Last week I had the privilege to attend the UCLA UCAS (UCLA’s student government) meeting and be in solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA and their call for divestment from corporations that violate Palestinian human rights. As the meeting went on it became very clear that it came down to underrepresented and marginalized communities banding together in support of the Palestinian call for divestment from human rights violations while Zionist forces aimed to defeat divestment because it hurt their feelings.
The evening was filled with racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia coming from the anti-divestment side but two things struck me as particularly appalling: Zionists claiming that Israel has not forced contraception or deported Ethiopian migrants and that because of its policies regarding LGBTQ people it is democratic and free. Both are lies and what I find startling are the underlying contradictions when we look at how Israel is treated and understood by mainstream US media compared to US states such as Arizona and Florida.
In the last week we have heard much about Arizona’s controversial SB 1062, a bill that allows for discrimination, with particular focus against LGBTQ people, on the basis of religious freedom. Once it passed the Arizona legislature and was sent to Governor Jan Brewer’s desk there was an immediate response from gay rights activists, George Takei made a round on MSNBC to discuss his intention not only to boycott Arizona if the bill was signed but also encourage others to do the same. With the threat of boycott along with a growing corporate opposition to the bill due to concerns loss of profits, Governor Brewer vetoed the bill. What is crucial for everyone to understand is that this did not happen because of how immoral and hateful the bill was but rather because of capitalism, corporations feared appearing homophobic which would result in a loss of profits and the state feared a loss of tourism and revenue from LGBTQ people.
What I mean by all of this is that, within the context of Arizona’s other racist laws such as SB 1070, white gay and lesbian folks with money and political power appear to matter and they matter not because of their humanity but because of their whiteness and wealth. While Arizona came under attack for this from mainstream liberal media and gay activists we see something very different happening in Israel. Israel, as I was constantly reminded throughout the UCLA USAC meeting, is a liberal and democratic state and one where gays and lesbians were accepted. It is important to note that this “acceptance” stems almost entirely from an Israeli campaign called Brand Israel where one of the focuses is to highlight same sex marriage and military inclusion of LGBTQ people. As I have mentioned before this campaign should be challenged not only because Israel is not without homophobia but also the idea that these policies are right to start with. Then we should be asking: what of the LGBTQ Palestinians who live under occupation who constantly fear violence from IDF soldiers? In both Arizona and Israel white affluent gays and lesbians are welcome to the extent that laws are created or rejected because of them while people of color, in Arizona this largely means [email protected] and in occupied Palestine and Israel this means Palestinians and growingly, African migrants, are made to live under a brutal dehumanizing state.
Sadly the comparison and contradiction does not end there, because of SB 1070 documented [email protected] in Arizona live as second class citizens who are subject to profiling and must provide papers to police when asked to prove their right to move freely on their own land. Undocumented people in Arizona, many of whom are indigenous to the land, live under the fear of deportation not only because of federal policies but also state laws such as SB 1070. This situation has garnered Arizona consistent criticism from places such as MSNBC and The Daily Show.
Now when we turn to Israel there is yet another contradiction. The same thing occurs in Palestine where Palestinians must show papers through dehumanizing checkpoints on their own land because they are criminalized and collectively punished for the actions of the few. The parallels are startling but while Arizona receives criticism Israel is labeled “liberal and democratic”. Along with the shameful treatment of indigenous Palestinians, African migrants currently face similar xenophobic rhetoric, policies, and violence as undocumented people in Arizona (and the rest of the US as well). I was told numerous times by students at UCLA, which I imagine to be a progressive intellectual college campus, that migrants are welcome and accepted. Israel “accepts” African migrants and indigenous peoples similarly to how the United States, particularly Arizona, has in the past– with violence, forced contraception, xenophobia, and the threat of deportation.
At the UCLA USAC meeting one of the most empowering moments was when members of UCLA’s Afrikan Student Union (ASU) spoke back to back for over ten minutes criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, its treatment of African migrants, and USAC’s desire to dialogue rather than take action. The act of solidarity was truly inspiring especially in the face of the barrage of Zionists throughout the night and into morning constantly denying the fact that the state of Israel has forcibly injected Ethiopian womyn with long-term contraceptives. Some time during public comment after ASU spoke out, someone quoted W.E.B DuBois, “how does it feel to be a problem?”, in reference to the Palestinian and African people living in Israel. At the time I was standing next to a one of the ASU members and was unsurprised when he raised his hand and expressed his understanding of that situation. The commonality between the treatment of the African Diaspora in the US and that of the Palestinian people in occupied Palestine and African Migrants in Israel should be easy to see. What concerns me is the difference in the level of attention given and the silencing that occurs.
With the men who murdered Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin not seeing justice, Florida and its law commonly known as Stand Your Ground have come under fire as it increasingly seems that the law is tantamount to legalized murder of black youths. This attack on black bodies has come with an uprising in the US, the Governor’s office in Florida was occupied, musical artists swore to boycott Florida until its laws changed, and books are being written about the racism embedded within the law.
However if we were to move Florida inside of Israel this reaction would not happen. How do I know this? Because black bodies in Israel are already under attack with racist policies and physical violence. As previously mentioned Ethiopian womyn have been sterilized without their consent, but in addition to this there are rallies and marches, led by elected government officials, who call for deportation and violence against African migrants.
The contradiction is confusing, why would we view two incredibly similar situations so differently and why would they be treated so differently? Why did USAC vote not pass the divestment resolution that would remove their complicity from known violation of humyn rights? One of the things that ties this all together is capitalism. The underlying connection for simultaneous tokenization and violence against LGBTQ people and the acts of violence and murder against African Americans and African migrants in Arizona, Florida, Israel, and occupied Palestine is the notion that certain bodies carry certain value. The value of Palestinians apparently is not equal to the feelings of Zionist white UC citizens attending UCLA. The value of white gay and lesbian bodies is high enough to be worth an entire marketing campaign or the veto of a bill while [email protected] and Palestinians are subject to brutality, dehumanization, and even death. Lastly it would seem that African Americans and African migrants are valued so little that murder goes without punishment and womyn are sterilized to prevent any more black bodies from existing.
The difference between the actions of Arizona and Florida compared to Israel is that the wound of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism inflicted by Israel is much fresher as compared to the colonizing of indigenous land the US occupies. This means for Israel it can’t afford to receive the same criticism leading to international campaigns to brand itself liberal and democratic. It is because of this that we see students from one of the premier universities in the world being blinded by propaganda and nationalism causing them to stand up for the very thing they condemn in their own country.
(Crossposted at resistwithus)