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Friends, You may be aware of a few recent incidents in Washington, DC:
1) A local African American city council member, Trayon White, said the recent bad weather in DC was the fault of the Rothschilds [a wealthy European Jewish family].
2) He was challenged about the anti-Semitism in his remark and he then apologized to the Jewish community for his unaware comment. He was subsequently invited to attend a Unity Seder and was then invited to a special tour with a local rabbi of the U.S. Holocaust museum. A Washington Post reporter followed him on the tour, writing down every question/ comment he was making. And because of that--the council member abruptly left the tour early which then increased the upset of some local Jewish leaders.
3). After days of continued negative Washington Post articles about all of this --A support rally for this city council member was held on the steps of the City Council--- organized by a local Latino leader. The Latino leader was also a paid consultant in the city and apparently close to the mayor.
The rally ended up including a Nation of Islam supporter who at one point stood next to the Latino organizer with a bullhorn and , without challenge attacked a Jewish city council member-- calling her a "fake Jew" and also calling Jews "termites". The Latino leader was criticized in the press and the mayor was asked to fire him. Shortly after these calls for the mayor to fire him--he resigned.
All of these incidents were widely reported in the Washington Post with lots of meetings held afterwards with local Jewish leaders to try and deal with the ensuing upsets.
Last night the D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, held an invitation only, closed to the press session for about 40 community and faith leaders in the city. The event was organized by the Office of Human Rights here in the District. The evening was called: A Listening Lab. The director of the Office of Human Rights is a longtime ally of NCBI and we have an NCBI team housed at the Office, leading NCBI workshops in the city.
I was asked to co-facilitate the session last night with the Mayor and our NCBI trained leaders facilitated small group table discussions. As a part of the evening-- I spoke for about 15 minutes about principles and practices for dealing with intergroup tensions around anti Semitism and racism. My talk follows.
There have been so many painful moments recently that have ripped our community apart, with pain and strong accusations flying back and forth. There has been racism. Anti Semitism. Islamophobia; And gay oppression. What are the practices we need to put into place to make sure that these incidents don't drive a wedge between our peoples?
There are 5 principles I want to offer us tonight to guide our work.
1). No matter how unbearable it gets --- We have to stay in the room! There is no other good choice. After one of my dozens of trips to Israel, I was leading a session in Boston with an Arab man, addressing a group of 500 -- modeling being Allies for each other's people's.
At one point in my talk, I said I was proud of Israel. I never got to finish my talk. A Palestinian woman started shouting at me from the back of the room: "How dare you say you're proud of Israel." She continued to scream out awful things about what Israel was doing to the Palestinian people. Some of the things she said I agreed with. Many of her points I did not. But I did not interrupt her. And she kept screaming at me for 15 minutes. My insides were on fire.
But I knew if I went back and forth refuting her, we would be in a losing battle. Fifteen minutes is a very long time when someone is attacking your people, but at the end of her speak-out, she looked up at me and said, "You're the first Jewish person who's ever listened to me. Can we meet for lunch?". The room was electric. Nadjua had come to the US because her ears had been impaired as a result of Israel's bombing at the time in Southern Lebanon. She and I met for the 3 months she was in the U.S. and as a result of that relationship building, we led the first ever dialogue between some members of the Israeli Knesset and the PLO when it was still illegal for them to meet.
I knew there would be intense emotions flying in that session, and we made one requirement of each participant: that they had to sign a piece of paper that no matter how much they disagreed with what the other side was saying, they would stay in the room till the end of the session.
This work is not easy. But if we abandon each other when harsh things are said-- we will never ever move forward. And God knows the oppressive forces in this current period want nothing more than that we remain divided.
2) We need to understand the specifics in what causes each other pain. This work cannot just be about standing shoulder to shoulder singing Freedom songs. Many of our peoples have had devastating histories and we need to be willing to learn about each other's trigger points.