One of Britain’s leading black activists, Lord Woolley, has implored the Jewish community: “We need you to say, your struggle is our struggle”.
He was speaking at an extraordinary on-line event, the first of its kind, convened by JW3 and JCore, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality. JW3’s chief executive, Raymond Simonson, said that he and his team had arranged the event in record time, in direct response to the murder of George Floyd in America last week, and the subsequent global anti-racist protests.
More than 3200 people joined the discussion, to view panellists Lord Woolley, founder and director of Operation Black Vote and the head of the government’s Racial Diversity Unit, David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham and the Shadow Justice Minister, April Baskin, Racial Justice Director for the American Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, and student activist Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, former president of the Cambridge University Black and Minority Ethnic Campaign. The event was moderated by Dr Edie Friedman, founder and director of JCore.
Both April Baskin and Nadine Batchelor-Hunt are Black Jews but with widely different experiences of both communities. Ms Batchelor-Hunt spoke wistfully of the day it “would be nice to visit Kosher Kingdom [the London kosher supermarket] and not get stared at”, [because she was such a rare sight] — but at the same time complained that Jewish communal organisations, during the last election, had not responded positively to approaches from the Black Jewish community.
Ms Baskin, speaking from Senegal, suggested that a “professional healing process” between Blacks and Jews, on the same lines as the Truth and Reconciliation project in South Africa, was what was needed to help build engagement and trust.
Lord Woolley described the current situation as “a perfect storm of Covid-19 and the lynching of George Floyd”. He called for a “1945 moment” — citing the rebuilding of Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War when great and radical change had been made possible by a national will. Brandishing a copy of a book on the Freedom Riders — the 1961 co-ordination between Blacks and Jews in America’s Deep South, to fight racial discrimination — Lord Woolley declared: “We must rebuild bigger and better, to create a new social and racial equality contract”.
David Lammy, who, like all the panellists spoke of himself as “tired” of repeatedly having to make the case for equality for Black citizens, nevertheless spoke warmly of a “rainbow alliance” between Blacks and Jews which had existed, in part, because of the “historic pain” suffered by both communities.
He said that when his father had come to Britain it was often only Jewish landlords who were willing to house him and other Black immigrants. He spoke passionately of a long history of Black-Jewish co-ordination, picking out the American civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and the many Jews who had fought apartheid in South Africa and supported Nelson Mandela.
Today, said Mr Lammy, “We must raise our game. People’s lives depend on us raising our game”.
Raymond Simonson said after the event that he, too, had been “tired” of constantly having to respond to issues of antisemitism in the past few years, so had an inkling of what Black people were facing on a daily basis.
He said that JW3 had been overwhelmed by the response and that he hoped it was the first of many conversations between the Black and Jewish communities.