WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Sunrise Movement, a national youth group devoted to advocating against human-caused climate change, said it did not have advance notice of a statement by its Washington D.C. affiliate calling for an end to associations with Jewish groups with ties to Israel.
“Sunrise Movement is a decentralized grassroots movement,” the group said in a statement Thursday, in response to press queries, including from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
“Hundreds of hubs like Sunrise DC exist across the country powered by volunteers, and each of them has the ability to act independently — whether it’s organizing protests, supporting candidates, or sending out public statements,” the statement said. “Sunrise DC made a decision to issue this statement, and we weren’t given the chance to look at it before it became public.”
It was not clear from the statement where the national group stood on its Washington D.C. affiliate’s call on progressive movements to cut off ties with three progressive Jewish groups, or how the group viewed the backlash, which included Jewish groups calling Sunrise DC’s statement antisemitic.
“Our work on behalf of all humanity is rooted in the value of human dignity and we reject all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism,” the national Sunrise movement said. “As a national movement that supports freedom and dignity for all people, we will always welcome anyone who acts on our principles and chooses to join the fight for collective liberation. We believe that the rights of Palestinians are a part of that struggle and are committed to embracing that struggle together.”
The national group’s seeming equivocation infuriated the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, one of three groups targeted by Sunrise DC in its original statement.
“The failure of the Sunrise movement to speak clearly in condemnation of the offensive statement this week from their Sunrise DC hub that sought to erase the presence of the RAC, NCJW, and JCPA from the fight for voting rights, is shameful,” said the RAC statement, referring both to itself and the two other targeted groups, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
“The statement and tepid response seem to be an indication that they consider the Jewish community expendable in the fight for social justice and comes perilously close to fomenting antisemitism,” the RAC said. “Our commitment to voting rights for all Americans is not contingent on who will stand with us.”
At least one other major sponsor of the rally, the American Federation of Teachers, has ties as deep to Israel as the three named groups. Like those groups, AFT backs a two-state solution and has been critical of some Israeli government policies. Sunrise DC did not single out AFT, which is not a Jewish group, for boycott.
Another two groups in the coalition organizing the rally, the Arab American Institute and Code Pink, are sharply critical of Israel but did not shy from joining in coalition with the three Jewish groups Sunrise DC named.
Sunrise DC did not call for the boycott of another two Jewish groups that are part of the coalition organizing the voting rights rally: Bend the Arc, which has no position on Israel, and The Workers Circle, which is highly critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and has called for aid to Israel to be conditioned on its human rights record.
Sunrise DC ‘s statement prompted defiance from the three Jewish groups it named, which said they would be undeterred from attending the rally, and criticism from Jewish groups and a number of members of Congress. Several Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said Sunrise DC’s position was antisemitic.
“This is antisemitism, plain and simple,” JDCA said in a tweet. “Targeting Jewish Americans in such an open and blatant way is a shameful attempt to bar Jews from participating in civic spaces.”
Notably, a Washington D.C.-based campus affiliate of the Sunrise movement, at George Washington University, robustly rejected the call by Sunrise DC. The two operate as separate affiliates.
“Sunrise GW unequivocally condemns the Sunrise DC hub’s statement this week calling for the removal of 3 Jewish organizations from the Declaration for American Democracy Coalition,” the group said Thursday on Twitter. “Standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people is morally just and not antisemitic. Singling out explicitly Jewish organizations despite non-Jewish organizations in the coalition holding similar stances on Israel is unquestionably antisemitic and has no place in our movement.”
A number of Sunrise chapters appear to have members who are also active in Hazon, a Jewish climate activism group with ties to Israel.