David Bernstein understands the shock and anger in the Jewish community after the Movement for Black Lives blasted Israel in an extensive policy platform released this summer, but he disagrees with those, such as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who want to disavow Black Lives Matter until it reverses course.
Instead, Bernstein, who became the president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in January, said in a column this month for New York Jewish Week and in an interview with the AJT that the platform proves it is time for the Jewish community to re-engage in the civil rights movement.
The platform “brought home our detachment from people and causes we were once a part of. We’re going to pay a price for that,” said Bernstein, who will talk about Black Lives Matter and Jewish involvement in the new civil rights movement in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
He said the Jewish community must re-engage in social movements such as “civil rights 2.0” and the fight for criminal justice reform to “help make America a better place and help shape the movement moving forward on issues that we care about.”
Bernstein acknowledged that it can be tough for the Jewish community to connect with a new set of black leaders in those movements, but “if you search, you will find; that’s my experience. When you go to the table and build your own coalitions, you find the partners to work with.”
The former head of the David Project, an on-campus Israel advocacy organization, is making his first visit to Atlanta since assuming the leadership of JCPA, which is the national umbrella for local Jewish community relations councils.
“When I travel the country … I’m always on the hunt for amazing ideas, and I see them in almost every community I go to,” Bernstein said. “So my job and the job of our team is to identify those ideas, develop them into models, raise money around them and try to scale them up around the country.”
The basic philosophy of community relations has proved itself over seven decades as an effective way to support Israel and the Jewish community and can be the most effective antidote to the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, Bernstein said.
“The Jewish community is forced to look outward as well as inward and to reassess our relationships with partners and potential partners in our communities,” he said.
Bernstein is trying to tighten the focus of JCPA, which is working on a strategic plan built on providing more support to JCRCs, such as staff training and sharing of ideas; advocating nationally on fewer issues, including civil rights and Israel 50 years after the Six-Day War; and pushing for Jewish Federations to restore funding for JCRCs.
“The conditions that existed when most Federations cut back on JCRCs are no longer the same. We’re facing delegitimization of Israel,” he said. Under recession pressures, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta was the first Federation to cut all funding to its local JCRC, and Bernstein said he plans to meet with Federation officials about changing that situation.
His visit also will include a meeting with supporters of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta and an invitation-only workshop on civility in discussions about Israel.
“If the Jewish community can’t be civil with each other, it’s hard to be civil with the outside world,” Bernstein said. “Too often, shrill voices on Israel make it impossible to talk to each other and wrestle with their own perspective. That shrill tone can really turn off younger Jews in particular and make us weaker, not stronger, on Israel.”
An Israel advocate since his days at Ohio State in the late 1980s, Bernstein said it’s important to embrace the complexity of Israel’s position in the Middle East. “There’s a right way to talk to Jews and non-Jews about Israel. It doesn’t work to promote a simplistic narrative when talking to young Jews, and it doesn’t work to promote a simplistic narrative to non-Jews.”
Who: JCPA CEO David Bernstein
What: Black Lives Matter discussion
Where: Selig Center, 1440 Spring St., Midtown
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1
Cost: Free; RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org