During the Civil Rights Movement, and even before, there was a strong alliance between American Jews and African-Americans.

Both groups had been oppressed. For Jews, some neighborhoods, such as San Diego's La Jolla, wouldn't allow them to live there. A Jew, Leo Frank, was lynched for a crime he didn't commit in 1915. The US government shut its doors to potential Jewish refugees and immigrants during the Holocaust, and persecuted those who arrived at the turn of the century.



For African-Americans, who'd been kidnapped from the Mother Continent for the wicked purpose of slavery, "separate but equal" institutions turned out to be separate but incredibly unequal. Black people were lynched, "disappeared," and were raped, and terrorized with impunity. In the Civil Rights Movement, both peoples marched together -- and in some cases, died together -- in the struggle for justice and equality. Today, Jews and Blacks are on the forefront of both hate crimes and social justice movements. Sadly, the ties that bind seem to be fraying. 


In New York City, Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Vinas spoke of an effort he's been making to bring Latino and Black Jews into his synagogue. However, the move has been met with racist resistance. One of Israel's chief rabbis might be charged for racial incitement for calling Black people "monkeys." A plan to deport thousands of African migrants and refugees from Israel also has racial undertones in some sectors of Israeli society.

There is also the issue of Black antisemitism. A Black-Hispanic New York politician slammed "greedy Jewish landlords" for "ethnic cleansing" of Black tenants. An African-American congressman recently blamed snowstorms on a Jewish conspiracy. 

There is also the recent antisemitic, misogynistic and homophobic tirade that Louis Farrakhan delivered, attended by leaders of the Women's March. Tamika Mallory, a Black woman, decided to celebrate Farrakhan's "achievements" for the Black community and avoid outright condemnation of -- or apology for -- his speech and her attendance at the event. Women's March leaders claimed that criticism of their association with antisemitic figures is some kind of Zionist conspiracy against them -- a sentiment shared by the UK Labour Party. 

Comments on Facebook and elsewhere show an increasing mistrust on the parts of both sides. Jews seem unsurprised at being "abandoned" by the Black community, and are skeptical of Black Lives Matter (BLM) due to its hostility toward the existence of the State of Israel. African-Americans increasingly conflate Jewish joy of Trump's Jerusalem declaration in December, along with his pro-Israel policies in general, as a Jewish endorsement of oppression and far-right politics in general. 

As a Black Jew, these are confusing times. I feel both disappointed, sad and angry, particularly at suggestions or expectations that I should "choose" one side of myself or another.

I won't. Instead, I'll follow in the footsteps of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who called out anti-Zionism for what it is (a form of antisemitism), and was proud to stand with Israel. And I'll also follow in the footsteps of Rabbi Heschel, who stood against the oppression of African-Americans, and other oppressed minorities, in the US and beyond. When the Black community entertains mediocrity by celebrating bigots such as Farrakhan, we are doing a disservice to our ancestors who faced similar rhetoric and actions during their lifetime.

When Jews consider expelling refugees who had fled oppression and terror, we are forgetting that we, too, were once separated from our land and living at the mercy of our enemies. By engaging in bigotry and suspicion of each other, we are ignoring the commonality in our stories as the "lowest of the low," whether in this country or on the world stage, in the unfortunate racial hierarchy that exists. We are doing the bidding of those who want to see both of us weak, divided, and hopeless, rather than being the united front of social justice warriors our communities once were.

Luckily, I don't see this problem as something existential at the moment. But to prevent it from getting that far, it's imperative that both communities continue to engage in dialogue and trust-building measures. And in the spirit of keeping tradition, why not start off where we've always been--at the forefront of social justice? Now more than ever, it's important in this country to fight for equality for everyone. In a way, we're both "chosen peoples"--chosen to set an example.

Oppressed communities everywhere have looked to Jews and Black people for methods of liberation. Examples include the Catholics in Northern Ireland creating their own civil rights movement based off of Dr. King's, or the people of Kurdistan seeing Israel as a model for liberating their native homeland from foreign domination. The Black community and the Jewish community have a lot to learn from each other, a lot of commonalities, and a lot to celebrate in our joint -- and separate -- achievements. We should get back to basics and continue our joint love story and leave this period of tension behind. 
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