Five members of the US House of Representatives announced earlier this week the formation of a bipartisan Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus at the annual global forum of the American Jewish Committee.
The initial members of the caucus are Republicans Lee Zeldin of New York and Will Hurd of Texas, and Democrats Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida and Georgia’s John Lewis.
“For generations, the Jewish and African American communities have stood together, helping each other overcome their greatest challenges and triumph in the face of sweeping discrimination, all while securing a brighter future for all of our children,” Zeldin said in a press release.
“However, our work is not yet finished. It is clear our communities are still the target of hate and discrimination, and we will not stand idly by.”
Zeldin said he hopes “to further defend and promote this profound relationship through the formation of the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus.”
“The African American and Jewish communities have a history of standing together for the promotion of social justice and civil rights,” Lawrence told American Jewish Committee attendees.
She said that she had formed the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations with “the hopes of strengthening the trust and advancing our issues in a collective manner.”
Divided over Israel
Studiously absent from the public launch of the caucus was any mention of an increasingly divisive issue between these two communities: Israel.
A 2018 poll found that only 19 percent of Blacks believed Israel to be an ally of the United States as compared to 43 percent of whites.
Eleven of the 30 co-sponsors of Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum’s groundbreaking legislation in the previous Congress advocating for Palestinian children’s human rights were members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
And Black-Palestinian solidarity has been resurgent in recent years, from the 2015 publication of the Black solidarity statement with Palestine, to the Movement for Black Lives’ support for Palestinian rights.
Of course, Jewish American support for Israel is far from monolithic; however the institutions claiming to represent that community and many Jewish members of Congress have tended to take up Israel’s mantle.
Facilitated by Israel lobby
Despite the initial rhetorical focus from caucus members on domestic social justice issues, it is difficult to imagine that the newly formed Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus will not also be utilized as a vehicle to shore up Black political support for Israel both on and off Capitol Hill, for at least two reasons.
First, the American Jewish Committee, which publicly took credit for facilitating the establishment of the caucus, is a major player within the Israel lobby.
Israel is the top issue on its website, which unequivocally declares that “AJC advocates for Israel at the highest levels.”
The lobby group also affirms that “when Israel is under assault, whether from the terrorist organizations on her doorstep or the global BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement, AJC helps bring the world the truth about Israel.”
The American Jewish Committee also brags that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised it as a “powerful advocate” for Israel.
The organization will not be likely to sit idly by as additional members of the Congressional Black Caucus express support for Palestinian rights: The new Black-Jewish caucus will likely be used to stanch the flow.
Record of Islamophobia and bigotry
Second, the founding members of the caucus who are Jewish – Zeldin and Wasserman-Schultz – are both ardent Israel backers.
Zeldin’s leadership of a caucus ostensibly devoted to countering hate and discrimination especially raises eyebrows.
Zeldin is a staunch supporter of the Trump administration, voting almost 90 percent of the time in favor of the president’s positions.
Not only is Zeldin a solid yes for Trump administration policies, he also mimics the president’s incendiary screeds on social media.
On Twitter, Zeldin has smeared Representative Ilhan Omar as anti-Semitic, attempted to tie her to ISIS and Palestinian “terrorists” and accused her of “targeting Jewish people” after she characterized White House adviser Stephen Miller as a white nationalist.
Zeldin’s Islamophobic vituperation against a Black and Muslim member of Congress certainly makes him an odd choice to be the standard bearer of Black-Jewish solidarity on Capitol Hill.
And Zeldin’s professed mandate of the new caucus – to fight against hatred and discrimination against Black and Jewish people – could also serve as yet another avenue for him to advance his campaign against the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.
Zeldin frequently takes to social media to conflate criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism and is one of the Republican architects of a bipartisan legislative drive to penalize BDS.
If the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus takes on white supremacy that is at the root of both anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism in this country, then its advent should be welcomed.
However, if it is instead used to police Black speech on Palestine and advance anti-BDS legislation and other agenda items of the Israel lobby, then it should be shunned.