocrisy with our supposed “allies” for generations. On the American left, there are many wolves in sheeps clothing. You have revealed yourselves. And now that we know who you are, we will not forget…
To all those who believe in a world in which all people are free, join us. For those who no longer stand with Black people because of this belief, goodbye. We do not need nor want you in our movement.
That the endorsement has angered and alienated so many liberal Zionists is a good thing. No radical movement can achieve its goals under the influence of liberal Zionism, which by definition aims to preserve a racialized status quo.”
Not to be outdone, Electronic Intifada blogger Nora Barrows Freidman tweeted that condemning the statement was a form of ‘whitesplaining’:
— Nora BarrowsFriedman (@norabf) August 3, 2016
Meanwhile, others wonder why some get so upset about one word (‘genocide’) and suggest that those offended get over it. This is ironic given the number of conflicts surrounding Black Lives Matter that we’ve seen just over this past year over names of building, colleges, and job titles.
What is JVP’s game?
It is clear though that JVP is planning on using this as an ambush on the Jewish community, many of whose members are liberal and who are sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement.
This is consistent with JVP’s general raison d’etre to drive a wedge in the Jewish Community and to divide it against itself. This perhaps is the only way to understand the bizarre focus on the term ‘Jews of Color’, a nomenclature that has been absent for the most part from Jewish community discourse. Curiously, Jews are usually accused by anti-Semites of chauvinism towards non-Jews and a belief in Jewish superiority. Now the claim is that Jews are white, black, etc., and that these allegiances trump Jewish solidarity?
There has been some attempt over the years to drive this wedge between Mizrahi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews, alleging bigotry against Mizrahi Jews in Israel. A noteworthy contingent of the academic leadership of BDS among Jews in the United States consists of Jews from this milieu. But this milieu is incredibly small, confined to perhaps a few dozen academics.
In Israel (where the overwhelming majority of Mizrahi Jews live), a long source of cultural tension between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews actually stems from the perception that Mizrahi are more hawkish, rightwing, and traditional than the more secular, western oriented Ashkenazim, especially those who stood at the helm of the Labor Party.
The idea that ‘Jews of Color’ stand opposed to Israel and Zionism is laughably incredible. But it is a convenient myth for JVP and similar organizations who need to shore up their ‘as a Jew’ support, without appearing ‘racist’ or ‘white supremacist’ in the eyes of their identity-politics obsessed peers. Let’s just be sure not to ask these Jews what they actually want!
Congenial relations between the Jewish and black communities is not in the interest of JVP, just as it is not in the interest of JVP for the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs to get along. If the Jewish leadership were not ‘out of touch’, where would JVP be?
This is not a movement of ‘Jews of Color’ or expressing the will of those Jews, rather it is an attempt by JVP to sow discord where there was none and to further drive that wedge that keeps them in business.
The author is a graduate student who must write under a pseudonym for fear of retribution from pro-BDS faculty.