Why These Black British Jews March For Palestine

Adama Juldeh Munu
12 min read2 days ago

We speak with three Black British Jews about Zionism, anti-Semitism, and marching for Palestine at the intersection of their identities.

If there’s one word that has been on everybody’s lips in the past seven months, it’s been Gaza. Following Hamas’ attacks on October 7th 2023, which Israel says killed at least 1,200 people, Israel’s military response has unleashed a wave of violence, killing more than 34,000 Palestinians and injuring more than 77,000 in the besieged strip.

Civilian infrastructure such as homes, hospitals, universities and even UN shelters — which were used to provide aid and support to displaced civilians in the aftermath of past attacks on the strip — have been destroyed by Israeli military strikes. It has created a crisis that the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths has described as the “worst humanitarian disaster” that he has seen in his career.

Last December, South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the country of committing genocide in Gaza. The court put out a ruling in January ordering Israel to ensure that it complies with provisional measures to prevent genocide. In March of this year, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor accused Israel of defying the decisions of the ICJ.

It would not be the first time that a Black-majority country or factions and individuals from within the African diaspora have rallied for the Palestinian cause. In the United States, figures like Malcolm X and Angela Davis vocally supported Palestinian rights, drawing parallels between the struggles of African Americans and Palestinians against colonialism and occupation.

Caribbean nations like Cuba and Jamaica, led by Fidel Castro and Michael Manley, also condemned Israeli aggression and advocated for Palestinian self-determination on international platforms. Moreover, the Pan-African movement, spearheaded by leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere on the continent, has consistently championed the Palestinian cause, viewing it as part of a broader struggle against imperialism and racism.

We don’t just happen to be Jewish and critical, but we are critical because we are Jewish. We are proud of being Jewish and being critical is our duty and responsibility.

But where do the experiences of individuals and communities that hold both Black and Jewish identities sit in discourses relating to liberation struggles, especially in light of what is happening in Israel and Palestine? What unique experiences within the Black diaspora emerge from these experiences?

According to the 2021 census, the Jewish community in the UK comprises over 280,000 individuals who hold diverse cultural backgrounds, spiritual affinities and political affiliations. Among them are Black British Jews who constitute just over 1%, including individuals of mixed Black ethnic heritage.

Because of their connections to communities that have faced oppression historically, there has been a growing contingent of Black British Jews who are speaking out against Israel’s ongoing military action, as well as the broader issue of its occupation of Palestinian territories.

“Alot of Black Jews start off knowing and understanding they’re Black because that feels like it’s a space where they can occupy more easily,” says Efua, a 29-year-old woman with Ghanaian, Jewish and Dutch heritage.

“Being Jewish is a space that is more contentious because of the degree to which you think you can take up space. The community is diverse and varied, there are so many different spiritualities and relationships that people have with God.”

Efua works in public policy for a left-wing think tank, a career borne from her interest in systemic change and structural change. She is a member of the Black Jewish Alliance (BJA), a radical collective of Black Jews and Black non-Jews that started in 2021 initially as a friendship group and has been steadily gaining influence in online spaces like Instagram and Twitter in recent months.

She tells Black Ballad that one huge spark for the start of the organisation was grime artist Wiley’s tweets in 2020 where he compared Jews to the Ku Klux Klan. It propelled a series of conversations relating to the relationship between Black and Jewish communities, anti-Blackness in parts of the Jewish community, and anti-Semitism in parts of the Black community, among other issues. These include the place Blackness holds for Black British Jews and the space they occupy about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“So far we have had a strong presence in the Jewish bloc [at Palestine marches] and we have had a strong presence there as the only Black group. We have had a strong voice, as people of colour, whereas you have other groups that are Jewish-led,” Efua says.

“We don’t just happen to be Jewish and critical [of Israel’s actions in Gaza], but we are critical because we are Jewish. We are proud of being Jewish and being critical is our duty and responsibility. We do feel like we have a moral responsibility to be saying something. We are also trying to balance out the fact that we do not want to be at the forefront of this struggle. This is very much a Palestinian struggle. Jewish people are not experiencing a genocide right now.”

Similar to the Islamic concept of ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the evil’, the work the BJA does is guided by an important principle within Judaism called “Tikkun Olam”, which translates to “repairing the world” or “healing the world”. This concept emphasises the responsibility of individuals to actively engage in acts of justice and compassion, which encompasses advocating for the oppressed, pursuing peace and reconciliation, and caring for the environment.

This translates to the BJA’s regular appearances at national protest movements and spearheading online discussion series with other groups such as Jewish Alliance, Jewish Voice for Peace and Black Jews outside of the UK, and Shabbat dinners where they have addressed and unpacked the nature of navigating race within the Jewish community and the importance of distinguishing between Judaism and Zionism.

It isn’t lost on both myself and Efua that we were born at the onset of the fall of apartheid in South Africa during the early 90s, which has often been used as a pretext for the kind of global protestation that’s grown against Israel’s military onslaught on Palestinian civilians in Gaza as well as the West Bank. Part of the organisation’s momentum is to give space for younger generations of Jews to learn from their elders within the realm of social and political change.

“It’s incredibly upsetting what we are witnessing and we go to spaces where people say the issue is complex and there are ‘two sides’ and it can be incredibly disorientating where the issue is being made to be convoluted,” Efua says.

“It’s soothing to be in a space where people are saying ‘I am Jewish, and I am not happy that this is being done in my name.’ I will say in many ways, we are a minority. [The opposition to Israel’s actions in Gaza] is not as big as we would like to be. Older generations of Jews are seeing younger Jews come on board and we want to make sure that we learn the lessons they have learned.”

Michael Black, who is in his late 50s, is a member of this older generation. A doctoral researcher focusing on environmentalism and human rights, he specifically looks at anti-Blackness as it correlates to the climate crisis, the coloniality of the origins of the crisis and how countries outside of the Western world are and will continue to experience the bitter outcomes of climate change. He explains to me that his interest in researching systems of oppression such as apartheid, as well as his upbringing earmarked him to want to be involved in the BJA and the wider anti-Zionist movement.

“It was about who I am, how I have been brought up and what I have learned throughout life. My dad was from Ghana, what was then known as the Gold Coast. As a post-colonial, he came to the UK and had several children,” Michael says.

“One of the abiding memories of my parents was the things they taught us during the anti-apartheid movement against South Africa. As young kids in the 70s, we went to the shops and would check to see if products were from South Africa. If you’re sent shopping and you bring back one, our parents would send us back and say ‘can’t have that’. We were on the periphery because we were too young [then], but as teenagers, we joined the movement.”

Another important part of his proactive resistance stance was the support for the miners in Yorkshire where he was born and brought up. During the 1970s and 80s, mining communities were deeply affected by the policies introduced by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who implemented a restructuring programme that included the closure of coal mines and left such communities in economic ruin.

But in light of the October 7th attacks, Michael’s political stance brought rupture within some of his circles, which demonstrates that different political dichotomies can exist in a minority within a minority, as is the case among Black British Jews.

“I was in a group of Black Jews that was focused on social and cultural issues. It was more a WhatsApp thread with at least 20 people, made up of people mainly in the UK, but with other members outside. We shared stories and photos about Black Jews and sharing Black Jewish joy and it was great,” Michael explains.

“But in October last year, I’d been on the first Palestine solidarity campaign march, and I spoke about it in this group, and it blew up. But very soon afterwards, the people I knew who were the key founders and key organisers of the Black Jewish Alliance told me what they were doing. I saw them on the next march and [was] welcomed with open arms. So I was kicked out of one Black Jewish group and joined another that was more aligned with the position that I hold.”

In retrospect, Michael, having visited Israel, holds the belief that familial ties to the region can significantly influence one’s perspectives. He tells me that while he does not recall having any blood relatives in Israel and feels privileged to be in the UK during this time, he is connected with people who have lost loved ones on both sides during the October 7th attacks and knows people that have been called up to fight in Israel. Those types of ties have shaped how people think and react in the discourse, even though he feels differently.

I struggle with how anti-Semitism is weaponised and used, and separated from racism.

One aspect of this is his criticism of the kind of biased coverage perpetuated by mainstream media outlets that dehumanise Palestinians. Impartiality is supposed to be one of the most important guiding principles in journalism. But the war on Gaza has been described as a result of Hamas’ attack on October 7th, and never as a wider consequence of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Even before this, the gradual spikes of civilian death in the West Bank at the hands of Israeli soldiers has led Human Rights Watch to designate 2023 as the most dangerous year for Palestinian children, with at least 34 having been killed by August 2023. During rounds of hostilities before October 7th, Human Rights Watch reported on serious violations of the laws of war by Israeli forces and by armed Palestinian groups.

“If you are to watch any of the major news channels or newspapers, the narrative is incredible. There is very little recognition that the Palestinians have been oppressed,” Micheal explains.

“I don’t want to essentialise my activism as pro-Palestinian. I recognise that others would want to see it in that way. I am personally motivated by humanity and the need to challenge oppression. Palestinian rights are super important to me, and, of course, there are other people that are being oppressed around the world, like in Sudan and Congo. For those who have skin in the game in some ways, we have to focus on that.”

Being Black, British and Jewish are inextricably linked. For Efua and Micheal, these are identities that are almost a ‘superpower’ that allows them to highlight issues within the Jewish community that would otherwise be skirted over. One of those that they both bring up is how anti-Semitism is defined.

“It should be okay to call what is happening a genocide [in Gaza],” Efua says. “I am clear about being anti-violence. I was upset about October 7th, but I understood it as being a consequence of what has happened and we cannot depoliticise the history because it makes us feel better.”

“I struggle with how anti-Semitism is weaponised and used, and separated from racism,” Michael explains. “Anti-Semitism, like Islamophobia, has its roots in white supremacy. We need to have more discussions on whiteness and Jews. Not all Jews are white or are white-passing, but there is something to be said about how whiteness has crept in. Especially in the UK, it’s something that needs to be interrogated and brings us back to the colonialism inherent in what’s happening in Israel and Palestine.”

For Black British Jews, their intersectional identity challenges conventional notions of Jewishness and whiteness. They may face a dual struggle of combating anti-Semitism within broader society while also confronting racial discrimination within both the Jewish community and society at large. Despite their Jewish heritage, Black British Jews may not always be perceived as authentically Jewish by others, leading to feelings of marginalisation and exclusion.

Lara is a Black British-Jewish Jamaican mother in her forties who lives in London. Her blog ‘Blewish And’ focuses on the intersection between gender, faith and race through the Black British Jewish lens. She says despite the rise in anti-Semitic attacks, she feels much safer as a Jewish woman than a Black woman, even though there are times when the complexities that come with these identities reinforce each other.

The graffiti mural on the wall that separates Israel and Palestine quotes from Amos 5:24 in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, which was also quoted by Martin Luther King Jr in his ‘I Have A Dream Speech’. Image by Ash Hayes

“Being a Black woman anywhere is tough. Your skin tone, presence, and strength are seen fearfully — a threat to patriarchy, and systemically Black women and girls endure structural and systemic barriers that are steeped in misogynoir and racism.

“I receive a different response when people realise that I am Jewish. There is a different tone and a different way of conversing with me. I cannot hide my Black skin. Yet, I can choose to hide my Jewishness. I do not hide my Jewishness, though. I wear visibly identifiable Jewish apparel. I am very proud to be both [Black and Jewish].”

When it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict, Lara believes that there is a conflation that tends to happen between the Jewish faith and the Zionist aspirations of the state of Israel — a connotation that she says some Jews align with, but the conflation is anti-Semitic in of itself.

“Jewish people, including those in Israel and the global Jewish diaspora, cannot and should not be held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government. That much is fact,” she says.

“Whilst I am a Jew, I am not the Israeli government. So to demand, ask or send messages to me about the actions of the Israeli government, sometimes inadvertently demanding that I explain or have remorse for what is happening is not right. Yet, I am cognisant of other Jewish people who see Israel as part of their Jewish identity whilst not living there. It is complex and very layered [when you] finally have a physical place to belong when throughout history, other countries have not wanted your existence in their physical place.”

Image by Garvit Nama

Like Michael, Lara has faced some pushback for her online commentary on Gaza from various sides, but says she is determined to continue to weigh in her thoughts irrespective of the backlash.

“On one hand, I receive direct messages calling me names such as ‘Zionist whore’ — my favourite — and on the other a ‘fringe Jewish supporter of Hamas’. I have to be careful because I am a mother and my first and main priority is my Blewish son,” she says.

“It would be hard to be silent, otherwise who am I? If you can not use whatever power you have, if you can not be an upstander, then you must question whether you are an anti-racist or [a] vanguard of the values and ethics you perceive to hold. It is why Shabbat is important to me: it gives me the space, time, study and community to keep refreshing and reconnect to my spiritual self to keep going and grow through the challenges.”

I asked Lara what she thinks the role of diaspora communities such as Black British Jews is in advocating for justice for Palestinians and peace in the region.

“There should be no assumption that all Black Jews or Black British Jews advocate for justice in Palestine. Indeed, there are some in the global diaspora who do not,” she says. “Yet, for me, the quest for justice and liberation is reminiscent of the liberation and justice Black people sought and continue to seek for themselves. It is triggering to see others without [that conviction]. Whether it is historical trauma manifesting itself, I do not know, yet it is hard to see a country have power over a group without power. The promised land is supposed to be a time where justice, peace, liberation and truth reign.”

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Adama Juldeh Munu

Journalist with an affinity for all things ‘African Diaspora’ and Islam. You can @ me via adamaj.co.uk or twitter/@adamajmunu