Historically, Black Leaders Supported Palestinians; Why Less So Now?

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Today’s silence by black leaders in the face of Israeli aggression against Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip stands in stark contrast to the historic support of the Palestinians by African and African-American leaders.

During the most recent Israeli aggression against the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, there was a noticeable silence from those who hold themselves out as African American leaders. This includes congressional representatives on the state and federal level. Outside of the consistent, anti-imperialist voices of African Americans like Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report, Utrice Leid and academics like Angela Davis, mainstream black leadership has mainly been silent. This silence stands in stark contrast to the historic support of the Palestinians by African and African-American leaders. Leaders in the black community, historically at least, have supported the Palestinians’ right of self-determination because they viewed the Palestinian/Israeli issue through the lens of their own anticolonial struggles and the African liberation movements worldwide.

Today’s black “leaders” however, were conspicuously silent during the latest atrocities in Gaza. When they did speak, they parroted the US and Israeli talking points and spoke of the Palestinians as terrorists and supported the rights of the Israelis to “defend” themselves. Yet, there was a time when black leaders routinely made comparisons between occupation of the Palestinian lands to settler occupation of Europeans of the Native American lands or to the European colonies in Africa. The co-optation of the black political class appears complete as the descendants of stolen and colonized peoples side with the colonizers in Israel over the colonized in Palestine.

The slow genocide of the occupation and the fast genocide of the military operations against civilians are all supported by a black president, the black congressional caucus and black leaders.

The congressional black caucus, the so-called “conscience of the congress,” has not shown an ounce of righteous indignation at the massacre of the Palestinians. Of course, their silence on this issue didn’t just begin, but it has been exacerbated by the presence of a black man in the white house and the need some feel to support his imperialist policies no matter the cost. This tactical error by the African-American political class is more pronounced during the current genocidal assault on the helpless people of Gaza because Palestinians have supported the aspirations of African Americans to be free in America as well as the de-colonization movement in Africa and now that support is being thrown in the dust.

As an African-American civil rights attorney and part-time professor, I have long been dismayed by the continuing Israeli occupation, with its attendant illegal taking of Palestinian land, arrests and imprisonment of Palestinian men, women and children, the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians (men, women and children), the demolition of their homes and the blockade and siege of Palestinian land as the US continues to provide Israel with weapons and diplomatic support.

In the current and most recent crisis, President Obama and his aides continue to repeat the mindless mantra that “no nation would allow rockets to be fired” in its territory. This woefully incomplete and slanted analysis of the situation in the region shows that the United States does not care about human rights, the humanity of the Palestinians or international law. In fact, this position shows that the president and the US government cannot even relate to the Palestinians as human beings. International law is mostly on the side of the Palestinians.

Under international law, an occupying nation cannot take the land of the occupied, has an obligation to protect the civilian population and must take steps to end the occupation. Additionally, a nation cannot take collective punishment against a population in pursuit of a military objective. The Obama administration and every US administration knows all of this and yet they continue to justify the actions of Israelis and to provide the state with billions of dollars of taxpayer funds to shore up one of the most powerful militaries in the world. The slow genocide of the occupation and the fast genocide of the military operations against civilians are all supported by a black president, the black congressional caucus and black leaders.

When the United States along with the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization attacked the sovereign African nation of Libya, they relied upon a new colonial theory that they named “the responsibility to protect.” According to this theory, there are circumstances in the world that are so egregious that nations cannot sit back and allow atrocities to happen and must intervene. Despite the colonial nature of the doctrine, it at least offered a rationale that could theoretically be used to prevent exactly what is happening in Gaza.

In practice, the western countries clearly feel no “responsibility to protect” the Palestinians. They are not worthy victims, to paraphrase Herman and Chomsky, and therefore they will not be protected from slaughter. Neither the United States, nor Europe, has shown any willingness to exercise the new doctrine to protect Palestinian people as they are slaughtered by Israeli bombs and bullets. No, they are on their own. African nations and African-American leaders know full well that when it has come to their own liberation, the European and American calvary will not come to save or protect them.

In South Africa, the United States supported the white racist apartheid government until world opinion turned against it, but not before it assisted the South Africans in capturing and jailing Nelson Mandela.

It is particularly distressing to see African Americans buying into the US position against Palestinians. The United States has not supported the human right aspirations of African people globally, and it has only been in the last 40 years or so that it offered human rights to its own African-American population. African-American leaders know that America supported European colonialists in Africa.

A simple glance at the anticolonial movements in Africa shows that America never supported the struggle of Africans to be free from European rule. The United States never sent its military to an African nation to oust or overthrow the European imperialist nations that occupied African territory. In fact, not one single African nation gained its independence due to the military support of America. Just the opposite was true. America openly supported its European brothers as they colonized African people and their land. Many of the nations that did gain their independence from European colonizers found their leadership assassinated or deposed with the aid, knowledge and/or support of America. Patrice Lumumba was assassinated with US support to the Belgians.

Kwame Nkruma, the Ghanian president, linked the Zionist project with other colonial projects when he stated, “At present, there is in Africa an intensification of struggles and conflicts between imperialism and its class allies on the one hand, and the vast mass of African peoples on the other . . . there has been an intensification of already existing western capitalist intelligence networks which work in close co-operation with neocolonialist governments to block socialist advance. Most prominent and active in Africa are those of the USA, Britain, West Germany, France, Israel, Portugal, Rhodesia, and South Africa.” Nkruma too was overthrown, also with US support. When the Herero people were slaughtered by the Germans, the United States did not come to their aid. The United States also sided with the UNITA rebels over the Cuban-backed MPLA, who were also in solidarity with the African National Congress. In South Africa, the United States supported the white racist apartheid government until world opinion turned against it, but not before it assisted the South Africans in capturing and jailing Nelson Mandela.

Turning back to Israel, the US government shielded the Israeli government diplomatically while it shared close military ties to the apartheid government, even when Israel continued to do business with the racist apartheid South African government despite the sanctions that had been imposed against such business. It was the Palestinians and the Cubans in particular – not the Americans, and surely not the Israelis – who pledged solidarity with African freedom movements, specifically in South Africa. This is why Nelson Mandela publicly refused to denounce Yassar Arafat and Fidel Castro, because, as he said to Ted Koppel, they helped the African National Congress when the West wouldn’t, and therefore the West (America and its European allies) did not get to choose the friends of the South Africans.

The US supported the Duvalier family as it repressed and murdered Haitians. When the Haitians democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide, the US kidnapped him and banished him from the country.

Mandela continued his support for the Palestinian cause when he wrote to Thomas Friedman in March 2001, criticizing Friedman’s position on the conflict. Mandela, in a speech on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People expressed solidarity with the Palestinians and other revolutionary movements when he said that South Africans must “add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood” because “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians, without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world.” In 1990, a mere 16 days after he had been released from prison, he met with Yasser Arafat in Zambia. The two men embraced, and Mandela once against expressed his support for the Palestinians and the Palestine Liberation Organization by saying, “I believe that there are many similarities between our struggle and that of the PLO.” He went on to say, “We live under a unique form of colonialism in South Africa, as well as in Israel, and a lot flows from that.”

Simply put, no African liberation movement owes its success to the support of the Americans. In Haiti, the US offered no support to the Haitian people as they suffered under the brutal regimes of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier. In fact, the United States supported the Duvalier family as it repressed and murdered Haitians. When the Haitians democratically elected Jean Bertrand Aristide, the US kidnapped him and banished him from the country. When he finally was able to return from his then-land of exile, South Africa, President Obama tried to convince the South African government to prevent him from leaving.

The United States did not send its troops to stop the genocide in Rwanda, nor has it sent its military to quell the mass murder in the Congo, where millions of people have died in the last 30 years. When the United States did send troops into Africa, as it did in Libya, it was not for the purpose of protecting human rights, but instead for the purpose of regime change and projecting US power into Africa. The chaos that now exists in Libya, with militias fighting each other, is proof that human rights was not the reason for the military incursion. The treatment of black Africans by the groups supported by the United States in Libya, where they were held in cages and mistreated because they are black, didn’t prevent the black president from supporting the incursion.

This history used to be spoken of by African-American leaders as a point of departure with US imperialism. Malcolm X linked European colonialism in Africa to the colonization of black communities in America and urged black and brown and colonized people the world over to stand together for common objectives. On the Palestinian issue specifically, Malcolm, speaking to a reporter in Egypt, said, “Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the “religious” claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago? Only a thousand years ago the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a new Moroccan nation . . . where Spain used to be, as the European zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine?”

Dr. King preached against the evils of “militarism” and how the United States spends millions on war and weapons of war, while neglecting the financial and social needs of its citizens. He also famously spoke out against the US invasion of Vietnam. The militarism that he spoke of clearly extends to the spending of hundreds of millions of US dollars to support the military of an occupying nation as America does in Israel.

The Black Panther Party for Self Defense spoke out against imperialism and formed partnerships with the Palestinians, North Vietnamese, Irish Republican Army, South Africans, Chinese and Cubans. They actively opposed imperialism in all of its forms, including the political philosophy of Zionism and the occupation of Palestine.

Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), in arguing that opposing Zionism is not anti-Semitic, stated, “Zionism is a political philosophy which tries to convert a religion into a nationality . . . A Jew would say the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi. When you condemn Nazis, you don’t condemn Germans, you condemn a political philosophy.”

All of this history seems to be have been forgotten. The anti-imperialist foundation of the Black Freedom Movement has been discarded, while at the same time, black people are in worse shape now than we were before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many African-American communities themselves look like Gaza with their abandoned buildings, war-zone streets and school-to-prison pipeline on full display for the world. And as Israel blames the Palestinians, the United States blames the victims for their condition. However, unlike the Palestinians, the black American leadership has capitulated for the sake of having a black president and being accepted into the mainstream of American society. Malcolm warned against integrating into a burning house, and Martin openly worried that his much propagandized “dream” had in fact become a “nightmare.” The revolutionary movements of America have been killed off, jailed and run out of the country. The Palestinians, however, have nowhere to run.

What should be most striking for African Americans, is that the US has never been as pro-African American as it has been pro-Israeli.

While the Palestinians supported the African and African-American liberation movements, they have received no support in return in recent years. Black Americans are more apt to relate to themselves as Christians than as members of the many black and brown oppressed peoples or colonized peoples in the world. This inability to relate to the anti-colonial struggle of the Palestinians, coupled with a misplaced belief that Israel is the home of the “chosen people,” has led to a palpable silence and/or support for the occupationist government in Israel.

Despite the pandemic of police killings of black people, the over-incarceration of black men, the stop and frisk policies, the unequal treatment of blacks in the criminal justice system, the shameful unemployment rates in black communities, the HIV infection rates, infant mortality statistics and the institutional racism imbedded in all aspects of American society, black “leaders” are more concerned with leading black people to Jesus or to the Democratic Party, than to the protest rallies in support of the Palestinians. The Democratic Party has never been a friend to African Americans nor to the Palestinians. It has supported the transfer of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to support the occupation of the Palestinians, just as it supported policies of gentrification and white flight. In Palestine, the Democrats are currently calling for increased military funding for Israel even as the IDF slaughters Palestinians.

What should be most striking for African Americans, is that the United States has never been as pro-African American as it has been pro-Israeli. The amount of money that America has poured into supporting the Israeli settler project has never been given to support the self-determination of black people and black communities. The federal government supports the militarization of police forces to occupy black communities and kill black men just as it supports the occupation and killings of Palestinians. These comparisons are lacking from the mouths of black leaders, and African Americans and Palestinians are worse off for it.

Actually, the struggles of African Americans are severely limited as well because the current analysis removes the African-American experience from the experiences of the African diaspora, the anticolonial movements in the so-called Middle East and in Palestine. Although material differences exist among all oppressed, colonized and marginalized groups, it is the similarities between struggles that link them together as do the similarities between the violence and rhetoric of the colonizers.

The violence against African-American men may be different than the violence against Palestinians, but the violence and the resistance to that violence, links them in real and material ways. Malcolm X was right when he made the connections between the treatment of African Americans and the oppression of other black and brown people worldwide. His global analysis of racism lead him to support the Palestinian cause. Unfortunately, there are no Malcolms on MSNBC, CNN or elsewhere in American media to give voice to these connections.