Last week, in response to language surrounding Israel/Palestine included in the Movement for Black Lives platform, the rabbinical social justice group T’ruah released a statement criticizing the platform’s anti-Israel stance, yet affirming T’ruah’s commitment to “stand with Black Lives Matter for the safety and dignity of people of color in the United States and abroad.” T’ruah, if one recalls, is an organization that has been heavily involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. They’ve offered support for Black Lives Matter’s demand for police accountability; their rabbis have been arrested in Black Lives Matter protests; and it’s generally served as a glowing example for Jewish organizations and allies when it comes to BLM. Its thoughtful statement, both firm in its support for BLM in its fight against police brutality yet likewise as resolute in T’ruah’s commitment to Israel, is a welcome and pertinent piece of dialogue in this difficult conversation.
And then there’s … everyone else.
We all know who and what I’m talking about. We’ve all seen our newsfeeds. We’ve all seen the caterwauling, in the form of public statements and heavy-handed statuses from Jewish individuals and organizations, disavowing association from BLM like wounded allies and scorned lovers. Which, personally, I have a hard time being able to listen to. Because, um, who are you people again?
See, I’ve been sitting at this table for a while and it’s been the same five or six guys here having a conversation with me. Game recognize game, and you’re looking mighty unfamiliar.
Don’t get me wrong, I was as baffled as anyone else by the platform drafters’ decision to dilute focus from the conditions of systemic racism here in America to wade into the murky waters of the Israel/Palestine debate. However, I was even more dismayed by those in the Jewish community who responded with strongly-worded repudiations of the Black Lives Matter movement without having ever made the same spirited declarations of support for it in the first place.
I’m sorry, but folks like that don’t get a vote. You can’t complain about the conversation if you haven’t been a part of it.
It is a certain kind of privilege that Jewish organizations are both practicing and embodying when they issue statements, offer conditional support, and effectively dictate to oppressed people who they can partner with and support in the name of their own liberation, particularly when they haven’t been at the table.
And I’m talking about having really supported BLM and actually been at the table, not “I want to support Black Lives Matter, but…” or “This is why I can’t support Black Lives Matter, because…”. I’m talking about people and institutions that have actively done something to advocate for Black Lives Matter, like T’ruah. Otherwise, your principled stand criticizing BLM doesn’t look so principled after all.
A lukewarm absence of antagonism against Black Lives Matter does not equal support or allyship. Jews—pro-Israel, anti-Israel, Zionist, anti-Zionist, or simply non-Zionist—need to be in the room and on the ground and present.
Because no player who sits on the bench for the whole game gets to complain about the score.
MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.