Itself atypical for reasons I will note below, the recent statement of support from across the mainstream liberal and progressive spectrum of the Jewish community for the Black Lives Matter movement raises critical questions about what Jewish things Jews bring to the movement and to the struggle for racial justice today? What kinds of signs, what kinds of statements?
This recent statement put together by people from activist group Bend the Arc is an exception to the rule.
Reaching for an idiomatic Jewish expression of solidarity, more typical Jewish responses tend to come with what are mostly ready-made clichés. The most common ones are the appeal to equality and justice based on the idea that all of us are created in the image of God (b’tzelem Elohim). There is the prophetic call for justice (tzedek-tzedek tirdof) (justice, justice you shall pursue) and the tradition of world repair (tikkun olam), and quoting Heschel who once said that marching for justice is how Jews pray with their feet. But who wants to hear it and who is it supposed to persuade and motivate except other liberal and progressive Jews? Do these phrases echo out there in the larger world? Do they readily resonate outside a Jewish bubble like reference to Jewish things did once upon a time?
What’s new today is the historical juncture.
At the heyday of the movement for Civil Rights in the 1960s, the sharp sting of Jewish suffering in Europe and anti-Semitism in America were still painfully close. These lent themselves to a carefully constructed prism of sensed suffering through which Jews and Blacks could recognize each other. The relationship was highly performed and deeply felt. Jews marched with Martin Luther King Jr., joined the Freedom Riders, and so on. Others have observed that much of this was a function of the cooperation between Jewish and African American institutional elites. Liberal Jews folded spirituals into the public performance of religious life. Paul Robeson and Nina Simone sang Hebrew folk melodies. The ambience was saturated by the Old Testament and Hitler. At the neighborhood level, Jews and African Americans still lived in relatively close proximity with each other, while there was always friction between two different communities.
James Baldwin writing about Jews speaks to the fundamental tension. On the one hand, he argued that Jews are just like white people, and that is at the heart of anti-Semitism in Black communities, namely that Blacks who hate Jews hate them because they are white, not because they are Jewish. On the other hand, there was a particular intimacy in his disappointment with Jews for precisely just that reason. Because he grew up in Harlem, because his best friend in high school was Jewish; because he understood how Jews would get “singled out” in the Black community; because of the association with the Old Testament reflected in his own religious background, because Baldwin was critical of Christianity and Christendom, including the Black Church.
That there is little to none of that broadly felt and familiar intimacy around today, about that one should be honest. And there is today no clear Jewish prism with which to understand Black suffering and anti-Black racism in this country.
The relations between Blacks and Jews are not intimate as they were once were and once were imagined in the 1960s. Social historians can track how Jews were part of the great white flight moving out of the urban core for the suburbs, how today the closest neighborhood contacts are in places like Brooklyn and full of friction between working class African Americans and Hasidic Jews. Maybe Black Americans don’t expect anything from American Jews like Baldwin once did; maybe African Americans are not as bitter about Jews as Baldwin. There is indifference, annoyance, and Israel is an irritant. But the larger Black community has bigger problems in this country than Black-Jewish relations. The raw fact remains simple. In this country, there is no equality, no social-economic equality between Blacks and Jews, and no equality of suffering. Add to this the old-new racism across the American Jewish community and the painful experience commonly felt by Jews of Color in Jewish spaces dominated by the demographic majority of white Jews.
It is a tempting Jewish game to fold the movement of BLM into the language of a special Jewish concern and to fold a special Jewish concern into the movement of BLM. But what if there is no such thing as a Jewish conscience or particular moral voice? You can pick through Jewish traditions to find this or that thing that speaks to the moment and to the movement, especially if you take it out of context. This is how usable traditions are constructed. But the construct has to be compelling. The Jewish prophetic voice is one such construction, one that is unique to modern Jewish history and culture. But there is no essence of Judaism, no identity that directly lends Jews and Judaism as such to the struggle against anti-Black racism in the United States, just vague notions and political common interest.
For Jews of Color, these lines fully intersect. For Ashkenazi Jews who are white and who do not share the intensity of racism in this country, for Mizrachi Jews who do not self-identify as people of color, for Jews who are, for all that, not part of some putative Judeo-Christian Christian mainstream and majority, the lines between two minority communities run parallel alongside each other. How then do members from or of two minority American communities draw these parallel lines close together against the various social forces that would wedge them apart?
Towards that end is the recent statement culling massive and unequivocal Jewish support from across the near entirety of the mainstream-liberal and progressive spectrum in support of the Black Lives movement. The people at Bend the Arc who put this together knew what they were doing. You can read about it here and see the full text here. A searchable PDF is here.
At play is the relation between foreground and background. The statement is pitched towards the broadest possible area of ideological agreement internal to the Jewish community, includes Jews of Color, supports immigrants, and rejects Islamophobia. Notably, the text of the statement includes without foregrounding Jewish experience or Jewish slogans. No Hebrew script that might highlight Jewishness. The one vague and pro-forma allusion to “Jewush tradition teaches” appears without any direct quotes from a classical source. In the moment, the focus is on Black lives, equality and justice. Visually stunning, the primary statement is set in two large black boxes. (A third, thin black strip runs across the top of the page.) The Jewish signatories appear in small, almost microscopic black type. The Jews are brick-like and organized in rows on a white background to create the impression of a massive wall upon which to support the banner of the new civil rights movement for Black Lives Matter.
[[By way of documentation, I’m pasting below first public Jewish communal responses after the murder of George Floyd. In seeking to foreground a “Jewish response” to the latest eruption of anti-Black racism, they lack the sharp clarity of the more recent statement.]]
SEE JEWISH SOCIAL JUSTICE ROUNDTABLE here
We mourn for George Floyd who was horrifically murdered by the police in Minneapolis. There are many marching in the streets across the country and around the world chanting, “I can’t breathe” in tribute to his memory and to demand justice.
As an organization committed to fighting all forms of hate, ADL knows that this brutal death follows an explosion of racist murders and hate crimes across the U.S. Systemic racism, injustice, and inequality call for systemic change.
It is more than just institutions that need to change. During the Civil Rights era, Rabbi Abraham Heschel joined Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Alabama march from Selma to Montgomery. Rabbi Heschel said afterward, “I prayed with my feet.” We as individuals and communities continue their march today.
Join us in combatting the bigotry, racism and discrimination that targets many marginalized communities today.
It is only by listening, learning and teaching about bias, systemic racism and discrimination, that we will find a path forward. We are stronger if we fight racism together and call out for justice.
Find guidance on how to discuss current events, racism and injustice with ADL’s Education Table Talk, George Floyd, Racism and Law Enforcement.
ADL’s Center on Extremism is actively monitoring extremist groups’ commentary on — and occasional participation in — the nationwide protests, and has found an abundance of online conspiracy theories blaming George Soros for fomenting the chaos.
Valuing the power of partnerships, ADL joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and more than 400 organizations in a sign-on letter, urging Congress to pass meaningful police reform legislation. ADL also added its name to a sign-on letter from the Jewish Council of Public Affairs with a number of Jewish groups to express solidarity with the Black community, call for accountability and reform among law enforcement and commit to ending systemic racism.
ADL also launched #JusticeShabbat as a means of inviting people across faiths and cultures to spend Friday night, or any time over the weekend, as part of a virtual community, to to share awareness of, reflect on and grapple with the protests motivated by George Floyd’s murder, the systemic racism in America, and how to secure a more just and inclusive society.
For further discussion and continued learning, ADL has published a number of curricula, lesson plans and education resources on racism, violence, inequity and the criminal justice system.
ADL urges Congress to condemn all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive and militarized force throughout the country. Congress has the chance to stand against the systemic racism that enabled the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others by passing H.Res.988, condemning all acts of police brutality, racial profiling, and the use of excessive and militarized force throughout the country. Join us in combatting systemic racism, bigotry, and discrimination by urging your Representatives to co-sponsor and pass this crucial resolution.
George Floyd, Racism and Law Enforcement
Table Talk: Family Conversations about Current Events
- For Educators
For Parents, Families, and Caregivers
Fibonacci Blue | Flickr
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African American man, died while being arrested by the police. A bystander video recording of the incident showed that a white police officer pinned Floyd to the ground while he was handcuffed. The police officer’s knee pressed into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, even after Floyd lost consciousness. On the video, Floyd was heard saying, “Please, I can’t breathe. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. … (I need) water or something. Please. Please. I can’t breathe, officer. … I cannot breathe. I cannot breathe.” In a statement, the Minneapolis Police Department said that officers had responded to a call about a man suspected of forgery.
The incident was shared widely on social media. This led to community and national outrage, an F.B.I. civil rights investigation and the firing of the officer, Derek Chauvin and three other officers who were also at the scene. On May 29, Chauvin was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. On June 3, the charges against Chauvin were upgraded to second-degree murder and the three other officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder.
Protests Across the Country
Since Floyd’s death, there have been protests across the country, in more than 100 cities including Minneapolis, New York City, Atlanta, Denver, Memphis, Phoenix, Ann Arbor, Los Angeles and other cities. Some of these protests have lasted for days. Several members of Congress have introduced a resolution to condemn police brutality, racial profiling and the excessive use of force.
There is a larger context and history of African American men and boys who were killed at the hands of the police, many of whom, like George Floyd, were unarmed. Since 2014, some high-profile deaths include Eric Garner (2014), Michael Brown (2014), Tamir Rice (2014), Laquan McDonald (2014), John Crawford (2014) Freddie Gray (2015), Walter Scott (2015), Alton Sterling (2016), Philando Castile (2016), Terence Crutcher (2016), Antwon Rose (2018) and others. Black women and girls are also targets of police violence, a reality that sparked the “Say Her Name” movement to highlight how this violence often goes unnoticed. Women who have died as a result of police interactions include Sandra Bland (2015), Deborah Danner (2016), and Atatiana Jefferson (2019) and Breonna Taylor (2020).
Despite having video recordings of many of these deaths, it is very rare for police officers to get arrested, prosecuted or convicted for excessive use of force. This perceived lack of accountability has led to a public outcry for justice.
Black Lives Matter is an activist movement which began as a hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) when in July 2013, white civilian George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager killed in Florida. The Black Lives Matter movement became more widely acknowledged and highlighted after two 2014 high-profile deaths of unarmed African American men (Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY and Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO). Neither of the police officers involved in their deaths were indicted (i.e., formally charge with a crime).
Racism is defined as: “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.” Racism shows up in all aspects of our lives and society: in interpersonal communication, through discriminatory policies and practices, in biased language, and in our laws and institutions (e.g., education, media, employment, government and the criminal justice system).
Many see Floyd’s death as an example of systemic racism, referring to the way race disadvantages people of color in the criminal justice system. African American and Latinx men are disproportionately represented in all levels of the criminal justice system, from arrest to sentencing to death row. Moreover, research shows that African American people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people.
How Hate and Bias Escalate
On the same day that George Floyd was killed, another incident occurred in Central Park in New York City. Christian Cooper, an African American man, was birdwatching when he encountered an unleashed dog. He asked the dog’s owner, Amy Cooper (no relation), a white woman, to put the dog on a leash as the park rules require. When she did not, he began to film her. In response, Amy Cooper said she would call the police, stating “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life” while pulling out her cellphone and calling 911.
While these two events appear to be unrelated, they both demonstrate a very important concept: when left unchecked, hate and bias can escalate and lead to dire outcomes.
The Pyramid of Hate illustrates how the levels of biased attitudes and behaviors grow in complexity from the bottom to top. Like a pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels and it becomes increasingly difficult to challenge and dismantle as behaviors escalate. Bias at each level negatively impacts individuals, institutions and society. When bias goes unchecked, it becomes “normalized” and contributes to a pattern of accepting discrimination, hate and injustice in society.
Amy Cooper’s anger and bias led her to threaten Christian Cooper with the bias she assumed the police would have when she described the man who was threatening her as African American. This is a situation that could have easily escalated if the police arrived on the scene and engaged in a confrontation, or worse, with Christian Cooper. All too quickly and pervasively, the escalation of bias and hate has led to violence and the deaths of George Floyd and many others.
| We Cannot Remain Silent The Association for Jewish Studies voices support for the national protests demanding justice in response to George Floyd’s senseless brutal death while in police custody and calling for legal reforms to address the long and painful history of anti-Black racism and violence.
As scholars of Jewish history and culture, we understand the acute suffering and disastrous impact of the unwarranted, excessive and often illegal use of force against minority civilian groups by law enforcement agents. We reject the efforts by some national leaders who have sought to deflect responsibility through false equivalencies and further incitement to violence.
We reaffirm our commitment to the values of diversity, equity, and human rights. We call on our colleagues to channel our personal outrage in the application of our professional research, scholarship, practice, and teaching to participate in overturning the deeply entrenched institutional sources of race-based inequality that are barriers to a more just and equitable world. We must do better and we can do so together. Association for Jewish Studies | 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011 | associationforjewishstudies.org
AMEINU (Liberal Zionist)
Ameinu is Horrified by George Floyd Murder and Stands with Peaceful Protesters
Ameinu is horrified and disgusted by the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by police last week in Minneapolis. Floyd’s tragic and senseless killing is merely another example in an all too long line of innocent people of color who have been murdered at the hands of law enforcement throughout the United States. Ameinu stands with communities of color, the disposed, the disenfranchised, the invisible, and the unheard in condemning this murder and demanding justice for all people. Law enforcement must be held accountable and must be reformed in order to actually protect and serve the communities in which they work.
Today’s struggle for justice for George Floyd and for other black and brown victims of police violence is not new. It is merely a continuation of the fight against centuries of the systemic racism that constitutes America’s original sin and continuing shame. It is well past time for the United States to come to terms with its past as well as its present and to take tangible steps to address the plagues of racism, poverty, and inequality of opportunity for communities of color.
Ameinu stands in solidarity with the peaceful protestors throughout the country and the world who are saying “Enough!” to hate, to violence and to bigotry.
BEND THE ARC
Bend the Arc’s political advocacy arm harnesses the collective power of progressive American Jews to change policy and build a more just and equal nation.
Statement in Solidarity With Black Lives
We call for our Jewish community, especially white Jews, to rise up for Black lives and demand police accountability
Bend the Arc rises in solidarity with the powerful uprising all across this country demanding dignity for Black lives and justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, James Scurlock, and David McAtee. We acknowledge the countless other Black lives taken at the hands of police officers whose names we do not yet know. In this moment, we are being called as a country to dismantle the centuries-old structures of white supremacy that take the lives of too many Black men, women, and trans people — and to build a more just America in its place. Our Jewish community is committed to Black lives and Black liberation, including Black Jews.
On Thursday night, we entered the holiday of Shavuot and commemorated the moment we received the Torah — all of our founding stories and traditions and obligations to one another — and became the Jewish people.
In this moment, right now, what Torah are we receiving about who we are as a country? What kind of people are we right now, and who might we become?
The hour is dire. In the middle of a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting Black lives and livelihoods we are seeing a rapid descent into authoritarianism and state violence, mirroring violence that Black liberation movements have faced throughout our country’s history. After ignoring armed far-right militia groups at Reopen protests, police forces in city after city are erupting in violence against Black protesters, elected officials, and journalists alike. Cities and states are activating national guard and military units, states of emergencies, and the all too real prospect of martial law. We’re seeing a terrifying pattern of vehicular assaults on protesters, by possible vigilantes as well as law enforcement. We’re seeing white nationalists seek to take advantage of the situation to fuel a race war. The president repeatedly calls for violence against Black people and protesters, while spreading disinformation and pointing fingers. Their masks are off.
In this hour we can also glimpse the promise of a liberated future, being called into being by Black organizers and activists. Thousands of Americans, young and old, of all races and ethnicities, are in the streets, providing mutual aid, donating to bail funds, and calling for justice. A more just America is struggling to be born. Our choice is clear.
We call for our Jewish community, especially white Jews, to rise up for Black lives using all of our spiritual, political and intellectual resources. We demand accountability for the officers and white supremacists involved in these murders. We demand that police and military forces de-escalate and immediately cease all violence against protesters and Black communities. We demand that cities and state governments launch independent investigations into the deaths or injury of any individuals in the midst of protests and rioting.
It’s past time to build a new America where it is safe to sleep, walk, drive, shop, jog, live, and love while Black. It’s past time to build an America where Black people, any people, are no longer killed by the police. It’s past time to see that these demands for the safety and dignity of Black lives are the floor, not the ceiling, for a society in which we are all truly free to live and love. We rise as one so we can thrive as many.
When a person of color cannot go out jogging for fear his life will end and cannot have a police encounter that does not result in his death and cannot even go bird watching without being harassed, we are at a dangerous, heartbreaking and somber time in our society.
In light of the ongoing unrest in America’s cities in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, we call on communities to come together to heal and to address that which divides us.
Firing, arresting and charging with murder and manslaughter Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death is just the start. The officers with Chauvin must also be held accountable.
Serious and significant reform of our criminal justice system and promoting and understanding the principles of equal justice to honor Floyd and others targeted because of the color of their skin must be swiftly addressed on a local and national level.
JEWISH COUNCIL FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Statement of Solidarity
We, the undersigned, are outraged at the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
We stand in solidarity with the black community that has for far too long been targeted by police and have suffered rampant racism and unfair and uneven applications of the law
We call upon our government and law enforcement at the national, state, and local levels to fully investigate and hold accountable all the involved officers and to prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
We call upon our government and law enforcement agencies at every level to institute sweeping reforms in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
We pledge to join forces with the black community and other Americans to see through these changes to law enforcement, end systemic racism, and work for a more just American society.
JEWISH FEDERATIONS OF NORTH AMERICA
Statements on the Death of George Floyd
The Jewish Federations of North America is outraged and sickened by the violence of the Minneapolis police officers that led to the death of George Floyd. We share in the heartbreak, pain and sorrow provoked by his loss and the loss of many others through sordid acts of hate and bigotry. May their memory be for a blessing.
We pledge to our brothers and sisters in the black community – and all communities of color – to work together to reverse the systemic racism embedded within our country’s institutions and society in general. “Our work won’t be easy,” revered civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis reminded us this week, “nothing worth having ever is.”
In the strongest terms, we also condemn those who are taking advantage of the anguish over George Floyd’s death by hijacking what would be peaceful rallies across the country for their own violent and destructive agenda. These acts threaten our Jewish communities as well as our democracy as a whole. We commit to partnering with community leaders to ensure the safety of all who are at risk.
Together, we can and must be stronger than hate. We will stand and fight for a world free of racism and bigotry in all of its forms.
Jewish Federations across North America have voiced their sorrow for the death of George Floyd. View their statements below.
THE JEWISH MUSEUM (NYC)
The Jewish Museum stands with
the Black community.
The Jewish Museum stands with the Black community and denounces the longstanding systemic racial injustice that continues to persecute people of color across our country. The senseless killings of George Floyd and so many others are a stark reminder of the continued pervasiveness of racism in America. We join the many voices that are demanding social change.
The Jewish Museum strives to uphold shared human values and to foster cultural understanding. Individually and institutionally, we will speak out against social inequity and stand against all forms of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. We will listen to and amplify voices that are discounted, ignored, or not heard loudly enough.
The Jewish Museum believes that we must all engage in the Jewish concept of “tikkun olam,” or “repairing the world,” and do so in the pursuit of social justice.
JEWISH THEOLOCIGCAL SEMINARY
“We Are Horrified and Saddened”
The JTS community is horrified and saddened by the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others who have come before. This is a devastating and dangerous moment in our country, the history of which is so stained by racial injustice. This injustice has been on dramatic, public display—from the disproportionate rate of COVID-19 deaths to the pervasive racism in many areas of public life.
We believe that every person and institution must assume responsibility to create a more equitable and just society. Jewish tradition forbids us to remain silent in the face of racial injustice. “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” (Leviticus 19:16).
We know that these three recent murders, and so many others, have caused acute pain in the Black community, in the Black Jewish community, and among many in our broader American society. We must acknowledge this pain and respond in every way we can.
We call on each member of the JTS community, and the entire Jewish community, to do all in their power to respond to this moment of crisis by taking action to build a more just world. We can lift our voices, train our students, and work in partnership with alumni, lay leaders, and our friends and family in the Black community.
We commit to participating in, hosting, and facilitating the difficult conversations that will be the necessary first steps in beginning to repair the brokenness of our society. The moral voice of JTS must and will be heard loudly at this moment of national crisis. This is core to who we are as a community and as a Jewish institution. Our political leaders must act with similar resolve to ease suffering, heal wounds, and promote the cause of justice.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminded us pointedly that “morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE
art by @shirien.creates
JUSTICE FOR GEORGE FLOYD
27 MAY 2020 STATEMENT
Jewish Voice for Peace statement: Justice for George Floyd
On Monday George Floyd, like Eric Garner five years before him, was suffocated by a policeman, who put his knee on George’s neck for five minutes and killed him.
Police are killing Black people. And months into a global pandemic, it’s abundantly clear that our healthcare system is killing Black and Brown people. George Floyd repeatedly said to the police, “I can’t breathe.” His life mattered.
Jewish tradition teaches us that the loss of a single life is the loss of a whole world. At JVP we are in shared mourning with everyone who is impacted by this senseless death – with our Black community members, with our movement allies and partners, with every parent who woke up to this news with fear and terror. We join together to fight for a future where Black people can be free from violence, to live long abundant lives.
Rest in Power, George Floyd. May your memory be a blessing.
THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN
The National Council of Jewish Women Voices Outrage and Demands Action Over George Floyd’s Murder
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 30, 2020
Sarah Clements, West End Strategy Team
The National Council of Jewish Women Voices Outrage and Demands Action Over George Floyd’s Murder
WASHINGTON / MINNEAPOLIS – The National Council of Jewish Women and the National Council of Jewish Women-Minnesota released the following statements today in response to the murder of Minnesotan George Floyd:
Beth Gendler, Executive Director of NCJW Minnesota:
“As a Minnesotan, I am grieving today. I am appalled that George Floyd is dead. I am shaken to know that this kind of crime happens nearly every day nationwide. I am thinking of the millions of Black and Brown families across America who yet again have to explain to their children why George Floyd was killed, why his words of ‘I can’t breathe’ were simply ignored. And we are horrified that organized white supremacists are preying on our grief to incite violence and wreak havoc in our communities.
“What happened on Monday in my state is a microcosm of communities all over the country right now, from Atlanta to Louisville to Tallahassee. No parent should have to worry about the safety of their child when they leave home to go to school, to pick up groceries, to get gas to drive, to live, to work, and to be Black in America. I continue to be outraged that this is still the case today. Affirming dignity, sanctity and fairness for all of humanity is at the core of our Jewish faith. It is imperative that we ensure that all of us, particularly those most impacted by hatred and violence, are protected and cared for equally.”
Sheila Katz, CEO of The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW):
“We will not remain silent. As a national organization made up of over 100,000 advocates in communities around the country — including Minnesota — we are outraged and devastated by the murder of George Floyd. Mr. Floyd was murdered by multiple police officers who held him down with their knees, however, the underlying cause of his death is systemic racism. It is both unacceptable and exhausting that in 2020, we still need to insist over and over again: Black Lives Matter.
“The arrest of one involved officer on third-degree murder charges is a necessary step towards accountability for George Floyd’s death, but ultimately all officers who were present and did nothing to intervene must be brought to justice. And Minnesota officials must do a full investigation into police brutality and racism in their state and must commit to changes that confront these cycles of violence.
“Mr. Floyd’s family has shared a hope for justice that includes systematic changes to prevent such atrocities from happening again. We share this hope and recommit as an organization to ending the hate-filled and senseless violence that has taken the beautiful souls of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and countless others. Through legislative reform, local activism, and by educating NCJW advocates, we will make sure each individual we engage helps end the toxic culture of racism that permeates our country.
“For now, it is important to support Black and Brown communities and the leaders spearheading the peaceful, anti-racist responses unfolding. Together, we will make sure the memory of George Floyd will be for a blessing.”
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.
The following statement was posted Monday by the Orthodox Union:
Today, in the wake of last week’s death of Mr. George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis and days of protests that have followed, the leadership of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America issued the following statement:
We are saddened, sickened, and outraged to have seen another broadcast video of an African American man dying at the hands of police officers.
Racism is not a thing of the past or simply a political issue. It is a real and present danger that must be met head on. As religious Jews, we believe the most important starting point for the national discourse that must take place is the recognition that all people are created in the image of G-d and that each human life is of infinite value. Indeed, the United States of America was founded upon this principle and, at its best, persistently strives to make it manifest in America’s laws and policies.
Yet, we are again witnessing that too many communities around this country feel their voices are not being heard, their complaints about racist treatment are unheeded, and we are not doing enough to point out that this brutal and unjust treatment is antithetical to basic American values.
People of good conscience must never turn a blind eye when people are being deprived of their human dignity and even their lives. Indifference is not an option. The right of citizens outraged by these events to engage in peaceful public protest is to be protected as a fundamental right. But that should not lead to violence and vandalism, including assaulting law enforcement officers.
We plead for an end to the violence in the wake of this tragedy. We pray for comfort for grieving families and friends. We pray for peace across the United States while the legal process moves forward. We also join in the demand for a full investigation that results in rightful accountability and actual justice.
In 2019, the American Jewish community experienced its most deadly, violent and disturbing outbreak of anti-Semitism. Thus, we are acutely sensitive to the essential imperative to foster tolerance and respect in this highly diverse society in which we live.
We call on all Americans to unite in the pursuit of justice and brotherly love and respect, regardless of race, creed or color. In this encounter, let us all seek greater understanding amongst our fellow men and women – all of whom are created in the image of God. Let us work in partnership toward eradicating all forms of bigotry and racism and making the United States the “more perfect union” we all pray for it to be.
RABBINIC COUNCIL OF AMERICA (Orthodox)
The Rabbinical Council of America, the leading membership organization of Orthodox rabbis in North America, condemns the senseless murder of George Floyd. He, like every human being, was created in the image of Almighty, and the loss of his life is a tragedy.
Furthermore, we stand together with all who fight racism, bigotry and hatred. We believe that the equal rights and opportunities guaranteed by our laws are, as the founders of this great land proclaimed, “inalienable rights” which derive from our Sacred Scripture. As a faithful Jewish community, we stand together with all who defend the rights of others, especially the “widow, the orphan and the stranger.”
We also condemn the lawlessness of the few who defile the memory of George Floyd and others, by rioting and looting. The key to effecting positive change is through peaceful demonstration, not through destroying property, looting and harming others.
“Our rabbis taught that society subsists on the three basic values: law, truth, and peace,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America. “We call upon those in government and law enforcement not only to preserve the law, but also to restore justice, fairness and a sense of compassion to all. Inciteful language must cease, and efforts must be expended which will educate our society away from racism and towards a better understanding each for the other.”
“We stand resolute in our belief that the goodness of human nature will prevail, but we call upon everyone to end the violence,” added Rabbi Binyamin Blau, first vice president of the RCA.
“While the hurt and the anger felt and expressed today must not be ignored, the solution to our national pain will only come through peaceful demonstration, deliberate conversation, and effective action. As Dr. King said, ‘Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.'”
SOCIETY OF JEWISH ETHICS
6 hrs ·
The Society of Jewish Ethics forcefully and unequivocally condemns the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, James Scurlock, and David McAtee (among many, many others) and the appalling, militarized violence leveled by police forces across the country toward Black communities who have risen up in justified outrage against the ongoing, murderous burden of white supremacy. We stand in solidarity with the protestors.
We affirm #BlackLivesMatter.
As scholars of Judaism and ethics, we stand against state-sanctioned violence against civilians, and we bear a deep awareness of the consequences of targeting such violence against marginalized populations.
We are also aware that discourses in our academic fields of study have histories of perpetuating white supremacy through the erasure and marginalization of Black people and other people of color, including Jews of Color, from our scholarship, from our syllabi, from our professional organizations, and from our departments.
We recognize that inequities and injustices in the academy are complicit in producing inequities and injustices on the ground. Therefore, we commit as an organization to the following concrete actions:
*The SJE will take steps to increase representation from Black scholars, indigenous scholars, and other scholars of color in our programs. We will further commit to inviting a scholar of color as our plenary speaker for our 2022 annual meeting.
*We will develop syllabus resources to aid instructors in incorporating antiracist framing, Black scholarship, and other non-white scholarship into Jewish ethics courses. We will make these resources publicly available on our website and circulate these resources widely within Jewish Studies. We also welcome collaboration with our partner organizations—the Society of Christian Ethics and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics—along these lines.
*We will actively solicit programming that interrogates white supremacy in Jewish communities and institutions.
Statement on the Murder of George Floyd and Violence Against Protestors
RELEASE DATE: May 27, 2020
‘Raise Up’ by Hank Willis Thomas
“How were the Ten Commandments arranged? Five on one tablet and five on the other. On one tablet it was written: I am the Eternal your God, and opposite to it, on the other tablet, was written: You shall not murder. This means that one who sheds blood is considered as having diminished the divine image.”
Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael, Tractate Bachodesh
This week, the divine image is diminished as we mourn the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. This is yet one more tragic example of the racist violence too often perpetuated by police officers, who are charged with protecting all of us–not only some of us. We again face the reality that people of color in our country live in fear that encounters with law enforcement will result in serious injury or death.
We say once again: Black Lives Matter. And we commit to creating a country that lives by this statement.
We send condolences and strength to George Floyd’s family and friends, and call for the officers responsible for his death to be tried on murder charges.
We condemn the use of tear gas and other violent means against those protesting his death last night. This response by police stands in stark contrast to the images of police simply standing still, as armed white protesters occupied the Minnesota State House earlier this month, and offers just one more example of the over-policing of communities of color.
“When the community is immersed in suffering, a person may not say: I will go to my home and I will eat and drink, and peace be upon you, my soul.” (Talmud Taanit 11a)
We must not look away from these unjust acts of state violence, especially at a time when we are consumed by concern over COVID-19. Indeed, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color is part of the same legacy of slavery and systemic racism that leads to state violence against black and brown people.
We also send strength and solidarity to Congregation Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis, led by T’ruah co-chair Rabbi Michael Latz, in the wake of swastikas and other antisemitic, white nationalist slogans graffitied near the building. Many members of the synagogue heard the news while standing in solidarity with the family, friends, and community of George Floyd. The confluence of this antisemitic incident with racist violence reminds us yet again that our struggles against bias of all kinds must be linked, and that none of us will be free until all of us are free.
UNION OF REFORM JUDAISM
URJ Statement: Witnessing Protests, Rage, and Our Torah’s Unbending Demand for Justice
Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society.
Contact: Lauren Theodore at 212-650-4154
May 30, 2020; New York, NY – Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
On Shavuot, as we received the Torah anew, with its unbending demand for justice, we also witnessed protests in Minneapolis, Louisville, and around the United States following the all-too-familiar lethargy in bringing George Floyd’s killers to justice.
The national rage expressed about the murder of Mr. Floyd reflects the depth of pain over the injustice that People of Color – and particularly Black men – have been subjected to throughout the generations. In recent months we have seen, yet again, too many devastating examples of persistent systemic racism, leading to the deaths not only of Mr. Floyd but of other precious souls, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
We remember others before them: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Philando Castile. Walter Scott. Terrence Crutcher. Samuel Dubose. Michael Brown. The list feels endless, and so too is our despair. But as we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for them all, we say now, again: We will not sit idly by.
Our country simply cannot achieve the values of “justice for all” to which it aspires until we address ongoing racism in all sectors and at all levels of society. We remain in solidarity and action with the NAACP’s urgent #WeAreDoneDying campaign, whose policy demands cover areas of criminal justice, economic justice, health care, and voting, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact Black Americans. As the NAACP says, “Senseless hate crimes and incidence of COVID-19 cases and deaths spreading throughout the Black community display the continuance of systematic racism and privilege granted to white people in America.”
We pray for the families of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, and all those whose lives have been so cruelly and violently taken, and we renew our commitment to working to achieve a nation that exemplifies compassion and justice for all.
|Yeshiva University Office of the President|
|Dear Students, Colleagues and Friends,
Today should have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers in Louisville on March 13. Yeshiva University stands united as we condemn her murder, alongside those of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many other victims of racial violence. We mourn their deaths and offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences to their loved ones. Racial violence by any member of society is horrific. It is especially horrific when those perpetuating it are the very same people who took an oath to serve and protect our communities.
We have all watched in horror and been shaken by these brutal deaths. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow and we understand the anger and fear being felt across the country, especially by Black Americans at this time. We join in the national outcry for justice and reforms that seek to prevent these tragic violent acts from continuing to occur.
The Rabbis of Antiquity taught that the most fundamental idea in all of Jewish thought is to be found in the Biblical verse, “in the divine image did God create humankind” (Genesis 5:1). For this verse introduced to human civilization the radical notion of the infinite worth of each individual as each and every human being shares a common sacredness.
Our university is built on this idea and is infused with the mission that we are called upon to heal the world. In our classrooms, in our scholarship, and in all areas of our community life we must oppose racial oppression and work towards a society of racial equity.
Elie Wiesel said, “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”
The University is working on a number of upcoming programs that will provide opportunities for members of our community to build new avenues to advance racial justice. And we call on all members of our YU community—from our high schools, to our undergraduate and graduate populations, to our alumni and friends across the world—to use this time as an opportunity to think deeply about the tragic recent events and consider how we are to respond moving forward.
Yeshiva University’s mission and history demand we make a comprehensive and deep commitment to the betterment of all humanity. We dedicate ourselves to advancing critical thinking, community discussion, intellectual capacity and to improving the world through vigilant activism for the good of all people.
Let us redeem this moment by turning it into a force for good.
Warmest wishes for a Shabbat of solidarity and peace.
Posted by: Jonathan S. Tobin, Editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate
June 2, 2020
JNS: Outrage over the murder of George Floyd doesn’t justify intersectional myths
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The outrageous murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, by local police is a crime that cannot be tolerated or excused. Efforts by extremist agitators to hijack peaceful demonstrations and turn them into violent riots should also be condemned and not falsely rationalized as a form of legitimate protest or part of a necessary path to progress.
Sensible people know both those things can be equally true, and that concerns about the anarchy in the streets of major cities shouldn’t diminish our anger about Floyd’s death or any other crime that appears rooted in racism.
This perilous moment in American history should have created a consensus about the need to address both injustice and nihilist violence that ought to transcend partisanship. That is why Jewish organizations and religious groups have joined with people of faith throughout the denominational spectrum to express their dismay about what happened to Floyd, as well as their desire to combat prejudice.
But not everyone is prepared to observe the political ceasefire most Americans would prefer to observe in the wake of these traumas. And, as always, some of those looking to exploit tragedy are attacking Jews.
That was made clear when a synagogue and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized in Los Angeles with pro-Palestinian propaganda. In and of itself, that would be terrible, but those buildings were just a few out of the innumerable places around the country that suffered the same indignity or worse.
The context for that incident—and the spate of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate that has flourished in recent days on the Internet—is not random anger that could have been directed at any target, no matter how removed it might be from the incident that set off this crisis. Such incitement is the direct product of an intersectional movement that has continued to attempt to link crimes committed on American streets against African-Americans with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And just like other forms of prejudice for which there should be no tolerance, the effort to blame Israel or Jews for what rogue American cops might do needs to be clearly labeled as a form of hate speech.
The effort to manufacture a connection between slayings of African-Americans with Israel isn’t new. The notion that the struggle for civil rights in the United States is connected to the Palestinian war on Israel has become a staple of the BDS movement. It is rooted in intersectionality, an idea that has gained popularity in certain sectors of academia. It asserts an affinity between the struggles of people of color or indigenous populations against imperialist and racist hierarchies. So if you think all Jews in Israel are the moral equivalent of white European settlers in Africa, the notion that blacks who oppose systemic racism in America are fighting the same good fight as Palestinians resisting Zionism makes sense.
That is what is behind the cartoon that has circulated on social media showing an Israeli soldier sitting on the neck of an oppressed Arab next to the image of rogue Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin suffocating a dying George Floyd under the caption “black lives matter.” The same disingenuous analogy was behind the tweet by a group calling itself the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which attempted to claim that U.S. police departments are sending personnel to Israel to be trained to attack unarmed blacks.
This false meme further argued that Israel is helping to “militarize” American law enforcement.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made these arguments before, but the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace group has particularly embraced this canard. JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” program fits into its efforts to promote boycotts of Israel. Asserting that Jewish groups that have facilitated trips to Israel by American first responders and police are somehow responsible for killings of unarmed blacks by U.S. cops is not only untrue, it’s a classic example of an anti-Semitic blood libel since it seeks to blame Jews for gruesome crimes for which they bear no responsibility.
The training Americans get in Israel has little to do with the attacks that JVP and other BDS groups claim to oppose. It actually focuses on the antithesis of stereotypical police brutality by seeking to promote community engagement and nonviolent policing that would make confrontations less likely.
The willingness to buy into the big lie about Israelis teaching Americans to kill minorities is based in ignorance of the true nature of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror groups. Contrary to the intersectional myth, Jews are not colonial oppressors in Israel. Jews are not only indigenous to the country that is their ancient homeland. A majority of Israelis also fall into the category that left-wing ideologues would term “people of color” since their families came to the country from homes in Arab and Muslim lands from which they fled or were expelled after 1948.
The mission of the Israel Defense Forces is not racial oppression. It’s to defend the people of Israel against foes, which have not given them a day of peace in the 72-year history of the country. Its record in protecting civilian lives, including Palestinians who are used as human shields by terrorists, is unmatched.
Stripped of its mendacious rhetoric, intersectionalism is a thinly disguised form of anti-Semitism. So it comes as little surprise that anti-Israel groups are breathing new life into these falsehoods whose purpose is fueling hate against Jews, rather than seeking justice for George Floyd and African-Americans.
We can embrace a crusade against racism and police misconduct without endorsing the notion that all police are equally guilty of such crimes, or that the American nation is irredeemably guilty of intolerance. Similarly, it is vital that all decent people should reject the attempts to smear Israel and its American friends by associating them with incidents like the Floyd murder. Though some wrongly associate it with anti-fascism, intersectionality is hate masquerading as advocacy for the oppressed.
This Op-Ed was originally published in JNS.