Bruce A. Dixon
Sometimes a silence can be the loudest sound in the room. The silence of our numerous and powerful US black political class, not just on the current massacres of civilians in Gaza but on the incontrovertible fact that Israel has become a full fledged racist ethnocracy is deafening.
As Israeli troops massed around Gaza this weekend, the NAACP wrapped up its 2014 annual convention in Las Vegas this weekend without a mumbling word of solidarity with bleeding Palestinians. Moral Monday’s Rev. Barber was a guest on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher Sunday night as well, but could not spare a single breath to discuss the morality of occupation, house demolitions, or Israeli apartheid to his notoriously Islamaphobic host. Al Sharpton is on MSNBC nightly, and can’t find time to cover the murderous assault on Gaza in any meaningful way. You don’t hear so much as a peep from the Congressional Black Caucus or the National Urban League, the National Action Network, Rainbow PUSH, big time black pastors and business people or the rest of that crowd.
Our black political class of preachers, politicians, big time academics, pundits and aspirants have not been silenced by threats or fears of economic retailiation. Maybe you can say that about entertainers and athletes, but not our so-called leaders. People like black members of Congress, Al Sharpton and Rev. Barber are where they are because they don’t need to be told what their masters require. What they fear is something deeper, something that threatens the very foundations of their careers and legitimacy.
Their legitimacy depends on the hollow pretense that their black faces in high places somehow constitute the continuation of the struggle of our people against racism, Jim Crow and injustice in general. We’ve all heard it summed up with phrases like “Rosa Parks sat and Dr. King walked, so Barack Obama could run…” The name for hollow pretenses like this, when selling the pretense is a serious project, is branding. Their problem is the frank, vicious racism of Israeli apartheid which the black political class feels obliged to support, at least as long as a black president does so as well, is a threat to the black political class’s brand as tribunes of the oppressed.
For the most part, our black political class are not abject fools. They absolutely know that the Israeli state has become a full fledged ethnocracy, the 21st century’s premiere apartheid statecomplete with Jewish-only roads and towns, frequent lynch mobs for Africans and Arabs, laws against recognizing mixed marriages, and completely different judicial systems, housing regulations, voting and property rights, depending on whether, as Max Blumenthal puts it, you’ve got J-positive blood. They know that for this and the last two Gaza invasions, Israeli civilians and grandmothers gathered on hillsides to eat ice cream, watch the fireworks of white phosphorus and shellfire, and cheer on the death of defenseless Palestinian civilians. They know the internet makes it trivially easy to find the words of prominent Israeli politicians in the Knesset and in government openly declaring that Palestinians ought to be moved or massacred, or justifying hundreds of atrocities from house demolitions and torture to acts of dispossession, mob and state terror. They know that more and more of their own constituents are learning these thingsevery day.
Our black political class knows that Israel is, to paraphrase Noam Chomsky, America’s landlocked aircraft carrier, weapons research test bed and nuclear armed military base in the middle of a couple hundred million brown people and a good fraction of the world’s most easily accessible oil. They know that unwavering support for whatever Israel does is part of the bipartisan zombie consensus, something that ruling Republicans and Democrats agree on, like privatizations, charter schools and bailing out the banksters. And by now, black leadership is deep in the slavish habit not just of agreeing with whatever the White House says, but of not speaking at all on policy matters till after the will of the Great Man and his administration have been made clear.
If Bush and Cheney were still in the White House, some of the bravest among them might speak out just a little to remind us that Palestinians are human too. They might even say that occupation and dispossession are the real crimes. But a member of their own class, a black politician is in the Oval Office, a president who openly insulted and humiliated Muslim Americans at a White House Iftar dinner only last week. They don’t need to be silenced, they silence themselves, not out of fear but out of craven opportunism.
Still, daily occurrences like the shelling of 10 and 11 year old boys on a beach kicking a soccer ball make open support of Israel difficult more difficult for them than it used to be. So they do nothing, and they say nothing. Nothing on Al Sharpton’s show. Nothing in their Moral Monday communiques and marches. Nothing from the Urban League, nothing from the black church, which is pretty much an appendage of the black political class these days. Apart from Cornel West, the sole recognizable black figure to a national TV audience, not a black face in a prominent face, not one, has stood up for the humanity of Palestinians and denounced the crimes of dispossession, occupation and invasion. To a man and a woman, it seems the rest of our glittering black leaders hope the stench of white phosphorus and genocide won’t stick to them and tarnish their precious brand, even as they support it with their silence.
There was a time, to hear them tell it at least, when our black political class opposed apartheid. That was here, and in South Africa. As US Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah, the editor at Electrnic Intifada reminds us
“…Throughout the 1970s and 80s, when black Americans were leading the struggle against apartheid in this country, when they were the conscience of this country in terms of putting apartheid South Africa on the American political agenda, Israel was one of the key supporters of apartheid South Africa. Israel is the country that systematically violated the international arms embargo on South Africa. The weapons used to beat and kill black demonstrators and freedom fighters in South African townships were made in Israel, right down to the water cannon used in the townships… the fighter jets, the gunboats, all the heavy armament of the South African military used were in large part supplied by Israel.
It’s less well known, there is less hard evidence about it, although some information is in the public domain regarding Israeili-South African cooperation in their nuclear weapons programs.”
Evidently apartheid and ethnocracy in back-in-the-day South Africa were bad things, but in today’s Israel not so much. Our black political class has long forgotten a couple things called international solidarity and empathy, without which we are, well, a lot less human.
When our people were struggling against Jim Crow and US apartheid fifty years ago, those suffering under colonialism in Asia and Africa looked to us for their inspiration. African governments, Cuba, and China too welcomed, educated and sheltered Malcolm X, Kwame Toure, and many others when they toured the African continent and the world.
When the Vietnamese were under savage attack they used to call to US black soldiers in the night to ask and remind them, “Black man why are you here? Your fight is at home.” It was their official policy until 66 or 67 to spare black soldiers they could have killed in close encounters when possible. Those brothers came back to inform youngsters like me who would have been drafted the next year so we could help organize in our black communities against the imperial war.
When a nuclear armed South Africa invaded Angola repeatedly in the 70s and 80s, Cuba sent 60,000 troops, the majority of them of African descent and its entire air force to fight across the Atlantic to fight, and turned the South Africans around.
In the global struggles against colonialism, capitalism, and injustice we are all inextricably connected. We’re all obligated to carry a bit of each other’s burden, to stand up for each other when required. It’s a tradition. It’s international solidarity. That’s how this thing works.
But our black misleadership class are not players. They are being played and playing themselves.
Bruce A. Dixon