Many years ago, I read a collection of essays written by black and white authors in the wake of the school decentralization crisis in 1960’s New York. The movement to return control of school boards to local parent groups engendered a significant amount of tension between many black residents and a very large Jewish teacher population that served the inner city schools. I truly think the “knee-jerk” fear of so called “Black Anti-Semitism” was overblown, but it was true that for a terrible period there was genuine animosity between the African-American and Jewish population in New York. Many liberal Jews felt betrayed, feeling that their overwhelming support for Civil Rights deserved acknowledgment. Many Black residents resented the feeling of being patronized by Jewish teachers who lived largely in the wealthy suburbs. It was a bad time.
One of the essays in the book was written by a young liberal Jewish activist. He titled his piece “No Thanks for the Bullet” and he discussed the violent rhetoric directed against Jews by some African-American leaders in the community. He asserted his complete devotion to Civil Rights, his sacrifices in the name of that cause, but drew the line at passively accepting hateful rhetoric directed against him, refusing to see himself as somehow deserving of threats and opprobrium, and holding his Black allies fully accountable for their actions. What struck me was how clear he was-he would literally give his life for the cause of Civil Rights and equality, but would not accept being treated with anything but respect himself.
I was reminded of this as I read my colleagues’s anguished responses yesterday to the anti-Israel rhetoric in the “Black Lives Matter” manifesto. Many of my fellow Rabbis have marched side by side with African-American activists, and many, including myself, have made no secret of our belief that racism is the defining issue of our time. Some of my colleagues, whom I respect deeply, have chosen to excuse the anti-semitic rhetoric, others to overlook it, others to condemn while still supporting BLM in principle.
The BLM Movement has chosen a certain narrative to understand the Israel-Palestine situation. It is the narrative of Palestinian as eternal victim. This is understandable. This is the narrative the Palestinians often share about themselves. BLM has also chosen to see the Palestinians as fellow people of color oppressed by a colonial white power. This is far more problematic-and does not reflect in certain crucial ways the manner in which Palestinians see themselves. BLM has chosen to ignore entirely the Jewish narrative-that we have returned to our ancestral homeland and that the blood of the Land flows in our veins. BLM has also chosen to ignore the incredible complexity of the situation-and the fact that there is virtually no one who is willing to talk genuine peace on the Palestinian side. The majority of Israelis support peace-but see no viable partner. As one Palestinian negotiator said, “We are willing to be blind as long as we can make you (the Israelis) one-eyed”. Victim narratives do not lead to peace.
So-to my BLM friends and colleagues-and there are many-I ask you to do this. Just as I strive to understand you-understand me. I understand your struggle for dignity, safety, and your rage at the unending violence directed against people of color here. All I ask is that you understand my struggle as a Jew for self-determination in a complex and difficult world. But-no thanks for the hate.