by Nadine Epstein
Not long ago, I visited dear old friends for dinner and, over dessert, fell into a conversation with their daughter, whom I have known since she was born. She recently graduated from college and is an artist and activist who participated in the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown.
I was the one who brought up the topic. I knew she was deeply involved in the Black Lives Matter movement and inquired whether she was aware of its relationship with Palestinian activists. She was, and went on—with the utmost politeness—to explain to me that oppressed peoples such as African Americans and Palestinians needed to struggle against oppression together. “All oppression is connected,” she told me. She added that not everyone in the Black Lives Matter movement agrees with this, but that she personally supports solidarity between blacks and Palestinians.
Black Lives Matter had its origins in the February 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, but it didn’t really solidify as a movement and come to national prominence until Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson in August of 2014. Like many Americans, I hoped that the new groundswell of attention would be a positive step in tackling institutional racism. I am concerned, however, that the movement is cutting itself off from a natural support base. American Jews who care deeply about the topic—even those who are uncomfortable with the current policies of the Israeli government—may find it hard to be part of a movement that expresses anti-Israel opinions and at times sounds anti-Semitic.
I tried to explain my thinking to my friend. “The historical relationship between blacks and Palestinians is a complex one, as is the even longer relationship between blacks and Jews, not to mention the one between Israelis and Palestinians,” I said. But I could see that my words didn’t register. I wasn’t addressing what she considered the core issues, and she didn’t see what I saw. She patiently explained that there were Jews involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, so it wasn’t necessary to have the ones who didn’t understand on board—perhaps she was referring to me.
Still I pressed on. I asked her if she knew how the solidarity between the two movements had come about. Her face lit up as she told me about the pivotal moment in August of 2014 when she and other protesters stood in the streets of Ferguson and began receiving tweets from the West Bank. “We were moved that they cared so much,” she said.
I came away from this conversation with greater understanding, but the chasm between us saddened me. I was staring into the abyss of a generational divide, and unable to bridge it. And so we changed the subject, went back to our desserts and sampled a few liqueurs. But the exchange stayed with me.
In this issue we publish a story about how the Black Lives Matter and the Palestinian movements came to be aligned. It is an important story, and Moment fellow Anna Isaacs spent months reporting and researching it. We hope “How the Black Lives Matter and Palestinian Movements Converged” will provide perspective for people young and old, in the movement and outside of it, Jewish and not. We are not publishing this piece to set off alarm bells, or to suggest that Jews should withdraw their sympathy from Black Lives Matter, but because deeper understanding is necessary in order for meaningful dialogue to occur.
I would also like to draw your attention to the symposium in this issue. We ask, “What more can be done to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians?” and “What would women bring to the peace process if more were included?” Many years ago, when I first met Gloria Steinem, we discussed this second question, and I have been thinking about it ever since. As the first female editor of Moment, I see every day the degree to which women are dramatically underrepresented in the serious conversations of our time, including negotiations to end conflict. It is also my experience that groups composed of 50 percent or more women are far more likely to come to a consensus.
Since talks between the Israelis and Palestinians are at a standstill and tensions are high, we believe it is time to inject fresh voices into this conversation. We are proud of this all-women symposium, a first for Moment and a first on this topic. This is an ongoing project, and we have more interviews lined up, including ones with former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi, which we will be publishing in an expanded symposium e-book. We also plan to produce a live symposium in the future featuring some of these women.
As usual, there is much more to peruse at your leisure. Liam Hoare has prepared a thoughtful profile of British writer Howard Jacobson. Jacobson, who doesn’t like being called England’s Philip Roth, has a new novel out in which he takes on the controversial figure of Shylock. In our books section, you’ll read about Herman Wouk, Benjamin Disraeli and 20th-century American leftists who made political about-faces. Election junkies will get their fix from our columns, and Ask the Rabbi fans will explore whether Jews should “proselytize” to other Jews. There are also pieces on architecture, food, humor and more.
In all, there’s plenty to digest at your seder. Speaking of seders, we ask, as we did last year, that you go out of your way to invite members of other religions, including young people, people of color and especially refugees. Now more than ever, it is critical for us to transcend our millennia-long traditions of exclusivity and reach out to the world with our Passover story. Visit momentmag/open-door-seder or turn to page 17 to join our #opendoorseder campaign.
Happy Purim and Passover to all!