Environmental Org Slammed for Pulling Out of DC Voting Rights Rally Over Jewish Groups’ Presence
by Benjamin Kerstein
A Washington, DC-chapter of a top environmental organization set off a storm of controversy after it announced it would withdraw from a rally due to the participation of several mainstream progressive Jewish groups, releasing a statement widely condemned as antisemitic.
The Sunrise Movement DC said it pulled out of the upcoming Freedom to Vote Relay-Rally at the Finish Line, which advocates for the protection of voting rights, “due to the participation of a number of Zionist organizations.”
The groups in question are the staunchly liberal Jewish Council on Public Affairs, National Council of Jewish Women, and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Sunrise DC said they “oppose Zionism and any state that enforces its ideology,” and that Israel is a “colonial project” that “routinely displaces Palestinians.”
In an apparent attempt to link the issue to the subject of the rally planned for Saturday, the group claimed that “the fight for statehood and sovereignty are incompatible with Zionism.” The declared purpose of Zionism is the creation and maintenance of a sovereign Jewish state.
Sunrise DC also accused Israel of treating its “black and brown Jewish-Israelis” as “second-class citizens who have virtually no representation in government.”
Israel has numerous MKs of color in the Knesset, including an Ethiopian-Israeli government minister, and a major Arab party is a crucial part of the current governing coalition. There are a large number of Arab members of Knesset and Israelis of color are also well-represented in local and municipal politics.
The group presented no evidence to support its claims, and has since limited access to its tweets to users followed by the group, without explanation.
The Religious Action Center responded to Sunrise DC’s move, saying, “It’s unfortunate that any organization would refuse to join together to protect voting rights … As an organization committed to social justice and our progressive Zionist values, we will continue to work toward the passage of comprehensive voting rights legislation.”
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council for Jewish Women, said the group “works for the safety and wellbeing of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians” and to advance progressive politics “in coalition, often led by impacted communities, to center those with lived experiences. Our commitment to working across lines of difference includes our willingness to engage in dialogue with groups that take issue with our policies.”
“As an organization committed to social justice and our progressive Zionist values, we will continue to work toward the passage of comprehensive voting rights legislation,” she said.
News of the boycott was swiftly condemned by Jewish groups and a number of Democratic legislators.
The American Jewish Congress said in a statement that it “strongly condemns” the decision, calling it “an anti-democratic act in and of itself.”
The organization, they said, “is attempting to intimidate the organizers of the Freedom to Vote Rally into banning these Jewish organizations.”
“This is deeply dangerous, as American Jews have fought for civil rights, civil liberties, the separation of church and state, and multiple other positions that have helped to make America a more just society,” the AJC asserted. “American Jews have an equal right to share our voices, just as all Americans do. Silencing our voices, as the Sunrise Movement demands, is the antithesis of democracy.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called Sunrise’s move “a vilification of Jewish nationhood and a litmus test for all who support it. This is antisemitic — plain and simple.”
Pro-Israel progressive Rep. Richie Torres (D-NY), commented, “There’s a concerted effort to ideologically cleanse progressive politics of anyone or anything that dares to believe in Israel’s right to exist. The fearmongering about ‘Zionist organizations’ has an undeniable undercurrent of antisemitism that cannot and should not be ignored.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), said, “Refusing to participate in civic life with Jewish groups — especially those groups who are committed to social justice here in the US, in Israel, and around the world — is misguided, unproductive, offensive and wrong.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) called Sunrise DC’s decision “unfortunate and wrong” and said she was “disappointed” by the “unhelpful and counterproductive” move.
Although the national Sunrise Movement organization has not addressed the controversy, one of Sunrise DC’s sister organizations also condemned the pullout on Thursday. The George Washington University branch of Sunrise said, “Singling out explicitly Jewish organizations despite non-Jewish organizations in the coalition holding similar stances on Israel is unquestionably antisemitic and has no place in our movement.”
Sunrise DC did find some unusual supporters, with Virginia House delegate Ibraheem Samirah, who in June lost the Democratic primary race for the coming term, saying he stands with Sunrise DC because Israel’s Mossad “creates fossil fuel wars using malicious intel, most famously the WMD lie Colin Powell spewed to the world to justify the Iraq war.”