Cherie Brown on Black Lives Matter Platform and Israel

Black Lives Matter Platform and Israel

By Cherie Brown


In the new Black Lives Matter Platform, there is a section on International issues that focuses on Israel. The platform describes the current  oppression of Palestinians and the ongoing occupation by labeling it genocide. The use of this term, 'genocide', stirred up enormous upset amongst many Jews, both from the mainstream Jewish community and the progressive Jewish community.


Many Jews alive today had relatives who were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust in the middle of the 20th century and find the use of the term genocide  to describe what is happening to Palestinians offensive.  Some Jews (like the JCRC of Boston) responded by saying they will now have nothing to do with Black Lives Matter.  Other groups, Truah, for example, took offense with the use of the term genocide but called for continued support of Black Lives Matter and ongoing dialogue about the disagreements.


What can we do as progressive Jews to think well about these issues?


1) Black Jewish coalition work in the US, even when we hit rocky points in the partnership, remains key.  Without falling into the all too common trap of romanticizing our past support for each other  ( in the Civil Rights movement, for example), we can still claim the centrality of the relationship and learn how to fight for an honest partnership that includes ongoing conversation on both racism and anti- Semitism.


2). The organization I direct, (the National Coalition Building Institute) has been leading diversity programs on college campuses across the U.S.  In this past year, particularly on campuses where there were strong battles over BDS ( Boycott, Divest, Sanctions resolutions), I found disturbing  trends.  There was very little room for dialogue, conversation, or divergent points of view.


On one campus, progressive Jewish students who were  trying to voice a nuanced position opposed to both the occupation and BDS were shouted down.  On another campus, a Jewish student, completely uninvolved in Middle East peace efforts, was told she couldn't run for student government because her Jewish identity would make it too difficult for her to be impartial.  Many Jews on campus report an atmosphere of intimidation when Jews question the validity of BDS, even if they otherwise support Palestinian rights.



Throughout the past year, as these events unfolded, I witnessed Palestinian solidarity groups reach out to Black Lives Matter campus groups for support and alliance. And I watched Jewish students finding themselves more and more isolated and confused.  The natural alliance between Black people and Palestinian liberation makes sense and can be celebrated.  The disruption of Black Jewish alliance building, however, should not have to be accepted as an automatic consequence.  The Black Lives Matter platform section on Israel was just an extension of the rigid position taking I had been seeing on campuses all this past year.


3). As progressive Jews, we sometimes find ourselves in an untenable position.  Many of us are in deep solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.  We are outraged by the oppression of Palestinians and we have worked diligently for years to end the occupation.  At the same time, we claim our right to remain proud of Israel, as imperfect as she may be, just as many are proud of the U.S. as imperfect as she may be. We do not believe that every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic just as we don’t believe every criticism of the U.S. militarism makes us anti-American. It concerns us when people jump from critiquing horrific Israeli policies to making claims like “genocide”.  It concerns us when we hear people generalizing from oppressive Israeli policies to all "Jews” as a people.  We do not want to accept the anti- Semitism that exists in a number of liberation movements.


I have listened to and supported  many  young adult Jews in these past few weeks, who have been working hard with  Black Lives Matter groups, and are now terrified to find their voices and to speak out as Jews about anti- Semitism (terrified that they will simply be labeled racist).



4) Understanding the concept of Jews as both "oppressed" and "oppressors" has never been easy.  Some Jews have supported policies toward Palestinians that are oppressive even though they themselves come from families that were victims of oppression, hatred and genocide.  I’ve written in Tikkun magazine about the ways that Jews continue to face oppression.  Anti- Semitism does exist. Yet because of this fact, many Jews fail to acknowledge the ways that Jews act out oppressor behavior( the Occupation, for example).  Those who do understand the ways that Jews act out oppressive behavior often have trouble always acknowledging or having compassion for the underlying history of oppression of Jews that fuels theiroppressive behavior toward others. And yet these same people often understand (when it comes to other sections of the population in the US or globally) how the dynamics of oppression sometimes lead the oppressed to become oppressors.


5). In this current political climate, with issues being more polarized than ever-- there is a strong pull against dialogue.  All too many claim, "you are either for me or against me".  "You are on my side or you are on the wrong side".  Yet, the complexities of the Israeli Palestinian conflict require thinking and  nuanced position taking.  Progressive Jews are having a particularly difficult time in this  polarized climate to create spaces for honest listening and dialogue on this key issue.


5) In coalition building work, it is often helpful to remember what causes each other pain, and whenever possible,  to refrain from using painful trigger words.  The word genocide is such a strong trigger word for Jews.  How could it be otherwise?  I don't think the key point is to argue back and forth-- does the current occupation and oppression of Palestinians rise to the level of genocide?  The oppression is horrible.  But scoring points, using the most inflammatory words possible, using restimulating language has been a hallmark of the Trump campaign.  When it also slips into the platform of an important progressive movement like Black Lives Matter, we all lose.  We get unnecessarily divided from each other.


In the week when the Black Lives Matter Platform was released, the critical issues for Black African Heritage people( mass incarceration, a racist judicial system, racial profiling etc)   should have been the only issue of conversation.  Instead, Blacks and Jews were once again unnecessarily set up against each other through the use of inflammatory language.  This was a set back for Black Liberation work, for Jewish Liberation work and for  Palestinian liberation work.


6). As painful as these weeks have been, this most recent divide can also be an incredible opportunity.   The sustained authentic relationships that have been built and  can be  built between Black Lives Matter activists and Progressive Jewish activists with honest and at times painful conversation  can carry us through this rough spot with renewed commitment and understanding.


Cherie Brown is the founder and executive director of the National Coalition Building Institute.  She is also an adjunct faculty at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.


6 thoughts on “Cherie Brown on Black Lives Matter Platform and Israel

  1. In naming possible responses to the Movement for Black Lives platform, you don’t mention as a possibility the approach of Jewish Voice for Peace even though it is the fastest growing Jewish group in the country. JVP followed the lead of its Jews of Color Caucus and endorsed the BLM platform in its entirety “without reservation.” JVP offered some comment about the terms “apartheid” and “genocide,” but more as a wake up call to other Jewish organizations not to be thrown off kilter by them than as a criticism of the application of the controversial terms to Israel/Palestine. I also was disturbed by your confused capitalizations like in points 5 and 6: “This was a set back for Black Liberation work, for Jewish Liberation work and for Palestinian liberation work.” I don’t know why the first two “Liberations” should have been capitalized, but since they were, why wasn’t the one modified by “Palestinian”? And in point 6 you capitalize the p in “Progressive Jewish activists” as though it is a proper noun, this even though you won’t name one of the largest Jewish progressive groups in the country by name.
    I am into “nuance” but too often calls for nuance have subjected Palestinians to too many lecture-like refusals to really stand up against their dispossession and dehumanization and appeals to nuance can lead to muddled support for the cause of justice for people of color in the face of overwhelming, state-sanctioned violence. Why won’t you address directly JVP’s approach and endorsement which stand as an option and contrast to the other responses you included in your analysis?

  2. I appreciate the author’s honesty, and I struggle with the social privilege that is assumed throughout this article.

    Why would BLM need to take White and/ or Jewish feelings into account when naming something as “genocide”? Genocide, like apartheid, is defined by both international law and by multiple terrorized and terrorizing experiences. The Holocaust is one example, itself shared by people of multiple identities, including non-Jews. There are many more such examples, to the everlasting shame of the human race.

    I wouldn’t expect either the Palestinians or BLM to have to dance around the use of the word. Why on earth should they? And if using the word means withdrawal of some Jewish support for BLM, then I would characterize that support as fair weather and privileged indeed. Maybe that apparent reality should be the focus of discussion.

    If the author wants to build coalitions, I respectfully suggest she take her own White privilege and White fragility into account, which also means taking the difficult step of being honest about “mainstream” Jewish White privilege. Nothing derails a true coalition like unexamined, unchallenged privileges. I agree this will be a difficult conversation for many Jews, as the author says. Confusion and isolation are a good way to describe a common reaction when one begins to examine one’s White privilege… speaking from my own experience. So best set aside the excuses and get to work on it. I believe doing so would enable many North American Jewish communities to bring even better solidarity to many social justice struggles than they already do.

    • My thanks to Jim Haber and Julie Graham for their thoughtful and to-the-point comments. Trying to control the narrative, and the words that can be spoken, is an old strategy that doesn’t help us find a way forward together. Genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, etc. have accepted definitions in international law, and are not the property of any one ethnic group. I’m glad that JVP, BLM, and so many people of all ethnicities and religious traditions are willing to speak up.

      • This article is racist and distorted. The Center for Constitutional Rights and others pointed out the definition of genoucide used by The Movement for Black Lives is accurate. Rachel Gilmer , one of the author’s of the Divest Invest section of the platform said for too long White people – especially those in power have told Black People and others what their agenda should be- which is White Supremacy. She also said this is about Black Self determination!! Yes not what Cherie Brown calls for! How imperious and condescending for Ms. Brown to assert “In the week the platform was released the only issues and conversation for people of African heritage should be the domestic issues her White privileged self defined!!! Donna Nevel also provided a more accurate account of the incidents happening on college campuses and the anti- Semitic accusations!!! As Robin DG Kelley pointed out during the uprisings in Ferguson there was strong solidarity between Black activists in the United States and Palestinians abroad and those in the United States. Going back to the Black Power movement of the 60’s and 70’s Black and Palestinian solidarity has been forged. Based on Cherie Brown’s analysis, I do not trust the usefulness of her work on diversity and ” trainings ” on anti- semitism. This article epitomizes arrogant reproduction of White supremacy!!

  3. Cherie Brown’s imperious and condescending critique of the Movement 4 Black Lives Platform reproduces White Supremacy. Nerve of her to say ” When the platform was released the only issues people of African descent should have discussed were the domestic issues SHE defined. Rachel Gilmer, one of the author’s of the invest divest section of the platform , rightfully responded to critics of the platform that the platform is about Black Self determination. She also asserted that White people and others in power have told Black people and other people of color what to do too often– so called progressives!! Donna Nevel’s clarification of what really has been happening on college campus is accurate along with her analysis of Israel Palestine, BDS and accusations of anti- semitism. I would not trust the worthiness of Cherie Brown’s work on diversity or anti- semitism based on this atrocious – racist article!!

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