The New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Weaving the Fabric of Diversity at the First Unitarian Congregational Society Brooklyn co-hosted a panel last night with Dr. Robyn Spencer, an assistant professor of history at Lehman College and curator of the Black on Palestine website, and Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American activist and the director of the Arab American Association of New York, on the connections of militarized policing between the US and Israel. The panel was held one day after a press conference hosted by a coalition of over fifty groups, including JVP, in opposition to the New York City Council’s upcoming delegation to Israel and the US-Israel military/police relationship.
JVP member Beth Miller introduced the panel: “As the NYPD’s racial profiling and predatory policing grows more severe, we find ourselves in the midst of a national crisis of militarized policing,” she said. “We cannot forget that this violence is amplified by the Israeli military industrial complex.”
Dr. Spencer, whose work focuses on twentieth century civil rights movements, began her speech with a 1963 quote from Malcolm X:
“Of all our studies, history is best qualified to reward our research. And when you see that you’ve got problems, all you have to do is examine the historic method used all over the world by others who have problems similar to yours. And once you see how they got theirs straight, then you know how you can get yours straight.”
With this historical framework, she proceeded to illustrate a broad-sweeping image of law and order in this country. “Controlling black bodies (and a profit motive) has been deeply rooted in the history of policing in this country,” she said, before delving into the long history of racist policing and the prison industrial complex.
Spencer compared the imprisonment of Black Americans to Israel’s treatment of occupied Palestinians, and highlighted both the US and Israeli justice systems’ assumption of guilt of these peoples: “It’s not just that the tear gas appears in both places, or that security personnel travel between both places … it’s about the political problem that Black bodies pose for the US state and the problem that Palestinian bodies pose for the Israeli state.” She concluded her talk by focusing on the significance of African American solidarity delegations in Palestine, and the importance of “connecting the dots” historically of the racist ideologies at the root of Israeli and US society.
Sarsour began her talk by expressing her gratitude and support for the campaign to pressure the New York City Council to cancel their trip to Israel. She picked up where Spencer left off, discussing the tangible connections made this summer between Palestinian and African American activists, such as Palestinians’ advice on tear gas shared through social media. This solidarity, as Sarsour told it, is a major turning point for the global movement for racial justice and Palestine solidarity. “This movement between Black Lives Matter and Palestine liberation is scaring the crap out of the ADL [and other pro-Israel groups]” she said.
Sarsour focused her talk on the theme of police accountability. She stated strongly that she is not anti-police; “I’m asking for equity, to be treated with respect,” she said. Later, she emphasized the importance of grassroots organizing and the electoral process, despite its shortcomings, highlighting the importance of a special election on Staten Island in which Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island District Attorney who failed to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner, is running for the House of Representatives. “Democracy will only work if we participate in it,” Sarsour said.