Jewish and Palestinian activists fighting for black liberation

I wrote an assigned feature article on the Jewish and Palestinian activists who have been involved in the Ferguson movement and more generally in the struggle for black rights and liberation. Everyone who knew I was writing this article, including the people I interviewed, warned me the article would get killed because the topic was too hot — and they were right. This the the second article I’ve had killed in my career. The first was a feature on black low-wage workers and their struggle for rights and dignity, which I killed myself after the editor wanted to delete all the quotes from black workers describing their own experiences.

It’s always upsetting to have an article which took hours of interviews and research to write get killed because the editors decided, at the last minute, that the topic wasn’t for them. But it’s an important story, one that needs to be out there, so I published it myself:

“Here was this massive moment happening in history, and it was happening right here in St. Louis. I thought, ‘Jews have something to say about this,’” says Rori Picker Neiss, the Director of Programming, Education and Engagement at Bais Abraham Congregation in St. Louis.

“I don’t want to draw equivalencies between the Jewish and black experience. But I think as Jews we could understand what it’s like to have people assume negative things about you because of how you were born, and to treat you differently because of who you are, to let things happen to you. The idea that here are a group of people asking for help and saying that they’ve been subject to terrible injustices — for the Jewish community that story rings in our ears and we think ‘We’ve heard this story before.’”

Since the killing of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, Ferguson has been a tale told largely in black and white. The continued protests against police brutality and exploitation have been led by black activists fed up with decades of discrimination and a white leadership that has been, at best, apathetic, and at worst, overtly hostile.

But St. Louis’s other ethnic minorities have also been drawn into the regional conflict. From the summer 2014 days when rabbis marched in the street to cries for black liberation to the present when a “Black Lives Matter” sign campaign is spearheaded by a concerned Jewish citizen, Jews have played a role in the Ferguson protests. It has been a controversial role, one that has caused debate within St. Louis’s diverse Jewish communities as well as hardship for those who participate.

Neiss is one such example. On August 10, she was one of 57 protesters charged with “blocking an entryway” of the St. Louis federal courthouse during a protest commemorating the one-year anniversary of Brown’s killing. As an Orthodox Jew, Neiss wears a head covering, which she was asked to remove before being placed in a holding cell. She asked the officers who arrested her for a private space to remove it, which they allowed. That was when she realized yet again that she lived in a city where fairness, like everything else, was unevenly allocated.

This not a story of Jewish-Palestinian animosity, but rather an article that highlights Jews and Palestinians, in their own words, discussing their participation in a movement for black liberation in a segregated city. Sometimes stories that show mutual, peaceful struggle against white supremacy are the most controversial of all. They shouldn’t be.

Read the article, The Jewish and Palestinian Activists of the Ferguson Movement, here.


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