“We must realize that the foot on the necks of the Black and Brown people of this nation is the same foot and the same knee that is choking the Palestinian people.”
—Salaedin Maksut, Executive Director of CAIR-NJ, July 3, 2020 (Day of Rage in North Bergen)
Enough is enough. It is time to stop opportunistically taking advantage of the momentum around improving the lives of the American Black community by spreading misinformation and espousing anti-Semitism.
The American Jewish community has a long history of advocating for social and racial justice and equality. Our values are rooted in the idea that God created humankind equally. The Jewish community was influential in the creation of the Urban League in 1911 and the NAACP in 1914. Throughout the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Jews were seen standing shoulder to shoulder with the African American community. This is memorialized by the well-known picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel linked arm in arm with civil rights leaders, including Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a picture that illustrates our strong commitment to standing together against injustice, hatred, and bigotry.
However, it is now 2020, and what should be a clear issue of racial justice has become muddied. In our increasingly segmented society, mainstream and social media have created a world where every decision, action, or statement is polarizing. The issue of racial justice for all should not be politicized, nor should it be polarizing. And yet, somehow, it has become just that.
Our Jewish community overwhelmingly supports the notion of equal rights and racial justice for all. The idea of tikkun olam (repairing the world, or even leaving it better than it was) is a basic tenet of our faith. Thus, it is natural that we recognize the need to fix the racist elements in our society and support all efforts to address it. However, when that agenda gets co-opted by anti-Semitic and anti-Israel forces, the challenge becomes very difficult.
This is exactly what is happening today, and it is being done quite deliberately.
Our foes are seizing on the racial injustice wave of media coverage and attaching anti-Semitic tropes to a legitimate cause. Since the horrific death of George Floyd, our media headlines have been flooded with stories highlighting the battle of race and society that has emerged in our country. The anti-Semites and anti-Israel folks have seized this opportunity to spread their message of hate and bigotry.
Whether it’s DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles tweeting false Hitler quotes about Jewish colonial aspirations toward African Americans and claiming African Americans are the real children of Israel, or whether it is Saleadin Maksut, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey, comparing the death of George Floyd to “choking the Palestinian people,” these comments are dishonest and disingenuous about the real issues at hand. Yet their statements have emboldened numerous others to join in to promote Black rights by bashing Jews and/or Israel.
Sadly, there are many more examples of this rampant explosion in anti-Semitic diatribes.
Last month, rioting in Los Angeles following the murder of George Floyd saw Jewish shops destroyed, synagogues vandalized with “Free Palestine” graffiti, and a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from being murdered by the Nazis, daubed in anti-Semitic slogans.
A Junetenth rally in New York City on June 17, sponsored by a group called Muslims4Abolition and supported by none other than Linda Sarsour, was “open to all, minus cops & Zionists.” This is not Ms. Sarsour’s first foray into co-opting real American social issues into anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tropes. She had cannibalized the “Women’s March” movement in the same way, and the media and mainstream America swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
Make no mistake, Muslims4Abolition, CAIR, and other groups are capitalizing on the news cycle to co-opt a legitimate agenda. Why are Black Lives Matter protests likening American police tactics to the Israel Defense Force? Why would a BLM rally include signs like “dirty Zionist”? Why did the Days of Rage march in Washington, DC, on July 3 have protesters shouting phrases such as “Israel, we know you murder children too?” Sadly, scenes like this are sorely neglected by the media.
These actions are hurting everyone except the co-opters themselves – and this needs to change. For the true advocates of racial equality, their agenda is being hijacked. Most of them don’t even realize that it’s happening. Under the guise of working toward racial equity, they are fueling other forms of bigotry with lies. Here in northern New Jersey, we have a strong relationship with the NAACP. When synagogues in Bergen County were being firebombed in 2012, Anthony Cureton — then the president of the NAACP and now Bergen County Sheriff — stood by our side and condemned the attacks.
Our Jewish federation sponsors the We The People program, founded by Bergen County Freeholder Tracy Zur, to connect children from different backgrounds in a day of service in Dr. King’s memory; through the federation’s Supplies for Success program, we provide school backpacks and supplies for nearly 1,800 public school students in Hackensack and Teaneck; and we are hosting a three-part series open to the community about confronting unconscious bias and about what needs to be done to create a meaningful partnership with the Black community.
It is high time for the Jewish community to rally others to understand the real issue and put the racial justice agenda back on its singular and legitimate path. We need to find partners in this endeavor that have not been co-opted by anti-Semitic and anti-Israel voices, and who will commit to not being co-opted in this way. It is only when we work together that we can find justice and equality for all. None of this work will be easy. However, we can no longer allow the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, CAIR, Muslims4Abolition, or anyone else to hijack an effort that we enthusiastically support.
The mainstream Jewish community stands by our longstanding belief in human equality. Organizations like the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey practice what we preach, and we cannot stand idly by as our community and Israel are demonized in this fight that we have been fighting for over 100 years. Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and it is hatred of the Jewish people, plain and simple.