Wildcats for Israel hosts discussion on African-American and Israeli relations

By Adam Shimer

Washington and Harris addressing students in Norris.
Washington and Harris address students in Norris.

Wildcats for Israel brought in two speakers Thursday to talk about their connections with Israel and the Jewish community.

Dumisani Washington, the Diversity Outreach Coordinator of the Institute for Black solidarity with Israel, began by emphasizing the pro-Israel legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He explained that Black-Jewish relations were very strong during the civil rights era, and shared one of Dr. King’s most important comments regarding Israel:

“Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel… as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.”

Washington also stressed the role that media and propaganda play in shaping the world’s perspective of Israel. He focused on a U.N. resolution that was passed in 1975, which called Zionism a form of racism. Even though this resolution was repealed in 1991, Washington said that it was still a form of propaganda that has been embedded in people’s minds to this day.

“If you talk about something for long enough, it becomes a reality to people, even if it is a lie,” Washington said.

He believed that one of the tragedies the world faces today is that while Israel is being maligned like never before, lives are being lost in other places. Washington concluded his presentation by saying that this distinction is important for Jews and non-Jews, and indeed any who “love democracy and freedom and want to see people live and reach their potential.”

Pastor Chris Harris of Bright Star Church and member of the National Council for AIPAC spoke next. Harris said that his connection with the Jewish community began at a luncheon in 2012, at which five Jewish rabbis met with five African American faith leaders. His relationship with the community grew from there, and he went on to attend an AIPAC conference and visit Israel later that year. Harris emphasized the need for a revival of a reciprocal relationship between the African American and Jewish communities.

“The Jewish community was there for the black community during the civil rights era, but when was the last time we walked together in the last 40 years?” Harris asked. “[We have] a legacy of collaboration, but if we are not going to do that today, these past moments are a waste of time… We cannot take credit for what the last generation did. Now it is our turn.”

Harris said that mutual respect and responsibility are crucial in honoring and building on this past relationship. He shared a story of two young Jewish people who chose to build a playground outside of his church instead of having a bar mitzvah party, which Harris viewed as a parallel between his community and Israel.

“A playground in Israel is built like a bomb shelter, just as there are shootings around the corner at Bright Star,” Harris said. “Why should kids have to be worried about their safety in a playground? If two kids can build a playground for a whole community, we should walk out of here saying ‘What can I do?’ What can I do to bring our two communities together?”

Harris challenged members of both communities to lead the charge in building this bridge.

“There is a revival that is happening. The question is, ‘Will you be a part of that?’” asked Harris. “People really do want to do it, they just don’t know how. But now we are providing the bridge. Lets no longer be afraid. Lets be honest about the fact that we are okay to be together. Lets build a relationship of which we are proud.”

The evening ended with Washington and Harris taking questions from the audience. After hearing each other’s messages for the first time, the two pastors said they are excited for future collaboration.

“I look forward to building a relationship [with Washington],” Harris said. “I love to become more educated, especially from individuals that have more experience in the conversation then I do.”

Jonathan Kamel, Weinberg Junior and president of Wildcats for Israel thought that Harris’s presentation complemented Washington’s beautifully, even though they had never collaborated previously. Kamel felt that the event was a success and was hopeful that it would leave a lasting impact on those who attended.

“The event inspired some students to reach out to Pastor Harris to inquire about working with him in Bronzeville,” Kamel said. “I hope that pans out and the students are able to make a difference in his community.”

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