As someone of both Jewish and African-American heritage, I find it quite sad that although both of these communities were once inextricably linked in the USA, it seems that those ties are now fraying. One of the causes for this, based on my observations, is how each of these communities tackles centuries of discrimination and hatred in the modern era.
After the era of pogroms in eastern Europe and the Dreyfuss Affair in France, many Jews in Europe felt they’d had enough. Zionism emerged out of an ancient dream—to be a free nation in our own ancestral homeland: Eretz Yisrael. Initially, Zionism was a relatively small movement of Jews fleeing persecution from places like Poland, Yemen, and Russia and joining the Jewish community that already existed in the then-Ottoman-controlled Palestine region. Many Jews elsewhere decided to stay put, even if they supported the Zionist movement, because they were now “German”, “Iranian”, “British”, or “French”. Why go toil in the sweltering wadis of the Negev or the mosquito-infested swamps of the Kinneret or coastal plain rather than live in relative comfort, especially after having served your adopted country in the First World War? Why risk attacks by Arab Palestinian marauders instead of the seemingly-lower chance of encountering the relatively familiar (even comfortable by comparison) Iranian or European anti-Semitism?
But by the time the Zionist movement gained steam (and indeed when many Jews realized the need for it), it was too late. Arab riots broke out against Jewish communities in Jerusalem and Hebron in the late 1920s, and the British, who now ruled over Palestine, blamed the Jews and slowed or halted aliyah. The British reneged on their promise of establishing a Jewish state in the area, and kept trying to shrink the land of our ancestors to a small parcel that was barely defensible against attack. Even with the outbreak of the Holocaust and thereafter, millions of Jews were either murdered, denied entry into Palestine, or turned away from the shores of seemingly “civilized” countries where we believed we were finally accepted and assimilated. With the attacks on the British by Jewish paramilitary forces and the beginning of illegal immigration of Jews into Palestine, the Jewish community would no longer sit around and hope for the best or rely on others. Since then, Israel has faced record world condemnation (often stemming from naive views about the Middle East or outright racism), yet continued to bomb Iraqi and Syrian nuclear sites, build “settlements”, and defend itself against terror. In essence, the message postwar Zionism sent to Gentiles was that we would be the masters of our own fate, rely upon ourselves, and trust no one but ourselves with the safety and security of the Jewish people.
The African-American community (and increasingly the Latino community as well) have taken a different approach in modern times that I think is foolish. Take a look at the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement. It had the chance to truly advocate for peace and justice, while empowering the community it represents. Instead, it bizarrely stops gay pride parades (where the overwhelming majority of attendees, as fellow liberals, are allies of the movement), enters restaurants to shout at customers, and allows itself to be infiltrated by crazies that seem to suggest Canada’s prime minister is a White supremacist and terrorist. Rather than gaining allies, moves like these are turning potential supporters away and giving more voice to the arguments of racists that Black rights activists are “thuggish” or “deserve police brutality”. Unlike Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, this is not strategic. Moreover, Dr. King welcomed people of all backgrounds and political beliefs, knowing that it would take the unity of all people to achieve the equality of all. BLM and other liberal, grassroots activist movements increasingly exclude those with different beliefs or of different backgrounds than them. Along these lines, it is bad politics to rely almost exclusively on Democrats for matters of social justice. The Democratic Party has a long history of taking the minority vote for granted—something that Native Americans have long understood, and which Jews are beginning to–and rather than holding them accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, the Black and Latino communities throw their weight behind them without question merely because they sound nicer to minorities than the GOP. Never mind that former president Barack Obama launched a crackdown on drugs (especially marijuana) harsher than George W. Bush, did very little to truly improve the lives of impoverished minorities, and hardly campaigned in inner cities or predominantly African-American areas in 2008 or 2012.
Another issue I see with many current movements, such as BLM, is that they don’t solely focus on matters pertaining to their movement. Why bring up the Palestinian conflict with Israel? What does that have to do with police brutality against people of color? It would be different and appropriate if BLM chose to highlight and protest against the plight of African refugees and African Jews in Israel, but sadly the BLM movement and its alliance seeks to deny basic Jewish history (as exemplified by Michael Bennett’s erroneous claim that Palestinians have been living in Israel for “thousands of years”) based on shallow narratives of “victimhood”. Indeed, both BDS and BLM thrive on a narrative of being victimized. But this alliance between BDS/anti-Zionists and Black rights groups is unnatural, offensive, and harmful. BDS is anti-Semitic, calls for the elimination of Israel, and fails to hold the corrupt and pro-terrorist Palestinian leadership accountable for the suffering of many Palestinians. Traditional Black rights leaders and activists, like Dr. King, were ardent Zionists. BLM also ignores the fact that Palestinians capture and murder African refugees fleeing to Israel when they arrive in Gaza, as well as the broader systemic racism against Black people in Arab society. They conveniently forget where Europeans got the idea of enslaving our people–from the Arab slave trade, which began 7 centuries earlier than the one we’re all familiar with. They are silent about the Arab rape and colonization of Mother Africa, be it from the Amazigh of the Maghreb or the Black Ancient Egyptians and Sudanese. And now, these “activists” are being used, yet again, by a pan-Arab movement that cares not for our well-being, but seeks to use us now and discard us later when their goals are accomplished. If there is a Middle Eastern version of “The Man” that stole the land of natives and mistreated Blacks on a massive level, it isn’t the Jews; it’s the Arabs.
While it’s true that African-Americans have been treated awfully ever since first being stolen from our homes and brought to the New World in chains, continuing to ask for or believe that reparations will be given nearly two centuries after emancipation is a waste of time. By continuing down this path, we are only giving Democrats what they want (to see minorities continue to be fed a narrative that we are victims for all eternity, and so we must vote for Democrats to “empower us”, only for them to remain in power and do little or nothing to help us other than say something nice). Instead, the Black community should realize it’s time to hold ourselves, our government, and both major political parties to the highest standard. If they speak out against inequality, then they must also act on it, no matter who it targets or threatens. And we must say that we will no longer be anyone’s victim. Zionism portrays the Jewish nation as a proud people who, despite centuries of persecution at the hands of European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims, are now back in our indigenous homeland and the masters of our own fate. We are not just “victims”; we are survivors. Black Lives Matter has failed to portray the same kind of positive, forward-looking and forward-thinking vision for African-Americans. Let’s hope another social justice movement emerges that will take its place and present Black people as survivors as well, who take our fate into our own hands, and rely more on ourselves for our well-being.