Should People of Color Support Palestine?
It is not unusual these days to find some prominent African American academic, politician, or pundit condemning Israel for her recent actions against Hamas in Gaza.
CNN commentator and Morehouse professor Marc Lamont Hill decries the strategic advantage Israel’s Iron Dome (which is a defensive system used to shoot down rockets fired by Hamas into israeli terrority) gives her, saying “It allows Israel to essentially assault and siege Gaza without any retribution or response on the other side. So again, to some extent, they are not just funding defense, they are funding an offensive war and ultimately an occupation. That for me, is the problem.” Princeton Professor Cornel West gives as one of the reasons he believes President Obama is a “war criminal” is “because he facilitates the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”. MSNBC host Joy Reid who recently compared deaths in Gaza to “one hundred 9/11s”, also argued recently that Democrats should not support Israel because “people of color, minorities” support the Palestinians.
This is not surprising. The “African American intelligensia” is as ever in lockstep with the Progressive movement, and Progressives have opposed Israel for nearly 50 years.
As Joshua Maravchik writes in his book “Making David Into Goliath: How The World Turned Against Israel”:
“Israel would never again enjoy the degree of sympathy it experienced in 1967. The simplest reason was that Israel would never again seem so endangered. The devastating prowess demonstrated by Israel’s fighting forces gave it an aura of invulnerability…No longer did Israel enjoy the public relations gift of opponents who were collaborators of Hitler and Goebbels. Now they faced the comrades of such chic, romanticized figures as Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. Not only did David become Goliath, but on the other side the frog had become a prince.”
Prior to 1967’s Progressive abandonment of Israel, the African American leadership expressed great support for her. This is not to say that there was never friction between the two groups – such things are common when two or more groups are crowded into the same ghettos – but expressions of Jewish racism and Black anti-Semitism aside, there would many examples of a great kinship between the two, and support for Israel often seem as strong on the Black side as it was on the Jewish side.
In 1948 for example the NAACP, which was founded with the help of Jews, stated “The valiant struggle of the people of Israel for independence serves an inspiration to all persecuted people throughout the world. We hail the establishment of the new State of Israel and welcome it in the family of nations.” Dr. Martin Luther King showed his support for Israel when he stated unequivocally that ”Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
W.E.B. DuBois much earlier linked – as many Black leaders did during his time – Zionism with Pan Africanism. In 1950 he is quoted as saying in a speech before the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order that “The Negro people have an obligation to support the fight for a free Israel as the Jewish people have an obligation to support the fight for a free Africa.” Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey said similar things as well.
Yet post 1967 African Americans followed the Progressives in expressing contempt for Israel. In his famous book 1993 “Race Matters”, Professor Cornel West mentioned “the inhumane policies of Begin and Shamir” and the “Israeli denigration of Palestinians”. He also condemned “the military status of Israel in the Middle East (especially in its enforcement of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza).”
This characterization of Israel as an occupier, or, as some call it, a colonizer, continues to resonate today, especially in the Black community, and is eagerly fomented by the Palestinians. One such Palestinian, Ali Jarbawi of Birzeit University, wrote in the New York Times that “The Israeli occupation of Palestine is one of the only remaining settler-colonial occupations in the world today.”
And since Israel is a colonial power, many argue, then it is incumbent upon Blacks to reject it. Kristian Davis Bailey, research assistant at Stanford University’s the MLK Institute, says this in an interview with Dr. Hill: “Israel is a colonial project, and as Black people we have a tradition and a right and an obligation to oppose colonial projects.” Dr. Hill eagerly agreed.
Yet if Israel is a colonial power, it is certainly not a very good one. No good colonial power would be so willing to allow the people it is colonizing to live in peace as a separate and sovereign nation, as Israel has demonstrated its willingness to do time and time again. Palestine, not Israel, has rejected a two state solution, something I doubt any other “colony” has ever done. Imagine if King George III had told the American colonies “Hey, you guys can be free, if you want, you know, as long as you promise not to bomb London and kill British citizens.”
Israel’s depiction as a racist state, a depiction that has created so much animus towards it from the Black community, is also common, and opponents of Israel attempt to justify this claim by pointing to its controversial Law of Return, which gives any Jew the right to be an Israeli citizen without undergoing the naturalization process non-Jews must undergo.
Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard puts this depiction of Israel and its law of return in context in his book The Case for Israel:
The most primitive apartheid against non-Muslims is still openly practiced in some Arab countries. Moreover, Jordan has a law of return that explicitly denies citizenship to all Jews, even those who lived there for generations. Its laws provide that citizenship is open ‘to any person who was not Jewish’ and who meet certain other criteria. Saudi Arabia similarly bases eligibility or religious affiliation. Germany long had a law of return, as do China and many other countries. Yet only Israel which as citizens of virtually every religion, ethnicity, race, and national origin, is characterized by its enemies as racist or apartheid.
Perhaps the most prevalent, though largely unspoken, argument from Black Progressives as to why African Americans should reject Israel in favor of the Palestinians is one alluded to earlier here by Joy Reid, that Palestinians, like us, are “people of color”, therefore their should be an alliance between us and them.
However, although there may be little evidence that Palestinians are racist against Blacks, indeed some reports indicate that there are 10,000 Arab Africans in Gaza, there are other forms of prejudice beyond racial prejudice. There is also religious prejudice.
Being a person of color did not spare Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman , from being imprisoned and sentenced to death for being Christian. Even more recently ISIS, an Islamist terrorist group much like Hamas in Palestine and people of color, captured Iraqi’s largest Christian town, sending those Christian people of color who managed to survive that fall fleeing for their lives. Boko Harem, people of color, famously kidnapped 300 or so school girls who were also of color, and recent reports indicate that Boko Harem is now forcing those girls to become suicide bombers.
African Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, and in Palestine, being Christian makes one vulnerable to many forms of discrimination. Michael Curtis, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University, writes “In the voluminous commentaries on the Middle East today very little attention has been given to the sad fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim countries. Even less attention has been paid to the contrast between the treatment of Christians in Israel and their treatment in Arab countries. In Israel Christians have religious freedom and their numbers have increased. In Arab countries the religious freedom of Christians is restricted and their number has been reduced because of harassment, fear, and persecution..” According to Dr. Curtis, Christians in Palestine “have been intimidated and maltreated; money has been extorted, land and property confiscated, and Christian women have been abused, raped, abducted and been subjected to forced marriages.”
Even this treatment of Christian seems mild in comparison to the persecution of Christians by the Sunni Islamist groups that is rapidly emerging throughout the Middle East and Africa, groups many say with whom Hamas – the group the Palestinians have elected to govern them – have aligned themselves. (The Palestinian mourning of the death of Osama bin Laden and celebration of the 9/11 attacks do nothing to assuage this belief).
Included in this list of groups are the Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram, and al Qaeda. These groups may call for the death of Jews most loudly, but they few can doubt that they see the death or subjugation of Christians and others as a necessary part of building their global caliphate as well.
Marcus Garvey is quoted as saying, “if Hitler hates the Jews, he also hates Blacks.” it can also be said that those who hates the Jews also hates Christians. We saw this throughout world history, including the Holocaust, during which some put the number of Christians killed by the Nazis at 3 million. And those who hate Christians, also hate African Americans Christians. As a Yakidi spokeswoman passionately cried a few days ago that her people “are being butchered under the banner of ‘There Is No God But Allah’”, and no one unwilling to live under such a banner will be spared simply because he or she is Black.
Israel in defending themselves defend all of us. No American, no Christian, and especially no African American, should lose sight of this.