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Why I Am a Zionist for Black Lives Matter

Why I Am a Zionist for Black Lives Matter

Protest sign that reads BLACK LIVES MATTER

As a Zionist rabbi, I believe this is the moment for a universal declaration of support for the fact that Black Lives Matter. For me, the issue is simple: As a Jew, and as a human being, I support the essential right of all human beings to breathe and to live. That is fundamental to what it means to be a person.

Early Zionists set out to create a utopian and exemplary society. Its socialist and egalitarian nature called for equal treatment among genders, races, and ethnicities. Today’s Israeli society is far from achieving its utopian ideals, but our job as Zionists, since the State was established 72 years ago, has been to bring it closer to that vision every day.

As my heroes, Rabbi Dick Hirsch and Anat Hoffman, teach, Zionism is a social justice movement working to remedy the ills of society, even its own. As shamed as I am that racism exists within Israel – against Ethiopian-Israelis, against African asylum seekers, against Arab-Israelis, among other People of Color – I acknowledge that I must hold myself accountable for allowing racism to exist among any Jewish population. And I am also proud of my Israeli colleagues and all Israelis who work to combat and dismantle the systems of racism in Israel. It is why we show up at protests in Israel as we do in the U.S., and why we say clearly that Black Lives Matter.

As in any moment of social reckoning, there are difficult conversations to be had.

When the Movement for Black Lives issued its platform in 2016, it contained language singling out Israel, with which I disagreed in principle and in fact. I joined with other leaders of the Reform Movement to clearly voice our opposition to that language, even as we agree on the importance of Palestinian human rights. We also unequivocally spoke out against those who used this unfortunate language as an opportunity to rescind their support for the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. A movement as large and as diverse as the Black Lives Matter movement will surely have some of those same harsh anti-Israel views, but they do not speak for the tens of millions of people who are showing up, speaking up, and working intensely to address the systemic racism and violence against Black and Brown people.

Conflating the authors of a single component of the Movement for Black Lives platform with the current Black Lives Matter groundswell of activism is simply wrong.

Supporting BLM today is not joining with people who have extremely objectionable views on Israel, it’s about supporting an urgent moral cause to dismantle a system that threatens and systemically destroys the lives of Black and Brown people in our country. Just because we march together in support of Black lives does not mean we see eye-to-eye on Israel with everyone in the movement. We will continue to take a stand against BDS and the delegitimization of Israel while we support Black lives.

As my friend and Israeli colleague Rabbi Haim Shalom recently articulated:

“Some Jews will be made uncomfortable by the prominence of messages which deny Jewish national rights within this movement. We can get over that discomfortLives are on the line. But as well as getting over our discomfort, … we are permitted to call out the cynicism of those who seek to use Black suffering to further their own psycho-ideological agenda of anti-Zionism.”

As a white, Jewish man, I know that this moment is not about my comfort. It’s not about the comfort of anyone who identifies as a white Jew. This moment is about heeding a call to justice, centering the voices, lives, and right to freedom for People of Color.

For Black people in America, the pain of systemic racism and police brutality is not only counted in the death toll; its shadow hangs heavy every day over Black and Brown people in interactions with the police in every city and every town. It’s the havoc wreaked on the families and loved ones of Black and Brown people for generations, and it is the very denial of the right to breath.

As an Israeli citizen and white citizen of the United States, I believe that Black Lives Matter – and that no American of good conscience can simply opt out of engaging with the pervasive issue of racism in America. As Theodor Herzl famously said, if we will it, it is no dream.

For more on this topic, see "Ways Reform Jews Can Act Now for Racial Justice" and "Start Here: Racial Justice Resources for Reform Jews."

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president for Israel and Reform Zionism and the executive director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg
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