Jews and the Climate Emergency: Building a United Front

The climate emergency affects everyone. It threatens our world and our future. Turning climate change around can only be accomplished though broad-based coalitions that cross all lines of division including: racism, classism, sexism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, ageism, LGBQT oppression. Jews can and need to be an integral part of this coalition.

The origins of the Jewish people are inextricably connected to the natural world, including a commitment to ethical relationships with the land, animals, and all peoples. However, in the different lands and time periods in which Jews have lived, we have been targets of genocide, prohibited from owning land, and exiled from our countries. As part of the climate justice movement, Jews can reclaim our relationship to land in cooperation with all the world’s peoples. 

As a people now spread over all of the earth, Jews are of all races and ethnicities. Jews are Mizrahi, Sephardi, Ashkenazi; we are religious and secular. Jews are white, people of color and indigenous, young and old, of all class backgrounds. Jews are a people of broad diversity who have survived genocide and exile and carry intergenerational trauma. Jews can heal from this trauma and build greater unity amongst our own people. As we build unity, we will be better able to support and follow the leadership of frontline communities, including poor people, people of color, indigenous and tribal peoples within the climate justice movement.  

Anti-Semitism* is the institutionalized mistreatment of Jews and the singling out of Jews for blame for many of the world’s problems. Jews have been continually scapegoated to protect the interests of the ruling classes. Although anti-Semitism inflicts terror and violence against Jews, it is aimed at all working people: historically, anti-Semitism has divided the working class and diverted them from organizing effectively to secure equal access to the world’s resources. 

The timing of the current rise of anti-Semitism is not random. It is occurring when income inequality is at a high. Unions have less power, neo-fascism* is rising, immigrants and other groups are being attacked. In these increasingly desperate economic and climate conditions, feelings of anger and betrayal among working people can be diverted into a search for scapegoats. Working class people need information on how anti-Semitism operates in order to recognize it, speak out against it, and prevent it from dividing our movements —including the movement to restore our environment. 

In many progressive movements, issues around Israel have become divisive. Criticism of the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people is not anti-Semitism. But singling Israel out for blame for the complex difficulties in the Middle East can be an aspect of anti-Semitism and can play an unnecessarily divisive role in liberation movements globally. It is important to have climate activists understand how anti-Semitism operates so it cannot be used to derail the climate justice movement.

Jews can and must bring our long history of progressive organizing to the climate justice movement. Anti-Semitism has in the past led many Jews to remain invisible as Jews in our movement activism. It is crucial now for Jews to be fully active in climate justice work, visible as Jews, and fighting alongside all other oppressed groups. 

Footnote 1  * While the term anti-Semitism is not precise (there are also Semitic peoples who are not Jews), it is the term that has been widely used to refer to the specific oppression directed against the Jewish people.

Footnote 2  *  Neo-fascism is an ideology and political culture that includes ultra-nationalism, white supremacy, authoritarianism, male domination, xenophobia, opposition to immigration, and the strategic erosion of basic democratic rights of citizenship, voting, independent press and judicial system, enacted through violence, intimidation, cult of personality and propaganda.

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