Eyes on The Prize: In Pursuit of Racial Justice, Stick to the Facts and Avoid the Fiction

  • August 5, 2016

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Black Lives Matter

Earlier this week, a collective of more than 50 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) released a detailed platform, A Vision for Black Lives, Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice. There are other groups associated with BLM who have not signed onto the Platform and offered different approaches. Nonetheless, the Platform is bold and provocative in its demands. It pointedly rejects many racial equality approaches tried over the past four decades. Instead, the document proposes a transformational policy frame for many ideas that previously have been articulated by activists, scholars and writers like Bryan StevensonMichelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

We do not agree with many of the specific demands of the Platform, but the document appropriately highlights the need to address mass incarceration and a wide range of racial inequities and socio-economic issues facing African Americans today. Beyond hand-wringing and soul-searching, the Platform proposes a number of specific legal, administrative, and legislative remedies to address identified challenges.

We appreciate these points because the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is deeply committed to addressing many of these issues, too. ADL’s longtime dedication to fighting bigotry in all forms includes building a just society where fair and equal treatment is guaranteed for all. Along with coalition partners, we are tackling critical civil rights issues such as ending racial profiling, addressing educational equity and economic inequalities, disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming our criminal justice system.

This work is not new. For decades, we have been working closely with our civil rights partners in the hard fight to advance a shared agenda of equality, justice, and respect for human dignity through leadership work in education, legislation, and litigation. Where possible, we want to engage with a range of activists to achieve these goals.

But would-be allies in the struggle for civil and human rights along with justice and fair treatment cannot ignore the Platform’s false and blatantly one-sided position on US-Israel relations and Israeli-Palestinian issues. We categorically reject the document’s criticism of the United States and Israel as being “complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” The Jewish community knows too much about genocide.

Whatever one’s position on the relationship between Israel, its Palestinian citizens, and the residents in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s repellent and completely inaccurate to label Israel’s policy as “genocide.” And the Platform completely ignores incitement and violence perpetrated against Israelis by some Palestinians, including terror inside the country and rocket attacks lobbed from Gaza. Unfortunately, these phenomena are not new but have been challenges that have faced the Jewish state since its inception more than half a century ago.

We strongly disagree with the Platform’s erroneous broad-brush conflating of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with civil and human rights abuses discussed in the document. Although Israel is far from a principal focal point in the more than 40,000-word document, it’s the irresponsible and completely over-the-top references to the Jewish state — as well as later gross mischaracterizations of Israel as “an apartheid state,” and calls for support of the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) that alienate us and bear little resemblance to reality. These points are wrong on the facts and offensive in tone. Importantly, for ADL and many in the Jewish community, such false characterizations and misguided calls to action distract us from the task of addressing other, critically-important justice and equality priorities.

So let’s work to keep our eyes on the prize.

In the past few weeks, we have seen significant progress in pushing back against state voter suppression laws and advancing criminal justice reforms. The Justice Department is appropriately highlighting the need to address the criminalization of povertyThe President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing is actively promoting many worthwhile ideas to increase police accountability and enhance police-community relations.

The vital issues of racial justice we are confronting now — and the need to directly combat extremism, hate violence, immigrant bashing, and stereotyping — require sustained commitments. They necessitate a disciplined, relentless focus. They demand clear-headed, fact based approaches.

We cannot walk away. We cannot be distracted or dispirited. Those of us committed to justice cannot afford to stray from addressing the very real injustices facing our communities.

We are committed to doing just that.

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