I had a beautiful day today. I stood with my sister, a passionate rabbi serving the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. We remembered our grandfather of blessed memory, who fought for America and shared hard-earned wisdom with his children and grandchildren.
I looked to my right and saw the Washington Monument. Looked to my left at the Lincoln Memorial. I read quotes engraved on massive stones. And I felt, to my core, one sad feeling: too much war.
Too. Much. War.
The quotes and certain retellings of history would have me believe that we fought for pure purposes: we fought for religious freedom, we fought to end slavery, we fought for freedom for all humanity, we fought to end tyranny. But it’s also true that we fought (and fight) for economic interests. It’s also true that America has only fought for SOME peoples’ freedoms. And it’s also true that while slavery formally ended with Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, Black and Brown Americans suffer daily in America under systemic racism that takes the form of implicit bias, legislative inequity, racially disparate sentencing and arrest rates, police brutality, and more.
I stood in awe of our mythic history and also in shock at how hard patriotism is when grappling with the hidden, darker truths of our still-imperfect union.
I had a terrible day today. I stood as a Jewish American pursuer of justice in disbelief, reading the word “genocide” used in the new Black Lives Matter platform to attack Israel. The platform reads, in part:
“The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people... Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people.”
The claim is wrong, it is offensive, it is a betrayal, it is an anti-semitic appropriation of a term coined to describe the Holocaust, it is a dagger in the side of the Jewish People, and it demands a response. And so I, painfully, ask these questions.
How can I respond authentically, as an engaged rabbinic partner with African American leaders who believes in and works fervently for racial justice? How can I respond as a public leader who has participated in numerous Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations? How can I respond as a father of children who are learning to take seriously the equality of all people and the shortcomings of things-as-they-are? How can I respond as a faith leader who has stood in the White House with my African American colleagues to demand an end to the American gun violence epidemic, which disproportionately affects urban communities of color? How can I respond as a good friend?
Just two weeks ago, I met in Israel and in Palestine with thought leaders of every stripe: the chief Palestinian peace negotiator and the mayor of an Israeli settlement, an Arab Israeli civil rights giant and Jewish Israeli LGBTQ leaders, former Israeli soldiers who actively protest against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Palestinian visionaries building the first urban-planned Palestinian city. Israel is far from perfect, further than it should be. The occupation is real. The occupation is wrong. And it is many galaxies different than genocide, defined.
Here is what I wish to say for now, what I would say to my children, what I say to my Jewish community, what I say to my African American colleagues, neighbors and friends, what I commit to saying to American elected officials, what I say to myself, in response to a terrible thing encoded in the Black Lives Matter platform:
I will not remain silent when Jews are attacked.
I will continue protesting American racism.
I will continue being a proud Jew who pursues justice.
I will continue to defend Israel’s right to exist and its obligation to do right.
I will engage with my African American friends and partners, so that they can see that what the Black Lives Matter Movement included in their new platform is worse than a mistake: it is the demonization of my home and my People, an attack that has happened too many times to recount.
Here is what I will not do:
I will not despair.
I will not ignore my Black neighbors’ experiences nor pretend to truly understand them. I, as a white man, have no idea how I would educate my children were I a black man, how I would experience the world around me at all as a Black or Brown American.
Today was beautiful and today was terrible. There has been too much war. Too many lives lost. This world already has enough hate. We need each other, and we need to love each other.
I pray with every part of me for an acknowledgement of this wrong and for the healing that will follow.