Blacks and Jews Attacked at Case Western

As Black Americans, our story is different. We are the only community whose members mainly arrived in the United States involuntarily. We were kept separate by the scourge of segregation and Jim Crow laws. We have faced lynching, cross-burnings, and voter suppression. And from that legacy of oppression, we have risen up with a mighty voice – and demanded that our people be given the same rights, respect, and membership in society that every community deserves.

Because of our story and our special place in American society, many other groups of people have tried over the years to appropriate Black issues and the Black legacy and present on Civil Rights to advocate for unjust causes. The most egregious of these manipulators are the vicious anti-Israel radicals who have terrorized so many college campuses and attempted to sell Black students on the idea that American racism is the creation of the Jewish people. The concept is risible, and we as Black Americans must not allow antisemites to appropriate our causes, or to lead members of our community to themselves engage in hatred and discrimination.

Of course, the Jewish story in America is special, too. Not in the grotesque, conspiratorial way suggested by antisemitic tropes promulgated by anti-Israel radicals, such as the ludicrous claim that “Jews ran most of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.” In truth, studies have determined that the Jewish role in African slavery was “exceedingly limited.” In fact, the Jewish people and the stories of the Hebrew Bible have always been a tremendous inspiration to Black Americans – especially the inspiring Jewish celebration of Passover, the holiday of freedom. Think of Harriet Tubman, “Grandma Moses,” who in the words of the old spiritual went “way down to Egypt land” again and again to let our people go. The Prophet Moses – for both Blacks and Jews – is a symbol of freedom and national liberation. The formative experience of the Black and Jewish cultures are the same – liberation from slavery and commitment to a better future for our children.

For anti-Israel extremists, there is, of course, never any attention paid to the shared legacy of American Blacks and Jews in resisting racism and exclusion, notably the many American Jews who fought for civil and voting rights for our community in the 1950s and 1960s. Some paid with their lives, like Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who with their Black colleague James Chaney was murdered during Freedom Summer in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1964 by members of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet anti-Israel charlatans have devised a propaganda campaign called Deadly Exchange, which absurdly claims that Israelis are training American police forces to target people of color and are effectively responsible for racism in American policing. 

Most recently, forces at Case Western Reserve University aligned with Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel – an ideology recognized as antisemitic by the US State Department –have launched a campaign at their undergraduate student government calling on the administration to divest from Israeli companies and from companies that operate private prisons in the United States, as well as from several American defense contractors. Their draft petition, to be voted on September 20, is almost entirely dedicated to vilifying Israel, except for one brief “whereas” clause: “Whereas, solidarity with the Palestinian people and Palestinian prisoners cannot be demonstrated without solidarity with all victims internationally of the global prison and military industrial complexes….” And just like that, the campaign to end the Jewish state’s existence has been surreptitiously linked to America’s unacceptable prison disparity, where Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at nearly five times the rate of whites. It is pretty clear what the perpetrators are up to: they are trying to divert justifiable Black anger with an unjust system against the innocent American Jewish community, which BDS despises.

We’ve seen this movie before. Again and again, BDS has tried to create a false linkage between the existence of Israel and the plight of Blacks in America, transparently trying to create mistrust between the two communities most responsible – as allies – for our country’s nondiscrimination laws, which protect individuals not only on the basis of race and color but also religion and national origin. Black Americans must continue to embrace our Jewish brothers and sisters in the ongoing struggle to ensure that everyone in America is treated equally, regardless of their innate identifying characteristics. It is outrageous that BDS continues to target Black Americans and attempt to goad us into discrimination against our fellow citizens of the Mosaic faith. We must reject these hateful voices and speak forcefully in favor of nondiscrimination in both race and religion. These are our values, and we will not allow BDS – as it is now attempting to do at Case Western – to distort them.

About the Author
Iraq War veteran and author of 'Always a Soldier'
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