Last year, I wrote that a new global civil rights movement was uniting Palestinians and Black Americans. I argued that the Palestinian struggle had undergone many dramatic changes over the decades and that there was a new dawn in the long campaign to free themselves from the Israeli occupation’s structural racism.
Starting as an anti-colonial movement against British domination, the Palestinian cause — a nationalism based on equality, embracing Muslims, Jews and Christians within historic Palestine, as opposed to Israel’s ethnic domination — shifted to resistance against the Israeli occupation. It was in the latter that it had to fight against the kind of racism that was inherent in a country embodying Zionism’s insistence on Jewish hegemony in historic Palestine.
With a century of resistance against racist political domination, the Palestinian struggle came to symbolise the global efforts against apartheid in the fight for human dignity and respect for international law. Within such a context, Palestinians have reinforced their bond with everyone struggling for justice, wherever they happen to be.
Watching Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests sweeping across the world since the killing of George Floyd on 25 May, the common cause between Black Americans and Palestinians clearly presents a major threat to Israel’s institutional racism. The Zionist state now not only has to face the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but also devise strategies to convince the world that its inherent racism — apartheid in all but name — is somehow acceptable in a new #BlackLivesMatter world. If natural justice is allowed to prevail, that will be an impossible task.
As the political terrain shifts under our feet due to Covid-19, economic collapse and growing discontent over global governance issues, we are witnessing a shift towards a more rights-based agenda. This threatens to undermine, if not reverse, the security-driven agenda that has dominated international discourse since 9/11.
That’s a framework which, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, told a leading global pro-Israel group, has been favourable for the Zionist state’s outreach to the US. The key message of Dermer’s interview is that the threat to US security following the terrorist attack in New York was a “we were you; you were us moment” which made Israel indispensable to American security interests. American-born Dermer scorned international demands for Israel to end its decades-long military occupation of Palestine to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. Such a demand, he insisted, will never be met and the Palestinians need to get used to having Israeli occupation forces in their midst just as Germany and Japan did following their defeat in the Second World War.
Typifying the hubris of many Israeli diplomats on the international stage, Dermer’s interview has reinforced the image of Israel as a country that seeks to abuse, distort and ignore international laws and conventions to justify its brutal occupation of Palestine. Demanding that universally-accepted political concepts be changed to satisfy Israeli demands, the ambassador suggested that we need to re-imagine the concept of sovereignty because the Palestinians will never be allowed the freedom and sovereignty that the rest of us take for granted.
The only strategic threat to Israel, he implied, is a global movement against the idea that “might is right”. Paradoxically, he pointed out that, throughout history, Jews have made significant contributions to the revolutionary belief that “might is not right” and helped to advance progressive causes. Think of South Africa, for example, where Jews were prominent in the Anti-Apartheid Movement (even while Israel was very close to the Apartheid government in Pretoria) and the US, where many Jewish leaders marched with Dr Martin Luther King. According to Dermer, this positive image of the role played by Jews in advancing human rights may well be threatened by Israel’s increasingly powerful status. In such a situation, the self-described Jewish state, he feared, would no longer be seen as advancing a progressive agenda, having fallen into the “might is right” trap, a logic that favours raw power over universal values.
This doomsday scenario for Israel, which Dermer implied was unlikely, has become a reality quicker than the Israeli ambassador could ever have imagined. The Black Lives Matter movement is a clear rejection of “might is right” and political oppression of minorities anywhere and everywhere. This powerful denunciation of the kind of nationalism that requires the subjugation of one ethnic group by another, is an equally powerful call for nationalism that does not discriminate between race and religion. This is why #BlackLivesMatter believes that a mirror image of its own success will be the ending of Israel’s subjugation of the indigenous people of Palestine.
Such a bond has been recognised formally by the BLM movement. Its 2016 platform paper described Israel as an “apartheid state” and denounced its “genocide” of the Palestinians. Inevitably, this was condemned by pro-Israel lobby groups. BLM drew parallels between the struggle of Black Americans and the Palestinians, and criticised the US for its unquestioned support for Israel, which “practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades.” The US, it added, “justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”
These sentiments were echoed by civil rights icon Angela Davis last week. Speaking to Amy Goodman from Democracy Now about the latest wave of protests, Davis — who was denied a civil society award following protests from anti-Palestinian groups because of her support for BDS— explained why the plight of Palestinians is so central to #BlackLivesMatter. The 76-year old recalled how Palestinian activists had long supported Black Americans’ struggle against racism, and that when she was falsely imprisoned in 1970 the solidarity from Palestine was a major source of comfort for her.
It is no surprise, therefore, to see pro-Israel groups trying desperately to discredit #BlackLivesMatter; the progressive call to end structural racism is, quite simply, a major strategic threat to the Zionist state. Why else would someone like Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organisation of America, urge civil rights group the Southern Poverty Law Centre to “immediately put Black Lives Matter on their list of hate groups”? Bizarrely, he went on to peddle a common anti-Sematic trope by suggesting that billionaire Jewish philanthropist George Soros is pulling the strings behind the scenes. “BLM is a Jew-hating, white-hating, Israel-hating, conservative Black-hating, violence-promoting, dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters,” Klein railed on Twitter. Soros is a frequent target for neo-fascist groups in Europe and the US.
In their effort to discredit BLM, pro-Israel groups have resorted to the exploitation of powerful historically significant icons. In Britain, for example, alongside a Twitter photo of protesters in Bristol pulling down a statue of Edward Colston, a notorious 17th century slave trader, Sussex Friends of Israel paraphrased Pastor Martin Niemöller by writing, “First they came for the statues…” This was a reference to Niemöller’s famous poem which is often cited as a warning about not standing up against injustice when it does not immediately affect you. The implication was that the Black Lives Matter movement would not stop at pulling down statues, and that individuals, institutions and, yes, even states might follow.
Israel thus has every reason to fear the #BlackLivesMatter protests demanding an end to structural racism. Moreover, it will probably find that the countermeasures it has deployed relatively successfully against the BDS movement may not be as effective when used against Black Americans (and, indeed, Black people everywhere) whose oppression has been given a veneer of legitimacy by a fake history written by the oppressors. The parallels with the false Zionist narrative swallowed by the West and Israel’s other supporters — often on the far right of the political spectrum, which is perverse given the far right’s responsibility for the Holocaust — are glaringly obvious. Hence, the Black Lives Matter movement stands shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians and their cause.
There is only one way that Israel can hope to avoid being a major target of #BlackLivesMatter. It must jettison the “might is right” ideology of racist Zionism which underpins the state, and then grant equal rights to all of the people in the territory it controls. Apartheid is a crime against humanity, and a Zionist state’s inherent racism is unacceptable in the 21st century.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.