Last Thursday night, on the eve of the holiday commemorating the destruction of the Jewish temple, nearly 300 Jews marched in support of Black Lives Matter through the West Village in New York, winding up outside a police precinct house where (as Wilson Dizard reported) seven of the activists were arrested for sitting down in the street and blocking traffic.
The march was special for two reasons: 1, because it declared that there is a leftwing Jewish community in our country that supports the program of the Movement for Black Lives and that refuses to be divided over the Israel/Palestine conflict; and 2, because it was led by many Jews of color, who spoke up for a Jewish identity that includes victimization/discrimination by the police.
The personification of these ideas was Jason Salmon, who said he was Jewish and his African-American parent is subject to police abuse, and then addressed the controversy over the fact that Black Lives Matter lately said Israel is committing “genocide.”
“The media has done its best to divide us as a community. We won’t have that. We won’t let our views on Israel and Palestine distract us from why we are here today: Black Lives Matter!” Salmon called out under the arch at Washington Square.
When I asked Sarah Barasch-Hagans, whose husband Graie was arrested, how the march dealt with the wide range of views on Israel among its members, she said the point was to support Jews of color.
We are being led by the Jews of color themselves who have diverse views on Israel Palestine. That was the call, to show up for them… Those from the outside world– anyone who seeks to separate us, we can’t be– because we are family. With everything else that is going on in the world right now, as Jews figure out their place regarding Israel and Palestine in this movement, it’s important at this moment to show up for the people of color in our community.
She added that a strong Zionist could march alongside an anti-Zionist, if they were committed to supporting Black Lives Matter.
I spent two hours at the march, which was organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and I believe it was successful in its definition of a leftwing political community that included Zionists, anti-Zionists, and non-Zionists.
This was evident because the theme of the march, Black Lives Matter, was affirmed from start to finish with no distractions, and because I saw many anti-Zionist and non-Zionist friends who were eager to participate in the march, and did. They included many well known activists from the Open Hillel movement, which takes no position on Zionism; IfNotNow, which appears to be non-Zionist, as well as members of Jewish Voice for Peace, who tend to be more anti-Zionist, though that group also includes non-Zionists.
Communities are defined by members, not outside observers; and all these folks were in that community, and happy about it.
What’s more, it was clear to me that many younger marchers hunger for Jewish community. These are people who recognize that the organized Jewish community is completely screwed up over Israel and Palestine, but they do not want to be heretics, excommunicated from family. Rachel Sandalow-Ash of Open Hillel was there; and she has insisted that her witness and views on Israel/Palestine must be heard in Jewish spaces, or the community will completely tear apart under the influence of older Jews, and that makes her very sad, and engaged. I have met other young non- and anti-Zionist Jews who also feel a deep personal need for Jewish community and therefore wish to reform that community so it will honor their views. At the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, I met a young rabbi-in-training for whom it was vitally important that the community she loves includes anti-Zionist voices. Last Thursday night gave me a fresh respect for that impulse. It is not mine, but it is obviously a profound need for many people, Jews and non-Jews alike, to form kindred communities. There are many anti-tribal voices on our site; but in coming here some of them too yearn to belong to a tribe.
That being said, I don’t think Thursday night’s community is entirely stable. At the end of the night Julia Carmel was arrested right alongside of April Baskin. Carmel has criticized leading Jewish organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism, over their reflexive condemnation of the “genocide” plank in the BLM platform. Baskin is a multiracial Jew whose black father was beaten by police; and she is an official of the aforesaid Union for Reform Judaism, a Zionist organization (which supported the Iraq war). She said at the beginning of the march:
Never allow ourselves to be divided. Tonight is not about anti. We are for love and accountability. This is something we all deserve, because as Jews we are taught we are all made in the image of the divine.
Those are moving principles, and it is hard to imagine how this community will stay family in supporting them. As the late Leonard Fein said, the creation of Israel was “the most important project of the Jewish people in our time.” In a Jewish political community, it has to come first.