I was recently very disappointed with Obama’s refusal to even consider attending the 2009 U.N Conference on Racism, considering his rhetoric about change. I respect that decision but with very strong reticence. I wrote this reaction to such a decision according to what Lorraine Hansberry and James Baldwin stated in their fiction and their nonfiction. This entry is not an effort to critique the relationship between Blacks and Jews, but more an effort to understand the various nuances of the relationship, nuances that are covered up. It is my effort to reconnect with a history that many have tried to separate me from.
The Obama administration’s censoring of the 2009 United Nations Conference Against Racism marks a dangerous allowance of power to the Israeli lobby that would only further the sentiment, believed by the world, that the United States is still the largest purveyor of violence. It is an unwise decision that may please perhaps the strongest lobby in Washington, AIPAC (American Israeli Political Action Committee), but it will continue to isolate the U.S. from the world population and encourage “terrorist” activity. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere. Tim McGirk writes in a January 2009 Time magazine article that “Hamas cannot be beaten militarily,” but should be “engaged politically.” By demanding that the U.N. Conference Against Racism avoid reference to Israel, Obama is condoning a threat to justice everywhere in the world by ultimately endorsing the violent policies of the Israeli state towards the Palestinian people. The rich legacy of African American writers, particularly James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry, provide an important framework for interpreting the Israeli colonization of Palestine. Baldwin and Hansberry were aware of the dilemma of colonization for Europeans not only in their non-fiction but in their fiction, which dismantles colonization by displaying its sheer ugliness. In defending Andrew Young in Jimmy Carter’s public chastisement of him (as U.N. Ambassador) in 1979, Baldwin wrote, “the state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews’ it was created for the salvation of Western interests…The Palestinians have been paying for the British colonial policy of ‘divide and rule’ and for Europe’s guilty Christian conscience for more than thirty years.” Baldwin suggests to the reader that Israel is a European or Western construction and as such pinpoints a significant injustice of occupation that continues to this day. According to a 2003 commission organized by Israel’s own government , Israel behaves in a “neglectful and discriminatory” manner towards Arabs. The Israeli government is notorious for their anti-Arab racism. Even McGirk writes that a “tectonic shift in demographics [in Israel from European to Arab]…scared…hawkish Israelis.” By censoring the U.N. Conference Against Racism, Israel is ignoring their own racism against Arabs and continuing the trauma visited upon European Jews by Nazis. They should at least confront Israeli colonization and make an effort to curtail the cycle of violence that their racist oppression against Palestinians perpetuates. Baldwin’s essay in defense of Young was published one month before I was born, and one month after a very important Black Leadership Summit at the NAACP’s national office in New York. Out of this summit came a “Declaration of Independence” from Jewish control of Black organizations. Julian Bond read the meeting’s statement on “Black/Jewish Relations.” It was unanimously adopted and it said in part: “within the past 20 years some Jewish organizations and intellectuals who were previously identified with the aspirations of Black Americans…became apologists for the racial status quo…Powerful organizations within the Jewish community opposed the interest of the Black community in the DeFunis, Bakke, and Weber cases up to the United States Supreme Court.” Tony Martin, Africana Studies Professor at Wellesley College and author of The Jewish Onslaught shows how the historical relationship between Blacks and Jews do not in fact provide justification for blind support of Israel and the United States in their demands to censor the U.N. Conference Against Racism. Martin points out that the judge who sentenced influential leader Marcus Garvey (Julian Mack) before his deportation was a Zionist and co-founder of the American Jewish Committee. The Ocean Hill-Brownsville debacle which removed public school control from the predominantly Black community and placed it in the hands of the mainly white Jewish teachers unions produced the kind of soft bigotry of low expectations that we see up to this day. Based on this history, the relationship between African Americans and white American Jews has not provided a basis for blind support of AIPAC or a lack of critique against it. According to an article by Steven Carter, in one of Lorraine Hansberry’s notes for an unpublished play, she wrote: “the Europeans will always underestimate us since they will be fighting free men thinking they are fighting slaves, and again and again—that will be their undoing.” By censoring the U.N. Conference Against Racism, they show that by the exclusion and treatment of Palestinians, Israel insists on undoing itself. Baldwin pointed out in the same 1979 essay that Israel was the main arms supplier of white South Africa. In fact, South African Jews were beneficiaries of apartheid, and were the world’s richest community and the world’s highest per capita contributors to Israel. How much of the wealth owned by Jews was in fact created at the expense of South African labor? Lorraine Hansberry’s character of Tshembe Matoseh in her posthumous play Les Blancs, laments his brother Abioseh’s conversion to the Catholic Church by detailing how African labor produced material wealth, saying: “I know the value of this silver, Abioseh! It is far more hold than you know. I have collapsed with fatigue with those who dug it out of our earth! I have lain in the dark of those barracks where we were locked like animals at night and listened to them cough and cry and swear and vent the aching needs of their bodies on one another. I have seen them die!” If we as African Americans have seen another victim of a gun shooting die, we have also seen some part of the billions of dollars given to the European Israeli state instead of given to legislation that could have paid for some preventive measure. Baldwin, Martin, Hansberry and many other important writers have shown that because race trumped religion, it is essential for African Americans to demand that other injustices not be carried out with impunity on any other nations, including Palestinians. Those who know better must do better. The proposition that literature is a moral force for change was articulated by Addison Gayle in his 1970 text Black Expressions. Baldwin and Hansberry have proven their nonfiction and fictional works are moral forces for change, to not only educate but inspire American citizens to ensure that injustices by Israelis do not create threats to justice anywhere. We need to rely on their moral compass, based on their experience as African Americans, and not on AIPAC. -RF.