How to Repair the Relationship between American Jewry and African Americans

Feb. 14 2022

The steady decline in black-Jewish relations since their supposed heyday in the 1960s can be seen in the fact that such notorious anti-Semites as Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan are no longer kept at arm’s length by mainstream figures, and that the national organization of the Movement for Black Lives has made the destruction of Israel part of its platform. But while these trends have been much lamented, intelligent suggestions as to how they can be corrected are few and far between. Chloe Valdary offers a path forward—but first looks back at the formation of two of the 20th century’s most influential anti-Semitic black leaders:

Both [Malcolm X] and Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, grew up as the sons of preachers who, in traditional Protestant fashion, preached their own messianic vision of a coming apocalyptic hellfire in which all would be damned unless they found salvation. . . . It’s easy to see how some people who were hated, beaten, and bloodied for their dark skin would be motivated to proclaim that the very thing that made them hated by others was what made them beloved by God. It’s also easy to see how those same people would view all others who claimed to be God’s chosen people as usurpers, a threat to a hard-fought sense of purpose and belonging in an unforgiving world.

The roots of the Nation of Islam’s relentless demonization of Jews come from various sources, many of them religious. But the psychological attraction of that anti-Semitism—the reason the Nation has had such success in attracting both converts and admirers—derives at least partly from a sense of competition for chosenness. Not for nothing does Louis Farrakhan constantly accuse Jews of being imposters.

The antidote, Valery argues, comes in embracing what she calls “enchantment,” and taking an approach radically different from that favored by today’s professional “anti-racists.”

Where many of today’s anti-racists are more often interested in appearances than in possibilities, in counting up what a person or an organization lacks (namely, participation by minorities), enchantment asks us to imagine, and work toward, what we and our institutions can become. Where zero-sum-game anti-racism marinates in division, resentment, and mutual recrimination, literally dividing people into race-based “affinity groups,” enchantment asks people to take deeper notice of one another, not just in terms of what confounds or confronts us, but also in what delights and dazzles us.

Imagine individuals from each community doing so as personal friends or professional colleagues, in book clubs, reading circles, activity groups, or Shabbat dinners. Imagine Birthright-like trips for teenage black Americans to Israel, or March of the Living-like trips to Auschwitz. Imagine Freedom Summer-like trips for students in Jewish day schools to the American South, tracing the story of civil rights from Atlanta to Birmingham to my hometown of New Orleans—with plenty of detours for great music and food.

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Read more at Sapir

More about: African Americans, American Jewry, Black-Jewish relations, Malcolm X, Nation of Islam

 

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion