The Maccabee Task Force, a national nonprofit committed to strengthening contacts between American college students and Israel, brought together 100 student leaders from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Atlanta during the first weekend in October.
The meeting, which was held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Atlanta, was aimed at reinvigorating the strong political connections that African Americans and Jewish communities once shared during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
The executive director of the organization, David Brog, who spoke at the Atlanta conference, said that education about the past is one of the important aims of the group.
“The ultimate goal of the program is really to go about rebuilding this Jewish-Black alliance that’s done so much for the history of both communities. It’s a tragic thing the way that it’s framed and the way the younger generations of Blacks and Jews are unaware of what we share. They are unaware of all of our shared struggles and what we’ve been able to accomplish together.”
The all-expenses-paid weekend included a visit to the National Civil and Human Rights Museum and a full program of guest speakers from the African American community.
Among those who spoke was Darius Jones, the executive director of the National Black Empowerment Council based in Atlanta. Jones, who is a former staffer in the national office of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee believes that there is still much to be done to bring the two communities together.
“The relationship between African Americans and Jews has played a powerful, positive role in the history of this nation. A resurgence of that bond will be a boon to us all. We are stronger together than we are apart.”
The conference took the place of annual trips to Israel that the organization has underwritten for student leaders, Black and white, Jews and non-Jews since it was founded in 2015.
Marvel Joseph, who is Haitian-American and who helped organize the weekend, is the organization liaison to the Black student community. The conference, he believes, will hopefully be the beginning of something much bigger.
“The Black and Jewish communities need one another. The fact that my community is still the object of intense racism and the Jewish community is still suffering from high levels of anti-Semitism make us natural allies who should be working more closely together. So I think this relationship is so important, especially if we want to really work toward a future where anti-Semitism and racism no longer exist.”
Marvel Joseph is already on the road visiting those campuses that sent representatives to the Atlanta weekend, and to follow up on the contacts he made there.
There are already over a hundred chapters of the Maccabee Task Force on college campuses and the goal is to continue that work even though the familiarization trips to Israel have been temporarily suspended. According to Joseph, there is an important opportunity to cultivate relationships between the two groups.
“We want them to bring what they learned back to their campuses. We saw this happen after our Israel trips. What we successfully did then, and we want to do the same thing now from this conference, is these people who were introduced to the issues and introduced to the relationship and I think persuaded that this was an important relationship to recruit fellow students on campus because essentially personal relationships count.”
Jewish organizations have worked hard in recent years to counter the opposition to Israel, and in some cases, the anti-Semitism that has existed in some parts of the African American community for decades.
A national student summit between Black and Jewish students, co-sponsored by Hillel International and the American Jewish Committee that was scheduled to take place in Philadelphia in March 2020, was canceled at the last minute because of the pandemic.
The positive and lasting contributions by the Black Jewish Coalition of the Atlanta regional office of the American Jewish Committee offer one example of the work that has succeeded. The executive director of the AJC in Atlanta, Dov Wilker, spoke at the weekend.
Brog, the founding executive director of the Maccabee Task Force and a cousin of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, has a long and successful history of organizing support for Israel. He is a former chief of staff for the late Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Brog was the executive director of Christians United for Israel for a decade. The organization, which is arguably one of the most influential voices for Israel in Washington, has deep roots in the evangelical movement and the conservative political landscape. But Brog believes that the Maccabee Task Force he founded in 2015, which has had significant financial support from the family of Sheldon Adelson, who died in January, can bring together a broader spectrum of political opinion.
“I think we’ve done pretty good on the right, at least for a generation. Where the emergency is, where the house is burning down or alternatively burnt down, is on the left. And I think if we take some of the same approaches we took in building support among conservatives and do it to build support among the more left-leaning constituencies in the Black community, I think we can make progress.”
- Bob Bahr
- Black student leaders
- David Brog
- Maccabee Task Force
- HBCUs (Historically Black College and Universities)
- Hyatt Regency
- African Americans communities
- Jewish communities
- Civil Rights Movement
- Jewish-Black alliance
- National Civil and Human Rights Museum
- Darius Jones
- National Black Empowerment Council
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee
- Marvel Joseph
- Student Summit
- Hillel International
- American Jewish Committee
- Black Jewish Coalition of the Atlanta
- Dov Wilker
- Christians United for Israel
- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
- Senator Arlen Specter
- Sheldon Adelson