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Rabbi Eric Fusfield, B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs and deputy director of our International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, penned an op-ed urging U.S. Jewish groups and communities to cultivate allies that will reciprocate the respect Jews have shown for the civil rights of others.

Read the op-ed in the Algemeiner.

Speaking in somber, contemplative tones, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently delivered a 40-minute floor speech on the current rise of antisemitism in the United States. “Not long ago, many of us marched together for black and brown lives,” Schumer said nostalgically, “out of the recognition that injustice against one oppressed group is injustice against all. But apparently, in the eyes of some, that principle does not extend to the Jewish people.”

Schumer’s invocation of the Black-Jewish solidarity that characterized both the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the post-George Floyd racial upheaval of 2020 hearkened back to the American tradition of coalition-building around shared civic values.

It also summoned the doctrine of intersectionality, which holds that minority categories are interconnected and that systems of oppression overlap. This feeling of empathy for African-Americans was on full display in the Jewish community when more than 600 Jewish organizations hastened to sign a letter contained in an August 2020 New York Timesad in support of Black Lives Matter (BLM).

“The Black Lives Matter movement is the current day Civil Rights movement in this country, and it is our best chance at equity and justice,” the letter read. “By supporting this movement, we can build a country that fulfills the promise of freedom, unity, and safety for all of us, no exceptions.”

But despite the rosy optimism of the Jewish organizational letter, there have indeed been exceptions to the promise of safety for all groups — namely, the American Jewish community, represented by the more than 600 organizations that signed the ad.

Antisemitism is exploding on university campuses and in urban centers in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli defensive military operation. And the response from BLM chapters? Support for the terrorists.

The BLM D.C. chapter accused Israel of apartheid, while casting doubt on the veracity of Hamas atrocities. The Chicago chapter posted an image of a terrorist paragliding into Israel to attack civilians, along with the caption, “I stand with Palestine.” And the BLM Grassroots division justified the Hamas attack as a response to “75 years of settler colonialism and apartheid.”

A BLM Phoenix social media account declared that Hamas terrorists were “freedom fighters.” A BLM Detroit account bizarrely demeaned Israeli hostages by asserting, “The few Israeli ‘hostages’ are in fact Israeli soldiers and Israeli army generals who are responsible for keeping Palestinians hostage in the world’s largest open air prison.”

American Jews often have actively worked to support the plight of an African-American community that suffered centuries of slavery and segregation and still struggles for equality today. The awareness of this history may have caused Jews to sometimes temper their responses to antisemitism, out of a deferential sense that there may be worse injustices that merit greater attention and outrage.

But the current explosion of antisemitism in the United States begs the question of why the world’s oldest and most persistent social illness merits less opprobrium than offenses against other marginalized groups. Moreover, it prompts one to ask why other communities that have felt the sting of bigotry themselves resist the obligation to defend Jews against the greatest of all hatreds.

Some of this undoubtedly is due to the lingering conception of Jews as a white, privileged group undeserving of victim status, even following the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in which white supremacists carried tiki torches and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

Another contributor is the revisionist history of Israel as a white, colonial settler project whose central aim is to displace an indigenous people, notwithstanding the fact that the Jews originated in the Land of Israel and that many of them subsequently lived in Arab and Muslim countries from which they were forced out in the 20th century. Furthermore, more than 50% of Israeli Jews would be considered BIPOC in America today.

But the eagerness of Jews to find common cause with other oppressed minorities, and to gain acceptance from such groups, has led to costly mistakes. Jewish organizations that signed the 2020 pro-BLM New York Times ad prioritized racial justice in the wake of the George Floyd killing. But it is possible to commit oneself to racial justice and the principle that Black lives matter without issuing a full-throated endorsement of a movement that never has confronted the antisemitism in its own ranks.

The experience of the 2020 BLM endorsement and the disappointment that followed it suggest that Jewish groups should cultivate allies that will reciprocate the respect Jews have shown for the civil rights of others. The Jewish community should demand that activists and organizations that profess to support civil and human rights reject not only terrorist groups such as Hamas, but the extreme ideologies that paint Jews as colonial occupiers deserving to be extirpated from their homeland.

Black lives will always matter, and the cause of racial equality must always be a priority for Jews and other Americans. But combating antisemitism and acknowledging Israel’s obligation to defend itself must never again take a back seat in the search for democratic allies.