When bikers, walkers and runners convene on Saturday at the Freedom to Vote Relay‘s finish line near the Capitol, one group will not be in attendance: Sunrise DC. The group’s decision is due to the participation of groups “in alignment with and support of Zionism and the State of Israel” at the rally.
Sunrise DC, the Washington chapter of a youth-led movement called Sunrise, gained traction in 2017 as a climate change advocacy group. This Sunrise “hub” is specifically dedicated to uplifting the voices of city residents who, they believe, should have a say in the national government. Other speakers at the rally will raise awareness about the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and DC statehood, two topics central to the Sunrise DC mission.
Citing its commitment to racial justice, self-governance and indigenous sovereignty, the group has declined its speaking role at the rally in protest of the participation of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA), the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC). These groups are part of the Declaration for American Democracy coalition, which is one of the primary event organizers. (Sunrise DC did not mention Bend the Arc or Workers Circle, two other Jewish groups part of the coalition.)
“Israel, in its occupation of the land of Palestine and its people, has and continues to engage in violent oppressive tactics that go against the values we advocate for as a hub,” Sunrise DC wrote in a statement on Twitter. (It has since made its Twitter account private.) “As a colonial project, Israel routinely displaces Palestinians through the construction of settlements and the wholesale theft of homes and land. It also treats Palestinians, as well as Black and brown Jewish-Israelis, as second-class citizens who have virtually no responsive representation in government, often subjecting them to extreme policing and brutality.”
Sunrise International said that it did not see Sunrise DC’s public statement before it was released, but that all Sunrise chapters have the ability to act independently. “Sunrise Movement believes in organizing and building a movement across divides of class, race, gender, geography, religion, and cultures,” the group said in a statement. “As a national movement that supports freedom and dignity for all people, we will always welcome anyone who acts on our principles and chooses to join the fight for collective liberation. We believe that the rights of Palestinians are a part of that struggle and are committed to embracing that struggle together.”
Although the RAC, a social justice advocacy group, makes no mention of Israel in its mission, the other two organizations clearly outline their association with Israel. The JCPA cites their inspiration as Israel’s “quest for peace and security, and human rights around the world.” Similarly, the NCJW works with the United States and Israel to improve the lives of vulnerable individuals. In particular, the NCJW encourages both Israeili and American women to fight for a “robust civil society” in Israel. In 2001, NCJW helped found Israel’s first women and gender studies program.
A long list of religious and advocacy groups are listed as endorsers of the rally. Only one—the Union of Reform Judaism—is Jewish; although it supports a form of “Reform Zionism,” it was not mentioned by Sunrise DC.
As the fight for voting rights and Washington, DC statehood continues, the decision of Sunrise DC to remove itself from a march has captured the public eye. Hadar Susskind, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now tweeted, “This is awful and unacceptable. Trying to keep Jewish and yes, Zionist organizations, from participating in our civic life is not an acceptable action regardless of your views on Israel-Palestine. It’s not ok when Jewish groups do this to Muslim and Arab groups and this is not ok either.”
Politicians have also voiced their concerns about the Sunrise DC decision, including New York Congresswoman Grace Meng. The JCPA retweeted her tweet: “The refusal to take part in this event because Jewish organizations are participating is unfortunate & wrong, & I am disappointed by this decision. This type of action is unhelpful and counterproductive, & takes needed attention away from such a vital issue as voting rights.”