The uproar by over Alexander’s NY Times essay in support of Palestinian rights echoes the reactions of white Americans to the Civil Rights Movement decades ago.
By Amjad Iraqi | +972 Magazine | Jan 23, 2019
Most Americans thought it [the Civil Rights movement] was going too far and movement activists were being too extreme. Some thought its goals were wrong; others that activists were going about it the wrong way — and most white Americans were happy with the status quo as it was. And so, they criticized, monitored, demonized and at times criminalized those who challenged the way things were, making dissent very costly.
Michelle Alexander’s powerful New York Times essay on Saturday (“Time to Break the Silence on Palestine”), ahead of the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was arguably a milestone for the Palestine movement in the US.
First, for who wrote it: Alexander, the author of the seminal book The New Jim Crow, is a renowned lawyer and public intellectual respected for her activism and scholarship on racism in the U.S., who cannot easily be dismissed as “fringe.”
Second, for where it was written: in a leading mainstream newspaper, which more frequently features op-eds by Israel advocates like Bari Weiss, Matti Friedman, Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner, and even officials like Naftali Bennett.
Third, for when it was written: Alexander is the latest prominent Black American in recent months to vocally express — and be targeted for — her solidarity with the Palestinian people, after others like Tamika Mallory, Marc Lamont Hill, and Angela Davis faced similar public outrages and disavowals.
And fourth, for why it was written: to challenge the widespread fear of backlash, held by many progressive Americans, for publicly criticizing Israel and speaking up for Palestinian rights.
The uproar over Alexander’s essay came swiftly from Jewish establishment groups and figures. Some of them are worth reading in full, if only to witness the hysteria and chutzpah of telling a Black woman how to remember one of the most significant African-American leaders in history, or how to interpret her knowledge of injustice: