Black Americans’ Alliance With Jewish Community in Turmoil Amid Nationwide Unrest

Elgin Nelson

The conflict between Palestine and Israel has ignited a fierce debate across the United States, particularly on college campuses where protests have erupted into violence. The growing unrest has drawn a dividing line, prompting an intense scrutiny over whether the criticism of Israel has veered into anti-Semitism or stands as a legitimate condemnation of what many view as genocidal actions by a government against the Palestinian people.

For numerous Black Americans, the presence of antisemitism is a vivid, disconcerting echo of historical injustices, yet the growing solidarity with Palestinians appears both expected and justifiable. Clergy members in particular are observing a rise in antisemitic expressions, highlighting a crucial difference between these prejudiced attitudes and valid criticism of a government seen as contributing to the distress and loss experienced by many Palestinians. This nuanced viewpoint aims to reconcile empathy with responsibility, acknowledging the complexity of the issues at hand.

“I definitely see a rise in antisemitism in the country within the schools and this goes around within the African American community,” said Pastor Michael Fisher. “The reason being, I feel, is because there has been a disconnect for the last couple of decades between our Jewish brothers and sisters and the African American community.

Fisher added, “They always talk to us about how they partnered with Dr. Martin Luther King and helped to propel the civil rights movement forward. However, since then, we have not really seen them really help us in our struggles and that divide is what has resulted in this rise of antisemitism or lack of concern for their struggles among some within the Black community.”

Pastor Eddie Anderson echoed the same sentiments as Fisher saying, “We must be clear that critiquing the government of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic. In fact, I would argue that we should speak out against the killing of innocent Palestinian people by Israel and the flow of billions in U.S. military aid to the unaccountable Netanyahu government. However, anti-Jewish hatred is also pervasive and dangerously on the rise and we must fight against it at every turn of the corner. In the public square words abound that compound the grief of many and has the potential to precipitate more violence,” said Pastor Eddie Anderson.

Anderson added, “We must be vigilant and remember our sacred text that what God demands is for us to act justly, be faithful to the liberation of humanity and walk humbly with all the people of God.”

Pastor Anderson’s views are not unique as more than 1,000 black pastors are pressing President Biden to restrain Israel in its war with Hamas and threatening that if he doesn’t do so, it will cost him black support in November. “We see them as a part of us,” the Rev. Cynthia Hale of Decatur, Ga., told the New York Times , referring to Palestinians. “They are oppressed people. We are oppressed people.”

Barbara Williams-Skinner of the National African American Clergy Network recalls the civil rights movement as the only other time where she has seen this type of uproar sparked unease across the country, “The Israel-Gaza war, unlike Iran and Afghanistan, has evoked the kind of deep-seated angst among Black people that I have not seen since the civil rights movement. Black clergy have seen war, militarism, poverty and racism all connected.”

Yet, the longstanding alliance between Black and Jewish communities, dating back over a century, appears to be facing a potential period of uncertainty. This shift is marked by instances where Black American organizations have openly criticized the United States’ support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, alongside Black demonstrators advocating for the Palestinians’ right to freedom.

Such developments have raised concerns among some Jewish Americans, fearing that increased support might heighten the risk of antisemitism and undermine the strong bonds between Jewish and Black Americans, bonds that were significantly strengthened during the Civil Rights era.

We are concerned, as a community, about what we feel is a lack of understanding of what Israel is about and how deeply Oct. 7 has affected us,” said Bob Kaplan, executive director of The Center for Shared Society at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

“Antisemitism has to be seen as a reprehensible form of hate … as any form of hate is,” he said. “Antisemitism is as real to the American Jewish community and causes as much trauma and fear and upset to the American Jewish community, as racism causes to the Black community, or anti-Asian feeling causes to the Asian community, or anti-Muslim feeling causes in the Muslim community.”

Growing tensions between America’s Black and Jewish communities became very apparent after Black celebrities like Kanye West and Kyrie Irving were accused of antisemitism in late 2022. In 2023, the resignation of Harvard President Claudine Gay further called into question the delicate relationship between the two communities.

A poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research further ignites a potential feud between the two revealing that Black adults are more inclined than their white counterparts to believe that the U.S. overly supports Israel — with the figures standing at 44% for Black adults, compared to 30% for white adults.

These numbers suggest that Black Americans are less likely to be supportive of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians than White Americans, especially with hate crimes on the rise in recent months.

In 2023, major US cities witnessed a third consecutive year of increased hate crimes, significantly influenced by the Israel-Hamas conflict, leading to notable rises in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents. For the first time, anti-Jewish hate crimes have become the most prevalent in America’s largest cities, overtaking those against Black Americans.

This surge was particularly marked in the fall of 2023, with New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago recording jumps of 12.6%, 48%, and 10% respectively. This trend suggests that anti-Jewish hate crimes are on course to reach an all-time high when the FBI releases its national data later in the year, amidst the backdrop of a critical election.

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