How the George Floyd protests have echoed through the Jewish community

A demonstrator holds his hands up in protest near Lafayette Park and the White House on June 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. Protests in cities throughout the country continue in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/ JTA Montage)

By GABE FRIEDMAN

Ron is on vacation, so his colleagues are attempting to fill in this week. 
(JTA) –This week’s big story, of course, is the sweeping national protests against police brutality and racism.

We’ve covered the responses from Jewish leaders and groups, and there have been many: Some 130 organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, National Council of Jewish Women, national organizations of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, and groups representing Jewish communities nationwide issued a joint statement Tuesday expressing “outrage” over the killing of George Floyd.

Our Josefin Dolsten also talked with black Jews on the topic, whose responses have ranged from exhaustion to rage to numbness.

The violence and vandalism at some of the protests provoked diverse feelings in the Jewish community.

The Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles, home to synagogues, Jewish-owned stores and the famous Canter’s deli, was hit particularly hard. Anti-Semitic graffiti was plastered on at least two synagogues.

But there are also those who have pledged to support the protests no matter what comes — like Don Flesch, who said he wasn’t angry that protesters burned down his camera store that had been a Chicago fixture for over a century.

The protests spread abroad, igniting conversations about race relations in countries around the world. Israel has its own complicated recent history of police violence, and Tel Aviv saw a protest of hundreds outside the former U.S. Embassy there on Tuesday.

“Why am I here? I’m black as hell and my skin color is the first thing that people see about me, especially in Israel,” one protester told our Sam Sokol.

In other news
Dethroned: Steve King, the Republican congressman ostracized by his party for a history of racist statements (and his questioning of what’s so bad about white supremacy), lost in a primary election this week. Randy Feenstra, who had the support of the Republican Jewish Coalition, will be the Republican on the ballot this fall and is considered likely to win the general election. The RJC said it helped Feenstra raise over $400,000 (to King’s just over $40,000). Read Ron’s report on the Steve King saga here.

Other notable primary outcomes this week include Valerie Plame’s loss in New Mexico and Lisa Scheller’s win. Plame is the ex-CIA agent who was outed as part of a scandal during the George W. Bush years and in 2017 apologized after retweeting an article on a white supremacist website that claimed Jews were behind a push for a U.S. war with Iran. (She claimed last year that she was attending a synagogue in Santa Fe, but that was never verified.)

Scheller’s victory in Pennsylvania’s 7th District sets up a battle between two Jewish women active in the Jewish community. Her opponent, incumbent Susan Wild, flipped the seat blue in 2018. 

Engel’s in trouble: Until recently, it seemed unlikely that Eliot Engel — the longtime Jewish congressman from New York, leading pro-Israel voice and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee — would break a sweat in his run for a 17th term. Then this happened on Tuesday: He was caught on a hot mic saying that if he “didn’t have a primary” coming up, he “wouldn’t care” about the news conference he was attending on local vandalism in the wake of the Floyd protests.

His black and progressive Democratic primary challenger, Jamaal Bowman, got more good news this week, too. Another primary opponent dropped out of the race and put his support behind Bowman, and then Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive movement’s torch bearer, voiced her support as well. Both are signs that an anti-Engel movement is growing.

Then on Thursday, Engel raised a red flag himself: He said he wouldn’t accept an endorsement from The New York Times because the newspaper published a controversial op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton on using military force against protesters. As HuffPost reporter Daniel Marans points out, that could be a way of getting ahead of a Times endorsement of Bowman.

Annexation vexation: After striking a deal with his leading rival to remain Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu thought that his moment to annex parts of the West Bank — a move that would be seen as illegal or controversial by most of the international community — had finally come. But he has received unexpected pushback from leaders he has taken great pains to court: those on the Trump administration’s Middle East peace team and the heads of many Israeli settlements.

The settler leaders believe that moving ahead with annexation now would freeze settlement expansion and leave the cities and villages in an incomplete, piecemeal state. They made their voices heard this week in a big way: The leader of the Yesha Council representing the settlements said the annexation push, which according to the Trump peace plan would be part of an eventual peace deal, proves that Trump is “not a friend of Israel.” Netanyahu clapped back immediately, but expect this conflict to continue. Read more here. 

A looming battle: It may not feel like anyone’s talking about Israel’s trade policy this week, but they’re likely to be sometime soon. Ron has a primer on the emerging clash between Israel’s push to tap into one of the world’s strongest markets and the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate China, which include pressuring allies such as Israel to join in. A surprise desalination deal last week could be just the tip of an iceberg. Read Ron’s deep dive to learn more.

Candidate of the week: Meet John Eaves, a black and Jewish aspiring congressman from outside Atlanta. He’s one of several Democrats vying to compete for a toss-up seat that is being vacated by a Republican. The primary is next week.

Eaves shared his thoughts on this week’s protests with Josefin Dolsten. 
“I saw a couple things — people who were there to support or to vent, but also looking for constructive ways to get engaged and have positive change,” he said. “So it affirmed that what I’m trying to do politically is addressing problems that these protesters are voicing.” Learn more about Eaves and his campaign.

WORTH A LOOK 
In the left-wing magazine Jewish Currents, activist Rebecca Pierce compares the concept of white spaces and Jewish spaces, explaining how black people (like Tiffany Haddish, who she mentions) are often singled out and made to feel unwelcome in both.

TWEET SO SWEET 
Instead of a tweet this week, we didn’t want to leave you without any Ron content. Here’s our D.C. maven enjoying the Everglades — don’t worry, the alligator is fake, and he’s practicing social distancing.

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