A Dubious Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) made headlines by unveiling its latest project, the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus. It sounds like a terrific idea, and certainly AJC is claiming to have done a lot to lay the groundwork for it. These two communities—which overlap a lot more than many people realize—have a long and complicated history, marked by periods of great mutual support but also of mistrust and hostility. A caucus in Congress to help inform policy that would be beneficial to both communities should be welcome.

But this is one of those eras where mistrust abounds, aggravated recently by the focus of the Jewish community on Black thought leaders who are sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Accusations of disproportionate hostility toward Israel, accompanied by both indirect and direct accusations of anti-Semitism have tenderized already fraught community relations, where too many Jews and Black people feel that the other bears them ill will. These tensions are particularly hard on Black Jews and other Jews of Color, members of both communities who must contend with this friction in the most personal way.

All of this should make the caucus even more welcome. But the inclusion of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in the new Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus inevitably raises significant questions about its intent. Read more at LobeLog

Connecting Palestinian Rights To U.S. Civil Rights

Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that

Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.

That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”

Alexander became the latest in a growing list—including Angela DavisRashida TlaibMarc Lamont HillIlhan Omar, and Linda Sarsour—targeted by Israel advocates in the United States. All of them are people of color, and all have faced new or renewed attacks over their defense of Palestinian rights since the since the horrific shooting incident at a Pittsburgh synagogue carried out by a white, anti-immigrant fanatic in late October. Read more at LobeLog

Kerry Draws Israel Hawks’ Ire Amid Failed Talks

My report for Inter Press Service on the row that has erupted over John Kerry’s use of the word “apartheid” to describe one possible future for Israel.

The Scent of Anti-Semitism

In this week’s article at Souciant, I examine “two faces” of anti-Semitism, along with the question of whether being anti-Zionist or anti-Israel is the same as being anti-Semitic. As someone who is comfortable neither with the label “Zionist” nor “anti-Zionist” I’d like to think I bring some much needed perspective to that question. In any case, I look at it through the lens of the controversy over Greta Berlin and the Free Gaza Movement and the hysteria of many leading Jewish groups over some Protestant leaders having the temerity to suggest that aid to Israel should be monitored for compliance with US laws and policies, like all other foreign aid.

The BDS Phenomenon

In this week’s column at Souciant, I revisit the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in light of recent events in Brooklyn and Peter Beinart’s controversial New York Times op-ed.