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The Breakup: The Strain Between the Jewish and Black Community

There’s been a lot being said lately by members of the Jewish community about feeling betrayed by Black people not supporting them during Israel’s ‘war’ against the Palestinian people. They like to point toward Jewish support during the Civil Rights Movement, how the American Jewish Community marched with us and provided some financial support for the Movement. It’s true that American Jews provided some financial support, and some young, idealistic Jewish college students went South and joined in the marches and protests. Some even died. We will never forget Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered alongside James Chaney in Mississippi. Nor will we forget Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching alongside King and John Lewis in Selma. Those were the high watermarks of the relationship between this country's Black and Jewish communities. Now, let's speak some hard truths. Jewish wealth grew substantially in America. You integrated in a way that we could not, and your whiteness afforded you access to income and privilege, and you switched up on us. You no longer needed us nor wanted to be associated with us. You say you won’t forget our silence during this crisis, but what about your silence?  I didn’t hear a single Jewish organization speak out against police brutality when Tamir Rice was murdered, when Malcolm Brown was murdered, or when Amadou Diallo was brutally slain. I heard nothing when Sandra Bland was murdered, or when Breonna Taylor was executed, nor when Walter Scott was murdered. Where were you when …

There’s been a lot being said lately by members of the Jewish community about feeling betrayed by Black people not supporting them during Israel’s ‘war’ against the Palestinian people. They like to point toward Jewish support during the Civil Rights Movement, how the American Jewish Community marched with us and provided some financial support for the Movement. It’s true that American Jews provided some financial support, and some young, idealistic Jewish college students went South and joined in the marches and protests. Some even died. We will never forget Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered alongside James Chaney in Mississippi. Nor will we forget Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching alongside King and John Lewis in Selma. Those were the high watermarks of the relationship between this country’s Black and Jewish communities.

Now, let’s speak some hard truths. Jewish wealth grew substantially in America. You integrated in a way that we could not, and your whiteness afforded you access to income and privilege, and you switched up on us. You no longer needed us nor wanted to be associated with us. You say you won’t forget our silence during this crisis, but what about your silence? 

I didn’t hear a single Jewish organization speak out against police brutality when Tamir Rice was murdered, when Malcolm Brown was murdered, or when Amadou Diallo was brutally slain. I heard nothing when Sandra Bland was murdered, or when Breonna Taylor was executed, nor when Walter Scott was murdered. Where were you when Ezell Ford was murdered, or John Crawford, or Freddie Gray, Terence Crutcher, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Tyree Nichols, Elijah McClain, and I could go on and on, but where was your voice, your lobbying, your political power when police murdered all these young unarmed Black men and women in this country? Where was your voice when Israeli police murdered a young unarmed Black teen in 2019 or when Israeli police beat Damas Pakedeh, a Black Israeli soldier IN UNIFORM?

Israel has two chief rabbis, who are both paid by the Israeli government. In March of 2018, one of those chief rabbis, Yitzhak Yosef, in his weekly sermon, called Black people “monkeys,” while the other chief rabbi, Yisrael Lau, used the N-word to describe Black athletes. What did the Jewish community say about these incidents? Crickets. How vocal has the Jewish community been on the Israeli government giving out Depro Vera and forcing the sterilization of Black women? What about the expulsion of 20,000 Black Jews from Israel to Africa? What about in January 2014, when an Israeli man walked up to an African woman carrying her one-year-old baby in downtown Tel Aviv and stabbed the baby in the head three times? This man, who stabbed a one-year-old African baby, was not sentenced to jail because he was deemed to be “mentally unstable.” 

 Let’s talk about the killers of Haftom Zarhum, an African refugee who was beaten to death by a mob of Israelis in the bus station in Beersheba. His attackers? They were offered community service. Only one of them took it. The other three refused because they didn’t believe that they deserved any sentence for killing a Black person. 

The following year, two Israeli teens killed Babikir Ali Adham-Abdo, another African, by beating him to death right outside of the city hall of Petach Tikvah. The outcry of all this anti-Black violence from our Jewish friends? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. 

The truth is, if you won’t forget our silence, it’s because we haven’t forgotten yours. You said nothing when thousands of Jews took to the streets and pulled Black Jews out of their cars, homes, and stores and beat them. They burned Black people’s cars, looted and burned Black Jewish shops, broke windows, and chanted racist slogans. It all sounds kind of Nazi-ish to me. 

Our communities used to be buddies. We had a shared history of trauma and tragedy. But then you grew rich and powerful, and you became oppressors. Black people know what Apartheid looks like. We suffered from it during colonialism, we suffered from it during slavery, and we lived it during Jim Crow. We still live it in many ways today. America has two different systems of policing, one white and one Black. It has two different justice systems, it has two different education systems, and two different economic realities. So, we recognize Apartheid. We understand what over-policing is like, what it means not to be able to vote, to get an education, not to be able to go into certain buildings, walk down certain streets, and go into certain restaurants. If we are silent today, it is because, unlike you, we can’t support doing to other people what was and still is done to us.  

Our friendship may be over for now and we’re okay with that. Sometimes, friends simply grow apart. But as we recognize this breakup, it’s important to remember one thing: our morals, our values, and our principles never changed. We didn’t change, my friend, you did. 

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