Jewish Rights Groups Call Out D.C. Climate Group for Its Alleged Anti-Semitic Stance

Jewish Rights groups are condemning what they see as anti-Semitic sentiment by the Washington, D.C. affiliate of climate group Sunrise Movement for their refusal to participate in Saturday's voting rights rally because "Zionist groups" are taking part.

The Anti-Defamation League, pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs and Israel on Campus Coalition are among other groups that have voiced their dismay at Sunrise D.C.'s announcement it wouldn't take part in Saturday's event because of the presence of groups that support a Jewish homeland in Israel.

"This has nothing to do with foreign policy or geopolitics. This is a well-known progressive organization saying it doesn't want to associate with Jews unless the Jews meet certain preconditions," Jacob Baime, CEO of Israel on Campus Coalition, told Newsweek.

The ICC works to unite and empower pro-Israel campus organizations through strategic coordination and expertise to strengthen support for Israel.

"A religious litmus test does nothing to advance the cause of climate justice, but it does go a long way toward making Jews feel unwelcome and unsafe in progressive spaces," he added.

Protesters from the Sunrise Movement
Jewish Rights groups are condemning the Washington, D.C. affiliate of climate group Sunrise Movement for for their refusal to participate in Saturday's voting rights. Protesters with the Sunrise Movement protest in front of the White House against what they say is slow action on infrastructure legislation, job creation and addressing climate change, as well as against attempts to work with Senate Republicans in Washington, D.C., June 4. SAUL LOEB/Getty

Said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, "Sunrise Movement D.C. is refusing participation in a voting rights rally because of the presence of 'Zionist organizations.' This is the vilification of Jewish nationhood and a litmus test for all who support it. This is antisemitic—plain and simple."

It was earlier this week that the D.C. chapter of the environmental group posted a statement on Twitter announcing it wouldn't be participating in the upcoming voting rights rally and was declining a speaking slot "due to the participation of a number of Zionist groups."

Its statement went on to cite the participation of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA), National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) in the Freedom to Vote Relay—Rally at the Finish Line, which it said were all "in alignment and in support of Zionism and the State of Israel."

"Given our commitment to racial justice, self-governance, and indigenous sovereignty, we oppose Zionism and any state that enforces its ideology," it continued and went on to implicate Israel in its occupation of the land of Palestine and its people, of continuing to use "violent, oppressive tactics" against Palestinians.

"As a colonial project, Israel routinely displaces Palestinians through the construction of settlements and the wholesale theft of homes and land. It also treats all Palestinians, as well as Black and brown Jewish-Israelis, as second-class citizens who have virtually, often subjecting them to extreme policing and brutality," it read.

Sunrise Movement DC is refusing participation in a voting rights rally because of the presence of “Zionist organizations.”
This is the vilification of Jewish nationhood and a litmus test for all who support it.
This is antisemitic – plain and simple.https://t.co/SVl2GCnE82

— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) October 20, 2021

In response, the Sunrise Movement national climate organization on Thursday distanced itself from Sunrise D.C. but stopped short of censuring the local chapter.

Noting that it's a "decentralized grassroots movement with each acting independently," the national climate change organization clarified that it wasn't given the chance to look at the D.C. chapter's statement before it came out.

"Sunrise is a movement of young people from all paths of life committed to stopping climate change and creating millions of good-paying jobs in the process. Our work on behalf of all humanity is rooted in the value of human dignity and we reject all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and anti-Palestinian racism," the national organization posted.

That statement was met by an unsatisfactory response from the ADL's Greenblatt.

"Hey @sunrisemvmt – your statement doesn't do it. Saying you reject #antisemitism is not the same thing as rejecting anti-Jewish hatred as it happens in real life. Not to mention you failed to clearly and unequivocally condemn the anti-Semitic call to exclude Jewish groups," he tweeted.

Then Sunrise Movement on Friday tweeted a clarification, "To be clear, Sunrise DC's statement and actions are not in line with our values. Singling out Jewish organizations for removal from a coalition, despite others holding similar views, is antisemitic and unacceptable."

None of the back-and-forth satisfied those representing Jewish rights or those that are pro-Israel.

"Antisemitism is always irrational, but this is a new level of incoherence, ignorance, and hate. Sunrise D.C. claims to 'support' sovereignty, statehood, and self-determination. Yet in the same breath they oppose those exact rights for Jewish people and boycott Jewish groups for having the audacity to support Israel's existence," said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs. "The D.C. chapter should be ashamed, as should the national movement which implied that this statement was somehow part of, 'the fight for collective liberation.'"

"The incident with Sunrise D.C. this week shines a spotlight on something that has been happening on college campuses for years and is now mainstreaming onto the national stage—the shunning and exclusion of Jews from progressive causes," said Alyza Lewin, president of The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. "Sunrise D.C. took a rally about voting rights—a topic on which it agrees with these Jewish organizations, and converted it—not into a discussion, or even a debate, on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but rather into an opportunity to marginalize and slander Jews."

"It's time for courageous leadership to stand up and call this what it is—the dictionary definition of antisemitism. At what point do we say enough is enough?" said Baime.