Why should we listen?

As a Jewish cultural organization in the Netherlands, we are deeply saddened and outraged by the murder of George Floyd. We declare our solidarity with the Black community, Jews of color and all communities of color in the US, but also here in the Netherlands where we are by no means free of racism.

We distance ourselves from the deafening silence, on the one hand, and the pseudo-debate, on the other, about an overcrowded Dam Square in Amsterdam during the Black Lives Matter protest in the middle of the corona crisis, the actions of the mayor and the comparison with 4 May Memorial Day. This is not what the debate should be about. What matters now is institutionalized racism and what it does to people and to our society. The important thing is to speak out against structural discrimination and violence against the Black community and people of color in the US and in our own country. We must declare our solidarity with the Black community and people of color and actively work for equality and justice.

At the heart of Jewish ethics is the call to speak out against injustice and not be indifferent to the suffering of others. For example, in Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim 2 you can read: “Imagine a person […] isolates themselves in a corner of their house, declaring: ‘Why would the concerns of the community concern me? What does their judgment have to do with me? Why should I listen to their voices of protest? …’ If a person acts in this manner, they will subvert the entire world.” The struggles for social justice and Jewish ethics are deeply connected. They go hand in hand. We therefore call for more moral leadership from the Dutch Jewish community.

A fundamental part of being Jewish is questioning the status quo and speaking out against injustice. This is reflected in the work of Jewish thinkers such as Hannah Arendt and Elie Wiesel. We are inspired by many Jewish activists and leaders who have worked for the emancipation of people who faced injustices other than they themselves faced: such as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walking arm in arm with Martin Luther King to Selma in 1965, the renowned feminist author Judith Plaskow and AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer.

The injustice of George Floyd’s murder is not an isolated one. This police brutality is yet another expression of a 400-year-long history of racial inequality. The tragic reason for protests against this injustice snowballed in the US, but we also have work to do in the Netherlands. It is not enough not to be racist, we must be anti-racist. Keeping quiet now is not an option, or as Elie Wiesel said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And so we speak out, in solidarity with the Black community and all communities of color in the US and the Netherlands, and recognize that:

  • Institutionalized racism and systemic police brutality must stop.
  • We as Jews have a responsibility to keep speaking out when faced with institutionalized racism.
  • White or white-passing Jews should strive for a better understanding of the situation.
  • The perspective of Jews of color in this context must be seen and heard.

To conclude with the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.”