By Patrice Worthy |
When the Movement for Black Lives released its official policy platform Aug. 1 with a statement denouncing Israel as an apartheid state committing genocide of the Palestinians, much of the Jewish community reacted with anger and exasperation at the Black Lives Matter organization.
“While we support many points mentioned in the platform, the decision to denounce Israel requires us to distance ourselves from BLM,” American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta Chapter said.
Such responses sparked their own backlash, spurring AJC Atlanta and the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition to hold a dialogue about anti-Semitism, Israel and Black Lives Matter on Thursday, Aug. 25, at Manuel’s Tavern, where the crowd was standing room only.
No BLM official attended, but blacks and Jews engaged in honest dialogue.
“We have to keep the conversation going so we don’t lose sight of the good we’ve done together,” said coalition member Chris Walker, who participated in Project Understanding last year. “I think I became interested in black-Jewish relations because I was fascinated there was even a Black-Jewish Coalition. I am interested in how Jews have thrived in different communities and environments around the world. There’s room for both to learn from each other. Both groups basically came from nothing, and we’re still here thriving.”
The common experiences of slavery, oppression and survival provide the foundation for such discussions. The group at Manuel’s grappled with the unfair treatment of blacks, Jews of color and Palestinians living in the West Bank.
Ilise Cohen said people should take a good look at the entire Movement for Black Lives platform and check its facts because it is about economics.
“The U.S and Egypt have made the biggest contributions to militarizing other countries,” Cohen said. “Instead of just looking at Israel, look at all the countries the U.S. has militarized in Africa and the Middle East. That money could be spent to better train police and foster race relations in the U.S.”
When the issue of the West Bank occupation hit the table, some people acknowledged questioning Israel’s tactics toward the Palestinians. Others asked why the BLM platform, which focuses on U.S. policies and changes, even mentions Israel.
Rabbi David Spinrad of The Temple said such conversations are the beginning of healing that is needed in the black and Jewish communities.
Dialogue gives everyone the opportunity to overcome the natural tendency to discriminate, Rabbi Spinrad said, but first we have to be honest with ourselves.
“There’s brokenness, and it’s different than what it used to be in the black and Jewish communities,” he said. “We don’t go to separate schools anymore or drink at separate water fountains, but there’s terrible economic inequality driven by race. There’s structural racism that made it harder for black families to buy homes or buy homes with predatory loans. Everyone knows your home is your greatest asset. How do you provide for children without a home? I don’t think most people with my skin color are aware of it; they think the work is done.”
Cohen, who is of mixed Mizrahi and Sephardi descent, addressed discrimination within the Jewish community against Jews of color.
“The Jewish community doesn’t take on its white privilege,” she said. “It’s always about racism outward, but not against Jews of color. I’m Mizrahi and Latin. It’s 20 percent of Jews who are of color who don’t feel welcome or who are made to feel some sort of suspicion. Jews of color feel like they’re torn apart on this issue. Do they choose privilege or racial and economic justice?”
The night’s dialogue did not bring any resolution to problems between the black and Jewish communities, but it kept the conversation going. Many people stayed after the event to keep talking.
Stacey Chavis, a co-chair of the Black-Jewish Coalition, said the coalition felt that it was necessary to bring people together with no agenda, action plan or statement to come out of the meeting.
“I love the fact there were young professionals, seasoned professionals and there was a man who has been in Atlanta since 1937. It was good to have all different perspectives,” Chavis said. “Tonight was just an indication, and now it’s what do we do next.”