The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” exemplifies the purpose that embodies intergroup coalition building. In this current climate it seems like there is an almost daily display of hate or racial injustice.
In the last weeks of August, a banner proclaiming “Jews want a race war” hung over a Los Angeles freeway. Jacob Blake was shot seven times by Kenosha, Wisconsin police. The University of Delaware Chabad Center was destroyed by an arson attack. And the nation is still reeling following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Whether the targets are Jews or African Americans, our communities share the common enemy of white supremacy. A threat to either group should demand a united response to effectively combat racism and antisemitism.
During this period of renewed awakening to social injustice, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) is expanding its longstanding efforts to deepen and strengthen Black-Jewish relations.
AJC, in partnership with the National Urban League, have designated next week, Sept. 8-11, in honor of #BlackJewishUnity. The joint campaign will include:
• A Congressional resolution marking the renewed efforts in intergroup unity.
• Advocating for passage of the NO HATE Act, which aims to improve hate crime reporting through law enforcement trainings, the creation of reporting hotlines, increasing resources, and public educational forums on what constitutes a hate crime.
• Co-hosting a series of online educational programs.
• Using the hashtag #BlackJewishUnity to bring awareness to the historic effort of these two storied organizations’ commitment to unity.
In addition to this national campaign, AJC Dallas will host local programs to complement the #BlackJewishUnity campaign. AJC, through its Community of Conscience, conducted a five-part listening series on issues of racial injustice, covering the topics of Dallas history, faith, equity, policing, and policy, which will help inform future advocacy efforts that affect both the Black and Jewish communities.
AJC has a noteworthy record of working in coalition with the Black community. The roots of this partnership began in 1933 when AJC worked alongside the NAACP to organize a campaign for a federal anti-lynching bill. In 1954, AJC underwrote research that was cited by Chief Justice Earl Warren as essential in the Supreme Court’s unanimous landmark Brown v Board of Education decision.
AJC’s working relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the mid-‘60s included his addressing AJC’s Annual Meeting and receiving AJC’s highest honor, the American Civil Liberties Medallion, awarded in recognition of his seminal work in advancing Black-Jewish relations.
Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, AJC testified before Congress and advocated on issues of importance to both communities, such as fighting discriminatory practices in schools and workplaces as well as supporting affirmative action. More recently, AJC appointed a national director of Black-Jewish Relations, AJC Atlanta Regional Director Dov Wilker.
In 2019, the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations was launched at AJC’s Global Forum. Led by Representatives Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Will Hurd (R-TX), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), and the late Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the caucus includes 54 Representatives from both communities, who have pledged to advocate for joint concerns. In June, following the murder of George Floyd, AJC presented to the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations with an action plan to combat racism in the U.S.
Last month, the strength of AJC’s leadership in Black-Jewish relations was demonstrated by our engagement with Nick Cannon after he made antisemitic remarks. Cannon spent several days meeting with senior AJC staff, including U.S. Director of Combating Antisemitism Holly Huffnagle and Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Affairs Rabbi Noam Marans, to gain a deeper understanding of Judaism and antisemitism. On Aug. 10, Cannon appeared on an AJC Advocacy Anywhere program to discuss his commitment, recent learnings, and to emphasize the importance of positive Black-Jewish relations. Cannon noted that while African Americans comprise 13% and Jews only 2% of the U.S. population, “together we can make real changes” in fighting hate.
Many recall the image of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching arm and arm, or as he called it, “praying with his feet,” with Dr. King and John Lewis in Selma, as the pinnacle of Black-Jewish relations. While it was undoubtedly an important partnership and an emblematic act, I believe the height of the Black-Jewish relations has yet to be reached. AJC is currently engaged in the work of building stronger, more unified ties between the two group so that together members of the Black and Jewish communities can fight injustices everywhere and hate in all its malicious forms.
Amy Berger is assistant director of American Jewish Committee (AJC) Dallas.