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by Frances M. Beal
Friday, Aug. 24, 2001 at 8:21 AM
The pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. has been vociferous in its efforts to line up mainstream civil rights groups or their representatives to accept without criticism all Israeli policies concerning the Palestinians.
Blacks Split on Zionism
By Frances M. Beal
Delegates to the NGO Forum on Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of intolerance are finishing their shopping lists and packing their bags. Some have already landed in Durban to participate in a Youth Forum associated with next week's gathering. Black Americans, in particular, are experiencing a sense of euphoria because Africans and Africans of the Diaspora have stood firm in the face of the U.S. threat to boycott if the language on reparations for the slave trade, slavery and colonialism remains in the final declaration. The U.S. nongovernmental organizations leading the fight for reparations have succeeded in forging a show of unity among Blacks representing divergent class and political persuasions and nationalities that is truly remarkable.
The same cannot be said of the African American view on defining zionism as racism. The pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. has been vociferous in its efforts to line up mainstream civil rights groups or their representatives to accept without criticism all Israeli policies concerning the Palestinians. And this has been successful, even when these policies constitute horrific acts of violence in defiance of UN resolutions condemning Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It was shameful to see, for example, NAACP Board Member Julian Bond's name on a full-page N.Y. Times ad condemning the Palestinian response last year to Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to a Palestinian holy site, Temple Mount, and total silence on the slaughter of Palestinian men, women and children that has since ensued.
This myopic view stands in opposition to the view articulated by the Black Radical Congress, which is "appalled that the march toward a stillbirth of Palestine as a bantustan, surrounded by Israeli settlements and subject to
the total political, economic and military control of Israel, continues unabated. In short, nothing but legitimate rage and frustration could be expected to flow from the Palestinians' awareness that [the Oslo Agreement] promises not a peace with justice, but a peace of might over right, of supremacy over the principle of equality, a neo-colonialist peace, an apartheid peace, a peace of the grave."
The recent escalation of military violence against a civilian Palestinian population, and now the retaliatory bombing deaths of Israeli citizens is underscoring the truism that without justice, there is no peace. These developments have created a new political situation, however, particularly for Black America.
The TV images of a disproportionate and murderous police and military response to Palestinian protest cannot help but recall our own experience in the fight against white supremacy. This picture was further sharpened this week by the violent Israeli police repression of peaceful Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators protesting the government's seizure of Orient House in Jerusalem, a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty, as limited as it was. Even those who had studiously ignored the suffering of the Palestinian people have to feel uncomfortable at the intransigent and fascistic tactics that the Israeli state is perpetrating against a civilian population. In this context, it may have been a tactical error to insist that the WCAR declaration contain language that defines zionism as racism. This approach precipitated a fight over the definition of a "word" rather than a struggle to highlight and condemn the actual Israeli policies in the occupied territories and against the Arab population within Israel itself.
There are many Black Americans who may not understand the full implications of the zionist project and turn away from condemning it as racist. After all, the Israeli State was established in the wake of a holocaust of monumental crimes by the Third Reich and its allies. How could the Jewish State be racist? Definitions, unfortunately, tend to keep the argument in the ideological rather than the political realm. On the other hand, a close investigation of the actual conditions under which the Palestinians languish under the Israeli Army occupation and the second-class citizenship that Arabs within Israel itself suffer is another question. It is one of the ironies of fate that a history of oppression of Jews (usually by Christian zealots) has not prevented them from turning around and inflicting upon another people violence and repression based on their non-Jewish status.
These discriminatory and genocidal Israeli policies against the Palestinians are something that no Black American should ignore: the pain of conquest, occupation, displacement, statelessness, exile, subjugation, national oppression within its borders and violent death. Indeed, the list of crimes perpetrated against Palestine parallels all too closely the "crimes against humanity" that compose the heart of the demand for Black reparations.
It is too bad that African Americans are entering deliberations at the World Conference Against Racism with a divided view on the Palestinian question. But trying to unite people around "definitions" doesn't seem to be
the way to go.
Frances M. Beal is a political commentator for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper and national secretary of the Black Radical Congress. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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