#BlackLivesMatter and the Jews

The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has recently formally endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign which has been recognized by a variety of leading Jewish groups as serving as nothing more than a systemic method to sanitize Jew hatred by wrapping itself in the politically-correct cloak of social justice. Additionally, the platform of the “Movement for Black Lives,” a recognized coalition under the BLM umbrella, has fortified the relationship between BLM and a variety of Antisemitic groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), by labeling Israel an “apartheid state” that, it asserts, enacts “genocide” against the Palestinian people (Click here for why this is an inaccurate claim).

Naturally, Jews around the world are becoming increasingly alarmed with this ideological collusion, and for many Jews it has become challenging to understand what has motivated this alliance, especially as most Jews sympathize with the systemic oppression of Blacks and other minorities of color in America.

How did an ostensibly positive movement towards improved race relations in America devolve into institutionally supporting Antisemitic policies?

It is apparent that one of the dominant elements that appeals to many supporters of the BLM movement is a deep resentment towards the concept of white privilege, which has recently been codified in the new BLM platform which states that American society is underwritten by, “white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy.”  Compounding this dynamic is the aforementioned ideological kinship between some in the BLM movement and those in the SJP movement, which offers uncritical empathy for the perceived occupation and oppression of Arabs who reside in Gaza and the West Bank – a purported oppression carried-out by “privileged” Jews – a dynamic not unlike that, in the eyes of the BLM movement, between “White America” and “Black America” (Click here to learn why the claim of Israeli occupation is spurious).

American Jews are mostly known to the Black community and to adherents of the BLM movement in their Ashkenazi (Eastern European) variety, and therefore get folded into this societal resentment primarily (but not exclusively) due of the biological accident of a shared phenotype with privileged white non-Jews. America has witnessed this phenomenon before from the Black community in the heyday of the Civil Rights movement such as in the Columbia Avenue Riots in Pennsylvania in 1964 and the Watts Riots in LA in 1965, to name only a couple of prominent examples.

But, as the argument goes, Jews shouldn’t be “lumped” together with all Caucasians, right?

It is at this juncture where some Jews get stuck in their thinking because they know, rationally, that historically the American Jewish community has been at the leading edge of progressing the cause of race relations.  But even though there has been recognition in Black communities of the contributions of Jews, the simple fact is that the Jewish community places a far greater emphasis on the ultimate importance of Jewish civil rights advocates than does the Black community, especially in contemporary society.

Almost without question there also exists a subtle, but palpable, degree of cultural suspicion from the Black community – bordering on mistrust – that is in play. While Jews are absolutely a minority group with an ongoing track record of oppression, the Jewish community perhaps represents the prototypical privileged minority in American society (but not the only one, e.g. “Asian privilege”). This ideologically dovetails with the too often ignored reality of the existence of Antisemitism[1] in substantial pockets of America’s Black community. The outrage emanating from the BLM movement has begun to activate these (mostly) latent Antisemitic beliefs and has reached a tipping point where this latency has transformed into activity. This is not good for the Jews.

Of course most Blacks are not Antisemitic, but compared to the general population, there remains an elevated level of entrenched Antisemitism in America’s Black communities, which at least partially includes the popular cultural belief based on well-known stereotypes of the "sheister Jew" who achieve success in business by means of patronizing intellectualism mixed with baseless thievery. So the logic would be as follows: while the average white person has an unfair advantage in American society, the average Jew has an even more unfair advantage by utilizing exclusive social guilds and wielding social and political power (mainly via financial means). Oh, and lest we forget the deadly Antisemitic race riots in Crown Heights in the summer of 1991 that were incited by Al Sharpton, where he led a Black mob chanting “kill the Jews”.

If Jews are a privileged minority in America, then why not the Blacks? The System Must Be Rigged Towards the Jews!

This is exactly the type of Antisemitic conspiratorial garbage that the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has been spewing for over 30 years (…and, by the way, Farrakhan is not as unpopular in the Black community as much as the average Jew wishes to believe). Naturally there is overlap in ideology between Farrakhan’s project and the BLM movement, chiefly around the shared tenant of unapologetic Black pride up to and including more militant forms of Black nationalism.

How does this relate to Antisemitism in the BLM movement? As those who are students of history will verify, it does not take a majority of citizens to destabilize the temporal comfort of Jews living in an “open” society; a democratic government today does not guarantee safety for tomorrow. This, I believe, is an uncomfortable but intractable aspect of the Jewish experience that many Jews desire to disavow.

Even if the more virulent Antisemites within the BLM movement consists of a vocal minority among their ranks (of this we cannot yet be certain), their decision to integrate Antisemitic principles into their organizational charter generously contributes to the growing trend of publicly defaming Israel and the Jews. This enough represents a slippery slope to a real existential threat to Jews worldwide and therefore deserves a strong and unapologetic response from every responsible corner of the Jewish community. The BLM organization and its permutations should not be recipients of Jewish support, but this is not to say that the American Jewish community should abandon supporting the ongoing cause of improved conditions for our Black brethren.

There must be alternative options in public discourse for the Jewish community to support the advancement of race relations in America without aligning ourselves with an organization that makes bedfellows with Antisemites. As Rabbi Ari Hart, from the Bayit Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York recently posted on his public Facebook page: “I am struggling with ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter but I believe black lives matter.”

Paul Cantz, PsyD, ABPP is Associate Director of Training and Associate Professor at Adler University – Chicago; Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine; and part-time faculty at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership


[1] I have chosen to consistently spell “Antisemitism” without a hyphen in order to encourage a movement away from the sterile anthropological connotations that “anti-Semitism” carries. This decision has been inspired by the forward-thinking Christian theologian Franklin H. Littell (1978), who reminds us that on occasion “owlish” individuals will protest that “the Arabs” cannot technically be anti-Semites because they are themselves Semitic. The hyphen, therefore, acts as a linguistic distraction from the plain meaning of the word: hatred of Jews (Judenhass).

The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has recently formally endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign which has been recognized by a variety of leading Jewish groups as serving as nothing more than a systemic method to sanitize Jew hatred by wrapping itself in the politically-correct cloak of social justice. Additionally, the platform of the “Movement for Black Lives,” a recognized coalition under the BLM umbrella, has fortified the relationship between BLM and a variety of Antisemitic groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), by labeling Israel an “apartheid state” that, it asserts, enacts “genocide” against the Palestinian people (Click here for why this is an inaccurate claim).

Naturally, Jews around the world are becoming increasingly alarmed with this ideological collusion, and for many Jews it has become challenging to understand what has motivated this alliance, especially as most Jews sympathize with the systemic oppression of Blacks and other minorities of color in America.

How did an ostensibly positive movement towards improved race relations in America devolve into institutionally supporting Antisemitic policies?

It is apparent that one of the dominant elements that appeals to many supporters of the BLM movement is a deep resentment towards the concept of white privilege, which has recently been codified in the new BLM platform which states that American society is underwritten by, “white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy.”  Compounding this dynamic is the aforementioned ideological kinship between some in the BLM movement and those in the SJP movement, which offers uncritical empathy for the perceived occupation and oppression of Arabs who reside in Gaza and the West Bank – a purported oppression carried-out by “privileged” Jews – a dynamic not unlike that, in the eyes of the BLM movement, between “White America” and “Black America” (Click here to learn why the claim of Israeli occupation is spurious).

American Jews are mostly known to the Black community and to adherents of the BLM movement in their Ashkenazi (Eastern European) variety, and therefore get folded into this societal resentment primarily (but not exclusively) due of the biological accident of a shared phenotype with privileged white non-Jews. America has witnessed this phenomenon before from the Black community in the heyday of the Civil Rights movement such as in the Columbia Avenue Riots in Pennsylvania in 1964 and the Watts Riots in LA in 1965, to name only a couple of prominent examples.

But, as the argument goes, Jews shouldn’t be “lumped” together with all Caucasians, right?

It is at this juncture where some Jews get stuck in their thinking because they know, rationally, that historically the American Jewish community has been at the leading edge of progressing the cause of race relations.  But even though there has been recognition in Black communities of the contributions of Jews, the simple fact is that the Jewish community places a far greater emphasis on the ultimate importance of Jewish civil rights advocates than does the Black community, especially in contemporary society.

Almost without question there also exists a subtle, but palpable, degree of cultural suspicion from the Black community – bordering on mistrust – that is in play. While Jews are absolutely a minority group with an ongoing track record of oppression, the Jewish community perhaps represents the prototypical privileged minority in American society (but not the only one, e.g. “Asian privilege”). This ideologically dovetails with the too often ignored reality of the existence of Antisemitism[1] in substantial pockets of America’s Black community. The outrage emanating from the BLM movement has begun to activate these (mostly) latent Antisemitic beliefs and has reached a tipping point where this latency has transformed into activity. This is not good for the Jews.

Of course most Blacks are not Antisemitic, but compared to the general population, there remains an elevated level of entrenched Antisemitism in America’s Black communities, which at least partially includes the popular cultural belief based on well-known stereotypes of the "sheister Jew" who achieve success in business by means of patronizing intellectualism mixed with baseless thievery. So the logic would be as follows: while the average white person has an unfair advantage in American society, the average Jew has an even more unfair advantage by utilizing exclusive social guilds and wielding social and political power (mainly via financial means). Oh, and lest we forget the deadly Antisemitic race riots in Crown Heights in the summer of 1991 that were incited by Al Sharpton, where he led a Black mob chanting “kill the Jews”.

If Jews are a privileged minority in America, then why not the Blacks? The System Must Be Rigged Towards the Jews!

This is exactly the type of Antisemitic conspiratorial garbage that the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has been spewing for over 30 years (…and, by the way, Farrakhan is not as unpopular in the Black community as much as the average Jew wishes to believe). Naturally there is overlap in ideology between Farrakhan’s project and the BLM movement, chiefly around the shared tenant of unapologetic Black pride up to and including more militant forms of Black nationalism.

How does this relate to Antisemitism in the BLM movement? As those who are students of history will verify, it does not take a majority of citizens to destabilize the temporal comfort of Jews living in an “open” society; a democratic government today does not guarantee safety for tomorrow. This, I believe, is an uncomfortable but intractable aspect of the Jewish experience that many Jews desire to disavow.

Even if the more virulent Antisemites within the BLM movement consists of a vocal minority among their ranks (of this we cannot yet be certain), their decision to integrate Antisemitic principles into their organizational charter generously contributes to the growing trend of publicly defaming Israel and the Jews. This enough represents a slippery slope to a real existential threat to Jews worldwide and therefore deserves a strong and unapologetic response from every responsible corner of the Jewish community. The BLM organization and its permutations should not be recipients of Jewish support, but this is not to say that the American Jewish community should abandon supporting the ongoing cause of improved conditions for our Black brethren.

There must be alternative options in public discourse for the Jewish community to support the advancement of race relations in America without aligning ourselves with an organization that makes bedfellows with Antisemites. As Rabbi Ari Hart, from the Bayit Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, New York recently posted on his public Facebook page: “I am struggling with ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter but I believe black lives matter.”

Paul Cantz, PsyD, ABPP is Associate Director of Training and Associate Professor at Adler University – Chicago; Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine; and part-time faculty at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership


[1] I have chosen to consistently spell “Antisemitism” without a hyphen in order to encourage a movement away from the sterile anthropological connotations that “anti-Semitism” carries. This decision has been inspired by the forward-thinking Christian theologian Franklin H. Littell (1978), who reminds us that on occasion “owlish” individuals will protest that “the Arabs” cannot technically be anti-Semites because they are themselves Semitic. The hyphen, therefore, acts as a linguistic distraction from the plain meaning of the word: hatred of Jews (Judenhass).