A week ago, I woke up in my apartment in Pittsburgh, excited to discover a local protest in solidarity with Black Lives and Black Women aligned with #MLKSitIn that afternoon. I scheduled my day around it, connected on Twitter with some organizers, and made my way there. Under a bridge, near a bus station named for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I joined this congregation seeking justice. I wore my “Come Together Against Hate” t-shirt, declaring my general belief and my connection with a group of the same name. I stood beside a large Palestinian flag that waved slightly in the breeze.
For the next two hours, I listened. I listened to black women who spoke of challenges and concerns that my white male privilege has shielded me from. I listened to black women who prayed for resolution, strength, and protection. I listened to black women who wanted justice. Beside them, supporting them, and in their name, I chanted, “we’re on the people’s side”, “trust Black women”, and “Black lives matter.”
I believe in my bones that at this time, it is essential to stand up for Black Lives. For centuries, our country has brutalized black bodies and forced them from the access to power to improve their communities. Because we are not separate from them, their pain is and must be ours.
While I stood there, protesting the treatment of my black brothers and sisters, I eyed that Palestinian flag. I won’t deny my discomfort, for I knew the connotations of its being there. I believe very deeply that the Palestinians are not being treated right by Israel. Israel’s policies over the West Bank and its occupation are detrimental to the future of Israel and Palestine. Palestinians are not provided the opportunities they need.
Seeing that flag there left echoes of chants, “from the river to the sea” seen from protests attended before. From angry faces seen on the news and in pictures. Seeing that flag there felt like my love for a state, still striving to become the Jewish homeland it is yet to be, was dirty.
And yet, I stood there anyway, chanting “black lives matter” because it is still the right thing to do. I stood beside that flag because, even though I was uncomfortable, I believe that the Palestinians need to be more free.
Dr. Tal Becker’s article, “Beyond Survival: Jewish Values and Aspirational Zionism” guides me and the way I approach this Jewish state. My Zionism seeks an Israel that is just, free, Jewish, and at peace with its neighbors. My Zionism seeks an Israel that does not build settlements in the West Bank, but lives in mutual economic and social benefit with a Palestinian state there. My Zionism seeks an Israel that provides true religious pluralism there. My Zionism is not satisfied with the current Israel.
My Zionism does not prevent me from standing beside Black lives. My Zionism can take and even appreciate the Palestinian flag, despite the chants that often come with it.
Israel does not commit genocide. It is not an apartheid state. It is inaccurate and dangerous to say so. The Movement for Black Lives can, and should, reevaluate this claim, invite passionate Jewish leaders to the table, and remove it from their platform. This platform will not stop me from seeking justice and from standing up for Black lives.
I’ve been reading, “What Would Martin Say?” by Clarence B. Jones, since I saw him speak at IKAR earlier this year. It is eye opening and insightful. I read, as expected, chapters on immigration, terrorism, affirmative action, and even a chapter on the person who killed him. However, I was surprised to find a chapter about anti-semitism.
Rev. King Jr.’s relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is legendary in the Jewish community. Their work together is a symbol of hope and guidance for so many of us. In Dr. Jones’ book, he relayed the following.
“No matter how devastated their communities may have been by enemies who wanted to destroy them almost every generation, in a single generation or less Jews would succeed again. This is what Martin intended for his own people, and he believed it was possible. Call it a shared dream.”
This is still true! Despite the reactions this week, the Jewish community, I believe, will not abandon its belief in justice for all. Dr. Jones continued, in Dr. King Jr.’s words to the African-American community:
“He’d also caution African Americans that our history of identifying with anticolonial struggles should not be misapplied here and lead to uncritical support of the Palestinians…he’d say that blaming the world’s ills on two-tenths of one percent of the world’s population is sheer madness.”
I can’t and won’t say how African-American’s should feel because I am not a member of the community, that would be inappropriate. I do believe strongly, not just as a Jew, not just as a rabbi, not just as an American, but as someone who believes in humanity and in justice, two things. First, that the Israel portions of the Movement for Black Lives platform and the beliefs behind it are inaccurate, wrong, and detrimental to everyone, including the Palestinians. It ignores history and facts. Second, that I will not stop standing up for Black lives because it is the right thing to do.
Let us not abandon our beliefs in the face of foolish, albeit dangerous, rhetoric. Let us use this as an opportunity to build better connections not push each other apart. Let us not forget that members of our own community, which includes Jews of color. Their lives matter and are included in both circles of this sociological Venn-diagram.
I invite and will seek greater and stronger relationships with my Black neighbors, to foster trust and understanding, to seek justice and peace, to show and plant seeds of love, and to make our world a better place.