BLACK LIVES MATTER

I have been asked for my opinion about the Black Lives Matter Manifesto regarding Invest-Divest, Israel and the Palestinians.

The Platform is a wide-ranging manifesto that calls for social and political change in the U.S. Among the points is to reallocate funds that go to the military to profit the people of the United States, particularly people of color. Within that, as a sub-text, they have said the following about Israel:

"The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people. The US requires Israel to use 75 percent of all the military aid it receives to buy US-made arms. Consequently, every year billions of dollars are funneled from US taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations, who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more foreign military aid. The results of this policy are twofold: it not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old without due process. Everyday, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall."

There are factual errors in this statement. There is no, neither has there ever been, a genocide perpetrated by anyone against Palestinians. Israel is manifestly not an apartheid state. Yet, the official abuses against Palestinians are not entirely incorrect, and Israel has moved to make Palestinians second class citizens in many ways. This is a travesty, and in opposition to Israel's own Declaration of Independence.

Grievously, there is no mention in the Black Lives Matter Platform of the aggressions of Palestinians or their allies against Israelis or the Jewish people, and therefore the Black Lives Matter Movement has taken an ignorant and naive stand in an international conflict that they seemingly do not understand.

One could reasonably say that in such a statement Black Lives Matter has sided with not only anti-Israel forces, but also with anti-Semites who want to not only destroy Israel but the entire Jewish people. I do not think that this is an exaggeration, nor do I think that it matters very much in this instance. Why?

Clearly the importance of Black Lives Matter is to work for social justice goals within the U.S. that would establish equality for persecuted minorities, help put an end to racism, and in general change the fabric of our society toward egalitarianism. This has been goal of the Liberal Jewish community for a century at the very least.

We have not disengaged from other groups that have studied the issues and made bad decisions: the Presbyterian Church, for instance. We partner on various projects for equality in the U.S.

I would suggest that, while engaging with Black Lives Matter to improve the lives of minorities within the U.S., we continue to engage with them specifically on this question.

The question before us is a matter of what's termed in Jewish Law, safek sakanah, doubtful endangerment. In cases of doubtful endangerment the general approach is "shev v'ahl taaseh," "Sit and do nothing," watch and be mindful.

An improvement in the attitude of all Americans to minorities is not an abstract point to the Jewish community. We took are an endangered minority, that is often victimized by discrimination. Working to end discrimination redounds to everyone's benefit.

I do not believe that the Black Lives Matter group will be distracted from their domestic goals to effectively engage with the Palestinian movements. Neither do I think that they are naive. I do not know why they have taken this stand, and I would suggest that until the Jewish community understands this better, we are not facing a real serious threat from Black Lives Matter. They have written a manifesto, a statement of principles, and they applied their overall principles ideologically and inappropriately to Palestinians. We need to understand more, as this came as a surprise, and cooperate with Black Lives Matter until they understand that as they are working to counter existential threats, so is the Jewish people. We can cooperate to our mutual benefit, and to work for God's goals for all people to live in harmony. That we understand the complexity of the Middle East in a different way simply means, to me, that there is more work to be done on what to them is a tangential issue, even though it is essential and central to us.

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.