The pro-Israel lobby courts influential African-Americans

Hasbara is the Hebrew word for a particular type of pernicious propaganda first employed by early Zionists leaders to explain the unexplainable actions of the Jewish administration in Palestine.  In recent years, hasbara has been disseminated by certain Christian fundamentalists who believe supporting Israel brings them closer to God, and also by many members of the United States Congress who have been co-opted by the powerful pro-Israel lobby.  Now the lobby has its sights set on a new group of potential collaborators:  African Americans.

A group of 18 African American local and state politicians, including the presidents of the City Councils of Atlanta and Detroit, recently enjoyed a tour of Israel courtesy of the American-Israel Educational Foundation (AIEF).  AIEF was also the sponsor of the infamous 2011 US Congressional summer trip to Israel, during which 81 American lawmakers diverted their attention from the budget debate and the U.S.  financial crisis in order to focus on the sightseeing pleasures of the Holy Land– and to be propagandized by the Netanyahu government.  AIEF is part of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S.

Also, this month, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest non-Jewish, pro-Israel organization in the United States, hosted a number of programs specifically targeting religious African Americans.   These events were held in black churches in New York City and Shreveport, Louisiana during CUFI’s “Gathering of Solidarity With the State of Israel” campaign.

The AIEF political junket and the CUFI church meetings are examples of the recent push to recruit pro-Israel support among the African American community, according to Nathan Guttman in a recent article in the Jewish newspaper, Forward.  Both CUFI and AIPAC have been developing contacts in the African American community for at least five years, although their efforts have gone largely unnoticed until now. 

The Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG) is an Atlanta- based, AIPAC-supported group that offers leadership training to students at “historically black colleges.”  Its founder and executive director, Jarrod Jordan, was present at the 2008 AIPAC Policy Conference.  There, he claims to have been inspired by the speech of then Presidential candidate Barack Obama which led him to create an African American organization dedicated to improved African American/Jewish relations and increased African American support for Israel.

The VLG has participated in recent AIPAC conferences and was named AIPAC Advocate of the Year for distributing an advertisement at numerous colleges and universities which was critical of the efforts of a pro-Palestinian student group that drew a comparison between Israeli policy in the West Bank to that of apartheid in South Africa.  The letter, which was addressed to Students for Justice in Palestine, accuses the organization of

Playing the ‘apartheid card’ …[which]…is a calculated attempt to conjure up images associated with the racist South African regimes of the 20th century.  The strategy is as transparent as it is base.  Beyond that, it is highly objectionable to those who know the truth about the Israel’s record on human rights and how it so clearly contrasts with South Africa’s.

This letter was published in the student newspapers at Brown, Maryland and UCLA.  The Columbia University student paper rejected the advertisement. 

In addition, VLG has lobbied “against divestment groups in Atlanta and the neighboring communities,” according to the Israel Campus Beat website.  The VLG website claims that its members have also participated in AIPAC-sponsored tours of Israel and Saban Leadership Training, a pro-Israel seminar.

The relationship between the Jewish and African American communities has been stormy for more than half a century.   At the beginning of the 60s, Jewish organizations liked to point to the alliance between the two communities, who, according to them, shared the common interest of promoting minority rights and fighting discrimination.  Despite this official rosy assessment, the true relationship between Jews and African Americans was more accurately defined by conflict engendered in the not- always- healthy association of tenant and landlord, employer and employee or borrower and creditor, since many African Americans encountered Jews as retailers in their communities.  When the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) expelled whites from its ranks during its voter registration drive in Mississippi in the mid-60s, many Jews perceived that action as directed against Jewish activists in the organization.

Further indications of the rift between the communities were the teachers’ strike and battle over community control of schools in New York City in the late 60s, the anti-Semitic sermons of the popular Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, and the strife between Jewish and African American residents of the Brooklyn community of Crown Heights in the early 90s.

In the political world, the tension between Jews and African Americans was best illustrated by the successful attacks by Jewish organizations against the election campaigns of then Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson in 1984 and Rep. Cynthia McKinney in 2002.   Both had expressed sympathy toward the Palestinians and were deemed to be not sufficiently supportive of Israel.  In Jackson’s case, the antipathy of Jews was fueled by his offensive “Hymietown” remark.   As a result of the these damaging pro-Israel assaults, it is now rare to hear an African American politician criticize the Jewish state, although 30 years ago African American politicians often identified with the struggle of the Palestinian people, whom they viewed as an oppressed minority like themselves.  Together the pro-Israel campaigns against Jackson and McKinney can be viewed as a signal assault on Jewish/African American political relations.  They put a fear of Jewish power into the minds of African Americans, and caused them to avoid confrontation with the powerful pro-Israel political lobby.   Surely, the irony of now promoting a group of African American pro-Israel politicians has not escaped officials in AIPAC and CUFI.

Reverend Michael Stevens will be organizing the CUFI events in African American churches this week.  Stevens, who an African American pastor at the University City Church of God in Charlotte, North Carolina, first met John Hagee, the founder and National Chairman of CUFI, in 2007.  Soon afterward, Stevens become “heavily involved” in the pro-Israel Christian organization.  In 2010, Hagee appointed Stevens to his current position of National African American Outreach Coordinator for CUFI.  Rev. Stevens stated in an interview that he had been told by God that his church should be a blessing to Israel and that he, Rev. Stevens, told his parishioners from the pulpit, “that God wants our church, as a black church, to support Israel.”  In the same interview Stevens criticizes black liberation theologians for not “doing their homework” and disparages the comparison of Israeli policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Stevens incorrectly states that in Israel (here he does not distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories), Palestinians “have human rights, citizen rights just as any Jewish person would have there.”

The organized effort to bring religious African American Christians into the pro-Israel fold did not begin with CUFI and the appointment of Rev. Stevens to his present position.  An African- American minister, who is identified only as Evangelist Dora, wrote an account of her 2009 trip to Israel during the Gaza War.  The trip was sponsored by AIEF and called the African American Leaders Mission.   The tour was led by Kristina King, the AIEF Midwest Outreach Regional Director, who according to Dora, is “a loving and kind Christian professional.”  Dora reports that she and her tour mates were served “fabulous Mediterranean cuisine, prayed at the wailing wall, baptized in the River Jordan, … sat in the midst of scholars and leaders absorbing Israel’s history.”  She reports that she “is eternally grateful for this has been a ‘life changing experience’ for me.”   Along with the food, Dora was served a generous helping of Israeli war propaganda, which led her to conclude that “Hamas will go so far as to destroy their own, and distort the truth of its actions, so that Israel appears as a ruthless uncaring nation.”

Whether groups like AIPAC and CUFI can convince enough African Americans to become pro-Israel zealots to make these efforts worthwhile is an open to question.  The Black Entertainment Network (BET) in a Web article titled, “Will African-Americans Support Israel?, ” predicts that CUFI will have a difficult time courting African Americans.  It quotes from the Forward which states that,

Some in the African-American community have a history of painting Israel as an oppressive white nation that subjugates the brown people of Palestine…. Attempts by Jewish organizations to pull back African-Americans from the left-wing perspective were mostly unsuccessful [in the past].

  Yet, the manner in which BET frames the choice facing African Americans is instructive:

In the end, it sounds like getting more Black proponents of Israel is going to be as complex as the Israel and Palestine debate itself. But African-Americans themselves should be able to understand both sides: Palestine’s, which is fighting perceived oppression, and Israel’s, which is fighting bigots who say… [Israel] should be decimated. [Emphases mine.  IG]

Palestinians fighting perceived Israeli oppression?  Israel fighting bigots who say it should be decimated?  Is this overly cautious, defensive and obsequious analysis a product of AIPAC’s victorious assault on the candidacies of Jackson and McKinney? These attacks apparently instilled a great deal of fear in  many African  American politicians.  McKinney bravely walked away from mainstream politics and is as pro-Palestinian as ever.  She participated in one of the Gaza aid flotillas.   Jackson, in contrast, who is tenuously hanging on to his more establishment appeal, has long ago ceased all criticism of the Jewish State.  His son U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was one of the “leading lights” of this summer’s AIPAC/AIEF Congressional tour.

In the past ten years, we have witnessed a growing number of African Americans from the elite class, who are willing to take public stances which oppose positions usually identified with the civil rights movement and the African American struggle against oppression.   Herman Cain and arguably Barack Obama are examples of this phenomenon. 

If the pro-Israel lobby can recruit even a small group of influential African Americans to enlist in their propaganda war, while recruiting a significant number of fundamentalists from the African American churches, the Jewish propagandists will be reinforced by members of an ethnic group which has unique standing in combating charges that Israel is an apartheid and racist state.  These African Americans will not be believable to anyone with a bit of knowledge about Israel and Palestine, but for the average American they could be convincing.   By showing strength among African Americans, the pro-Israel lobby will also have demonstrated that it has the power to co-opt members of a group which are traditionally not all that supportive of American Jewish causes.

The ability of the pro-Israel lobby to cultivate a significant number of African Americans could be seen, in a very much distorted way, as an indication of racial progress.  After all, look at the powerful and growing white evangelical movement and the stranglehold AIPAC has on the vast majority of members of the United States Congress.  If, as the pro-Israel groups claim, being pro-Israel is as American as apple pie, why should African Americans be excluded? 

Hopefully the answer is that most African Americans will understand the importance of honesty and justice.

About Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 47 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. American says:

    Don’t forget JINSA…….they are the group that is responsible for US Police intergration with Israel.
    The zio orgs are into every nook and cranny I think they all get together and divide up the Israel chores.
    Month or two ago JINSA took Hispanic groups , what they identified as hispanic community leaders, to Israel.
    Visit their site..jinsa.org–very busy little bees for Israel.

  2. lysias says:

    Looks like corporate lobbyist Glenn Ivey, who considered running in the primary against Donna Edwards last cycle but in the end did not, is actually going to do it this time, with Maryland being redistricted so that Edwards’s district will be less favorable to her. MD-04: Corporate lobbyist to challenge Netroots’ Rep. Donna Edwards.

    I wonder if AIPAC money has much to do with this. They don’t like Edwards.

  3. seafoid says:

    Max Blumenthal had a video from the last AIPAC conference where he interviewed a black student leader who denied his peer group were a focus of AIPAC lobbying. But of course Max was on to him and he won the argument.

  4. yourstruly says:

    so in the hearts & minds of black americans will the bs of sell-out israel-first politicians & fundamentalists from the african-american churches prevail over the the spirit of those eighteen magical days in tahrir square; er, make that over memories of those equally magical civil rights days of yesteryear, in the formerly jim crow u. s. of a., as in apartheid south africa?

    doubtful. especially with occupy america on the rise

  5. Les says:

    Will any tourguide remind the visitors that when American Jews settled in Israel they were astonished to discover the “Schwartze Jews” who lived there?

  6. “Populus vult decipi”.
    Masses like to be deceived.

  7. annie says:

    from the bet article

    Michael Stevens, CUFI’s coordinator of African-American outreach, told Forward, a Jewish publication. “I firmly believe that Dr. Martin Luther King was a strong African-American Zionist, but I think nine out of 10 African-Americans don’t know that.”

    what a slippery statement. he firmly believes? there is nothing in any of king’s speeches or writings ever recorded indicating he was a zionist. nothing. using martin (arguably the most beloved famous american globally to ever live, not to be confused with the most beloved famous black american) after his death to peddle their ethnic cleansing and apartheid is despicable.

    i have enough faith in the american black community to believe they will not be led en masse like sheep. do they think they understand apartheid better than south africans? i don’t think so!

    South African student bodies declare, ‘We recognise apartheid when we see it’

    Three South African student bodies– the South African Union of Students, the South African Student Congress, and the Young Communist League of South Africa issued the following statement at a joint press conference yesterday at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The groups included South Africa’s oldest and most representative student bodies.

    JOINT STUDENT STATEMENT

    There is no doubt, Israel is an Apartheid state; There is only one word, boycott!

    more at the link

    • yourstruly says:

      make that three words, boycott, divestment and sanctions

    • eee says:

      Then why doesn’t the South Africa government boycott Israel? Actions speak louder than words. Apparently the South African government understands apartheid much better than you.

      • annie says:

        probably the same reason our government doesn’t. their israel lobby.

        The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which represents 1.2 million South African workers, has accused Israel of practicing apartheid and supported the boycott of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, as well as all Israeli products.

        do you think they understand apartheid?

        • patm says:

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan is an ardent longtime Palestinian supporter; the vote on disinvestment was won in 2006.

        • Cliff says:

          eee and his idiotic, logical fallacies

          so if it’s apartheid, then every nation will immediately boycott Israel right?

          Israel sold arms w/ SA when it was an apartheid State.

          countries have interests, not morals

          it IS apartheid, you racist goon

        • eee says:

          What a joke. No need to think when you answer, just spout “Israel lobby”.

          The fact is that South Africa does not boycott Israel because it knows that there is no apartheid in Israel.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          No government is boycotting Saudi Arabia, least of all your government. Does that mean women have equal rights in Saudi Arabia, eee?

        • South Africa does not boycott Israel for one simple, ugly reason of which Triple eeek is well aware. Any country that boycotted Israel would be boycotted in turn by its obedient slave, otherwise known as the US government which would see to it that SA was sanctioned by every international organization such as the IMF in which the US can exercise a veto. What country can afford that?

          What we have running Washington, in both political parties, is a pack of men and women who come close enough to the definition of traitor to be called before a public tribunal and directed to answer such charges. I can dream, can’t I?

      • lysias says:

        The University of Johannesburg is boycotting the Ben Gurion University of the Negev because of its complicity in the occupation of the West Bank. Desmond Tutu supports that boycott.

        Successful campaign to boycott Ben-Gurion University.

      • Woody Tanaka says:

        “Then why doesn’t the South Africa government boycott Israel?”

        LOL. Poor South Africa trades with the rich Israel because shekels in trade buys a lot of bending of principles.

      • American says:

        Because eee, Israel is a big weapons supplier to SA’s government.
        Didn’t you know that?
        Yep, Israel got a lot of criticism for it also beause they supplied SA during their aparthied.
        Israel sells a lot of third rate weapons to weapons third world and less than stellar countries. And SA gets a decent price on them because a lot of them are recycled from outdated US giveaways to Isr.
        Google it and read all about it.
        That’s why the SA ‘government” doesn’t boycott Israel but everyone else in SA does.

      • Shingo says:

        Apparently the South African government understands apartheid much better than you.

        You hasbrats can’t make up your minds. When South Africans call Israel apartheid, they don’t know what they are talking about, but when the goverent dorsn’t boycott Israel, it proves they know what they are talking about.

      • Chaos4700 says:

        Oh, why doesn’t the South African government boycott Israel the same way the South African people boycott Israel? That’s a very good question.

    • iamuglow says:

      “i have enough faith in the american black community to believe they will not be led en masse like sheep. do they think they understand apartheid better than south africans? i don’t think so!”

      This is ancedontal but I’ve been surprised at the reaction to suffering by the Palstenians by Black America. One friends POV is ‘what did ‘they’, the Palestenians, do for us when we were suffering ‘.

      Another time I was listening to an Al Sharpton radio broadcast, there was someone else filling in for him and they were talking about Palestenians comparing their suffering to the plight of black Americans. The host derided the comparison along the lines of ‘come back when you’ve suffered for 400 years’. The callers mostly all parroted that line. Don’t compare your suffering to mine…mine is greater.

      On that same radio broadcast a caller called in and related that he was a US soldiger stationed in Lebanon during the war in 1982…he related that while on duty at a great distance he had shot and killed a Palestenian. The host said something about ‘it was war, you did what you had to do’…but the caller interuppted him and said ‘I was in his land and that he knows it was wrong and that its haunted him ever since.’ There was second of or two of silence…they went quickly went to commerical and when the host returned it was back to the scripted radio.

  8. HRK says:

    It’s difficult for fundamentalists–either those among African Americans or among European Americans–to interpret the events going on in I/P in a neutral, non-biased fashion because of their take on the Bible. They tend to focus on countervailing information to the exclusion of the more obvious–because to not do so is to pull the plug on their beliefs (and many of them regard non-literal Christianity as a sham). So, from their perspective, asking them to not favor Israel is asking them not to believe in God.

    I’ve wracked my brain over a way to change this, to explain to fundamentalists that there are better ways to interpret the Bible, but all to no effect.

    Let me add that I feel that fundamentalists at least have more of an excuse for their incorrect conclusions than the craven, opportunistic mainstream more-liberal-than-thou journalists in the U.S. who continuously fail to report what’s really going on in I/P. (And also fail to note the extent of pro-Israel Jewish power in our Congress–while never missing an opportunity to point out the behind-the-scenes, subverting influence of the dastardly literalist Christians–a la Jeff Sharlet’s “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart of American Power.”)

    • Charon says:

      It really is pointless arguing with the fundies. Israel as mentioned in the Bible is not the modern day military state and the distinction needs to be stressed. But as you say, it is like asking them not to believe in God. You can prove the rapture is a dispensationalist hoax propagated by Darby and later Scofield. Doesn’t mean the fundies will listen. As far as they are concerned, if the interpretation they believed was incorrect, God would have told them so.

      I’ve debated with a fundie about Bible canon and apocrypha, pointing out the obvious misinterpretations that only an agnostic theist or atheist would be able to do. There are references to reincarnation plain as day to see making the gnostic stuff found in Egypt a questionable deletion by Constantine’s group. Arguing about it went nowhere, it just made them angry.

      You can’t even point out that Israel’s immoral state-sponsored-terrorist military goes against their interpreted beliefs. They completely close their mind and fully advocate genocide in the ME because they believe an acid-trip final book in the bible says it will bring Jesus back to life and rapture them or whatever.

      • Taxi says:

        Ever tried to ask a fundie to supply you with a single actual proof of Jesus’ existence – like a small piece of archeological finding or a document from his time that verifies his citizenship and life in the holy land? I mean there were several documentarians at the time who recorded the political upheavals of the time in snips and snags but not a whisper about his life, his death or his hugely controversial political rebellion against the violently oppressive Romans.

        Not that such proof is relevant at this stage really as obviously the concept of the ‘messenger of love’ is a good one for humanity and has taken a-hold of the hearts and imaginations of billions of people over 2 thousand years now – which in itself has a sentimental and positive validity of sorts.

        Not to offend any christians or moslems out there who believe and love Jesus The Christ. It’s just some of us on the planet find it hard to blindly accept the enigmas of history without actual evidence. Personally, it’s an open-ended question for me: he may or he may not have existed – it don’t bother me either way.

        But I do object to people using the name of a supposed messenger of love to oppress and slaughter humanity en mass and without blinking an eye.

  9. RE: “The pro-Israel lobby courts influential African-Americans” ~ Ira Glunts

    ALSO SEE: Israel trip an eye-opening experience for Jefferson chief, By Adina Solomon, onlineathens.com, 07/18/11

    This summer, Jefferson Police Chief Joe Wirthman went on a two-week trip 6,000 miles away, traveling across Israel with a delegation of state law enforcement officers as part of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange.
    “It was an awesome trip,” he said. “A trip of a lifetime.”
    GILEE, which partners with Georgia State University, sends a different group of Georgia officers every summer to work with Israeli law enforcement and border control.
    Commerce Police Chief John Gaissert and University of Georgia Police Chief Jimmy Williamson also have gone in past years.
    The object of the program is to learn how Israeli police deal with terrorism every day…
    …After his trip, Wirthman is trying to think one step ahead with the Jefferson Police Department, preparing for the type of threatening situations Israel faces 24 hours a day, he said.
    “Hopefully it’ll never happen, but in this world, ‘never’ isn’t a word,” Wirthman said. “We’re not invincible here.”
    He’s also witnessed how people live their daily lives with the constant menace of terrorism, he said.
    Wirthman met one man who sends each of his children on a different bus to school. In case one of the buses is bombed, only one of his three children will be harmed.
    “I don’t know if I could raise my family under those conditions,” said Wirthman, who has three kids of his own.
    And nobody in Israel grumbles about it, he said. Instead, they have a strong national pride many Americans had only after 9/11, he said…”

    ENTIRE PROPAGANDA ARTICLE – link to onlineathens.com

    • P.S. ALSO SEE: Sheriff Ortiz goes to Israel, by Eva Ruth Moravec, mysanantonio.com, 07/07/11

      (excerpts)…For one week last month, Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz swapped his cowboy hat for a yarmulke as he visited Israel on an organized trip with other law enforcement leaders.
      “I’ve always had an interest in Israel,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “It was a great conference.”
      Ortiz joined 16 other sheriffs, police chiefs and organization heads, including Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, on a week-long trip, courtesy of the Jewish Institute for National Security’s Law Enforcement Exchange Program….
      …Ortiz said he was impressed by Israel Defense Force soldiers, who he said are trained as soldiers and as police officers.
      “If we ever deploy troops along the Texas border, they should have training in being a soldier and in law enforcement,” he said…
      …The junket was Ortiz’s second organized trip to Israel: last year, Bexar County footed the bill to send him to an international conference on homeland security, he said…

      SOURCE – link to blog.mysanantonio.com

  10. Potsherd2 says:

    Let those people try to rent an apartment in Israel, and they’d soon be singing a different song.

  11. yourstruly says:

    who is the self-hater?

    the jew who supports justice for palestine?

    or the israel-firster?

    the pro-palestinian is on the side of one equals one, the equality of all peoples

    nobody left out

    the israel-firster is for israel right or wrong, might makes right & god told us it was ours, &, besides, not to forget the one about a land without a people for a people without a land

    regardless of many people get caught in the crossfire, not to mention all the destruction?

    regardless

    no matter how much jewish people suffer as a consequence of israel’crimes against humanity?

    no matter

    the self-hater, by definition

  12. Avi_G. says:

    This is as cynical a ploy by AIPAC as Pinkwashing.

  13. yourstruly says:

    self-haters because by their actions, they do heap terrible destruction upon us all

    & for what?

    exclusivity? – sorry, the land & its resources will have to be shared

    superiority? – rather the inferiority complex that underlies it

    mindlessness? – for which a changing world will prove to be therapeutic

  14. biorabbi says:

    If Jesus were alive, he’d be fighting in the IDF(although he’d probably be a dual citizen fighting in the delta force). His political affiliation would be tea party, his maid of honor? Michelle Bachman… ‘my Michelle….=)’

  15. annie says:

    fyi jeffrey has written a comment today i think pertains to this thread so i’m crossposting it. i recommend.

  16. radii says:

    first schmooze and charm

    then cajole

    then pressure

    then bribe

    then extort and threaten

    … busy little zio bees indeed

  17. Ira Glunts says:

    More Zionist Lyrics With a Gospel Beat

    How did I miss the Reverend Glenn Plummer and his Fellowship of Israel and Black America (FIBA)? The Israeli branch of the organization is headed by Linda Olmert, the sister-in-law of ex-PM, Ehud.

    Here is a 2009 video of Reverend Glenn on Israeli TV. He’s slick. Maybe he will be invited to President Obama’s next Passover seder.

    link to youtube.com

    This 2008 article has more on the Reverend and others who share his pro-Israel passion. He even got to shake hands with Simon Peres.

    link to charismamag.com

  18. Here is a great, pro-Palestine, afro-american voice of Mahalia Jackson.

  19. mbuyi says:

    The South African leg of the Russel Tribunal on Palestine will be starting this weekend in District Six, famous for the forced removal of black people to make way for white settlements. Does that sound remotely like what is happening to the Palestinians today? The South African leg will be looking at whether what Israel practices fits the definition of apartheid.