I’m an American Jew who is a conscious ally of the black community and happens to also be a supporter of President Obama’s Iran deal. Neither of these things make me unique. Indeed, most US Jews, politically liberal and socially progressive, are allies in the fight against bigotry – 64 percent of Jews think blacks still face and lot of discrimination – and support Obama’s diplomacy with Iran.
This is why it pains me to see racist attacks against President Obama emanating from Israel beginning to shake the foundational relationship between the Jewish and black communities in America. For despite attempts by Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to posture himself and Israel as representing “the entire Jewish people,” the reality is that Israeli and American Jews are very different. Indeed, Israel cannot be conflated with all Jews, and Jewish Israeli politicians in turn do not represent American Jews. This also extends to most institutional Jewish leaders in this country, who are out of step with the Jewish community.
However, for black Americans who see Jewish leaders in America supporting Israeli attacks against President Obama, it’s easy to understand how a conflation might take place. And yes, there is a reason many in the black community view recent attacks against President Obama’s Iran deal emanating from Israel to have racist undertones.
It’s because they do.
A scan of social media in Hebrew shows this to be painfully clear. Unfortunately, also clear are visible, public expressions in English from politicians and high-profile figures. Take for example, this Tweet sent out by Judy Mozes, the wife of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom and a popular radio personality:
Mozes later apologized for the Tweet, insisting she was simply repeating an often-heard joke. That last clause, meant to serve as some sort of defense, is the one which bites the most. An often-heard joke.
This Tweet is what led Colbert King’s recent column in The Washington Post entitled “How Israel may be damaging the alliance between blacks and Jews.” King, who wrongly yet understandably conflates Israel and Jews in America, cites a number of ugly statements made by Israeli figures which have not gone unnoticed in the black community.
He cites Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S., attributing Obama’s foreign policy to his mother’s “two Muslim husbands.” He cites Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a prominent figure in the settlements, comparing Obama to Haman, who in the Book of Ester conspired to commit genocide against the Jews. He cites another prominent rabbi calling Obama a “kushi,” which in Israel is the N-word.
And he rightly notes how Netanyahu’s condescending attacks against Obama have racial undertones. These attacks prompted U.S. representative James Clyburn to call Netanyahu’s recent speech in Congress an “affront to America’s first black president,” before going further:
In an interview with USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham, Clyburn called Netanyahu’s White House end run “a real in-your-face slap at the president, and black folks know it. . . . [Netanyahu] wouldn’t have done it to any other president.” Pressed as to why Netanyahu would disrespect Obama, Clyburn responded, “You know why.”
Black politicians are not the only ones who are saying, or thinking, You know why. The racism emanating from Israel – which 95 percent of Israelis admit is socially prevalent – is creating tensions here in America. I’ve not only seen it online, but felt those tensions personally among black friends, one of whom recently emailed to ask, “Shouldn’t Jews get it?”
He was responding to recent attempts by both Israeli and U.S. Jewish figures to smear President Obama as anti-Semitic for his diplomacy with Iran and casting AIPAC as wanting war. By “get it,” he meant understand that if anyone should realize the danger of wrongly smearing a black man by painting him as the ‘other,’ it should be Jews.
The painful element for me personally, and one reason why I’ve written this piece, is that a majority of Jews in America do “get it.” I’m beginning to wonder, though, how many in the black community still know this.
The Reverend Al Sharpton is calling upon black church leaders this weekend to support President Obama and his Iran deal from the pulpit, citing attacks against him and his deal. In explaining why he’s making this push among church leaders, Sharpton said this:
“We have a disproportionate interest, being that if there is a war, our community is always disproportionately part of the armed services, and that a lot of the debate is by people who will not have family members who will be at risk.”
It is no secret that a significant portion of those ‘debating’ against Obama’s Iran deal are pro-Israel organizations and leaders, and I wonder if Sharpton was subtly referring to Jews when saying “people who will not have family members who will be at risk.”
I hope that he knows, as well as those sitting in the pews in black churches across America this weekend, that American Jews not only overwhelmingly support Obama’s diplomacy, but consider themselves as allies of the black community in the fight against racism and bigotry.
I certainly do, and I’m far from alone.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.
Playing the race card, jackass? You’re stealing David Belden’s mojo on this site
OMG, what a load of garbage,David. There has been tension between segments of these communities for decades. 30+ years ago, Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael) was touring college campuses chastising teh Joooooz for their support of Israel. And remember the Hymietown remark by a certain African American presidential candidate in 1984? And what about Reverend Wright’s lovely comments about the Jews working in the Obama White House? The tensions are deep rooted and long standing. And as much as you’d like to paint it as something emanating just from the evil Israelis and their supporters, it simply isn’t so. It’s a lot more complicated then that. Your miserable excuse for your daily dump on Israel is a big fat fail, as is your over the top accusation that pro-Israel organizations are responsible for the signicant opposition to the deal.
What an awful diary.