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Frequently Asked Questions

about the Jewish Persistence pledge

 

Any suggestions are welcome, including adding, removing or re-ordering questions.

 

Keep in mind these different audiences who will read the website:

  • "Circle 1": Jews who are highly committed to or personally impacted by BLM work

  • "Circle 2": Non-Black Jews who are concerned about racism, but have some anxiety or hesitation about deeply committing to supporting BLM - or who are new to supporting BLM and would be vulnerable to fearmongering

  • Right-wing opponents, who are reading the website to argue against it

  • A diverse range of non-Jews may also come across the site

 

About the pledge itself

 

Who created this, and why?
This project began in Spring 2020, and has been shaped by a multiracial group of Jewish activists and thinkers. As Jewish lay and professional leaders, activists and community members, we have so many reasons for wanting to see the global movement for Black lives thrive and succeed. Yet we are aware that there are those who will try to discredit this vital work, and will use charges of antisemitism to do so. 

Antisemitism is real. We know it; we have lived it. It needs to be addressed whenever it occurs. Yet this divisive exploitation of Jewish fears which we’ve been witnessing doesn’t actually help us to deal with it. Fortunately, a very different example has been set by groups such as JWOCMarching (Jewish Women of Color Marching). Thanks to movement teachers like these, we know that it is possible to stand proudly as Jews in wider social justice movements, and use moments of tension as opportunities for collective growth.

The Jewish Persistence pledge calls our attention to two issues that have become deeply intertwined: 1) the need for all Jews to stand proudly in the global movement for Black lives and 2) what vision our Jewish community will embrace to resist antisemitism. We created the pledge to help our communities imagine what is possible if we commit to staying in the movements we care about, and moving through these challenges together.

Why do you suggest people sign with their first names only? 

Signing something makes it more real. It requires a decision. It encourages action and invites accountability. By making these signatures public, we are reminded of how powerful we are together. 

For some of us, taking a public stand can add a layer of performance, which we want to remove. We hope that signing with your first name, or Jewish name, will shift the focus away from what other people may think, and allow you to fully immerse yourself in these ideas. For others of us, who live or work among Jews for whom these ideas are contentious, signing this might feel like a risk. You are welcome here. We hope the act of signing helps you to feel rooted in your truest values, as you explore what it will look like for you to stand up with courage for Black lives.

These issues matter to me, but I’m uncomfortable with parts of the pledge. What do you say to people who don’t feel able to sign this?

Thank you for showing up here, for reading, and for seriously engaging with the pledge, even if you are not signing it today. Our traditions have a rich history of argument for the sake of reaching a greater truth, machloket l’shem shamayim. Signatures are great - but our real goal is to get our people having meaningful conversations about this issue. We hope you’ll keep coming back to these ideas, and continue to engage in critical and compassionate conversations about them with others.

This pledge is awesome. How can I help you get it into more people's hands?

So glad you're feeling that way - we are too! If you’ve already signed, but you’re excited to plug in even more, here are more ways we’d love to have you involved.

  1. Share on social media.

  2. Make your 1st (2nd, 3d...) date with a conversation partner. Here's info about who to choose and how to start.

  3. Help your synagogue or Jewish organization to plan a community event around the pledge.

  4. Let Jewish educators in your life know that the pledge is a great tool to start conversations with Jewish youth.
     

I’m not Jewish, but I’m glad to see this happening. What can I do to help move this work forward?

Welcome - we're so glad to have you with us. Non-Jews play a key role in this work. You can:

  • Share this pledge both with Jews in your life, and with non-Jews who you think might find it clarifying and informative. 

  • Think ahead with your non-Jewish and Jewish movement partners. If it’s predictable that antisemitism might be used to divide us, what are ways that we can surprise our opposition by uniting? How can we be ready to respond to concerns about antisemitism in constructive ways that strengthen our movements?

  • Build relationships with Jews you don’t know, and deepen the relationships you have. Let Jews know you’re learning about antisemitism. It might surprise them, and it will be a great way to open new conversations about solidarity.

  • Keep learning. Has it been a long time since you were first taught about antisemitism? Update what you know with some liberatory perspectives you might not have gotten growing up.
     

We appreciate how differently this issue impacts non-Jews from different backgrounds. If you are Black, Muslim, Arab or Palestinian, for instance, you may already have been through traumatic and angering experiences of being called antisemitic. On the other hand, if your ancestors were Christians from Europe, you might find that you often end up uncomfortably watching these antisemitism controversies from the sidelines. This is a classic way that antisemitism and white supremacy play out - by diverting attention away from the people and structures who have the most power, and instead getting groups who are vulnerable to target each other. We can all help to dismantle this system by interrupting racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, refusing to be divided and speaking out publicly to bring the focus back to root causes of inequality.
 

How can I (or my organization) discuss this further with you?

The Jewish Persistence project is not a staff-based organization, but a cooperative effort between many volunteers. While we don’t have the capacity at this time to engage directly with everyone who comes to this site, we warmly encourage you to continue this conversation in your own community. We hope the pledge will serve as a catalyst to open many meaningful discussions in Jewish communities in the coming years. Here’s  more on how to use the pledge.

About the ideas

​Why does this pledge address two issues together which sometimes seem separate - Black Lives Matter and resisting antisemitism?

Anti-Blackness and antisemitism are not isolated issues - they are interlocking gears in the machine of white supremacy, and as Black Jews have been pointing out, they have to be fought together. But many Jewish communal leaders today seem confused about this. 

Our Jewish community has been slow to catch up to what has become clear: America’s most powerful political leaders have close, intentional ties to white nationalist antisemites. But instead of springing into effective action and building strong coalitions to protect ourselves and our neighbors, many of our community’s leaders are bogged down by news reports which portray antisemitism as a problem of Black gentile and Muslim leaders. If ever it was not obvious to all, it should be obvious now: our country needs mass movements against white supremacy, and Jews should be throwing our community's full creative power into joining these coalitions. Instead, we’re watching as concerns about antisemitism get used to discredit these vital movements.

We know that every successful social justice movement faces opposition. Just look at the Civil Rights movement: Although today most Americans appreciate Civil Rights activists as heroes, in its day, that movement encompassed a wide variety of groups and approaches, and all of them faced danger and opposition. Civil Rights activists didn’t just face violence from grassroots white supremacists; they also faced smears and systematic campaigns of intimidation from groups which most Americans thought of at the time as respectable, such as the FBI. 

Black Lives Matter is the modern-day Civil Rights movement. It has captured the imagination of millions of people, and the stronger it gets, the more we can expect that its opponents will try to use rhetoric about antisemitism as one way to discredit its leaders and divide its supporters. We don’t have to let anyone exploit our fears as Jews. We can take the power back and set the terms of our own discussion about anti-Blackness, antisemitism and our future.

Are you saying that antisemitism from the Left is somehow “better,” or less serious, than that on the Right? 

No. Although the most violent targeting of U.S. Jews today is clearly coming from the Right, antisemitism is antisemitism, and it needs to be opposed no matter who does it.

What we are saying is that there’s a difference in when it makes sense to do battle over antisemitism, versus when it makes sense to work collaboratively with others to get through a challenge. In recent years, many Jewish communal leaders - and gentile politicians who profit by dividing us from others - have made it seem normal that if someone says something antisemitic (or is accused of it), they are immediately cast out, fired, and treated as persona non grata. Many of us, as we watch these events, have presumed that this is reasonable, because we have learned for so long that we must have no tolerance for antisemitism, given how easily simple words in the past have spiraled into genocide. 


But what does “no tolerance” look like when the goal is healthy coalition-building? We think it looks very different. Public condemnation and threats are not the only way we can show that we’re serious about protecting ourselves. They’re just the model we’ve been handed by leaders who seem to benefit when Jews feel isolated. In a time of violent racism and antisemitism, healthy coalitions are what we need to build, to protect ourselves and our neighbors, and to make progress toward the fair society we want to live in.

How do we tell “real” antisemitism apart from “false charges” of antisemitism?

When a movement or leader is accused of antisemitism, it can set off countless hours of debate over what’s really antisemitism vs. what’s an unfair charge. Not only are people’s jobs and reputations at stake, but the incidents themselves are often not straightforward. For example:

  • A person advocating for Palestinian freedom and human rights may use slogans, criticisms of the Israeli government, or calls for political change which some Jews see as fair and inoffensive, but other Jews see as intolerant and threatening.

  • A movement leader with a history of warm support for Jews may be unfairly charged with antisemitism. But, in coming to the leader’s defense, some of the movement’s members might speak in ways that do reveal unexamined antisemitic beliefs or assumptions. 

  • A person might be a good friend to Jews, but feel uncomfortable or unwilling to confront the antisemitism of someone they are associated with. 

  • A politician or civic leader may present themselves as an advocate for Jews, but may use charges of antisemitism in ways that isolate Jews and leave them separated from others - fighting antisemitism in name, but reinforcing it in practice.

 

For critics of social movements, the implied message of many “real vs. false” debates is that, if there’s real antisemitism involved, everyone of goodwill must distance themselves from that leader or movement. The Jewish Persistence pledge says the opposite: we’re going to stick it through. We suggest, instead, that the goal of deciphering “real” from “false” is to know how to use our energy. We will want to take very different approaches to a person who is a known, violent antisemite, versus someone who makes a misstep, versus someone who actually hasn’t said anything harmful to Jews but is being targeted because they have publicly insisted on also caring about Palestinians.

 

As we decide how to use our time and which relationships to invest in, we need to know more than just whether the people or group on our mind engaged in an real antisemitism during a certain incident. We also need to weigh: How real are our shared ideals? How real is our potential, if we come closer together, to help each other protect our communities from the present-day threat of white nationalism? How real is the possibility that, with time, we might be able to build long-term relationships of solidarity? We also need to ask these questions of anyone, Jewish or gentile, who presents themselves as our protectors against antisemitism.

 

For detailed opinions on what antisemitism is and is not, check out these three different guides, written from a variety of perspectives.

What should we do if concerns arise locally about antisemitism in our movements? 

There's not one answer that fits every situation, but a few principles often hold true. We’ve gathered some suggestions here, as well as some resources for you to explore on addressing antisemitism in movement spaces and beyond. Expect that this will be an experiment - we and our partners will make mistakes as we figure it out. We are doing something that has never been done before in exactly the same way - it will fail in some places, succeed in others, and will need to be tried again many times before we start to get it right a lot of the time. All of these experiences will help us start to develop a movement-wide sense of “best practices.”

 

What do you mean when you say that antisemitism tears apart movements? 

Antisemitism works really well to get movements off-track, because it’s all about putting extra attention on Jews, who get blamed for problems, and distracting people from the real sources of the problems that hurt us all. Historically that’s how Jews got divided from other people and made vulnerable to violence. 

When antisemitic ideas pop up in social justice movements (just like they do in the rest of the world), they distract people from uniting effectively against the real roots of social problems, and they make Jews in these movements doubt whether other people have their back. Even when accusations of antisemitism against a movement are false or ill-intentioned, the same gears of distraction and division start turning:

  • Jewish supporters of a movement may feel worried and step back

  • Leaders spend their time fending off accusations instead of working for justice

  • Movement members get mired in debates over whether the charges are true or not

  • If there was real antisemitism to be addressed, the adversarial atmosphere that gets created is not well-designed for anyone to learn or correct mistakes

  • If there wasn’t, by the time this is clear, lasting damage may already be done to leaders’ careers, and to relationships in the movement

  • Jews are left feeling isolated and vulnerable

  • We all get a false message that we have to choose between Jewish safety and justice for everyone

For real-world examples and case studies, check out these three different guides, written from a variety of perspectives.

Given our history, this pledge seems very idealistic. Don’t you think it’s a little naive to imagine that other people will stand up for Jews? 

You’re right. As Jews we have many historical memories of hoping that others will stand in solidarity with us only to be disappointed - often with fatal results. Because of that, a lot of us have grown up hearing the message that being overly-trusting is one of the worst traits a Jew can have; that to risk being a sucker or a “useful idiot” carries great shame, and that strength comes from not relying on anyone else. Ironically, sometimes this vigilance can make Jews easy prey, when leaders exploit our fears for their own benefit. 

On the other hand, in so many parts of the world, we also have historical memories as a people of living in intimate connection to non-Jews, being cared for as friends and neighbors and, yes, being protected and defended. The seeds of what we need are already here in our history. 


It will take work to turn these kinds of individual acts of friendship toward Jews which many of us already have experienced into a systematic political culture of gentile solidarity with Jews. That kind of change will become possible when we decide we're ready to go all in and commit our persistence to the movements where our Jewish future belongs.

​​

Where can I learn more about these issues? 

Check out our resources page for more info about:

  • Constructive ways to speak out about antisemitism

  • The current state of antisemitism in the US

  • Social justice movements’ responses to antisemitism

  • Anti-racism and white privilege

  • Jews of color & Black Jews

  • White Jews and whiteness

  • Jewish involvement in past racial justice movements

  • The history of “Black-Jewish” relations