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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Separate histories and shared challenges’: Temple Beth Shalom hosts community panel on the plight of Jewish, Black communities

Racist graffiti was found on a van belonging to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in November 2016. On Sunday, speakers at Temple Beth Shalom tied anti-Black sentiment to antisemitism, saying both undermine marginalized communities in similar ways.  (JESSE TINSLEY)

The Temple Beth Shalom hosted a panel discussion Sunday to examine the oppression that Black and Jewish people endure in the face of racism and white supremacy, citing the “separate histories and shared challenges” of the two groups.

Spokane NAACP President Kiantha Duncan and Latah County Human Rights Task Force Chairwoman Joann Muneta participated in the conversation. Emily Kaufman, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League, gave context to how Spokane’s issues of antisemitism and racism track nationwide.

“When I think about antisemitism and racism, they are both completely grounded in this concept of keeping some of us at the bottom of the barrel, unsafe and unhealthy, and others, typically the white race, in a position of power,” Duncan said.

Eastern Washington University’s Africana Studies professor Scott Finnie and Gonzaga University adjunct faculty member Joan Braune provided academic insight to the conversation.

Gonzaga’s Michael DeLand, an ethnographer and sociologist who studies urban sociology, moderated the event.

“Panels like this are so vital because I think, as Jews and Blacks, we need to discuss our similarities and our differences because these hate groups would love nothing more than to keep us separate,” said Muneta.

The Jewish and Black communities share common experiences of racism within America. Recent antisemitism and anti-Black racism has been on the rise since American citizens called for racial equity in summer 2020, prompted largely by the murder of George Floyd.

Censorship of the experiences of marginalized groups has moved to educational circles as well. Legislation has been introduced in some states to ban literature that explores the realities of Jewish and Black oppression, with legislators saying discussion of such books is inappropriate for the classroom.

Books like Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” a nonfiction graphic novel that details the Holocaust, have been targeted.

“It’s another space where we see the intersection of antisemitism and Black racism that forged this modern white power movement,” Braune said.

Kaufman began the panel stating definitions of white supremacy, white nationalism and the false narratives of white genocide. In modern times, white supremacists are now following the narrative that they are in danger with the population growth of other races and biracial people.

She also explained how antisemitism and racism have intersected in recent history and how infighting among racial groups is a method to uphold white supremacy.

“All systems of oppression are mutually reinforced, and a function of oppression is to divide oppressed groups and create division within communities,” she said.

Kaufman also said antisemitism can be the “canary in the coal mine.” Manuta and Braune both agreed that, before conversations centering white nationalism take place, one must address the antisemitism that has been the foundation for many groups.

“It’s frustrating for me to see that people get worried about white nationalism but don’t recognize the antisemitic roots of it,” Braune said. “I think that, in my mind, it’s all linked. I know other Jewish people ask ‘Why don’t they see this as the link?’ ”

Differences between victims of anti-Black and antisemitic beliefs, like access to resources and white-adjacency, were also acknowledged during the panel.

Braune discussed the ideology of the white, racial identity and how that can give white Jewish people privilege in the face of systemic racism in America. Acknowledging how race may affect the Jewish experience, she says, is a core step to ensuring equality while advocating for other racial groups such as Black people.

“It is true that Nazis don’t consider white Jews to be ‘white,’ but everybody else, including the systems of policing, of education, everyone else in American society considers Jews white,” Braune said. “That’s important because we have to acknowledge our privilege … the history is complex because we’re enmeshed in the history of racism in this country.”

With white supremacy degrading both communities, Finnie pointed to scapegoating as the common denominator in oppression.

The same way white supremacists amplify the stereotype of Jewish people being too powerful in American society mirrors how Black people are demonized as “lazy and poor,” limiting America’s overall success, Finnie said.

Finnie discussed how white supremacists’ scapegoat stereotypes can also interrupt the true meaning in movements for equality. Stereotypes against both groups can also come together. Rumors of Jewish people infiltrating the Black Lives Matter movement are a recent example.

“There is this scapegoat logic that white supremacists have used that look at African American and our Jewish brothers and sisters are the reason as to why things are going down in a vague and strong way,” Finnie said. “The demonizing of Zionism and Black Lives Matter requires those of us on both sides to snatch back the narrative.”

Conversations surrounding the Inland Northwest’s alarming rise of white nationalism closed out the panel session. Kaufman mentioned the ADL’s HEAT map, which detects hate crime instances in local areas. From 2020 to 2021, over 26 incidents related to white supremacist propaganda had been found in Spokane County, and eight antisemitic incidents.

Many participants mentioned the Spokane’s Human Rights Task Force and their website to report targeted incidents such as discrimination and hate crimes. Muneta called the panel a necessity to bring forth solidarity and eradicate the common evil that white supremacy is and can inflict on marginalized groups.

“Together, we’re strong and I think the different groups are like fingers,” Muneta said. “If we come together, we’re a fist.”