by Melanie Roth Gorelick, Senior Vice President, Jewish Council for Public Affairs
To address the increase of antisemitism and racism in America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and NAACP have deepened their relationships resulting in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) partnership between the two organizations. This strategic partnership between our two historic organizations can strengthen Black-Jewish relationships nationally and locally with the aim to combat hate, and work to build a strong multiracial democracy that ensures justice and pluralism for all its citizens.
This is not the first time our organizations have joined forces. In the 1950’s we worked together to create the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. This organization led the country’s civil rights movement which resulted in the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts, that changed America forever.
To jumpstart our partnership, the NAACP Executive Committee invited JCPA leaders to a dinner which took place on the eve of the NAACP Board meeting in Baltimore last week. JCPA’s delegation was made up of 7 leaders including myself. As we walked into the dining room with our green bracelets after passing our onsite COVID tests, NAACP Chairman Leon Russell greeted us with a warm smile and great hospitality. There was a feeling of enthusiasm and wonderful energy as informal introductions were made and people started getting to know one another.
In the room was Hazel from New York, a fifty-year veteran of the NAACP, who shared her experiences as a leader and her years of partnership with the Jewish community to create a more just world. Hazel reflected fondly on her work alongside former JCPA CEOs Arnold Aronson and NAACP CEO Roy Wilkins with memories of her marching for civil rights and working in close partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC-NY), and even visiting Israel with the group. On the other side of the room, a younger Vice Chairman of the NAACP was business-like as she asked if JCPA responded to the recent shootings in Buffalo. I shared our statement condemning the heinous racist shootings and lifting up the joint efforts of the Buffalo JCRC and NAACP in helping to heal the local community. The VC was warmed by our response as she began to open up more and more, leading to a bond-forming discussion about our post-college aged daughters. Another Board member talked about the challenges for the Black community in the south as they’ve experienced the growth of restrictive voting laws. She was surprised to learn that there were two JCRCs in her State working on similar social justice initiatives.
After the introductions were made and bonds began to form, we filled our dinner plates from the bountiful banquet buffet, and the formal discussion began. As we went around the room we felt the need for synergy from all of us that re-building and strengthening our relationships is as crucial today as in the 1950s as we are all concerned about the state of our democracy and growing hate that has become pervasive in our society. NAACP members were particularly concerned about the growing antisemitism in America and refused to sit idly by while the situation worsens.
At the dinner, I shared that this partnership was a natural next step in the work we have been doing since 2016 when JCPA decided to address our concern that a new generation of Black and Jewish leaders were not proximate to each other and not working together. We launched JCPA’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative as part of a shift in our priorities to end systemic racism and racial disparities in our country. In 2021 we adopted a racial justice platform that is aligned with NAACP policy priorities as we learned more about the current state of Black America and increasing racial disparities.
The dinner conversation moved to what we are going to do together. We all agreed that the first order of business is voting rights! Black communities in America are being disproportionately harmed by restrictive laws and the implementations of the Shelby v. Holder decision that has taken away protections enshrined in the Voting Rights Act for half a century. NAACP members spoke of difficulties they face: original documents needed from the first time you registered to vote to get new voting cards, the movement of voting places to new locations with little public notice, lack of poll workers, and gerrymandering that has lessened representatives from districts that had large minority populations. And the need to tackle the restrictive laws cascading at the state levels on reproductive rights, gay rights, religious liberties, banning books and curriculum on Black history in America, and voting – while our national government was at a stalemate – was frightening. The distrust in the system made it hard to encourage people to come out to vote. There was an agreement that education, encouragement, and ensuring the safety, fairness and accessibility of voting was what we should tackle together.
I left the meeting with a sense of purpose knowing that although we were just 16 people in a room, we perhaps were on the ground floor of building strong relationships and rebuilding America’s democracy to reflect our highest ideals of a country based on civil and human rights, equality, and justice.
Over the past five years, JCPA and its Delegates Assembly have increased their efforts on racial justice. Here are some examples:
- Launched a Criminal Justice Reform Initiative (2016)
- Launched a national Jewish network on Criminal Justice Reform (2018), a New York Jewish Coalition on Criminal Justice Reform and a co-founder of the Ending Mass Incarceration (EMI) Multifaith Initiative (2019)
- Adoption of a Resolution on Racial Justice (2019)
- Adoption of a Resolution on Restorative Justice (2020)
- JCPA Pledges to Combat Systemic Disparities in law enforcement with more than 130 JCRCs and national organizations in response to the grievous death of George Floyd (2020)
- JCPA Task Force on Strengthening Relationships with Black Communities and leadership adopted DEI protocols and workshops (2020)
- In 2021, adopted JCPA’s Racial Justice Policy Platform which is aligned with the priorities of NAACP and signed the formal MOU agreement.
JCPA is the national network hub of the community relations field and works to grapple with pressing issues of the day and work in common cause with other racial, ethnic, faith and civic leaders, and policy makers, to build a just and pluralistic America, support Israel’s efforts for peace and security, and advocate for human rights around the world.
Melanie Roth Gorelick
Senior Vice President
Jewish Council for Public Affairs