I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
-Gerald Stern, “Behaving Like a Jew”
It’s been almost a month since a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the shooting, residents of Ferguson concerned about police brutality and racism turned out in the streets to protest peacefully, and were met with tanks, riot gear, and tear gas. A small number of people were involved in either looting local businesses or throwing bottles and other small-scale weaponry, which was used to justify the police crackdown. Journalists, local politicians, and scores of people doing nothing but exercising a constitutionally protected right to free assembly were arrested and harassed.
During this period of unrest, my Facebook newsfeed was full of outrage and despair. But very little of that passion was directed at Ferguson. Instead, it was largely about Operation Protective Edge, in Gaza. Every day I was greeted with scores of articles defending Israel’s right to defend itself, justifying the scale of force in Gaza, and reporting on both rocket fire and tunnels dug by Hamas into Israeli territory. To be fair, however, I also saw numerous articles reporting on peace demonstrations, critiquing the scale of Israeli response to rocket fire, and mourning the loss of life on both sides.
Though this is merely anecdotal, it seems fairly representative of the institutional American Jewish response to events in Ferguson. While individual rabbis and Jewish leaders have called attention to and even protested against the violence in Missouri, and many articles, including those in Tikkun, have argued strongly for a Jewish ethical obligation to the Ferguson protestors, major, mainstream Jewish organizations have been largely silent. The Anti-Defamation League offers a lesson plan for talking about Ferguson with students on its website, but its only official statement is a denunciation of the presence of the New Black Panther Party at the Ferguson protests. Of the mainstream American Jewish religious movements, only the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism issued a press release regarding the violence in Ferguson.