Black, Palestinian solidarity worries pro-Israel advocates
The increasing solidarity between Palestinians and Black Americans has become a major concern in pro-Israel circles, motivating attempts by pro-Israel student groups, lobbyists, and public administrators to undermine and fracture the bonds between the two groups.
Black-Palestinian solidarity goes back as far as the Black power movements of the 1970’s, which linked decolonization of the United States to the end of U.S. imperial practices abroad, including the colonization and occupation of Palestine.
Recently, this solidarity gained renewed prominence in the wake of the murder of Mike Brown and countless other Black Americans across the country at the hands of police. Groups such as the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and the “Block the Boat” coalition in Oakland, California drew upon the distinct but similar struggles that Palestinians and Black Americans face at the hands of the state. On October 14, over 60 Black and Palestinian artists and activists released a video titled “When I See Them I See Us” that expounds upon these repressions and the choice to stand, “with one another in a shoulder to shoulder struggle against state-sanctioned violence.”
These developments have alarmed pro-Israel advocates. Earlier this year, Hillel at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) accused pro-Palestinian groups within the University of California system of “colonizing” other student groups and partnering with “radical and marginal groups to create coalitions.” Pro-Israeli organizations and individuals have tried to disrupt these efforts and appropriate the Black struggle for their own purposes.
In response to a joint demonstration of Davis Stands with Ferguson and Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis, an Op-Ed published by a white alumnus in The California Aggie claimed that Students for Justice in Palestine was “blackwashing” the Palestinian struggle.
At UC Santa Cruz, the passage of a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution by the student senate moved Chancellor George Blumenthal to release a statement saying. “I am convening my Chancellor’s Diversity Advisory Council to discuss the climate for Jewish students on campus. The council has advocated for African American students.”
In addition to these measures, the recently formed Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBS), founded and directed by right-wing Christian Zionist pastor Dumisani Washington, attempts to be the institutional counter-balance to Black-Palestinian solidarity. IBS links to the writings of the late Eldridge Cleaver, former Black Panther turned right-winger, in addition to the writings of other prominent pro-Israel Black Americans. Dumisani himself posts a constant stream of Islamophobic and anti-Arab comments on his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Black activists have responded to these criticisms by pointing out their disingenuous nature, especially when the criticisms come from non-Black organizations and individuals. Davis Stands With Fergusondeclared,“We will not allow ourselves to be used as a tool for the defense of a racist, settler colonial state…As Black thinkers, scholars and students, we are interested in describing and understanding the fullness of our liberatory history and potential futures, not just the quotes appropriated by non-Black people to aid them in our oppression.”
Likewise, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a Black physics postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said, “It is deeply inappropriate for a white person, especially a leader of a diverse campus like UC Santa Cruz, to use the struggles of Black people as a vehicles to attack pro-Palestinian activists. It is not for white people to arbitrate what Palestine means to Black America.” The BDS resolution at UC Santa Cruz, originally passed in May of 2014 and re-passed November 19 and was supported by the African/Black Student Alliance among many others.