Bend the Arc is an organization “uniting progressive Jewish voices across America to fight for justice for all”. They recently sent out a sign on letter to Jewish Americans and Jewish organizations calling what is happening in the US and under the Trump administration a moral state of emergency. I agree wholeheartedly with calling out this moral bankruptcy and exposing the cruelty of the administration’s positions. And while reading it, I could not help but just replace Trump with Netanyahu, and the groups targeted with those who experience inhumane and unethical practices, policies and laws against them in Israel, which the institutional Jewish community either actively support or in their silence.
Bend the Arc has historically separated working on justice domestically and internationally, keeping a distance from calling out the Israeli government and its policies toward Palestinians. Many of the other organizations and individuals that will likely sign on will find comfort calling out this administration all the while participating in the silence or actively and aggressively silencing those who would do the same related to Israeli policies. Not only are 20% of the Israeli population Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Druze citizens, but the Israeli government continues the occupation over almost 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and a siege on 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza. In the spirit of transcending borders to dismantle white supremacy, fascism, racism, islamophobia, and patriarchy and seeing the connections between these interlocking systems of oppression, I give you this rewrite, because the mainstream and even progressive Jewish institutions and certainly the Israeli government, will not. This is the letter we would have liked to have people sign. – Ilise Benshushan Cohen, on behalf of The Jews of Color, Sephardi and Mizrahi Caucus
We Declare a State of Moral Emergency
The Netanyahu Administration’s inhumane immigration and detention policies can only continue if good people stay silent. Add your voice to this communal declaration from the Jewish community.
To the state of Israel, in whose promise many of us were taught to believe and where we continue to fight for a just future for all; to the millions of people who are outraged and horrified; to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homes, to the hundreds of Yemeni and other North African Jewish children who were kidnapped from their families decades ago by the Israeli government; to the thousands of Palestinian children who have been taken from their homes, arrested in the middle of the night, detained for months, and separated from their families; to the Palestinian unarmed protesters including children, medics and journalists, killed by Israeli fire in Gaza during the March of Return; and to the tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who have faced racism, detention, deportation and state violence simply for seeking refuge; we declare the state of Israel to be in a state of moral emergency.
This Israeli government has established immigration, border, and social policies unprecedented in their scope and cruelty, that have been and are inflicting physical, mental, and emotional harm on African refugees, Palestinians and minoritized Jews. African refugees and asylum seekers and their families seeking refuge at the borders have been subjected to state violence, through incitement, detention, forced deportation and indefinite incarceration. The Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza, many of whom are Palestinian refugees, have endured decades of Israeli occupation and siege. Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews have faced multiple forms of institutional discrimination, forced assimilation and criminalization.
We are anguished by the stories and images of desperate Yemeni Jewish parents forever separated from their babies, Palestinian children torn from their families and detained in Israeli jails, African refugees criminalized, targeted, detained, forcibly deported and dispersed throughout the country. We shudder with the knowledge that these inhumane policies have been and are committed in our name [as Jewish people], and we lift our voices in protest.
The Jewish community, like many others, knows all too well what it looks like for a government to criminalize the most vulnerable, to lie and obfuscate to justify grossly immoral and unethical practices under the banner of “the law,” to interpret holy scripture as a cover for human cruelty, to normalize what can never be made normal. We have seen this before.
When crying children are taken from their parents, whether Yemeni-Jewish or Palestinian, the American Jewish community must not remain silent. When African refugee families from Eritrea and Sudan have been faced with anti-black racism through mob vigilante violence, detention, forcible deportation and indefinite incarceration, the American Jewish community must not remain silent.
To those who are targeted by these cruel policies, know that some of us in the American Jewish community hear your cries. We will take risks to support you, and we will demand that our Jewish communities take action. We will not abide the claim that people didn’t know or understand the extent of your suffering; we will not allow your torment to be in vain.
The Israeli government can persist in this inhumane behavior only if good people remain silent.
And so we declare a state of moral emergency [and we declare this particular state in a moral emergency], and we rise to meet this moment. Even as the democratic institutions are under duress, we raise our voices and take decisive action. United by the wisdom of our tradition, we stand with immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, Palestinians, and African refugees against state violence, with the children, and with their parents. We declare: Not here. Not now. Not in our name. And now we must act.
Ilise Benshushan Cohen
On behalf of The Jews of Color, Sephardi and Mizrahi Caucus