Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Shared at Erev Shabbat service on Aug 5, 2016

Last summer, almost exactly one year ago, I marched with the Torah on a journey. It was a 40-day plus journey made up of 1,000 miles from Selma, Alabama to Washington DC – I was a part of that journey for just a few days, just a few miles, but I saw myself as a part of a larger whole. We were on a journey for justice. Organized by the NAACP in partnership with many other organizations including the Union for Reform Judaism, we were marching to draw attention to racial injustice, to the erosion of access to voting rights, and to a criminal justice system in need of reform. I marched because I felt solidarity as a Jew – our story is steeped in oppression. And I marched because I felt solidarity as a human being. I marched because I know that justice for one is justice for all.

Proudly then and now, I join my voice with others to proclaim that black lives matter.

But today, I am uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable due to the new platform just released this week from the Movement for Black Lives, which is the coalition of more than 50 organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement. In that platform, there is a clear attack on Israel. It reads: “The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people... Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.”

Now while there are some who will disagree, let me say that this is blatantly false. Genocide is not a term to throw around lightly and neither is apartheid.

And so I am more than a bit stymied.

The politics of intersectionality bring together the oppressed. The oppressed stand with the oppressed and oppression becomes shared. It urges us to ask ourselves, how can I protest my injustice without recognizing yours and vice versa. In this case, those who authored the Movement for Black Lives platform see their oppression aligned with that of the Palestinian people, both oppressed through the US government – the Palestinians via the support of Israel by the United States.

Intersectionality can be a powerful tool. It can create empathy and draw together a coalition of people with shared concerns. It can break us out of our own boxes to truly see what else is going on around us. It builds power.

And it can be good – but only up to a limit. Certainly not when it is utilizing misinformation and creating false equivalencies. The American Jewish community has overwhelmingly been staunch supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is now seemingly being hi-jacked by a particular anti-Israel agenda.

Let me share this about Israel. It is not as it should be, but neither is any other nation. We all have work to do. And I will say this as well. I stand with the Reform movement in calling for and working towards a two-state solution and the emergence of a state called Palestine beside a safe and secure Israel. There are many routes to get there, but promoting the demonization of Israel is not one of them and neither is BDS – Boycott, Divest, Sanction – which this platform from the Movement for Black Lives also promoted. We have evidence time and again that BDS towards Israel is not healthy economic protest; it almost always originates from and very quickly devolves into anti-Semitism.

As Rabbi Jonah Pesner shared in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism statement published yesterday, written on behalf of us, the Reform movement: “Anti-Israel rhetoric like that found in the Movement for Black Lives policy platform is especially troubling because it falsely suggests American Jews – both of color and white – must choose between their commitment to combatting racism in the United States and their Zionism. We reject wholeheartedly the notion that effective anti-racism work can only be done by denouncing and excoriating Israel.

My hope is that those who count themselves as a part of this movement for racial justice will reject this anti-Israel rhetoric in the strongest terms possible. And I will fight to make this urging known in the ways that I am able to, especially among my African-American partners in this work. This part of the Black Lives Matter platform is a mistake and it is wrong, plain and simple. But I will not let it deter me from the work that needs to get done.

I will continue to defend Israel’s right to exist even as I will continue to stand up for racial justice. I will continue to call for fair policing, continue to fight for criminal justice reform, continue to call attention to issues of disparity pointed towards the black community. And I will call out injustice when I see it. And I see it in the platform from the Movement for Black Lives. It is an injustice to Israel and to the American Jewish community and to me.

But we mustn’t despair. Our voices can be loud; our wills can be strong. We will, God-willing, bring justice to this world and we will stay true to our values. Let us continue – all of us - to work towards the day where justice is abundant, where it rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Ken y’hi ratzon. May it be God’s will. Amen. Shabbat shalom.

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