In the culture war ignited by the post-George Floyd protests, 600 Jewish groups know which side they are on. But is this really about racism or politics?
By Jonathan S.Tobin, JNS
To read the statement signed by more than 600 Jewish groups last week, in which they identified their denominations, synagogues and organizations with the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s clear that they believe they are on the right side of history. The letter, which was published as a full-page ad in The New York Times on Aug. 28, is forthright in its claim that “the Black Lives Matter movement is the current day Civil Rights movement in this country, and it is our best chance at equity and justice. By supporting this movement, we can build a country that fulfills the promise of freedom, unity, and safety for all of us, no exceptions.”
For many Americans, BLM is more of an anodyne statement of opposition to racism than a political agenda or a list of specific grievances and demands. As such, it was understandable that polls showed that most people supported this movement in the weeks following the death of George Floyd on May 25. But if, as the polls have indicated, that support is starting to drop precipitously, it is because months of riots, looting and acts of intimidation often mislabeled “peaceful protests” by some in the media have alerted a growing number of Americans to the troubling aspects of this movement. Still, these factors don’t appear to have made an impression on the 600 groups that pledged their support for Black Lives Matter, including the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, as well as a host of individual synagogues and a collection of liberal, leftist and anti-Zionist groups.
On the day that letter was published, the Movement for Black Lives, which is the chief organizing group for the BLM idea, published a summary of their new policy platform. It is being billed as a sequel to the controversial platform published by the same group in 2016 that included a section that falsely denounced Israel as an “apartheid state,” a lie that it integral to the intersectional ideology at the core of the BLM mindset.
While the full text of the BLM platform is yet to be published, the summary didn’t mention Israel—to the relief of some Jewish supporters.
Would it have mattered even if it had?
Some Jews have fallen for the delusion that they need to join BLM in order to help moderate its radicals. Others have convinced themselves that this is their opportunity to be considered worthy successors to those Jews who worked to end “Jim Crow” laws and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King. They think focusing on the attacks on Israel or even the growing number of incidents of anti-Semitism in the African-American community is to miss the point. They believe that Jews are obligated to go along with BLM because they accept the notion that the United States is irredeemably racist in nature and that there is an epidemic of murders of African-Americans by the police.
The problem with this formulation is that it is simply wrong. Despite a troubled past, America is not a racist nation today, let alone a society dominated by institutionalized hate. The statistical evidence also contradicts the widely accepted claims about a police war on blacks.
It’s also worth exploring what is in the summary of the new BLM platform. Rather than an easily supported agenda around which all Americans of good will could rally, it is a laundry list of far-left radical and Marxist proposals antithetical to the idea that BLM deserves mainstream support.
Supporters will say their demands are irrelevant, and what matters is a statement supporting the struggle against racism.
But the letter from the 600 groups is more than a restatement of idealistic notions about tikkun olam or amorphous and highly dubious claims about alleged police brutality. It goes out of its way to mischaracterize skepticism about BLM and the vicious cancel culture it has helped to spawn as morally equivalent to attacks on King from segregationists and racists.
It doesn’t merely ignore the fact that so many “peaceful protests” turned into violent riots and the way BLM activists have sought to intimidate anyone who will not bow to their agenda. It also seeks to link opposition to the movement to anti-Semitism. That isn’t just wrong. It’s outrageous since intersectional radicals who form the shock troops of the BLM movement, including cheerleaders for the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, as well as race-baiter Al Sharpton, are themselves guilty of anti-Semitism.
We can only shake our heads at the chutzpah of anti-Zionist groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, which have consistently been guilty of anti-Semitism, condemning it in others. But you have to wonder how groups that are avowedly Zionist—like JCPA, the ADL, and the mainstream religious movements and synagogues—can justify legitimizing these groups by signing the BLM manifesto along with them.
The only explanation for this travesty is that many Jews believe that the way to maintain their standing as liberals guilty of “white privilege” is to back BLM. The statement’s talk of “politicians and political movements in this country who build power by deliberately manufacturing fear to divide us against each other,” or “manufacturing division” and fomenting anti-Semitism is a dog whistle to leftist foes of President Donald Trump. Whatever your opinion of Trump, this attempt to demand that we ignore the radicalism of the BLM movement, and the violent and anti-Semitic forces it is unleashing, is as dishonest as it is disturbing.
The pro-Black Lives Matter letter isn’t so much a defense of a movement as a not-so-subtle attempt to cancel, shame and silence anyone with the temerity to point out the danger in the cause the signatories have embraced. As such, it’s clear that Jewish supporters of the BLM movement aren’t trying to help unite us against hate. Instead, they are choosing a side in a culture war that is cruelly dividing a wounded country struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. In doing so, it is they who are choosing to be on the wrong side of history, not their opponents.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of Jewish News Syndicate (JNS).