Wednesday, January 21, 2009

African-Americans and the Palestine Solidarity Struggle

African-Americans and the Palestine Solidarity Struggle

Despite pressure from the U.S. ruling class, progressive and revolutionary forces continue to support the liberation movement

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

With the beginning of the Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza on December 27, a wave of unprecedented demonstrations and other forms of solidarity have taken place in the United States and around the world with the Palestinian people. This growing visibility of protest in support of the Palestinians in their fight for self-determination and nationhood against the state of Israel has served as a burgeoning counter-weight to politically biased media coverage and the unconditional assistance from the imperialists to the state of Israel in the recent phase of the war in Palestine.

If residents of the United States only received their news and political analysis from the corporate media, they would assume that the struggle of the Palestinian people lacked legitimacy and that the representatives of this oppressed people had very little support inside the country. However, in this latest crisis, a host of independent web sites, blogs, e-lists, newspapers and radio broadcasts told quite a different story in regard to public opinion related to support for the state of Israel.

Although many people within the United States, from various nationalities and cultures, have expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people since December of 2008, the bourgeosie stills refuses to allow an open debate around the question of an independent state for this oppressed people. At the same time the ruling elites have set out to shape political opinion in favor of imperialist aims in the Middle-East.

The Palestinian struggle, particularly the tendency represented by Hamas, has been labelled as "terrorist" in the same way that Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the former Iraqi government under the Arab Baath Socialist Party, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Syria and all other tendencies independent of the U.S. in the region have been deemed as illegitimate.

One key tactic in the ruling class effort to build support for imperialist aims in the Middle-East, is to openly solicit collaboration between African-American political and religious leaders and the state of Israel. During the early phase of the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Air Force, the Detroit City Council President, Monica Conyers, traveled to Israel to supposedly study the conflict in occupied Palestine.

In 2008, a well-known African-American minister, Kenneth Flowers, pastor of the Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit, was invited to Israel in order to receive a "Martin Luther King" award. Flowers took a delegation of several African-Americans with him on the trip to Israel, which included the President of the Detroit-Metro AFL-CIO, Saundra Williams.

Other examples of these efforts to influence African-Americans to support the settler-colonial state of Israel includes the public postures of other ministers such as Bishop Keith Butler of the Word of Faith Ministries, which has hosted public meetings in support of Israel. Other supporters of state of Israel include the Christian Television Network (CTN), headed by Rev. Glenn Plummer, who openly speaks in favor of the Zionist regime and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle-East.

In two Congressional votes on a non-binding resolution endorsing the Israeli genocidal onslaught against the Palestinian people on January 8 and 9, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously in support of the Zionist military program against the Palestinians. In the House of Representatives, after the speaker Nancy Pelosi had, at the beginning of the aerial bombardments in late December 2008, expressed unconditional support for the state of Israel and its military assault on the Palestinian people, only five members voted against a resolution similar to the one passed by the Senate.

Among members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which consist of approximately 40 representatives, only two voted in opposition to the resolution supporting the policies of the Israeli government and its main backers in the United States ruling class. Yet, despite these efforts to influence the elected political leadership and select African-American religious figures, most people among the working class and poor segments of the black population in the United States do not support the foreign policy orientation of the government and ruling class toward the Palestinian people.

This defiance of U.S. foreign policy toward the Palestinian people among the African-Americans can be traced back to the period of the rising civil rights and black liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The most advanced political elements within these movements saw a direct relationship between the national oppression suffered by people in the United States and the struggles of the Palestinians and other colonized people in other parts of the Middle-East and the world.

A history of solidarity from Malcolm X to Cynthia McKinney

Prior to the rise of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the struggle for national independence in the former colonial territories escalated in the immediate aftermath of World War II. One of the major conflicts which would shape and define the post-war period was the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the resulting displacement and occupation of the Palestinian people.

Interestingly enough, one African-American was intimately involved in the imperialist machinations that lead to the creation of the Israeli regime. Ralph Bunche, a Harvard educated political scientist, had initially worked for progressive causes during the 1930s leading up to the rise of fascism in Europe and the beginning of World War II.

Bunche had joined the National Negro Congress, formed during the Great Depression, which had worked for the elimination of lynchings and the implementation of civil rights for the African-American people. Bunche later left the NNC on the eve of the War, ostensibly due to its left-leaning politics and its links to leading members of the Communist Party.

During the War, Bunche enlisted in the United States military and worked in the area of intelligence. He wrote reports on the situations in the colonial territories in Africa and Asia. After the War, he joined the United Nations and would later play a key role in the negotiations that lead to the occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel.

According to the web site's profile of Ralph Bunche, the African-American diplomat was used by the United States and the other imperialist countries in efforts aimed at undermining Palestinian self-determination and nationhood. Despite Bunche's own perceptions about the creation of the state of Israel, he went along with the aims and objectives of the Truman administration which favored the Zionist position on Palestine.

The profile of Bunche by the Nobel Committee says that: "Personally, Bunche believed that the Palestinian Arabs were the big losers in the conflict, and, in fact, the agreements sealed the fate of the UN's plan for an independent Palestinian state. The Israelis kept almost all the land they had conquered. Israel had expanded from the UN-allocated 55% of British ruled Palestine to 79%. Jordan and Egypt took what was left for the Palestinian Arabs.

"The armistice agreements were intended as the basis for peace negotiations within a year, but these never took place. Although the UN and the United States called for the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, this never happened. The fate of the Palestinian refugees remained an unsolved problem." (

Bunche became the first non-white person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 at the height of the Cold War. However, his legacy has been challenged by successive generations of African-American progressive leaders who view his actions as a betrayal of the Palestinian struggle for independence during the post-World War II period.

By the 1960s, revolutionary African-American leaders such as Malcolm X, not only criticized Ralph Bunche for his role in Palestine but addressed his failure to aggressively tackle the problems of national oppression and racism in the United States. Malcolm X, through his involvement in the Nation of Islam and the later Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) openly criticized Zionism as a political philosophy and expressed solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians and the Arab national liberation movements throughout the region.

In 1964, after Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam and formed the OAAU, he spent a considerable amount of time in Egypt which was then under the leadership of President Gamel Abdel Nassar, a progressive nationalist leader of both the African and Arab peoples. In an article published by Malcolm X on September 17, 1964 in the Egyptian Gazette, he pointed out that the Zionist regime in Palestine served U.S. imperialist aims in the Middle-East and Africa.

"Zionist Israel's occupation of Arab Palestine has forced the Arab world to waste billions of precious dollars on armaments, making it impossible for these newly independent Arab nations to concentrate on strengthening the economies of their countries and elevate the living standard of their people.

"And the continued low standard of living in the Arab world has been skillfully used by the Zionist propagandists to make it appear to the Africans that the Arab leaders are not intellectually or technically qualified to lift the living standard of their people ... thus, indirectly inducing Africans to turn away from the Arabs and towards the Israelis for teachers and technical assistance."

After the assasination of Malcolm X in February of 1965, the youth elements within the civil rights movement became more radicalized. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began to advance many of the positions that were held by Malcolm X during the last year of his life. SNCC issued a statement in opposition to the United States war against Vietnam in January of 1966, becoming the first major civil rights organization to openly call for the end of the war and the elimination of the draft.

In 1967, during the Arab-Israeli so-called "Six Day War" in June, SNCC took a position in support of Egypt and the other Arab states, as well as the Palestinians. The organization came under fire once again for opposing U.S. foreign policy.

James Forman, who in 1967 served as the International Affairs Director for SNCC, wrote in his political autobiography, "The Making of Black Revolutionaries", that, "When I returned from Africa to the United States in August, I found SNCC under violent attack by many Jews and Zionists. During my absence, SNCC had published a newsletter revealing a pro-Arab position. It was not an official statement of SNCC's stand on the conflict, but a series of questions and some cartoons which indicated support for the Palestinian guerrillas.

"The material had been hastily edited and the questions were not framed to make the kind of educational presentation desirable--especially for the black movement.

"No formulation of our position would have satisfied the Zionists and many Jews. Leading Jewish organizations had joined others in the liberal-labor syndrome to attack us as too radical back in the days when the subject was not the Middle East but Mississippi. We were too radical then, for not supporting domestic policies of the administration, and we were too radical now--for opposing American foreign policy, for seeing Israel as an imperialist power in the service of, and serving, that policy." (Forman, p. 496)

Another SNCC leader, Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) delivered a major address at the Organization of Arab Students conference held at the University of Michigan in August of 1968. In this speech, Carmichael reiterated the organization's position in support of the Palestinian struggle and also discussed the role of Zionist ideology inside the United States.

Carmichael said that: "What makes the forces of Zionism so effective in their propaganda is that the Zionists have something else: not only do they assert theirs as a fact, and anyone who questions it they put on the defensive by calling him anti-Semitic, but the Zionists hook up the killing of six million Jews as a justification for the so-called State of Israel.

"They say: 'Six million Jews were murdered by Hitler; we have a right to Israel.' And that is a very dangerous thing. It is a fact that six million Jews were slaughtered by Hitler, but that six million Jews were murdered by Hitler does not give the Zionists the right to take Arab land. If the Zionists--I want to make sure I use the correct term because I don't want to be called anti-Semitic--if in fact the Zionists are worried that they have lost six million Jews in Germany, if they are worried about the treatment that Hitler meted out to them, then it seems clear to me that they should take the land for their home state from Germany, since it was Germany who fought them." (Stokely Speaks, 1971, 2007, p. 137)

This position in support of the Palestinian struggle was also adopted by other revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panther Party and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. However, by the late 1970s, even more liberal African-American leaders sought to intervene in resolving the Palestinian question.

Even the former United Nations Ambassador for the United States under the Carter administration, Andrew Young, who was a former civil rights leader that worked alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), was removed from his position in the Carter administration in large part because of his efforts to open up dialogue with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at the U.N.

In the aftermath of the removal of Andrew Young in 1979, another civil rights leader who had also worked with Dr. King, Rev. Jesse Jackson, took a trip to the region and developed a position calling for dialogue with the Palestinians. When Jackson ran for president in 1984 and 1988, he advocated negotiations between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states and the implementation of a "two-state solution. This position even generated controversy within the ruling class and pro-Israeli elements in the United States.

With the advent of Barack Obama's candidacy for president in 2008, the Senator from Illinois went to great lengths to not only express his support for the pro-Israeli position, as reflected in his major address at the American-Israeli Political Action Committee conference in early 2008, but to also stay clear of any substantive discussion involving the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and statehood. Obama has surrounded himself with pro-Israeli aides including his Secretary of State, former Senator Hillary Clinton and his Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, who, according to news reports, served in the Israeli military.

In contrast, former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 2008, took a position in support of the Palestinian people. After the elections, McKinney was a part of a solidarity delegation which sought to deliver aid to the people of Gaza, who had been under a blockade for months.

McKinney was a passenger on the "Dignity" vessel which was denied entry into Gaza by the Israeli Navy. The "Digity" was hit and damaged by the Israeli military forces. McKinney, in subsequent interviews, stated that she felt her life was in danger during the ordeal with the Israeli Navy. Nonetheless, she maintains her support for the right of self-determination for the people of Palestine.

Solidarity With Palestine Continues to Grow

During the period of the Israeli aerial bombardment, ground assault and intensified blockade and occupation of Gaza, there has been a groundswell of support and sympathy for the Palestinian people in the United States, especially among African-Americans and other oppressed national groups. In marches and rallies held throughout the United States, working people and youth of various nationalities came out in large numbers to express solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The Blacks Against Genocide Coalition issued a militant statement related to the Israeli aggression in Gaza and the need to support the Palestinian people. This statement read in part that: "We, Black people in the United States, condemn the criminal Israeli attacks on the people of Gaza. These war crimes are being conducted with the overt material and unapologetic political backing of the U.S. government.

This statement continues by pointing out that: "Most importantly, we have learned the lessons of four centuries of racist oppression in the Western hemisphere: that the liberation struggles of the oppressed must not be divided by language, geography, gender, religion or race; that if they come for Gaza in the morning, they will most certainly come for Harlem at night."

African-Americans and other oppressed sectors of the working class in the United States recognize that the deepening economic crisis is, at least in large part, a direct result of the militarism of United States imperialism. The ongoing wars of occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti have strengthened the repressive apparatus of the United States.

Consequently, the liberation of African-Americans and other oppressed peoples can only be won when imperialism is challenged and defeated in other parts of the world. Therefore, the defeat of imperialism in the so-called developing or third world countries will inevitably advance the struggle for the total liberation of the oppressed and working people inside the imperialist states.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has followed the recent United States government and corporate media involvement in the siege of Gaza.

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