Heeding the Call for Racial Justice

4 June 2020

This has been an excruciating week.

Yet another innocent, unarmed black man, George Floyd, was murdered by police in broad daylight. The world watched in horror as a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into George’s neck for a harrowing eight minutes and forty-six seconds as his colleagues looked on.

“I can’t breathe.”

George Floyd’s final words ring in our ears and echo in our consciousness. His name joins a list of black lives lost to police violence that is too long to bear.

This moment of immense anguish has awakened a nationwide wave of civil unrest – which in turn has too often been met with brutality by police around the country. American cities are smoldering.

Black Americans, communities of color, and their allies are mobilizing to demand justice for George Floyd – and to cry out for an end to racial discrimination and police brutality.

It’s our job to listen – and to join.

As an organization that works for social justice and civic equality every day in Israel, it is clear that our values demand we stand with people everywhere fighting for justice and equality. In this moment that means we unequivocally say: black lives matter.

We have much work to do.

On the individual level, this means educating ourselves about how to do our part to dismantle racism and white supremacy in our society, in our communities, and in our institutions. It means joining those critical efforts already underway. It means following and amplifying the voices of people of color. And it can mean knowing when to mute ourselves and make space for others.

It also means supporting the work of organizations and community-led coalitions like the Minnesota Freedom Fund and other community bail and bond funds around the country that are securing the release of protesters during this crisis. And initiatives like the National Police Accountability Project and Campaign Zero. The Obama Foundation has put together a resource page where you can find out how you can get informed, take action and get engaged.

In our own community, doing the work means stepping up to support groups like Jewish Community Action in Minneapolis and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice in New York City, and other groups in so many other cities, who are on the frontlines of racial solidarity work. It means recognizing that our Jewish community is a multi-racial community and working to support Jews of color-led organizations like the Jewish Multiracial Network – and elevating the voices of leaders of color from within our community. It means supporting groups like Bend the Arc, who are mobilizing in solidarity with communities of color to demand a fundamental shift to address racial disparities.

Of course, we’re all aware, even in this moment of upheaval, that we are living through the worst public health crisis in a century – and what’s likely the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. We are all reeling from President Trump’s disastrous abdication of leadership during this pandemic – a catastrophe that has left over 100,000 Americans dead, and one which is disproportionately ravaging black communities and communities of color. African Americans are nearly twice as likely to have died from COVID-19 than their share of the population.

Now, on top of it all, we are watching as President Trump glorifies police violence and threatens protesters with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.” He has called black protestors “thugs,” and parrots the slogans of American racists of the last century. This week, he threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and deploy the United States military to quell the unrest.

These are dark days for our democracy.

We know that what we are experiencing here in America has echoes around the world, including in Israel. Just this week, an unarmed, autistic 32-year old Palestinian man named Eyad Hallaq was shot to death by Israel’s border police in East Jerusalem on his way to school. Border Police chased him, and as he hid in fear behind a dumpster, they shot him seven times.

The cry for justice for George on the streets of American cities is echoed in the cries for justice for Eyad in the alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem.

There too, people are marching. People are joining together to build power in the face of

Hundreds of Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel have demonstrated in Jerusalem and Jaffa and in other cities around the country demanding “justice for George — and justice for Eyad.” Member of Knesset from the Joint List, Aida Touma-Sliman put it, with unmistakable clarity, this way: “For all those who are outraged about the murder [of George Floyd] in the United States, look closely — an entire nation is suffocating under occupation without being able to breathe.”

George Floyd’s death didn’t just happen. It is the result of widespread, systemic racism and a culture of impunity for police violence against black bodies. In East Jerusalem, Eyad Hallaq’s death at the hands of security forces is the result of a system of military occupation that sees Palestinians first-and-foremost as a threat.

Yet even now, Israel is on the precipice of a decision to make that occupation permanent through uniliteral annexation of parts of the West Bank. That would push the horizon for equality and justice even further away.

In the face of such entrenched injustices, it can sometimes feel like it’s too much – that the task of addressing, let alone dismantling, them is just too Sisyphean. But it is especially in times like these that we need to reach inside ourselves and rededicate ourselves to the task at hand. This is when we roll up our sleeves and get to work. We do not have the luxury of retreating into despair when the future of democracy — and people’s lives — are in peril.

So let’s get to work. The task of securing justice and equality here and in Israel is before us. It’s our job to work to overcome these tremendous injustices wherever we have power to change them.

Let’s commit ourselves to joining our voices and our resources with those who are fighting for our values everywhere. Let’s be part of the democratic pushback.