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Why we march for justice and not just us

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I was proud to march against antisemitism with tens of thousands of New Yorkers on Sunday in the wake of the heartbreaking attacks on Orthordox Jewish communities from Monsey to Jersey City to Brooklyn. While Sunday’s march displayed powerful unity in our rejection of antisemitism, it also underscored a central tension in our Jewish communities: Are we fighting for justice, or just us?

For too long, Jewish communal institutions have adopted a “just us” approach. The Anti-Defamation League and the United Jewish Appeal Federation, two of the central organizers of Sunday’s march, have long documented histories of demonizing Muslim and Palestinian communities and supporting policing initiatives that have devasting impacts on communities of color, including Jews of color.

It is unacceptable for institutions that claim to represent our communities to act upon the belief that Jewish safety, protection, and wellbeing can come at the expense of our Black, Palestinian, and Muslim neighbors. On Sunday, these establishment organizations did not break from their shameful track record, instead they chose to double down on division, at precisely the moment when we need to protect and defend other vulnerable communities.

There were certainly those in the crowd who echoed the divisiness and racism from the stage. But the good news is what we experienced within the rest of the crowd: the fault-lines in our community shifting dramatically. We see the broader Jewish community undergoing a seismic awakening. We will no longer allow our fear, grief, or vulnerability to be manipulated into support for increased violence against other communities. We refuse to allow white supremacy to pit us against one another or make us pawns in a system of divide and conquer. Instead of sinking in isolation, we are choosing to rise in solidarity.

We can see signs of this awakening everywhere we look. In a letter to her Kolot Chayeinu Congregation in Brooklyn, Rabbi Miriam Grossman reflected on the powerful experience of  lighting a public menorah on the last night of Chanukah while being protected by a ring of South Asian Muslims and other people of color. “I nearly cried,” wrote Rabbi Grossman. “We will protect each other. We are already protecting each other. The path forward is not isolation or fear but solidarity, relationships, and love.”

Hasidic writer and Monsey resident Shimon Rolnitzky echoed this “path forward” in a moving letter to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency: “The natural friends of Orthodox Jews are other minority communities next to whom we live. A large part of the Black, Latino, and Muslim communities, our neighbors, look at us religious Jews as their natural allies against a world of enmity and hate.” Even the New York Times editorial board agrees on the shortsightedness of policing as a response to antisemitic violence: “flooding Brooklyn communities with police officers is not the solution, particularly given the history of overly aggressive policing tactics in minority neighborhoods.”

Real safety means stronger, more just communities where everyone is free, without exceptions. This is why we, as members of Jewish Voice for Peace, believe that ending antisemitism requires ending Islamophobia here at home and supporting Palestinian self-determination in Israel/Palestine.

Targeted by surveillance programs, police shootings, deportation, and mass incarceration, communities of color have long been at the forefront of envisioning real safety. Our Muslim and Palestinian partners, including the indomitable Linda Sarsour, embodied this on New Year’s Eve by organizing a moving “Safety in Solidarity” gathering in Brooklyn immediately following the attack in Monsey. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez demonstrated this by marching alongside of us across the Brooklyn Bridge.

As I made my way home from the march on Sunday, exhausted and overwhelmed after the third rally against antisemitism in a week, I also had clarity: defending and protecting each other is not an abstraction or a buzzword, or something we do only for people who look like us. It is what we do with our bodies, our sanctuaries, and our traditions, for all communities endangered by the current administration and its authoritarian allies across the globe.

One thing is clear: Our shared enemy is white supremacy and our shared solution is one another.

Jay Saper

Jay Saper is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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10 Responses

  1. Donna Nevel on January 6, 2020, 5:01 pm

    I have read as much as I could from what left Jews wrote or said who were going to, or went to, the rally, including this Mondoweiss piece. Now that the rally is over, I would like to share some additional reflections.

    Given how many opportunities there are to speak out against injustice in so many different ways and that we always make choices about what feels principled or meaningful or not, I honestly don’t understand why left Jews felt they needed to be at this particular rally that was led and called for by Jewish groups that are well-known for their Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian politics (including big bucks and resources put into targeting and demonizing Palestinians, Muslims, and supporters of justice in Palestine) and Jewish chauvinism. The program for the rally reflected these politics big-time, including speakers who conflated antisemitism and anti-Zionism, demonized Palestinians and Muslim political leaders, and worse. 

    I saw some left Jews saying that they and other left Jews would not be pushed out of the Jewish community and won’t silence their voices. I do really appreciate that in some contexts, but, in this case, left Jews weren’t being pushed out or silenced. They were free to come to the rally (including with their signs) under the leadership of the hateful groups running it.

    I also saw some left Jews say they wanted to, and were proud to, join with Jews from across the city, that they wanted to participate in a large Jewish rally against antisemitism, that they wanted some visible signs (connecting the struggles of challenging antisemitism and Islamophobia, etc.) that reflect the views of many Jewish New Yorkers, and that they wanted to be clear that these organizations who organized it don’t represent all Jews. That is surely true but it was all over the press, everywhere you looked, that this rally was organized by the JCRC, UJA, ADL, etc. It without a doubt gave them and their views legitimacy as Jewish organizations and organizational leaders despite some good signs with different messaging. (It is worth noting that their harmful views are often related to domestic as well as international. issues impacting marginalized communities. Also, while the groups organizing the rally may not like the presence of left Jews, the impact of their positions on Muslims and Palestinians is far, far worse.)

    I know that caring people came to the rally with good signs. I do not question the good, even great intentions. I also saw some good signs in the media (though I saw much much more bad ones with lots of Israeli flags).  But I keep coming back to this question/thought. I do think that had the organizers/leaders of a rally (any rally) been antisemites who poured lots of resources into demonizing Jews, Jews on the left wouldn’t participate even if they had the opportunity to bring good signs. So why should we have a different reaction when it’s led by Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian Jewish chauvinists? Why, at a time of virulent Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism within our communities and in our govt.—would we think its ok to join a rally on antisemitism led by Jewish racists (and whose distorted analysis of antisemitism is often harmful and dangerous to Palestinians and supporters of justice in Palestine)? 

    I am a firm believer that liberation at the expense of another people is not liberation and that justice for one community at the expense of other communities is not justice. 

    • echinococcus on January 13, 2020, 1:28 pm

      “I do not question the good, even great intentions”

      There are exactly none. Participants in this farce do value their belonging to the tribe higher than universalist justice on universal principles, and will drop Palestinian resistance rather than what they call “their own people” when put before the choice. That’s the message conveyed to the ruling-class warmongers by their participation under their own banners. One may charitably concede, though, that some may be unconscious of what they are doing — but that’s an additional reason they will join the enemy when the s. hits the f.

  2. jon s on January 7, 2020, 11:35 am

    When I’m thinking of joining a march or demo I generally check what the aims and slogans are and if I agree I’ll go even if I know that there will be other participants with whom I disagree on other issues. If the issue is important and urgent we should not be purists .
    In this case, a march against hate ,racism and Anti Semitism, I wouldn’t stay away because I don’t like some of the other participants as long as the message is agreed upon.

    • Mooser on January 7, 2020, 3:04 pm

      “In this case, a march against hate ,racism and Anti Semitism,”

      Yeah, like Jews need Zionists to defend them from anti-Semitism. Don’t do me any favors.

      • eljay on January 7, 2020, 3:26 pm

        || Mooser: “In this case, a march against hate ,racism and Anti Semitism,”

        Yeah, like Jews need Zionists to defend them from anti-Semitism. Don’t do me any favors. ||

        I think jon s could do a lot of good. In marches and demos against colonialism, religion-based supremacism and (war) crimes – an agreeable message if ever there was one! – he could be counted on not to be a purist and not to stay away just because:
        – some of the organizers have “long documented histories of demonizing Jewish communities”; or
        – there will be other participants with whom he would disagree on other issues.

  3. JoeSmack on January 8, 2020, 6:48 pm

    Have to agree with the others that this is some straight garbage. As usual JFREJ and JVP are more interested in showing their attachment to the Jewish community than they are to the Left, and when the two things clash they will be unreliable allies who validate right-wing extremist marches.

  4. Michael Lesher on January 12, 2020, 4:43 am

    I’m glad to see many readers disagreeing with the premise that joining last Sunday’s march — a war rally, in my view — was required by some sort of commitment to “fighting anti-Semitism.”

    I don’t question the decent motives of many who were seduced into joining. But I think it was a mistake. And I’ve published a column explaining why: “About That Hate and Fear March — Sorry, That ‘No Hate, No Fear’ March Last Sunday.”

  5. echinococcus on January 12, 2020, 10:09 am

    All this antisemitism business has nothing to do with support to Palestinian resistance against Zionist invasion and occupation.

    Some people who join the supporters of Palestinian resistance in order to promote their real objective of hunting so–called antisemitism (still undefined) should be put on notice. The invasion and occupation of Palestine by a racist political faction has nothing to do with either “antisemitism” or religion.

    Either the so-called Jewishness of the Zionists is unrelated to the rape of Palestine and antisemitism and the hunt against “antisemitism” has no business with solidarity to Palestinian resistance,
    or by making the connection you acknowledge that Jews, in the aggregate, are not distinct from Zionists.

    JVP is in this business principally to hunt “antisemites” and clear the name of Jewishness. Not an objective in any way relevant to Palestinian resistance against Zionist invasion and occupation.

  6. echinococcus on January 12, 2020, 10:26 am

    A textbook example for the meaning of the loanword “chutzpa” is this:

    Pretending to join the opposition against an invader kingdom created by Jewish mytho-nationalism gone mad, in order to use this opposition to “fight antisemitism” in the service of Jewish mytho-nationalism.

    Stripped of secondary detail, that is precisely what JVP is about.

    And some people are falling for it.

  7. wondering jew on January 19, 2020, 10:54 am

    I marched over the bridge and read this article almost two weeks ago and am not prepared to parse the argument here, if it is an argument.
    Let me say this, an emotional reaction: These JVP types have never spoken to a haredi Jew in their life, with the sole exception of chatting seven words to the Neturei Karta types who stand nearby attacking Israel when JVP is attacking Israel seven feet away with different signs. Other than that, they have never spoken to a Haredi Jew and the attacks in NYC have been against Haredi jews, so the attitude here of really not caring about Haredi Jews does not stem from universalist idealism (the world rather than us), it stems from utter alienation and apathy regarding the attacked Haredi Jews. So you don’t really give a damn about the specific victims here, so it is so easy to cloak yourself in the mantle of universalism, when it has nothing to do with that, that you just don’t give a damn about the Other. (or you choose the Other that you care about, the minorities to whom you are in fact close in ideology and general sympathies, but not the Haredi).

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