Moral Responsibility, Israel and Black Lives Matter

Categories: Letters from the Leadership
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The recently issued Platform of the Movement for Black Lives has generated widespread and anguished responses from across the American Jewish community due to its inflammatory language on Israel.  It has also created great distress for many in the Jewish community who are deeply committed to social and racial justice, including in many cases a just solution for the Palestinian people. 

For me this situation calls for balance and respect.  Out of respect for the grassroots activists of the larger Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement who seek to make our country more just, I believe BLM continues to deserve our support, even when the Israel-bashing in the Platform of the more ideologically-defined Movement for Black Lives causes us pain.  We also must keep in mind that Israel is but a small part of the overall Platform, one paragraph of one section of a long and comprehensive document.  Moreover, based on our experience fighting antisemitism, we in the Jewish community can and should be strong advocates against the misguided and disingenuous “All Lives Matter” response to BLM, since this misses the reality that for all lives to be treated equitably, the specific injustices of institutionalized racism against people of color must be eliminated.

Still, acting with respect for the movement as a whole also means not ignoring the factually wrong and grossly insensitive nature of the Israel section of the Platform – characterizing Israel as “an apartheid state” committing “genocide” against the Palestinian people, and fully embracing the BDS movement without a word about Israel’s legitimate right to security or even sovereignty alongside an independent Palestine.  Silence would be a grave form of disrespect for that movement’s moral agency, since being victims of real injustice does not provide moral license to promote false and harmful positions without criticism.  As I see it, refraining from such criticism would be an unacceptable form of moral infantilization of BLM and an act of irresponsibility towards our community as moral actors seeking to promote justice.

I believe that T’ruah has best found the balance of respectful comment and integrity that this very difficult issue warrants. This kind of sensitive and nuanced response allows for a wide spectrum of Jews to support BLM as true (honest) allies, creating the strongest possible coalition for justice that will serve the urgent needs of people of color (and in the way that T’ruah addressed this, for Palestinians as well).

Furthermore, as Ken Bob and I co-wrote with leaders of ARZA regarding the Diner-Feld op-ed against Zionism, as progressive Zionists we have an unconditional commitment to Israel, mandating that we work to safeguard and improve Israel’s democracy. We also have an unconditional commitment to racial justice, which mandates an honest and respectful critique of the aforementioned document as part of our ongoing support for the movement. We need to do this even if it causes discomfort to partners in both the Zionist and BLM movements.

Apropos of all this, readers may find this paper of interest, written in connection with The Third Narrative project (click on its title or paste the Web address): “Rethinking Intersectionality: Expanding the Progressive Tent” (http://thirdnarrative.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Rethinking-Intersectionality.pdf).

About Gideon Aronoff

Gideon Aronoff is the first Chief Executive Officer of Ameinu. Previously, Aronoff was President and CEO of HIAS, the American Jewish community’s international migration agency, where he oversaw service and advocacy partnerships with over 50 local Jewish communities and global programs in Israel, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Aronoff brings over 25 years of Jewish communal experience — including more than a dozen years in Washington DC — having focused on immigration, refugees, human rights, humanitarian assistance, community relations and government affairs. He also served on the Board of Directors of the National Immigration Forum, the country’s premier immigrant advocacy coalition, and was the chair from 2009 to 2012. He is a member of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey and the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Aronoff is a graduate of Brandeis University and Cornell Law School. He lives in South Orange, NJ, with his wife, Dr. Jaqueline Rogerio, and his young children Dalia and Solomon.
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