If U.S. Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) truly believes that Palestinians deserve “self-determination” and that the “occupation must end,” then he must review some of his most recent votes in Congress and other decisions regarding the question of Palestine, which are throwing into question his progressive bona fides.
Bowman recently went on a congressional delegation to Israel with the liberal Zionist lobby group J Street, where he met with the ultra-right-wing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He voted in favor of U.S. taxpayers funding Israel’s Iron Dome military system to the tune of $1 billion and is a fierce opponent of the Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is modeled after the nonviolent component of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.
These actions have sparked outrage within some chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), as well as within its BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group, which is formally calling on the DSA’s National Political Committee to expel him from its ranks. They insist that Bowman is violating the group’s political platform on Palestine.
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Regardless of which way the DSA’s deliberations on Bowman might go, he has thus far shown himself to be another progressive congressperson who betrays those values in regards to Palestine. In doing so, he is eschewing the principled stances taken by prominent Black- and Palestinian-led organizations such as the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Chicago chapter of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network.
For decades in this country, Black liberation movement organizers and their Palestinian counterparts have committed themselves to joint struggle and unity. Despite government repression, constant surveillance, and other attempts to thwart their organizing and activism, these organizers continue to work together to expose and eradicate racism, sexism, white supremacy and colonialism, here and abroad. With words and actions, numerous Black institutions, activists, artists, academics and writers have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the liberation of Palestine.
After the police-perpetrated killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Palestinians from all over the U.S. descended on Ferguson and joined the massive Movement for Black Lives protests. The Palestinians were there in solidarity, of course, but also because they understood that the struggle against police crimes here holds many parallels with — and is entwined with — the struggle against Israeli military crimes against their people in Palestine.
But Black-Palestinian unity began long before Ferguson. The relationship dates back to the 1960s when the anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and anti-racist Black Panther Party and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) condemned Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestine. And in 1973, Black union workers in Michigan’s auto plants supported their mostly Arab immigrant co-workers who walked off the job and demanded that the United Auto Workers divest from Israeli state bonds.
These principles of joint struggle are also reflected in the relationship between the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Chicago chapter of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network. Both organizations realize that Black-Palestinian unity is based on the understanding that Palestinian resistance against Israel and the Black liberation struggle here at home are both blows to U.S. imperialism. It is a dialectical relationship, meaning that it is interconnected, interrelated and determined by each other, for we are battling the same enemy.
The Arab World has been devastated by direct U.S. intervention and occupation in Iraq and other countries, as well as U.S. support of the colonization and occupation of Palestine. The same imperial force that attacks Arabs overseas has militarized the police in Black communities here. Ultimately, Black people and Palestinians/Arabs are subjected to similar surveillance, repression and criminalization.
The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and the Black community that it represents has stood in unity with Palestinians for years, participating in fighting the Muslim Ban, defending Arabs and Muslims from post 9-11 targeting and repression, demanding that legislators support bills that promote Palestinian rights, and promoting justice for Rasmea Odeh. Meanwhile, the Chicago chapter of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network is a member of the Steering Committee of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and has mobilized hundreds of Palestinians to support police accountability through the Civilian Police Accountability Council; justice for police torture survivors who were wrongfully convicted; and support for families of Black women and men injured, tortured and/or killed by the Chicago police. With great intention and care, these groups unite based on a shared vision for a just society that is free from white supremacy, racism, settler colonialism and patriarchy.
Conversely, by meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, voting for the Iron Dome and attacking BDS, Bowman is extending support to the racist, apartheid-enforcing state of Israel instead of using his position in Congress to mitigate the existing harmful and violent conditions that devastate the everyday lives of Palestinians living under an apartheid regime. He should instead take his directives from Black people and their institutions on the ground, which are clear on how the partisan work of legislators in D.C. often serves as a barrier and reproduces the inequalities Black and Palestinian people experience in the U.S. and abroad.
If Bowman truly wants to uphold progressive values, and if he cares about protecting Palestinian national rights, including self-determination, then he should listen to the people in his district and to the Black liberation movement. He should support BDS, disavow the apartheid regime of Israel, and vote against U.S. aid to the racist state.