Last Thursday, the Movement for Black Lives got together for an emergency conference call. One week after the drafting committee released its political platform—a long document that covers everything from U.S. policing to education reform to mass incarceration—the activists felt they needed another “deep internal discussion,” as they called it, on one small section toward the end: their statement on Israel and Palestine.
Of all the positions included in the platform, this is the one that has generated the most backlash. The conflict is largely one of language: Jewish groups have been most upset about its use of the words “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe Israel’s actions against the Palestinians, describing the terms as “offensive and odious.” Some progressive, social-justice-oriented organizations have condemned the statements in part; others have condemned the movement in full. Church groups have repudiated it. Jews of color have struggled with it. In the wake of what should have been a powerful moment, black activists have found themselves at odds with the one group that may have been most ready to support them as allies.
But this is also a conflict of history. Jews and blacks in America have long danced around one another, at times feeling solidarity and at others, opposition. Both groups have developed a self-understanding rooted in a history of oppression and struggle, often in solidarity with others in need. Their clash on Israel may be a testament to how much U.S. views have changed on this issue, or how much Israel’s self-vision has changed since 1948. But it’s also a sign of how thoroughly elements of these groups have become alienated from one another—hoping for justice, but hearing different things when they try to speak its language.