On October 18th, the Boston Workers Circle: Center for Jewish Cultural and Social Justice co-sponsored a rally with several other progressive Jewish groups responding to the urgency of this critical moment in Israel/Palestine and in line with our organizational principles. The intergenerational, multifaith and multi-racial rally we co-sponsored called on our elected representatives to advocate for an immediate ceasefire, a de-escalation to the current violence in Israel/Palestine, and the return of all hostages taken from Israel into Gaza on October 7th.
We recognize that as the violence in Israel/Palestine continues to escalate, decisions made by our elected representatives and leaders around the world in the coming days and weeks have the potential to either save countless civilian lives, or to lead to thousands more deaths and generations of violence and instability. How we as Jews and Jewish institutions respond to this moment will define the American Jewish community for decades to come.
During the rally, we received a phone call from the executive director of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), a local Jewish organization that BWC helped establish in 1944 as an umbrella coalition for the Boston Jewish community. He informed us that as a result of our participation in the rally, we would be expelled from the council.
This is not the first time that the JCRC has stood in opposition to the very justice work that is the lifeblood of the Boston Workers Circle. Repeatedly, we have faced rebuke from the council and its extreme right-wing members and calls for our expulsion due to our progressive views on Israel/Palestine. Over and over, we have stood firm in our values, ensured that our perspective was valuable at the JCRC table, and advocated for a broad Jewish tent open to a diversity of viewpoints.
On the other hand, the JCRC has fought Boston Workers Circle on our principled positions over and over again. Several years ago, JCRC imposed a limitation on our freedom of speech specifically prohibiting us from partnering with Jewish groups that differ from JCRC in their positions on Israel/Palestine.
Unfortunately, the JCRC has made it clear that because we partnered with such a group over our shared call for a ceasefire and de-escalation, we are not welcome at the JCRC. But at the same time, JCRC has refused to draw any moral lines for its far-Right extremist members, including the Zionist Organization of America, which has supported the fascist MAGA movement, promoted racist ideas, and hosted extremists here in Boston. Earlier this year, ZOA hosted Israeli minister Betzalel Smotrich who, just days after the attacks on October 7th, said “We have to be cruel now, and not to think too much about the hostages.” When progressive members of the JCRC asked for the expulsion of ZOA several years ago because of the way its ideology endangers our multiracial, multiethnic Jewish community as well as communities of color in Boston, JCRC refused to remove ZOA.
It has become even clearer these last weeks that safety for any of us depends on the safety of all of us – despite what some leaders would have us believe. We feel immense grief and rage in the aftermath of Hamas’s brutal attack; we mourn for the Israeli dead and yearn for the safe return of those who have been taken hostage. And as people of conscience, we hold that Palestinian lives are equally as precious as Israeli lives. We are horrified by the Israeli government’s retaliatory punishment of the entire 2.3 million residents of Gaza, including cutting off food, water, electricity, and medicine, and the bombardment that has wiped out entire families and left countless more bereaved, with no safe place to go.
Those of us in the Jewish community and beyond who love and care about Israelis and Palestinians have a crucial choice to make right now. We can either advocate for actions based on retribution and endless occupation, actions that will inevitably lead to generations more of war, bloodshed, lives lost, and mutually assured destruction. Or, we can advocate for actions that will lead to a future of equality, freedom, and safety for all Palestinians and Israelis, one that does not include the kind of violence and terror we have seen unfold over the last weeks. For us, the choice is clear.
The Boston JCRC has decided that at this moment, it is worthwhile to spend time expelling a founding member and dividing the Boston Jewish community, ensuring that an important voice is no longer at the table. The Boston JCRC’s choice to isolate itself from a growing moral cry coming from within Jewish community means it can no longer claim to be a representative body of our community. It has already been made clear to us that we are not welcome at the JCRC table. Rather than engage in the lengthy and arduous process to be formally expelled, we are turning our attention to focusing on building a future of peace and justice for all.