Why black voices matter on Palestine

An Israeli flag is flanked by US flags as an attendee listens to US President Mike Pence speak at AIPAC in Washington, Mar 25, 2019. (photo: Reuters)
Prominent black voices expressing solidarity with Palestinians has riled the pro-Israeli lobby.

By Hatem Bazian | Middle East Eye | Mar 26, 2019

Solidarity demands that we no longer allow politicians or political parties to remain silent on the question of Palestine.
— Marc Lamont Hill, CNN commentator fired for comments supporting boycott of Israel

In 1979, Andrew Young, the first African American ever appointed as a US ambassador to the UN, was forced to resign because of pressure mounted by pro-Israel groups on then President Carter following Young’s meeting with a representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

The Andrew Young episode demonstrated the increasing power of America’s pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, and the centring of US-Israel relations at the expense of all other considerations including the career of an African American civil rights icon.

The recent entanglement of Ilhan Omar with AIPAC and pro-Israel organisations is not new, but the outcome points to a rapidly changing socio-political and socio-religious landscape. In 1979, Young did not advocate or speak of Palestinian rights; instead, a mere meeting with the PLO was the sufficient cause for losing his post as UN ambassador.

Indeed, AIPAC’s targeting of Omar and attempts to silence her voice on Palestine adds to a long list of African American leaders who faced a similar backlash from pro-Israel groups for daring to speak out for Palestinians’ human rights and who have expressed readiness to challenge the power of the Israel lobby.

Just in the past six months alone, Michelle Alexander, Marc Lamont Hill and Angela Davis became targets of pro-Israel organisations, which led to Hill’s firing by CNN and the rescinding of Davis’s award by Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Critically, the attempts to silence African Americans and black voices, in general, has been a normative pattern in US and European political, social and media discourses, but a shift is under way despite the difficult cases mentioned earlier.

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