Some Jewish Groups Should Be Having Second Thoughts

Readers might be forgiven for being unfamiliar with the “Sunrise Movement.” It is a national youth organization whose goal is to “unite to make climate change an urgent priority across America, end the corrupting influence of fossil fuel executives on our politics and elect leaders who stand up for the health and well-being of all people.” Its motto is “We Are the Climate Revolution.”

The group’s D.C. chapter was in the news last week for an action that some observers, with good reason, labeled antisemitic.

The Washington chapter of the climate group tweeted its decision last Tuesday to pull out of a voting rights rally because of the organizers’ inclusion of a “number of Zionist organizations,” naming the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center (RAC) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“Given our commitment to racial justice, self-governance and indigenous sovereignty,” Sunrise DC declared in explanation, “we oppose Zionism and any state that enforces its ideology.”

While the three Jewish groups cited by Sunrise DC generally devote their focus on domestic issues, each also has a record of pro-Israel advocacy. All of them back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the NCJW and the RAC have sister groups in Israel that seek to advance their social agendas there.

The rally at issue, which was organized by a group called Declaration for American Democracy, took place as planned in Washington on Shabbos, which apparently wasn’t an issue for the groups that Sunrise DC cited as the reason for its boycott.

As to the climate group chapter’s action and rhetoric, a number of Jewish individuals and groups reacted, understandably, with anger.

Joel Rubin, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress and who served as Bernie Sanders’s Jewish liaison during his 2020 presidential run, said: “This idea that you are told that you have to reject your support for Israel to participate in American public life on issues that you care about, that is what’s antisemitic and anti-democratic.”

Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) condemned Sunrise DC’s statement. “Refusing to participate in civic life with Jewish groups — especially those groups who are committed to social justice here in the U.S., in Israel and around the world — is misguided, unproductive, offensive and wrong,” Nadler tweeted.

A number of left-leaning Jewish groups also criticized Sunrise Movement DC’s decision. The Jewish Democratic Council of America called it “antisemitism, plain and simple.”

Even Hadar Susskind, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, was incensed. “This is boycotting groups because they are Jewish and state a general… support of Israel, which is the position of 90% of the American Jewish community,” she said. “To say that any group that is in any way supportive of Israel should be excluded from our civic life is unacceptable.”

And J Street’s vice president of public affairs, Kevin Rachlin, told the Jewish Insider news organization that the statement by the local Sunrise DC Chapter was “saddening, harmful and wrong.”

That medium also reached out to the offices of the current members of Congress endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, asking whether they agree with the Washington chapter’s position. None of them — Representatives Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Marie Newman (D-Ill.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — responded.

The Washington Post quoted Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy, the rally organizer, as saying, “All who share our goals and values are welcome in the coalition and will continue to be. We reject any effort to erase any members of our coalition who share our commitment to strengthening American democracy.”

For its part, the national Sunrise Movement said that each of its chapters “has the ability to act independently” and that it hadn’t been consulted about the D.C. chapter’s decision. But, it added, “As a national movement that supports freedom and dignity for all people, we will always welcome anyone who acts on our principles and chooses to join the fight for collective liberation.”

It’s hard not to wonder if the many liberal Jewish groups that have chosen to express devotion to something larger than themselves by championing various contemporary causes, even legitimate ones like climate change or voting rights, have come to question whether their relationships with some other similar-minded groups are essentially one-sided.

Are they, in other words, questioning whether they may not really be true partners but mere convenient tools for people who, holding high the dark banner of “intersectionality,” hate Israel and all her supporters? And, less blatantly but most likely and no less passionately, Jews?