public figures are punished for being pro-palestine

January 18, 2019
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The two most recent and high profile cases against pro-Palestinian activists have been against renowned scholar and activist Angela Davis and professor-by-day, Nupe-by-night media figure Marc Lamont Hill. In November, Hill was fired from his commentator role at CNN less than 24 hours after giving a speech at the United Nations in support of Palestinian liberation. Earlier this month, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded a prestigious human rights award it was set to give Angela Davis in February due to her pro-Palestine activism and writing.

It is not an accident that the most high-profile cases of pro-Palestine backlash have targeted Black activists. In fact, it is precisely because of the surge in solidarity between Black activists in the U.S. and Palestine over the last few years that the Israel lobby is trying to shut down the debate.

One of the main issues at stake has been Black support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, launched in 2005, Palestinians want the outside world to exert economic pressure against Israel until they receive their rights in the same way that people of conscience protested apartheid in South Africa.

The BDS movement has gained increasing strength and popularity over the past 14 years — with hundreds of churches, student unions, and even banks passing resolutions to remove their investments from Israeli human rights violations. The movement saw particular growth following the summer of 2014, when Israel killed over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza during a 50-day incursion.

Black activists in particular took great interest in the Palestinian cause during this time, seeing parallels in the racism and state violence levied against Palestinians and the violence we experienced in places like Ferguson. Since then, the Dream Defenders has taken Black activists to visit Palestine, Palestinians have come to visit Ferguson, and Black people have become one of the more vocal advocates for Palestine. Activists even formed a group called Black for Palestine to organize more of the community to support this issue.

Capturing this moment, Angela Davis published a book in 2015 called “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement,” talking about joint police trainings between the US and Israel and the global nature of the prison industrial complex. The same year she participated in a video called “When I See Them, I See Us,” drawing parallels between the two movements.

Marc Lamont Hill has traveled to Palestine and Israel numerous times to work on a documentary about the struggles of Black and African people in both societies. Their work falls into a long legacy of Black support for Palestine, stretching back decades to SNCC and the Black Panther Party.

Since the start of the year, pro-Israel bloggers have also targeted Jewish people of color — specifically Black Jews — for supporting Palestine and addressing racism within the US Jewish community.

The attacks against these activists come at the same time that the Israel lobby is trying to pass a law in Congress that punishes people who advocate for the BDS movement against Israel. This law was the first piece of legislation the Senate attempted to pass this year in spite of the government shutdown. It has now failed to be raised for discussion three times.

In a censored, but recently leaked Al Jazeera series on the Israel Lobby, pro-Israel analysts concede that they are losing the battle of public opinion and that they are afraid of the growing solidarity between Palestinians and other oppressed groups. To combat this, they are focusing on making laws against the BDS movement and attempting to silence people who speak out.

Any Black person who speaks up for Palestine immediately becomes a threat because of the revolutionary potential of our existence and our resistance.

As Black for Palestine wrote in our defense of Marc Lamont Hill, “Zionists and white supremacists are uncomfortable with the phrases “Free Palestine” or “Black Lives Matter” because they understand that Israel and the US are built on racism and oppression. They implicitly understand that righting these wrongs requires them to give up their privileges, including access to land, wealth and social power.”

When these two causes come together, they become a double threat.

Black and Palestinian people need to unite not just because we each experience racism, but because we can each challenge two of the biggest military superpowers in the world. The U.S. and Israel each represent King’s “giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism.” Justice for each of us against these systems creates the potential for a better world for everyone.

As bad as it is that Black activists, and even free speech in the U.S. are being attacked, we need to remember that Palestinians are experiencing the worst violence and backlash out of everyone.

Since March of last year, Israel has killed over 180 protesters marching in Gaza for access to their original villages and injured tens of thousands more.  5,000 Palestinians languish in Israeli prisons under a system which has a 99% conviction rate for Palestinians. Millions of Palestinian refugees in exile across the world have not set foot in their homeland for over 70 years.

So we have a duty to support Black activists, and we also have a duty to support the liberation of a people our country pours billions of dollars into oppressing.