Earlier this week, a coalition of more than 60 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement released a platform entitled A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice. The core demands embrace goals that we share concerning economic justice, mass incarceration and law enforcement, climate change, education, and the ongoing legacy of slavery. We applaud the leaders of Black Lives Matter for insisting that the United States meet its human rights obligations, and for concretizing these into specific policy recommendations. We stand with these leaders in insisting that every human being—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or presentation, or abilities—be treated as an equal creation in the image of God, and in accordance with international human rights principles.
While we agree with many of the policy recommendations, we are extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide. We are committed to ending the occupation, which leads to daily human rights violations against Palestinians, and also compromises the safety of Israelis. Our work aims to build a just and secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom deserve the same human rights protections as all people.
However, the military occupation does not rise to the level of genocide—a term defined as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”
While we agree that the occupation violates the human rights of Palestinians, and has caused too many deaths, the Israeli government is not carrying out a plan intended to wipe out the Palestinians. There is no basis for comparing this situation to the genocides of the 20th century, such as those in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, or Armenia, or the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, each of which constituted a calculated plan to destroy specific groups, and each of which killed hundreds of thousands to millions of people. The Black Lives Matter platform also does not address the use of violence by some Palestinians, including the rocket attacks against civilians that Human Rights Watch has classified as a war crime.
One can vigorously oppose occupation without resorting to terms such as “genocide,” and without ignoring the human rights violations of terrorist groups such as Hamas.
T’ruah does not support or participate in the BDS movement. As supporters of a two-state solution that will guarantee the freedom and security of both Israelis and Palestinians, we are troubled by the BDS movement’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist, as well as by the movement’s toleration of antisemitism among some of its adherents. At the same time, we are deeply concerned, like Black Lives Matter, with the rise of anti-BDS legislation that infringes on the right of free speech. The very test of this constitutional right is whether we are prepared to defend speech that we find reprehensible. While we support Black Lives Matter in calling for the protection of free speech, we reject the call to embrace BDS as the appropriate way to bring about a better future for Israelis and Palestinians.
We also note that Jewish, Black, and Israeli are not mutually exclusive terms. When we stand with Black Lives Matter for the safety and dignity of people of color in the United States and abroad, we also stand with Jews of color who are members of our own communities, including with Israelis who trace their ancestry to North Africa, Ethiopia, India, and elsewhere.
We are grateful to The Movement for Black Lives for opening questions of race and justice in America, for working to ensure the equality of every member of our society, and for energizing so many of us to stand up for justice. We join with The Movement for Black Lives in committing to these pursuits, and also insist on standing up for the dignity and safety of both Israelis and Palestinians.