The Complicated History Behind BLM's Solidarity With The Pro-Palestinian MovementBreaking News
tags: Palestine, Black lives matter, Protest
Many Black Lives Matter activists have taken to the streets across the U.S. in recent weeks to voice their support for pro-Palestinian causes, including calls against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the U.S.-Israel alliance.
The 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas last month — the worst in the region since 2014 — left at least 256 people dead in Gaza, the United Nations reports, and 13 people have died in Israel, according to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This latest round of violence has renewed a sense of solidarity with the pro-Palestinian movement among some BLM organizers in the U.S., where sympathy with the Palestinians in the broader conflict has been growing.
Behind the connection between the two movements is a complicated history of a fissure among earlier generations of African American activists that helped form what Zellie Thomas, an organizer with Black Lives Matter in Paterson, N.J., calls a "Black radical tradition."
"What we're seeing right now is nothing new," says Thomas, who leads a local chapter of the decentralized movement for Black lives that echoes prior advocacy for Palestinian rights by the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis.
In the 1950s, Malcolm X was among the first Black activists to speak out for the "Arab cause" in the Arab-Israeli conflict, beginning during his time with the Nation of Islam when he sometimes talked up antisemitic conspiracy theories. People of color in the U.S. "would be completely in sympathy with the Arab cause," Malcolm X said during a 1958 press conference covered by the New York Amsterdam News. "The only point is they are not familiar with the true problems existing in the Middle East." Later, Malcolm X went to Gaza and visited Palestinian refugee camps months before his assassination in 1965.
It helped set the stage in the U.S. more than two years later for Black Power activists to take a divisive stance after the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 ended with Israel defeating Egypt, Jordan and Syria and capturing the West Bank of the Jordan River, Gaza and other territories. That marked the start of Israel's ongoing occupation of the West Bank and a major public rift among African American activists — many of whom supported the Zionist movement and the creation of the state of Israel as a homeland for Jews, including survivors of the Holocaust.
"We need to understand that Black identification with Zionism predates the formation of Israel as a modern state," says Robin D. G. Kelley, a historian at the University of California, Los Angeles who studies social movements. "It goes back to the Book of Exodus in the Bible — the story of the flight of the Jews out of Egypt, which was not only a narrative of emancipation and renewal, but it was deployed by African Americans to critique American slavery and racism."
Most Black leaders welcomed Israel's founding in 1948, Kelley adds: "You look at the Black press. There was virtually no mention of Arab dispossession. Instead, they identified with European Jews as an oppressed and dispossessed people who survive near extermination."
But after the 1967 war, a different perspective was becoming more visible.
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