A divide emerged during a Board of Deputies meeting on Sunday over the Black Lives Matter movement after one deputy urged the community not to support groups accused of using reactions to George Floyd’s death for “twisted goals”.
Gary Mond, Jewish National Fund deputy, told the meeting that “no Jewish groups of any type, not least of all this Board of Deputies, should give support, or have any connection with or meetings with the Black Lives Matter group,” pointing to reports of vandalised Jewish-owned shops and synagogues in Los Angeles amid anti-racism protests last month in reaction to Floyd’s death.
Floyd died in Minneapolis after a police officer held him down by pressing a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparking a wave of mostly peaceful protests around the world.
Mond said: “Of course, I am absolutely sure that all of us agree that black lives matter, as do Asian lives, African lives, Jewish lives and all lives, but it’s imperative that we take a long hard look at those groups who seek to leverage support from the tragic death of George Floyd for their own twisted goals.”
Annabelle Daiches, North Western Reform Synagogue deputy, said she was “shocked and horrified” by Floyd’s death but also cautioned against supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, claiming the group appears to be “Marxist”. She added: “I would be very careful about joining up with it, even though of course black lives matter, as do everyone else.”
Other deputies, however, warned the phrase “all lives matter”, a slogan commonly associated with critics of the Black Lives Matter movement, risks trivialising the experiences of people of colour.
Adrian Cohen, the deputy for Highgate Synagogue, told the event: “The whole point about solidarity with people of colour is that it is addressing the inequalities within our society and the fact that black people are more likely to suffer from violent attacks, police brutality, than white people. There is a danger when people say ‘all lives matter’ that they’re really trivialising the experiences of black people and not addressing the inequality.”
Deputy Laura Marks said: “Of course … all lives matter, but we were apoplectic when [former Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn kept saying ‘I don’t accept antisemitism or any form of racism’ and us keeping on talking about other forms of racism is quite offensive and so I completely agree with Adrian.”
Bushey United Synagogue deputy Ella Rose described the slogan “all lives matter” as a “really offensive phrase.”
She called on the Board of Deputies to consider delivering unconscious bias training for its elected representatives, saying it was “quite clear that a lot of deputies don’t understand the issues around Black Lives Matter, why language is important, and why people are specifically asking for black lives to be taken seriously in terms of police brutality … and all the other disadvantages people of colour are facing in this country.”
Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said she agreed that training was required and that it was needed “sooner rather than later.”
In response to Mond, van der Zyl, said the umbrella group had not used “any hashtags” when it condemned Floyd’s death. “The fact that there are concerns with the organisation of Black Lives Matter does not detract in any way from supporting the action to be taken and the absolute outrage to be expressed at the murder of George Floyd, which is why we want to have the Board’s inclusivity commission,” she said.
In a statement issued after the meeting, van der Zyl said: “The statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ was never intended to suggest that ‘other lives do not matter’ – it was a response to racism which saw black people being the particular targets of police brutality. Responding to this with ‘All lives matter’ is insensitive, as it detracts from black people’s concerns, and belittles their call for equality.”
The Board of Deputies announced earlier this month its intention to launch a commission on racial inclusivity within the Jewish community, to be chaired by the New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush.