Sundiata Cha-Jua/Real Talk | I still see us: African-American solidarity with Palestine

Sundiata Cha-Jua/Real Talk | I still see us: African-American solidarity with Palestine

Do African-American radicals still support the Palestinian struggle? Alaina Morgan, a scholar of Islam in the African Diaspora, recently posed this question regarding black radicals' alleged silence in the face of the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians during the "Great March of Return" protests between the Land Day (March 30) and Al-Nakba (Day of Catastrophe, May 15).

This alleged silence would contrast sharply with African-American radicals' response in 2014. Then, in the wake of the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings, a coalition of radical black organizations issued the "When I See Them, I See Us" video connecting the police killings of African-Americans with the Israeli military killings of Palestinians.

Bill Fletcher Jr., a senior scholar at the Institute of Policy Studies who led a delegation of African-American activists to occupied Palestine compared it to being in apartheid South Africa or the pre-1965 U.S. South. He observed, "It felt like being in a huge prison."

Silence would diverge from the history of African-American engagement with the Palestinian question. The roots of African-American involvement with Palestine go back to Israel's formation.

Ralph Bunche, an African-American, led the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, its secretariat on the Palestine Question and the negotiations that produced the armistice between the Zionists and Arab states.

Due to his concern for the Palestinians, Bunche opposed the establishment of a Jewish state, failing that he worked to "restrict" Israel's sovereignty and to protect Arab interests. A former Marxist, the then liberal Bunche identified with both the Jews and the Arabs. Stating, "I know the flavor of racial prejudice and racial persecution," and he added, "A wise Negro can never be an anti-Semite." Yet, Bunche feared the fate of the Palestinians under a partition, so he worked unsuccessfully against an independent Israel.

By the mid-1960s, as black nationalism and radicalism became more prominent, some African-Americans began to condemn Israel as a white settler colony. In 1964, Malcolm X asked, "Did the Zionists have the legal and moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the 'religious' claim that their forefathers lived their thousands of years ago?"

Malcolm's perspective grew exponentially after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. During the Black Power era, Bunche's attempt at an even-handed approach was replaced among the most progressive sectors of Afro-America with strong support for the Palestinian cause.

In part, the shift was motivated by Israel's vicious repression of the Palestinians and its imperialist excesses during the war. In part, it was the product of radical African-Americans accepting the United Nation's interpretation of Zionism as a form of racism. And it was partly due to U.S. blacks' belief that they shared a common experience of colonialism with the Palestinians. They experienced settler colonialism and African-Americans internal colonialism. Thus, since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, African-American radicals have routinely voiced solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

At both the 1967 Black Power Conference and the 1972 Black National Political Convention, more than 1,000 and 5,000 delegates, respectively, affirmed resolutions supporting the Palestinian struggle.

Huey P. Newton, leader of the Black Panther Party, best stated the black radical position. In 1970, Newton offered a complex analysis in which he argued, "We would like to make it clear the Black Panther Party is not anti-Semitic ... As far as the Israeli people are concerned, we are not against the Jewish people; we are against that government that would persecute the Palestinian people ... we support the Palestinian's just struggle for liberation 100 percent."

In fact, if anything, support has grown stronger as African-Americans have learned about relationships between the Israeli military and U.S. police. Since 2001, the Israeli military has trained thousands of U.S. police in urban warfare. This provides a direct link between the two colonized peoples.

Philosophically and politically, black radicals have not moved from the Newton location.

For instance, Fletcher, a former leader of the Black Radical Congress, has consistently defended the Palestinian struggle, including condemning the most recent Israeli repression during "the Great March of Return." The New Afrikan Peoples Organization, the Malcolm X Grass Roots Movement, perhaps the leading black nationalist organizations and the Black Alliance for Peace have all issued powerful statements condemning the Israeli massacres. Contrary to silence, black radicals have continued to declare support for the Palestinian liberation movement.

The problem is not silence, but that black radicals and nationalists are marginalized from the mainstream media. Their statements are not reported, and their leading activists are not interviewed on CNN or MSNBC. The exclusion and marginalization of black radicals and nationalists does not reflect their presence or influence in the African-American community. Black radicals and nationalists greatly outnumber black conservatives. Yet, representatives of an ideology that represents 2 to 4 percent of the black community is routinely represented in mainstream media.

No, black radicals have not lost their voice, you just have to look hard for their viewpoints.

Sundiata Cha-Jua is a professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois and is a member of the North End Breakfast Club. His email is

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