The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jewish groups decry Black Lives Matter platform’s view on Israel

Dozens of Black Lives Matter organizations jointly released a wide-ranging platform Monday spelling out standpoints on dozens of issues.

On almost all of the issues — including education, food insecurity, criminal sentencing and policing — progressive Jewish groups heartily agree. But the new platform’s stance on Israel has angered major Jewish organizations.

The platform calls for an end to U.S. federal aid for Israel. By providing aid, the platform argues, the United States is “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” Criticizing the construction of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas and the arrest of young Palestinians, it describes Israel as “an apartheid state.”

That inflammatory language drew a strong response from Jewish leaders Thursday.

“It’s never helpful, never helpful to use phrases like ‘complicit in genocide,’ which is patently false, or to make unfair analogies to apartheid,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner told The Washington Post.

Pesner leads the Religious Action Center, which Thursday released a statement decrying the Israel plank, in conjunction with the Union for Reform Judaism — the largest and most liberal U.S. denomination of Judaism — and several other major Reform bodies.

T’ruah, a politically liberal Jewish activist group, posted a similar statement. And, in Washington, prominent rabbi Gil Steinlauf, who counts U.S. Supreme Court justices among his congregation at Cleveland Park’s Adas Israel, wrote a similar letter.

The Movement for Black Lives platform, the first major document laying out the Black Lives Matter movement’s specific vision for transformation of American political systems, was written by more than 60 organizations that have sprung up as part of the nationwide protest movement. Chelsea Fuller, a leader of the Advancement Project who said she works with the Movement for Black Lives leadership team, said that none of the organizations wanted to comment Thursday on the Israel plank.

The cause of Palestinians has been embraced by many supporters of Black Lives Matter. At Black Lives Matter rallies and marches in U.S. cities since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, it has been common to see the occasional Palestinian flag alongside “I Can’t Breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace” posters in the crowds.

Black Lives Matter and Palestinian activists release a video together

Pesner recounted the significant involvement of Jews in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and Jewish efforts to promote racial justice today, including Reform rabbis’ partnerships with Black Lives Matter organizations in several cities and a new voter-rights initiative that his organization launched in North Carolina this week.

“The platform is really broad. There’s 40 issues on the platform. Many, many, many of the elements of the platform, not only do we agree with, but we advocate for aggressively. The agenda lines up,” Pesner said. “That’s part of why this was so painful. It is such an anomaly for us.”

And some of these liberal organizations agree with some of the Movement for Black Lives points on Israel. Pesner said the Religious Action Center has lobbied Israeli officials to oppose the construction of settlements. In T’ruah’s statement, the organization said it agreed with the Movement for Black Lives’ unease over local legislation banning boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel — because although T’ruah rejects BDS, it supports free speech.

T’ruah’s statement offered its own criticism of Israel: “We are committed to ending the occupation, which leads to daily human rights violations against Palestinians, and also compromises the safety of Israelis.”

But all these Jewish leaders felt the terms “genocide” and “apartheid” went much too far.

“The concern I feel, together with many Jewish people, is precisely because the BlackLivesMatter movement has so much to teach the world about making sure that voices are heard. … Labeling us Jews as perpetrators of genocide, you are unwittingly promoting a message of hatred and injustice,” Steinlauf of Adas Israel wrote. “I implore you to treat the Jewish people the way you ask this nation to treat black people: to be still and to listen to us.”