Are Jews considered white in America?

Jews of Color in the USAA struggle for basic justice

"I can't breathe, please, please ..."

"I can't breathe," George Floyd's last words before he dies after eight minutes and 46 seconds under the relentless knee pressure of a white cop. The cold-blooded murder of the unarmed and defenseless African American is not only causing an uproar among the country's black population.

In over 2,000 American cities, people of all skin colors, origins, religions and sexual orientations spontaneously flock to the streets to demonstrate against racism and police violence. Despite - or perhaps because of the Covid pandemic, Floyd's ordeal has torn large parts of the US population out of their lethargy. "I can't breathe" became the cry of protest from an entire movement, by far the largest in US history.

Jews in the Black Lives Matter protests

The demonstrators also include tens of thousands, mostly young Jews, who work in progressive groups for social justice. There is also criticism from a number of Jewish associations and organizations. Shortly after Floyd's murder, the Black Lives Matter movement organized another "March on Washington".

Exactly 53 years to the day after the historical march, this time against racism and police violence. Black Lives Matter doesn't just want reforms. It calls for a fundamental change in the system. In the early morning of the planned rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a full-page advertisement appeared in the New York Times.

"We speak with one voice when we say unequivocally: Black Lives Matter."

In the middle of the page, it is written in bold white letters on a black background. Around it the names of over 600 Jewish organizations and synagogues from the entire religious, political and ethnic spectrum of the country: from Orthodox and Zionist groups to the mainstream to the BDS faction, which wants to boycott Israel because of its Palestine policy.

"The Black Lives Matter movement is the current civil rights movement in this country," concludes the powerful manifesto. "It is our best chance for fairness and justice. By supporting this movement, we can build a country that fulfills its promise of freedom, unity and security. For all of us - without exception."

Jews at the Black Lives Matter protests (imago images / Pacific Press Agency)

Exclusion of "Jews of Color"

"A really strong sign," recalls Sandra Lawson from Elon, North Carolina:

"It shows the overwhelming support of Jewish communities to profess justice for all and do the work necessary to move forward."

Sandra Lawson is black. And she belongs to the minority who call themselves "Jews of Color". Like the United States as a whole over the past 60 years, the country's Jewish community has become increasingly diverse: Today, according to a study by Stanford University in California, 12 to 15 percent of American Jews are ignorant: whether through birth, adoption, marriage or Conversion. "Jews of Color" experience white racism not only outside of Jewish society, says Lawson, who works as a rabbi at Elon University. "Jews of Color" also experience exclusion and rejection in their synagogues and meetinghouses:

"You know, my heart breaks when I receive calls from 'Jews of Color' who pray in mostly white synagogues and do not feel heard, supported, let alone understood."

As a black rabbi, Lawson herself repeatedly received hurtful signals that she was "not Jewish enough".

"Yes, that's really annoying! Born black in the USA, it takes a lot to surprise me with racist comments. But naively, I actually believed for a moment that it was enough to convert to Judaism. Until reality caught up with me."

Churches deal with racism

In the last few months, however, there has been a change. All over the country, Jewish communities are grappling with racism within their own ranks. Not an easy task - the majority of the Jewish population in the United States sees themselves as liberal. Around two-thirds regularly vote democratically, says Marc Dollinger, professor of Jewish history at San Francisco State University:

“For example the constant questions dark-skinned Jews are confronted with. 'Why are you here?', 'Where are you from?' Confused staff, sometimes someone pushes a rubbish bag into their hand or a plate with the request to refill them. "

(picture alliance / dpa / Consolidated News Photos / Chris Kleponis) Trump and US Jews in the election campaign - "It's about the ideals of the republic"
Despite his supposedly pro-Israeli policies, many Jews in the United States are turning away from US President Donald Trump. Also because they hold him responsible for the fact that the number of anti-Semitic attacks has risen sharply during his tenure.

"If we don't work together, we'll go under"

But not only on the Jewish side has a serious learning process got underway lately. According to Cheryl Greenberg, history professor at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, the search for blind spots in one's own thinking and behavior has also begun in the African American community. With the exception of the rapper Ice Cube, a number of black celebrities from sports and entertainment have publicly apologized for anti-Semitic comments in recent months. After anti-Semitic tweets, the black civil rights organization NAACP fired its managing director in Baltimore. Joint projects between black and Jewish groups have recently increased again, with both sides apparently trying to focus on common ground and avoid irritating topics such as the Middle East conflict:

Greenberg: "Just recently the American Jewish Committee announced a black Jewish project. A year ago in Congress, blacks and Jews created a joint committee. The black NAACP and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League want to cooperate more. I myself have been to a few synagogues who want to work specifically with black churches. Some have been doing this for years. It is new to others. But I see on very different levels that both minorities are saying: This is really a fight for our lives, a fight for basic justice If we don't work together now, we'll go down separately. "

( Black Lives Matter: White support for a black movement
Black Lives Matter is louder and bigger right now than ever before. Many show solidarity with the protests. The movement researcher Nicole Hirschfelder says: Whites can only help the movement if they deal with their own racism.

"I expect more violence from right-wing extremists"

How serious the situation is is shown by the statistics of leading extremism experts: Blacks and Jews have been the most frequent victims of hate crimes, not only since the right-wing radical march in Charlottesville three years ago. In addition, the director of Homeland Security recently warned in a Senate hearing that "white right-wing extremists pose the most persistent and deadly threat and risk to the American public." The prognoses for the upcoming presidential elections are therefore bleak.

Heidi Beirich from the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism in Ellyah, Georgia, is one of the best extremism researchers in the United States. She warns:

"I expect we will see more violence from right-wing extremist circles, no matter what the outcome of the election. If Biden wins, many of those white right-wing extremists will think the US is forever lost to diversity and cultural diversity and the only way to do it fight against terrorist attacks, hate crimes, etc. If Trump wins against it, right-wing extremists could feel encouraged and therefore become violent. After Trump's election victory four years ago, we saw an increase of nearly a thousand hate crimes in the first ten days, committed by people who won the election celebrated and beat up minorities. In many cases they shouted the name Trump. They were excited about the election result and assumed the president would share their hateful views. "