Opinion | The political dangers of a split among black Jews over the war in Gaza

“There is no alliance more historic, nor more important, than that between black Americans and American Jews.”

That’s what Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said in 2020 during his organization’s joint Black-Jewish Unity Week event with the American Jewish Committee.

But, Morial told me this week, that alliance is “tested” by differing views on the war between Israel and Hamas. And that divergence could affect how both constituencies — which traditionally support Democrats — approach this year’s elections.

The relationship between these two communities is longstanding and was successful during the civil rights movement. But there have been periods of attrition.

Marc Dollinger, professor of Jewish studies at San Francisco State University and author of “Black Power, Jewish Politics,” sees a strong parallel between today and the period around the 1967 Six-Day War, in which Israel took control of the Gaza Strip of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem (as well as the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula), and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

The following year, just four months before the 1968 US elections, a Times item entitled “Jews are worried about ties to blacks” describes one of the points of contention between the two communities as “Jewish resentment over the anti-Israeli position of black extremists who, in the jargon of the New Left, accuse the Jewish state of ‘Zionist imperialism’ and ‘oppressions’ against Arabs.’ “

Dollinger describes whatever rift is occurring now as “a kind of Chapter 2.”

Despite the fact that the feelings of American Jews do not necessarily align with the feelings of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, or with the policies of the Israeli government, there are parallels between the division perceived years ago and the current rift : Many Black Americans, especially younger, politically engaged Black Americans, oppose Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, with particular concern about the death toll among Palestinian civilians.

Many American Jews support Israel’s right to wage war and American support for Israel’s war effort to eliminate the threat posed by Hamas – and some feel disappointed or even betrayed that many blacks seem to have more sympathy for the Palestinian perspective than for the Israeli one. prospect.

The issues involved seem irreconcilable, because many of those involved in the debate believe their positions represent the moral high ground. And nuanced opinions are sometimes called weak. But there must be room for nuance.

I believe that Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to the eradication of Israel, that its October 7 attack on Israel was horrific, and that all hostages taken in the attack must be returned.

At the same time, I believe the carnage in Gaza – thousands of dead civilians, including thousands of children – is unjustified and unacceptable, even in war. Relief agencies continue to warn of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and, as the International Court of Justice ruled last month, Israel must “take all measures within its power” to avoid violations of the International Convention on Prevention and Relief. punishment of the crime of genocide. .

On these points I adhere to a fundamental humanism. As Guardian columnist Naomi Klein says he wrote in October, the progressive response to this war should be “rooted in the values ​​that stand with children over guns every time, no matter whose gun it is or whose child it is.”

It is the absence of these values ​​that Ruth Messinger, former president of the American Jewish World Service, finds frustrating: the inability, she says, of people “to have two contradictory ideas at the same time” when considering the war in Gaza , the insistence on an all-or-nothing framing of the conflict on both sides.

When we spoke, Messinger told me that within the Jewish community, when she says she is a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, but that the way it defends itself “means death for the people of Gaza and it is”, therefore, “bad”. .” for the future of Israel and will contribute to the increase of anti-Semitism,” she often finds herself faced with the question: “How can you say all those things that do not agree with each other?”

It’s because conflict is complicated. And people who insist on making it in simplistic terms do so to advance an argument rather than to promote understanding.

And ultimately, this insistence on flattening the complexities of the issue could have a devastating effect on politics here. President Biden’s support for Israel in this war has alienated some black voters. Withdrawing some of that support could alienate some Jewish voters. However, he needs strong commitment and support from both groups to win re-election.

But Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, lamented that the current tension between these two constituencies on this issue “certainly threatens our ability to work together in terms of electoral organizing.” And he believes this tension is exacerbated by the rising death toll in Gaza and the targeting of Black leaders for their positions on the war, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. support of the campaign’s challengers to members of the so-called Squad, a small contingent of progressive members of Congress, all of them of color and many of them black.

When I contacted AIPAC to ask if the organization was concerned that targeting the Squad might cause political friction between the Black and Jewish communities, a spokesperson for the group responded via email, not directly responding to my question but instead writing, “We believe it is entirely consistent with progressive values ​​to stand with the Jewish State,” and arguing that “our political action committee supports nearly half of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Black Caucus, and the Hispanic Caucus”.

One concern for Democrats is that young progressives opposed to Biden’s position on war, including many young black men, will refuse to vote for him on principle.

But Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who co-founded the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations and helped relaunch it last year, made a point that I’ve thought about quite a bit. recent. : “A protest vote here, or the lack of a protest vote, will result in a more toxic and more painful situation” than already exists for the Palestinians, if it means electing Donald Trump again.

Even if some voters believe that Biden has stood up enough to Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in pursuing the war, they should consider that this reaction would most likely be nonexistent under Trump. In this way, refusing to vote for Biden as a way to express support for the Palestinians – or at least hold out for a ceasefire – could end up further damaging the Palestinian cause. The moral position, abstention, could become in all respects an immoral act, throwing open the door and allowing an even greater danger to enter.

It may be difficult for fate, but the outlook for the Palestinian people may worsen.