What Side Should Jewish-Americans Take On Ferguson?

All throughout the Gaza conflict, there were headlines of a certain kind that bothered me in a certain way.

“Israel or Palestine? Do Black People Have A Stake In The Conflict?”
“Why The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Should Matter To Black People”
“What Side Should Black Americans Take On Israel?”
“Why African-Americans Should Support The State of Israel”

It seemed that not five minutes of the continuing conflict would pass by without yet another appeal for the support, input, or opinion of African-Americans on the situation in the Middle East. The rationale of course being parallels drawn between the plight of the Palestinian people and the African American Civil Rights movement (because remember that time African-Americans had missiles to launch at the Klan?) and a convenient case of apparent amnesia regarding the waves of anti-Black anti-immigrant pogroms which had recently swept through Israel. 

Everywhere I saw heated debates across Black-audience blogs going back and forth about the history of the region, its tensions, expressing empathizing with not wanting people shooting rockets at you every day, commiserating with having people show up and start taking your land and relegating you to third-world status in your own country.

The conflict even gave birth to the embodiment of the pro-Israel African-American voice in the form of Chloe Valdary, catapulting her pro-Zionist efforts into the limelight of the public eye.

This did not happen for Blacks and Ferguson, a few scant weeks later. Nor was Ferguson a blip on the Jewish news cycle after the verdict last night, nor in its aftermath today. There are no debates on Tablet Magazine or Jewish Daily Forward or Jewish Week or CoLLive about what the Jewish response should be or to what extent Jews should be involved in the protests. (Yes, peaceful protests are also happening. Not just the riots you seem to be fixated on).

Yet the most cursory glance across a Facebook newsfeed or Twitterfeed reveals many Jews–unfortunately the most vociferous among them being my Orthodox co-denominationalists–have many troubling opinions in support of the mishandling of justice that occurred in last night’s verdict, with many believing in some disingenuous equalizing force of governmental law, as if the Inquisition were not by royal mandate and as if all of Hitler’s machinations weren’t legal.

Jews got a Chloe Valdary out of Gaza. Blacks didn’t get a Chana Valdarowitz out of Ferguson.

So what should Jewish-Americans think about Ferguson? Many things. Here are three:

1-Jewish-Americans don’t mean White people.

Think about that. When you’re thinking it’s perfectly okay to racially profile because “those people” do “those kinds of things”, when you’re rallying behind stop-and-frisk because “if you’re innocent you should have nothing to hide”, when you are busy rabidly advocating policies and legislation which largely do not affect you, and in your mind, don’t affect Jews at all because you imagine all Jews look like you, then you are the reason that Jews–kippah wearing Jews celebrating Purim–get accused of conspiring to commit an act of terrorism and get surrounded by 10 uniformed officers with guns drawn. Because they’re wearing the same skin color as “those people” who you are convinced are the root of society’s problem. And who, more importantly, obviously can’t ever be Jewish.

You think Trayvon Martins can’t be Jewish. You think Michael Browns can’t be Jewish. They can. If not for the grace of G-d, we would’ve had one in 2008.

2-The Holocaust experience and its aftermath is in no way equal to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade experience and its aftermath.

This isn’t Oppression Olympics. It is fact.

Too often I hear from Jewish voices and in Jewish spaces “Why are Blacks still complaining about slavery? We got over the Holocaust. Why can’t Blacks get themselves together? Jews did after Holocaust. Why do Black blame everything on slavery? Why can’t they just take accountability? If more Blacks abided by the law they’d have less problems.”

Firstly, reject that whole “law-abiding” rhetoric. And when someone Black who you deem to be an upwardly mobile, productive member of society is unjustly gunned down by police, do not contribute to the “he was a good kid” narrative. Because it doesn’t matter and because you should know better.

Did being one of the “good Jews” help during the Crusades? The Inquisition? Kristallnacht? Being one of the “good ones” has no bearing on whether your life is decided to have value or not. You know this.

You remember that don’t you? The feeling of living in a country where your life is constantly devalued? In particular by the institutions that are supposed to protect all equally? What it’s like to be approached by the police always as a suspect, never as a citizen?

That is called “America” for Black people. You left Germany and Poland and Russia and Ukraine. So please remove terms like “normal people” and “normal interactions with police” and victim blaming from your dialogue as if there even is such a thing once a class of people have been deemed by the powers-that-be to be subhuman.

It was Jamal’s fault in Texas because he was wearing a hoodie? Then I guess it was Shmuely’s fault in France because he was wearing a yarmulke.

Secondly, why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?
Black Wall Street.

Why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?

Why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?
Prison industrial complex and justice systems complicit with it.

Why can’t Black people get it together after slavery?

Let’s ask a blogger colleague of mine, Son of Baldwin:
“Who gets to be a victim in American society is HIGHLY political. In a big-picture, collective sense, America allows White-looking Jewish people to be victims and permits them the space to remember. African American people, however, are chastised for complaints about oppression (even by other Black people) and are asked to pretend American history didn’t happen, or rather, that it happened like Texas and Arizona says it did.

We hear, very often, ‘Why can’t African Americans get their shit together like Jewish people did?’ Well, if the whole world banded together, with force and military might, to get America to stop its oppression and murder of African Americans via slavery, Jim Crow, the criminal justice system, and the prison industrial complex; prosecuted, imprisoned, or executed every racist or conspirator it could find; ensured that African Americans received all economic compensation from implicated American corporations and industries; cleared a designated area of land so that African Americans could set up their own, UN-backed, financially supported, and world-defended nation, then perhaps African Americans would ‘get their shit together’ like Jewish people did.”

And if all that fell on deaf ears, then think about this:

#BlackLivesMatter is a hashtag here in America. #JewishLivesMatter isn’t.

3-Jews should think about Ferguson, period.

Ferguson is a Jewish problem. It is a Jewish problem regardless of whether or not there are any Jews involved as victim or aggressor.

We are supposed to be a “light unto the nations”, right? Isn’t that the slogan on our business cards? That and engaging in the work of “repairing the world”? Aren’t those our missions?

And if this can happen in a world that we live in, if this is a verdict that can be construed in any way shape or form as “just”, if the shooting of an unarmed teenager with his hands in the air over 140 feet away can be absolved in good conscience, then we, my Jews, have failed.

That is what Jews should think about Ferguson.


MaNishtana is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, author of “Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe”, and the Executive Director of The Shivtei Jeshurun Society for the Advancement of Jewish Racial & Ethnic Diversity (www.SJSociety.org). He blogs at http://www.manishtana.net. He drinks anywhere.


21 thoughts on “What Side Should Jewish-Americans Take On Ferguson?”

  1. MaNishtana, that “tikkun olam” concept is a Reform thing you know. For Orthodox Jews, well, let’s just say “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” (insert in Honey Brown face & voice)!


  2. Random Israeli lady posting here.

    In my experience orthodox Jews in America tend not to trust the media, because of its coverage of Israel/Palestine issues. I wonder if that’s a factor, too. Like, maybe a lot of orthodox people are getting their news from more right-wing sites that have defenses of the shooting.

    I disliked the quote from son of baldwin. The idea that Israel was created by the UN out of nothing, for Holocaust survivors, is one of the worst anti-Israel myths there is. And I’m not sure what he means by “financially supported and world defended” – the closest thing Israel got to world defense in those days was a single country (Czechoslovakia) willing to sell it weapons.

    Aside from my personal annoyance, I think misrepresenting what Jews got after the Holocaust misses the point. I think the main thing Jewish immigrants got that African Americans didn’t was a chance. Nobody assumed they’d be bad at school or bad at business or violent. If anything, stereotypes about Jews (weak, nerdy, good with money) probably worked in their favor.


    1. “financially supported”, by america, for one. “world defended” inclusion in, and right to exist affirmed by, the un.

      ” The idea that Israel was created by the UN out of nothing, for Holocaust survivors, is one of the worst anti-Israel myths there is.”
      –that was the original plan. only the land was to be designated in africa for holocaust survivors. just because israel worked out with its historical significance doesnt mean the plan wasnt still to clear out a plot of land for post-holocaust jews.


      1. I’m not sure what you mean by “the original plan.” Who planned to clear land for Holocaust survivors, and when?

        There was a Jewish government in Israel (governing Jewish affairs) over a decade before the Holocaust even started. There were hundreds of thousands of Jews living there who were hoping to end British colonial rule and gain independence – again, before the Holocaust even started.

        There was never a Jewish plan to create a Jewish state in Africa. Herzl suggested it at one point (50 years before the Holocaust) but it wasn’t something people took seriously.

        “Financially supported” – are we talking about 2014, or the years after the Holocaust? In the years after the Holocaust, the only money Israel got from the world was reparations from Germany, to the tune of under $1,700 for each European Jewish refugee the state took in. There was no funding from America; that happened decades later.

        “World defended” – OK, but by that definition, every country on earth is “world defended.” The UN recognized all post-colonial states.

        I’m not denying that Jewish survivors of the Holocaust had a lot of things in their favor that African-Americans never did. They did. And their relative success in rebuilding their lives should never be used to blame the victims of racism, that’s twisted and wrong.


        1. I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t have turned this into an argument. Your post was really interesting and the part I didn’t like was someone else’s blog, anyway.

          About Holocaust/slavery comparisons – do you think the whole thing is just a straw man, anyway? I lived in America for over a decade and I never once heard an African-American person complain about slavery, only about racism today.


          1. no apologies necessary, this site is about dialogue and learning. i, for one, came away from this realizing i was equating the pre-holocaust uganda plan with fdr’s 1939 alaskan plan, neither of which being a post-holocaust plan. no worries. 🙂


  3. That was a thoughtful post, I liked it a lot and sent it to some friends of mine. I’m not sure I understand why a couple of horrific episodes from long ago and the prison industrial complex are the reasons given. Is the destruction of black identity,culture and humanity through slavery not enough of an mechanism?(When I say I don’t understand I mean I really don’t understand, not that I’m arguing with you.)


    1. The episodes that were listed stand as a testament against the “Why don’t Black people pull themselves up/Black people don’t pull themselves up” narrative. Those were but two examples of how even when Black people do, the racism which people swear can be overcome by succeeding in society eventually comes around and destroys that productive Black society.


      1. Those episodes were in the 1920s, that last issue, though current, is tangential. Which is not to say that there aren’t ongoing issues of equality, just that those particular examples have less influence than the continuous barrage of negative stereotypes produced by the predominance of modern hip hop artists. Inflammatory as that may seem, that’s the way it seems to me as an outsider.


  4. I reread your article after thinking for a while and have some additional comments.
    Just because you haven’t seen published discourse doesn’t mean it’s not happening. My friends and I have discussed ferguson and associated issues extensively. We would never have this discussion openly precisely for fear of generating anti semitic backlash from the black community. One of my friends was a knockout victim in Brooklyn and one is enough.
    One Chloe Valdary does not equal one Louis Farrakhan. In fact the general feeling is that the black community is not pro Israel. While by no means conclusive you could easily point to the signs held by protesters equating Ferguson with Gaza as proof. At best the black community is divided. http://www.salon.com/2014/08/05/i_was_wrong_about_gaza_why_we_can_no_longer_ignore_the_horrors_in_palestine/

    Lastly, it’s difficult to sympathize with Michael Brown. He appears to have been a thug. Did he deserve to die for a few cigars? No. Is it possible he was having an abnormally bad day leading to his behavior at the store and subsequent odd behavior with the cop? Yes. Regular people are afraid of violent felons. They don’t evoke feelings of sympathy. It’s true that Jews should care more about justice and for the concerns of African Americans for all the reasons you mention but mostly because we’re all humans, but not through this example.

    Last, the cop’s story is funny to me. At best he shouldn’t be a cop, and at best the Ferguson police department has a long way to go in the race relations department. The white community should definitely not be celebrating him either.He’s no tzaddik. It’s an embarrassment that he’s on TV.


    1. The protestors equating Gaza with Ferguson are:
      1-Gaza protestors hijacking and re-appropriating the Ferguson situation for their own cause, not Ferguson residents equating themselves with Gazans.
      2-The Gaza-protest presence is due entirely because Jews decided not to be present when the situation came to light. In that vacuum of lack of support Islamic groups swooped right in and immediately offered the support that SHOULD have been coming from Jews, hence the Gazan protest presence.

      People are afraid of violent felons, yes. But apparently if you’re Black you can steal cigarettes and expect a death penalty. If you’re White, you can murder theaters and schools full of moviegoers and children and you’ll make it to trial with nary a scratch.

      THAT inequality is what needs to be acknowledged.

      Also, if Jews can riot when a member of their community is merely MANHANDLED during arrest for a minor violation of law, then why can’t they find sympathy for someone who was KILLED for a relatively minor violation of law as well?


      1. Try as I might, I can’t confirm the source of the Gaza-Ferguson comparison. I’ve searched by dates but regrettably lack the journalism chops to figure out whether the comparison is homegrown or media driven. Be that as it may, the Ferguson protesters seem to be perceived as fertile ground for this particular comparison and on the surface I understand why. It doesn’t seem to me to be the lack of jewish presence. There have been expressions of jewish solidarity during the course of the year. They can be googled and seem to me to be no less significant than palestinian support, which is actually mixed. My best guess is that it’s media driven and that the empathy the protesters feel reflects the successful framing of the Palestinians as the oppressed. Or in the vernacular, the Israelis are “the man”.

        I think that the point you make regarding african americans expecting the death penalty for stealing cigarettes is dramatically overstated at best, but has an element of truth. It is overstated in that he wasn’t shot because he stole cigarettes.He was shot because he grabbed and discharged a cop’s gun and then attacked him. This, in combination with the fact that the cop seems to have been a fool makes him a victim of circumstance, the circumstance being that this is what happens when a belligerent person attacks a well armed idiot. I don’t think that particular aspect of what happened would have necessarily been different if he was white. What is true, and different, is that if he was white he may not have been approached the same way, the confrontation may not have evolved into the disaster it became. In light of recent deaths of Eric Garner and others, it’s difficult to ignore what appears to be a different standard of behavior toward African Americans who break the law. It’s very disturbing. It should be examined.And possibly rectified.
        Now here is where I get confused. The above discussion relates to the issues of racial profiling, stop and frisk,the increased incidence of violent crime in African American communities.First, I’m not sure of the real statistics behind the perception that crime is increased in African American communities. Second, let’s say there is increased crime. Does a policy like racial profiling or stop and frisk, or in a cruder sense, a harsher attitude toward African American lawbreakers, actually work? If it doesn’t why do we do it? If it does, why don’t we? When does the klal trump the individual? When is the invasion of privacy and debasement of a community, even to benefit that community, too much to bear? By way of comparison, if the government were to establish that white ashkenazi jews to a great extent defraud the government by cheating on taxes, or by misusing public programs, would I blame them if they curtailed those programs or looked at our tax returns more closely? I don’t think I could blame them. I don’t think I would appreciate it, but I would understand it.

        I ate out with my friends tonight, those same friends who when I emailed them your original article responded “what is this crap? It’s not even worthy of a response” . We still disagree. Their main issue is that once the gun was grabbed, game over. I think that’s short sighted. Perhaps true but completely misses the point. They are of the opinion that a violent felon deserves what he gets, and in the long run this probably saved someone’s life. I think that’s too easy,a cop out. They think that African Americans have it made.I disagree. Not that I think I have any solutions. I don’t. I don’t know what it’s like to be black. It would be a miracle if I could come up with a solution without understanding the problems the African American community faces in any real sense.


        1. The main flaw to the argument is the acceptance of Officer Wilson’s testimony that Michael Brown grabbed his gun, a contention which is not supported by the facts of the severity of his injuries or by the testimony of the eyewitnesses.

          It’s also true your point about African Americans expecting death for stealing cigarettes is slightly off–Officer Wilson had no idea about the alleged robbery. All he saw was a black teen in the street. Which makes this even worse.

          But as for dramatically overstated? The night of the Michael Brown verdict an African American man was shot in killed in his own hallway by police. The officer who shot and killed a seven year old girl sleeping in her bed was cleared of any charges.

          So, sadly, overstated it is not.


        2. Additionally, the first shows of Jewish support in Ferguson occurred no earlier than a month after pro-Islamic groups had already swooped in, taking advantage of time spent foot-dragging by various Jewish communities who did eventually decide to show up.

          Also, “increased crime”? Given the statistic that 89% of White Americans are murdered by other White Americans, how exactly are we determining that? With just murder alone, how are we determining that the 11% of White Americans who are murdered by non-White Americans are victims of “increased crime” to justify the wholesale criminalization of every African-American, ever? As opposed to White Americans maybe more effectively policing their own racial backyard?

          “When is the invasion of privacy and debasement of a community, even to benefit that community, too much to bear?”

          How is it to the community’s good? All it does is increase mistrust with the police departments, therefore making crime even MORE prevalent since people will be LESS likely to call the police and essentially making themselves more vulnerable to criminal activities.

          “By way of comparison, if the government were to establish that white ashkenazi jews to a great extent defraud the government by cheating on taxes, or by misusing public programs, would I blame them if they curtailed those programs or looked at our tax returns more closely? I don’t think I could blame them. I don’t think I would appreciate it, but I would understand it.”

          The LARGE difference? No White Ashkenazi Jew will end up dead from a closer inspected tax return.


          1. Regarding his grabbing the gun, I agree that that’s the cop’s story and his story as a whole is implausible. But it is supported by real, physical evidence. It’s not the only possible explanation, but it’s a definite real possibility. Eyewitness have fallen on both sides of the matter of whether he had an altercation in the car, but again there’s DNA evidence to support that part of the story. His hand was within 6-9 inches of the gun so disregarding the possibility that it occurred is wrong.

            Regarding the fact that he just stopped some kid on the street, I agree. It does make it worse. Wilson’s story doesn’t click. Like I said he’s a bad cop and an idiot. He probably profiled him, was a complete idiot and the situation escalated quickly. I suppose this could be an argument against racial profiling, or an argument for it given that Brown had just stolen.

            While the examples of the seven year old girl and young man in the hallway are tragic, they fail to mention the context in which they occurred. The seven year old girl was accidentally killed during a police raid searching for a murderer who was in the house and later convicted of the crime. The hallway shooting was completely accidental by the cop’s own admission and occurred while patrolling a notoriously bad project. The cop is asian. Does this mean they were shot because of bias? What is the common denominator here? Every one of these individuals either committed a crime or was in close proximity to criminals. Does that make them guilty of a crime? No. They are completely innocent. Were they endangered by their surroundings? Completely.

            When I referred to increased crime I wasn’t referring to African Americans killing white americans. I was referring to increased overall violent crime in certain neighborhoods that are primarily African American. I am no expert on racial crime statistics, but Wikipedia has enough information to at least suggest the possibility that it’s true, as well as coverage of the various controversial issues of cause and effect, bias and the criminal justice system. I don’t think the issue is easily defined and is multidimensional. Saying that it’s all biased flies in the face of reason, but there is likely some bias. I also live in New York. Certain areas are known to be dangerous. Certain hospitals see more violent crime. So is society as a whole supposed to, in the spirit of racial harmony, completely ignore reality? That is what I mean by serving the community. Now that can be done in different ways. It seems obvious to me that African American areas should primarily be served by African American cops, and they can decide what’s best vis a vis profiling, stop and frisk. Maybe they would be much more successful, come up with different ideas that don’t infringe upon the personal rights and sensitivities and dignity of the people in the community. I don’t know how it’s actually set up but that’s what I would consider a no brainer. Alternatively, you could say cops shouldn’t patrol there at all, shouldn’t profile, should completely ignore the reality of the situation with the idea that most of these crime statistics and the relative disproportion of African Americans in prison are completely the result of bias within the system. The logical extension of that would be that not servicing the area at all would result in Utopia. I think it would more likely resemble the lawless regions of Mexico and the Brazilian favelas. But I could be wrong.

            Regarding the tax return comment. That is a big difference. But no police officer, innocent bystander or child will be killed either.

            I don’t buy that the African American communities sympathy lies with whichever group comes first to support it. I think the majority of the issue is media driven.

            Funny story. My cousin was Abraham Heschel. But in my family nobody ever admits it. He’s the guy who went off the derech. My mother related to me that her aunt or cousin told her that back in europe, when he was about sixteen, he was too frum to sit on a bench with her. I know very little about him other than that cute tidbit, which was related to me in my 20s.


    2. Also, while private discourses are fine, in the end run, they don’t mean anything unless and until taken public. People talked about how terrible American slavery was around their tables for years. It only mattered once they publicly became and declared themselves as abolitionists. The absence of these dialogues from the public sphere only serves to be a tacit agreement, much like people who talk amongst themselves about a racist joke their friend told that they were offended by, but never bring the issue directly to the friend who told the joke.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s