Detroit-area coalition seeks to curb racism, anti-Semitism

Posted at 8:14 AM, Feb 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-15 08:14:43-05

 A group of clergy and Jewish leaders in the Detroit area is forming a coalition to tackle racism and anti-Semitism.

The Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity and the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC will announce the formation of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity on Tuesday.

The coalition is expected to keep open communication channels between black and Jewish leaders as tensions heighten across the U.S. with the proliferation of hate speech and pro-nationalism, according to organizers.

"One singular event — a wakeup call for the Jewish community — was the tragedy in Charlottesville," said David Kurzmann, Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC executive director. "We woke up to major news broadcasts of neo-Nazis walking down the street. Some people thought it had gone away."

A white nationalist protest in August in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned to violence as white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists clashed with counter-protesters. A man plowed his car into a crowd of the counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer.

"The coalition is being put together to handle racism and anti-Semitism, regardless of where it is," said the Rev. Deedee Coleman, pastors' council president and pastor of Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit.

Kurzmann said the coalition is about "having a strong voice."

"There is really a great deal of work going on at the grassroots level to bring people together," he said. "What we want to do is amplify this effort. We think that raising our voices can make a difference, mobilize people and so forth."

The Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC is based north of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills. It represents the area's Jewish community, Israel and Jews throughout the world to the general community and establishes relationships with other ethnic, racial, civic and religious groups.

The pastors' council has about 170 churches as members. Most of their congregations are black.

At some point, the coalition also could discuss Israel's planned deportation of thousands of African migrants — mostly Eritreans and Sudanese — who have entered the country in recent years. Many of the migrants say they fled danger in their home countries. Israel has given them until April 1 to accept an offer to leave for an unnamed African country in exchange for $3,500 and a plane ticket. Those who don't leave face indefinite incarceration.

"To send them back to these countries is sending them back to their death and demise!" Coleman said. "It is the council's duty to remind Israel that the Jewish people were once refugees who were forced to flee Nazi Germany and other European countries during the murderous reign of Adolf Hitler or be killed during the Holocaust."

The pastors' council plans to lobby Congress to take a stand against the deportation plan, said Coleman.

The issue is one of the difficult conversations that could come up among coalition members, Kurzmann added.

"When this issue of African asylum seekers and migrants came to the fore, we had a chance to sit down and talk and listen to each other," he said. "It was an amazing learning experience just to hear what our partners had to say about it."