The Iran Deal is an African-American achievement.
At every stage it was led by black Americans. It was advanced by our first African American president, who entered politics calling for change, who is highly sensitive to racism against people of color, who found the isolation of Cuba and Iran for decades out of spite destructive to the American future and needed to do something about those policies before he left the White House.
The Deal was bolstered when the Congressional Black Caucus stood up to the Israeli Prime Minister, who came to Congress to dismiss the president’s initiative in March. The Black Caucus was angry about the appearance, as many Americans were, but they were keener to call out the Dis. Many boycotted the speech, calling it an insult: which it was! National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned Netanyahu then that it was a “destructive” act, and he ignored her; as DeWayne Wickham, head of Morgan State’s journalism school, wrote at the time, citing a history of racism among Israeli leaders.
And when Netanyahu later won an election with last minute racist appeals, telling his voters that Arabs were going to the polls “in droves,” our black legislators heard him loud and clear.
The Deal was sealed by the votes of black east coast politicians who are dependent on money from the Israel lobby but who stood up for their president in the end. Senator Cory Booker and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries were both once thought to be voting against the Deal. Hakeem Jeffries cried, Israel today, Israel tomorrow, Israel forever at a rally during Israel’s massacre in Gaza last summer, and Booker has turned the same blind eye again and again. Even the New York Times says that Jeffries’s big contributors are against the Iran Deal (meaning conservative Jews). But the two legislators lined up with the president, with appropriate symbolism. Jeffries rode Air Force One with the president. Booker tweeted out his respect for his adversaries even as he affirmed the historic shift.
And the Deal was heralded in a triumphant tweet by Gwen Ifill, a leading journalist who as a black woman has championed civil rights in the U.S. and surely was upset by Netanyahu’s racist appeals: “Take that, Bibi!”
Take that, Bibi. https://t.co/V9Gn9vP6xN
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) September 2, 2015
Of course a broad coalition for change supported the Iran Deal, from American realists to leftwingers to feminists to Iranian-Americans to liberal Zionists. We all want to see a new American relationship with the world.
But the Ifill tweet reminds us of the deal’s special resonance for black Americans. Iran is the signature foreign policy achievement of the first black president, struggling against the most powerful political forces in the land.
Will the deal change the black-Jewish relationship? I believe it will. Black Elites Matter. The Dream Defenders went from Ferguson to Palestine, and the black elites will follow. The isolation of Iran is of a piece with the isolation of Palestine, and Egypt, and Iraq, and Syria. Anyone that doesn’t like Israel has to be sequestered in U.S. political life– and suprrise, a lot of them are people of color.
This order is in great danger today. A rightwing Jewish foreign policy coterie –that had “inexcusable prejudice” against the black president, in Sandy Berger’s words — is giving way to a far more diverse elite. Democratic senators such as Cory Booker may have broken forever with the neoconservatives and Islamophobes and expansionist Zionists who helped get Booker et al into high office in the first place. The new Israel lobbyists, liberal Zionists, are willing to work with American interest types and progressive groups. As Jennifer Rubin laments in the Washington Post on Booker’s defection, AIPAC and Israel put all their weight against the deal and they could not win Democrats.
If “African-American values” came to bear on the Iran situation – and by that I mean humanistic values, sensitivity to the underdog, to the victim of prejudice, to the non-European—these same values can now come to bear on the Israel Palestine conflict. The battle will only grow more pitched in years to come, as funding apartheid becomes an issue for our politicians. And African Americans will play the leadership role they did in the South Africa situation, and the great Iran Deal of 2015.
P.S. A word about Gwen Ifill’s wonderful tweet. How can you expect an intelligent person to work as many years in our flawed and unfair world as she has, with the seriousness and awareness she has projected, and not develop opinions. Of course she has opinions. But they are supposed to be private, even as a foreign prime minister is making racist appeals to win his election and trying to undermine the first black president. The internet is making journalists’ private opinions our business. Because we are curious, yes, but because we understand that private opinions have enormous bearing on the news and we have the right to know what powerful journalists really think. Many journalists seek this transparency, and social media, which is popular for the most traditional journalistic reasons (it has news on it) has exerted great pressure to which Ifill succumbed. Applaud her for exposing her views, honor her views, and hope that PBS makes room for her to express them more often.