Another Jewish perspective on ‘Black Lives Matter’ – San Diego Jewish World

Posted By on June 16, 2020

By Ben Kamin

OCEANSIDE, California Even as our nation is convulsing from the unprecedented and converging crises of COVID-19 and the (mostly peaceful) street protests manifested under the canopy of Black Lives Matter, some in our Jewish community have expressed concerns and indignation: there are scattered elements of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism expressed by BLM. The May 30 riotous disturbances that occurred in the Fairfax section of Los Angeles, including the defacing of a synagogue with Nazi symbols, have sharpened these Jewish sentiments and denunciations.

These condemnations have merit. We are right in expressing angst in this issue painfully complicated by race, history, and blood. Just as we were right in our generally sympathetic and supportive involvement in the Civil Rights Movement era between 1955-1968. Forgive the expression: this is not a simple question of black-or-white. Like life itself, this encounter lives in the gray. And there are many Jews (of all colors) participating in this loosely woven and spontaneous national community of protesters horrified and driven by the brazen police execution of the formerly anonymous George Floyd on a Minneapolis pavement.

Mr. Floyd, like any of us, was not a perfect individual. But he became an asphyxiated paradigm of the random yet documented targeting of African American men by some armed civil authorities that are supposed to protect us, not kill us. Police officers are not all murderers just as black men are not intrinsically criminals. Either such charge is nothing short of bias and bigotry that leads to hopeless outcomes for all of us. It would be nice if the pervasive Jewish use of the pejorative term for black people (it begins with an s) would be curtailed. Our neighbors in the black community know about it and what it means.

It must be noted that, not long ago, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel shamelessly labeled black people as monkeys. This outrage was condemned by the ADL and other Jewish organizations, as would be expected. But who could deny how incensed African Americans felt over this (and other such Jewish social disgraces) even as we have applicably been scandalized by the acidic anti-Semitism of the abominable Louis Farrakhan? No group has a monopoly on racial hatred. Incidentally, anti-black degradations can be found in The Talmud. And such textual aberrations go as far back as the Torah, when both Aaron and Miriam decried their brother Mosess relationship with the Cushite woman. God roundly punished both siblings for their racialism.

It may be more justifiable to condemn the Fairfax agitators themselves rather than to excoriate an entire race or lump it all on Black Lives Matter. The reason is simple: Black Lives Matter is hardly an organized or structured entity uniformly committed to one ideal or strategy. It is a grassroots movement as disparate as the streets and neighborhoods of America or the remarkable diversity of the participants themselves.

The pain and terror of African Americans is more palpable than ever. Families are terrified for their sons, brothers, and husbands. One sees and hears it on television and in person. We Jews are historically well-acquainted with such grief and horror. So we cannot absolve acts of hatred and violence committed against us in any category. But the Jewish tradition will not absolve us for turning blind eyes and ears to such long-standing community suffering.

Our ancestral Hebrews endured 400 years of bondage in Egypt. The African peoples also withstood 400 years in American bondage. As we are admonished in Leviticus: Do not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds. Let us not be defined as Jews by whom we dislike. Let us be defined by who we help.

*Ben Kamin is an author and lecturer on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King.

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Another Jewish perspective on 'Black Lives Matter' - San Diego Jewish World

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