The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come to Ferguson, or rather, inserted itself into the middle of a fight that previously had nothing to do with Jews or Arabs. Pro-Palestinians groups have begun to weigh in on what they see as issues that Palestinians face in the West Bank and Gaza every day: racial profiling, stereotyping, and militarized police. But the Jewish community in the US has also been attempting to forge a partnership with the African American community, since long before the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
On August 20th, the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) released a statement expressing their solidarity with the protestors in Missouri. The BNC condemned the “militarized attack against unarmed protestors” as “shameful.”
“We recognize those tactics being used in Ferguson and the mentality behind them,” the statement said. “The dehumanization of the victim … and the methods of unbridled violence and control being used by security forces are all too familiar to Palestinians living under Israel’s decades-old occupation.”
The statement goes on to say that the people of Palestine are outraged and angry over the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and that, “the oppressed of the world must stand united in the face of racism, racial repression and injustice.”
Over last weekend, at a protest in Oakland, California, pro-BDS activists who were attempting to block the docking a large cargo ship carrying Israeli goods from docking were heard to shout “Hands up, don’t shoot,” echoing what has become the signature chant of the Ferguson protestors.
One protestor told The Guardian, “On Twitter, we’ve seen people in Gaza tweet to protesters in Ferguson how to cope with teargas. They’re saying things like, ‘as Palestinians, we know what it’s like to be targeted and killed for being of the wrong ethnicity.’”
The Arab American Institute (AAI) released two small pieces in their weekly newsletter this week addressing Ferguson. The first said that Arab Americans can understand the impact “of profiling and discriminatory law enforcement practices,” and that they “stand in solidarity with all victims of profiling and against the militarization of police forces.”
The second item also noted that “people across the world, like in Gaza, are offering support and advice for protestors…” (as well as commented on the absurdity of the government of Egypt telling the US government to show restraint).
Jewish Voice for Peace, a left-wing, pro-two state solution organization, also drew parallels between the two situations in Gaza and Missouri, including the fact that the St. Louis County police chief received training in counter-terrorism measures in Israel.
“We recognize that the devaluing of African-American lives built into the fabric of US government and society is mirrored in Israel’s unequal treatment of Palestinians,” JVP said in their statement. “We should neither have to say that Palestinian lives matter [n]or that Black lives matter. …It’s also not surprising to see the similarity in the tactics and technologies of repression against those who are rising up nonviolently in both places.”
In his column in the Huffington Post titled “Ferguson Is All Of Us,” published on Saturday, AAI President Dr. James Zogby described the “pent up frustration” of Ferguson, and how “It's not just Ferguson, its all of us who are on one side or the other of that line that has divided our nation since its beginning.” That line, of course, being race.
“The overlap and commonalities between African Americans and Arab Americans is sometimes a real one and more than just ‘solidarity’ on issues like profiling,” said Marc Sabbagh, a spokesperson for the AAI, “for example, when it comes to skin color of Arabs, particularly from North Africa, or the fact that 30 percent of Muslim Americans are African Americans.”
But long before the Arab community, the pro-Palestinian community, or the BDS campaigns began to tell the African-American community that they felt their pain, the Israeli and American Jewish community had been doing the same.
In February, on the occasion of Martin Luther King Day in the US, the Israeli Consulate in New York held an annual service commemorating the work of Dr. King. At the event, Ambassador Ido Aharoni said Dr. King valued the “precious nature of the friendship between the African-American and Jewish communities—who both share the goal of fighting racism, hatred and prejudice.”
Dr. Clarence B. Jones, a leader and close friend of Dr. King during the Civil Rights Era and one of the architects of the “I Have A Dream Speech,” similarly trumpeted MLK’s Zionism, and love for Israel and the Jewish community in his address.
"No African-American leader of national stature was more passionate, privately and publicly, than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in fostering a 24/7 working coalition with the Jewish community and his support for the State of Israel,” Dr. Jones said.
Evidence of that relationship of which Aharoni spoke can be seen in the presence of New York Congressman Charlie Rangel and myriad other leaders of the New York Black community, who appeared and spoke at events throughout the summer, first supporting the effort to find kidnapped teenagers Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach; then mourning their deaths; and then at rallies supporting Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
At the AIPAC conference in March this year, organizers and leaders repeatedly trumpeted the fact that this year was not only the biggest, but the most diverse conference ever: several African-American speakers and groups were prominently featured during the plenary sessions.
Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, told The Jerusalem Post that in in a public debate last year against an Arab opponent, his opponent tried to invoke exactly this analogy. “He alleged that Palestinians and Blacks have a lot in common, because they were both fighting for civil rights,” Klein said. “And the Blacks in the audience started screaming, ‘Don’t compare our two movements.’ I was quite taken aback.”
Klein continued, saying that to compared the movements in Ferguson with those of the BDS campaigners, or the situation of black people in American to that of Palestinians in the Levant, was “completely erroneous.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did not respond to a request for comment for who, in the end, the black community of the United States did feel a closer kinship with: Arabs or Jews.
But either way, neither the Jewish nor the Arab community has been silent on the recent events in Ferguson. A statement released this week called “The Jewish Community statement,” which was signed by over 100 rabbis and other Jewish community leaders, said they “have been in talks with community leadership to offer our help in a manner that would be productive,” and that “We all must redouble our efforts to combat racism, poverty and economic inequality, so that every individual, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, has a chance to live a decent, meaningful life.”
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization whose fight against stereotyping is one of its basic tenants, has released educational materials about Ferguson, among releasing several other statements of its own. The Jewish Community Relations Council sent out a list of what the “newest action opportunities” were, to donate, volunteer, or otherwise provide help for Ferguson residents.
The National Council of Jewish Women signed a letter asking the US Attorney General and the US Congress to act against racial profile. Other co-signers on that letter included the Arab American Institute, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, National Network for Arab American Communities, and Women in Islam were just some of more than 100 ethnic organizations.
The Arab American Association of New York also said that they have been supportive of the movement in Missouri, because “we see it here in our own community in New York,” said Cris Hilo, the AAANY’s Youth Lead Organizer, of police brutality and racial profiling. She also said they have worked with African American, Jewish, and all sorts of other groups in the past on the same issues.
“We are working with all different community allies, with everyone who’s willing to fight against it," Hilo said. "All communities who are oppressed, it’s natural for all of us to be working together.”