In 2012, Pulitzer Prize winning Black author, Alice Walker, came under fire by Zionists when she refused to allow her internationally acclaimed book The Color Purple be translated, published, and sold by an Israeli publishing company. When asked about her decision, Walker compared what she’d seen on her multiple trips to Palestine to the Jim Crow south that she grew up in, stating, “the unfairness of it is so much like the South. It’s so much like the South of 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, killed, imprisoned.” Following this decision and her statements, outrage flowed as the Anti-Defamation League and other Israeli-backed organizations issued a statements against her. Several journalists, including Alan Dershowitz, referred to her as “bigoted,” and compared her choice to use her book to support the BDS cultural boycott to “the moral and legal equivalent of neo-Nazi author David Duke disallowing his books to be sold to Black and Jewish readers.”
The underlying assumption in the overwhelmingly angry responses to Walker’s decision to support BDS were ironically simple: she is ignorant, and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Lambasted by writers and pro-Israel activists alike, the common notion dwelling underneath the responses and critiques is the assumption of Black people’s ignorance, inferiority, and lack ability to relate to Palestinians. By invoking the notion of the Jim Crow era South as a proper comparison for Israeli apartheid, Walker is making a concise comparison on violence: state violence and structured violence. During Jim Crow, much like Palestine, Walker describes having to use different walking paths than white citizens, not being allowed in certain stores and restaurants, and segregation as an extension of structured violence. Along with this similarity, we know that Jim Crow was a time of extreme police brutality and police presence, a condition easily related to the experiences of Palestinians under constant threat of violence from Israel’s military occupation.
Then once again, in 2016 and 2017, we have watched as a new wave of high profile Black leaders have come under fire for their choices to support the BDS movement. Most notably, rappers Princess Nokia and Lauryn Hill, and several NFL players cancelling tour dates within Israel. Following an open letter cosigned by several activists including Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Marc Lamont Hill, Alicia Garza, and Jasiri X, NFL players announced they refused to go on the propaganda tour of Israel. Noting Apartheid violence, segregation, and propaganda manipulation as some of these reasons, one football player stated he wants to “see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives. I want to be a voice for the voiceless, and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
Much like what occurred with Alice Walker’s high profile support of BDS, the NFL players were met with harsh criticism and, unsurprisingly, the assumption of ignorance as a basis for their refusal of participation. Atlanta Jewish Times writer Michael Jacobs called the open letter to the NFL players rife with “emphasizing false parallels between Palestinians and black Americans.” He then continues to use coded language with purpose of insinuating ignorance, stating that several of the NFL players “fell for” the “anti-Israel propaganda.” What about their decision assumes they they “fell for” anything, rather they learned and were educated on the human rights violations of Israel, and the collectives struggles Palestinians and Black Americans similarly face, and made their own decision to pull out of the trip.
What we see is a clear pattern, whether it is local rabbis blasting Black Lives Matter activists as “ignorant” for including support of BDS in their demands, Zionist white feminists attacking the women’s movement for standing against Zionism, or the coded language against Alice Walker and NFL players that assumes they simply ‘don’t know what they’re talking about.’ The pattern is the use of anti-Black rhetoric and, in turn, anti-Blackness in whole, to perpetuate the assumption of Black ignorance to silence and belittle Black BDS advocates.
The idea that Black people, particularly Black Americans, can be elaborately educated on global politics and the intricacies of the Palestinian conflict seems foreign to them, because anti-Blackness is an inherent result of Zionism. To assume that folks like Angela Davis and Alice Walker, Black women who were raised in the Jim Crow South, surrounded by church bombings, segregation, police violence, and systemic poverty are unable to make clear connections between their experiences and those of Palestinians is nothing less of a racist assumption of ignorance.
The latest in this trend of anti-Black rhetoric as a means of Zionism comes from director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) Robbie Friedmann, whose recent article is an anti-Black assault on the praxes of intersectionality and Black activism masked underneath a defense of BDS and the GILEE program. GILEE is a law enforcement exchange program, which writer Anna Simonton describes as a “Georgia-based program that has sent thousands of American law enforcement officials to Israel for counter-terrorism training.” Conjuring a fear-mongering tone in the beginning of the article by evoking remembrance of the famous September 11th terrorist attacks, his first mistake is stating that this was the “worst terrorist atrocity in the world’s history.” Given the context of the conversation Friedmann is putting forth on policing and Black activism, it seems dubious to position the events of September 11th as the “worst terrorist atrocity in the world’s history” despite the Transatlantic Slave Trade, systemic lynchings and police killings, Black church bombings, and dozens of other actions which call for us to redefine the notion of terrorism and the word’s use altogether. One must ask: in framing his piece with such a statement, is he setting up to invalidate and challenge Black and Palestinian oppression, respectively?
He then continues to describe terrorism in the following paragraphs in great;y opinionated detail, slipping into islamophobia to paint the anti-Semitic rants of a singular person as the voice of majority Muslims around the world. The purpose of this terrorism discussions seems to be nothing more than setting up to compare BDS to a form of terrorism, much like Republican state Senator Leah Vukmir’s reference of BDS as “economic terrorism,” and Marco Rubio’s “economic warfare” comments from last year. This positioning, which is espoused throughout the duration of the article, is purposefully steeped in facetious language, and while Friedmann mentions criticism of Israel are “valid,” not once does he list any of those criticisms or their magnitude.
The second portion of Friedmann’s piece rests solely on the same anti-Black rhetoric that was used against aforementioned Alice Walker, the NFL players, and countless other Black people who have publicly supported the BDS movement. Referring to the GILEE program, he states: “In Atlanta, as in other cities, BDS is focusing on cutting the ties between local police and the Israel Police through the efforts of a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups joining forces as strange bedfellows driven by “intersectionality.”” True to the nature of anti-Blackness, this statement is tied to the assumption that Black activists lack to intellectual agency to come to Palestine-related conclusions ourselves. I was in the room last year when Activists from the Black organizing coalition ATLisReady decided to demand an end to the GILEE program, and I can tell you with certainty it was a swiftly supported decision we’d all naturally come to agree on. We were not persuaded by any form of anti-Semitism, nor mesmerized by some ”pro-Palestinian group” as Friedmann vaguely claims; we were educated on the ways the IDF create, reinforce, and sustain violence against both Palestinians and Israelis of color. Many in the room had been to Palestine before and witnessed the police violence with their own eyes, and many of us had experienced police violence in some form here, in Atlanta, and the connection became unavoidable.
What becomes clear when proponents of Zionism and the GILEE program argue against Black activists demand their cities cut ties with the program is the extent to which anti-Blackness actually is a core result of Zionism, even for those liberal Zionists who claim to be progressive. It would be an ahistoricism to argue that US policing has not always been a constant antagonism to the Black identity, with our criminalization dating back to the slave patrol origins of policing in the US. Thus, this criminalization has been one one of both rhetoric and actions, the former often leading to the ladder; terms like ‘terrorist action’ and ‘counterterrorism’ which the GILEE programs boasts have historically been used against Black people to justify police oversight and violence. Our mistrust of the GILEE program does not lie in anti-Semitism or lack of understanding, to the contrary, it lies within our positional similarity to the violence enacted against Palestinians, and how our material conditions let us know the same violence will be used against us. To argue with this is to deny both the history and current conditions of police brutality, and to essentially slap us in the face while claiming to care about ‘human rights’ and ‘safety.’
Friedmann also manages to purposefully misconstrue intersectionality in the process of his argument, saying Palestinians and Black people are “strange bedfellows” driven by intersectionality. This seems to be in line with the recent trend of Zionists attacking intersectionality, the theory turned praxis first created by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the ways oppressive structures are interconnected and cannot be examined separately. In June of this year Fern Oppenheim of the Brand Israel Group named “intersectionality” and coalition-creating on campuses as responsible for young Jewish people’s waning interest in Israel, stating they need to “deal with intersectionality” by “hiring conservative professors to offset the toxic culture” of diversity-building on campuses.
Because intersectionality calls for us to examine the commonality and interconnected nature of oppressive systems, it becomes antithetical to the core logic of Zionism, which assumes Israel, as well as oppression within Israel, stands independent of other structures. Along with this logic, we are taught in such an unquestionable way that the oppression that Palestinians face also stands independent of structures of racism, islamophobia, and settler-colonialism, not relative to the oppression that Black Americans may face, and not similar to the experiences of others. This is because the reality of Palestinian oppression intersecting with the oppression of others around the world is frightening to the Zionist movement, as it marks an unavoidable full acceptance of pro-Palestinian politics into major movements all around the world.
Furthermore, the constant conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism has recently been used as a gaslighting bedrock to continue the dismissal and misuse of intersectionality. In March of this year, Benjamin Goldstone wrote “It’s Time For Intersectionality To Include The Jews,” a piece in which he builds the bulk of his argument on the false notion that intersectional movements have been manipulated by anti-Zionists to “exclude Jewish issues from pro-justice movements.” To date, all organization-coalitions that have been created in Atlanta, for example, have featured various Jewish and Jewish-led groups, including Jewish Voices For Peace and Interfaith Peace Builders. Moreover, movements which claim to be intersectional identify structures of oppression based on identity and challenge them through coalition organizing, and the bulk of work underneath intersectional movements has been addressing issues of racism, religious bigotry, and where the two collide. Anti-Semitism, as a form of ethno-religious bigotry and prejudice, certainly falls underneath the confines of racial and religious oppression, so at what point has this exclusion occurred? Excluding the marginal, few anti-Semitic intersectional activists that this exist and hold power, this seems to be an inflation of intersectionality’s lack of room for Zionism, not Jewish people.
Gladstone doubles down on the misconceptions, stating:
“Finally, it must be emphasized that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, although not one and the same, are inextricably linked. It is not enough for pro-justice activists to accept Jews on the condition that we are docile, individualistic, American, and at their mercy […] When activists condemn ‘Zionists,’ they are more often than not, consciously or unconsciously, drawing on a Soviet tradition of leftist anti-Semitism that uses the term ‘Zionist’ as a code for Jews in general. Most American Jews feel attached to Israel and believe it has a right to exist, and therefore are vulnerable to the exclusion of Zionists from pro-justice action. Hatred of “Zionists” is wielded again and again as a mechanism for excluding the activists and institutions that are more representative of American Jewry from the intersectional conversation.”
I agree with Gladstone that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are inextricably linked, but only to the extent that anti-Zionism will always be silenced and dismissed due to empty cries of anti-Semitism so long as the conflict exists. And while Gladstone’s red-baiting use of drawing on Soviet-era examples and assumption that “Zionist” is used interchangeably with “Jewish” may seem sound, it falls flat of truth, and still exists within the same space of anti-Blackness that denies Black people our own agency and ability of information. When Black organizers and activists say we are against Zionism, we are not Soviet rhetoric nor perpetuating subconscious anti-Semitic dogma; we mean exactly what we say, and the assumption that we unknowingly are saying something otherwise is offensive. This assumption, and the larger assault on intersectionality as a whole, should be seen as misogynoir, as the intersectional movement is overwhelmingly lead by Black women, and intersectionality itself is a framework for praxis created for Black women.
Jaime Omar Yassin wrote recently, that “If gender is shared by all racial groups, feminism cannot be Zionist, just as it cannot be neo-Nazi—feminism that doesn’t have an understanding of how it intersects with racial and ethnic oppression is simply a diversification of white supremacy.” If Yassin is correct, then the Zionist assault on intersectionality, just like the assault on Alice Walker’s “Democratic Womanism,” is no different—it is just a new manifestation of anti-Blackness and misogynoir, tucked away within purposefully misreading and misuse of theory. As these many examples show, Zionism is a logic of anti-Blackness, with specific forms of misogynoir that accompany it, which doesn’t accept the agency of Black people who own valid critiques of its function.