Fighting anti-Israel week with historical facts


By Gil Troy, Canadian Jewish News, 2-9-12

As some universities brace for the annual spring round of anti-Israel weeks, which falsely accuse Israel of the great crimes committed by South African apartheid racists, we must put this absurdity in historical perspective. For starters, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a national one, not a racial one. The false comparison between what happens in the Middle East today with what non-whites experienced under South Africa’s apartheid regime, dishonours the suffering blacks in South Africa endured. Anyone who perpetuates the big lie accusing Israel of practising apartheid or claiming that Zionism is racism is simply passing on Soviet propaganda that has outlived its maker. In that spirit, let’s contemplate the African-American community’s response in 1975 to the United Nations General Assembly resolution claiming that Zionism is racism.

The day after the resolution passed, on Nov. 11, 1975, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group of 32 leading American Jewish organizations, organized a noontime “rally against racism and antisemitism” in Manhattan. Many blacks attended the rally, and three important African-American leaders spoke: Percy Sutton, a famous lawyer and politician; Clarence Mitchell, a veteran NAACP official, and the activist Bayard Rustin. Many in the black civil rights community resented the Arabs hijacking their language and sloppily misapplying it to the Middle East.

“Smearing the ‘racist’ label on Zionism is an insult to intelligence,” wrote Vernon Jordan, the then-40-year-old president of the National Urban League. “Black people, who recognize code words since we’ve been victimized by code words like ‘forced busing,’ ‘law and order,’ and others, can easily smell out the fact that ‘Zionism’ in this context is a code word for antisemitism.” Jordan, a Southern-born lawyer, based his case against the General Assembly for “saying that national self-determination is for everyone except Jews.” And he detailed Arab discrimination against Christian Copts, Kurds, Sudanese blacks and Jews – especially dark-skinned Sephardi Jews.

One African-American speaker in particular, Bayard Rustin, stole the show. Born in 1912, a Communist during the Great Depression, a pacifist and draft resister during World War II, a gay activist long before it was safe to be one, and a labour union organizer, Rustin coached his friend, Martin Luther King, Jr., in Mahatma Gandhi’s ethos of non-violence. Rustin believed in “social dislocation and creative trouble.” Nicknamed “Mr. March,” Rustin helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, meeting Daniel Patrick Moynihan shortly thereafter on the civil rights circuit. Rustin worked closely with Jews, championing Israel as a democratic sentry surrounded by Middle East dictatorships. Rustin knew how much Jews wanted black support for Zionism in refuting the UN’s racism charge, and he happily provided it.

Rustin considered the resolution “an insult to the generations of blacks who have struggled against real racism.” In his newspaper column, he described the “incalculable damage” done to the fight against racism when the word becomes a “political weapon” rather than a moral standard. Rooting anti-Zionism in the ugly intersection between traditional antisemitism and the Arab desire to eradicate Israel, Rustin quoted Rev. King, a strong supporter of Israel, who said:  “when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking antisemitism.”

Rustin and others also feared distraction from the anti-apartheid fight. Before the vote, 28 African-American intellectuals appealed to the General Assembly to bury this “extraneous issue.” The scholars warned that a taint of antisemitism around the broader mission “will heavily compromise African hopes of expunging apartheid from the world.”

Given his roots in the labour movement, Rustin resented the Arabs’ hypocrisy, considering their traditional contempt for black labourers. At the rally, Rustin noted Arabs’ historic involvement in the African slave trade. “Shame on them!” he shouted.  “[They] are the same people who enslaved my people.”

Tall and handsome, with his Afro sticking up and looming over his high forehead, Rustin ended his speech by bursting into song, singing Go Down Moses. As thousands of New Yorkers, black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined in shouting “Let my people go,” the black and Jewish experiences reached a harmonic convergence.

We need to learn our history. We need to learn the facts. We need to fight the apartheid libel with the truth.

And we need to challenge Palestinians to devote a week to celebrating their own nationalism rather than focusing on destroying Israel and denigrating Zionism.

From OJ to Barack

By Gil Troy, THE JERUSALEM POST, Nov. 6, 2008

A exclusive blog

Democratic presidential...The outpouring of emotion when Barack Obama clinched his presidential victory Tuesday night was thrilling. Little more than a decade ago, when O.J. Simpson was found innocent of two murders, cameras recorded cheering blacks and morose whites, illustrating a split-screen America.

On this extraordinary night of national reconciliation, the cameras showed blacks and whites crying together, laughing together, celebrating together, and hoping together in a tableau of healing. You would need a heart of stone not to be moved by watching the joy that swept America – but you need a head of straw not to worry about just how Obama will succeed. His calls for unity will only last if he understands that he must govern using the same expansive and moderate tone his speech set. Barack Obama’s stance on Israel will be one of many test cases to see just what kind of president this eloquent, talented, but still untested and inexperienced young man will be.

While exit polls confirmed that Obama’s victory was driven by what Bill Clinton’s people in 1992 called “the economy, stupid,” a range of foreign policy challenges will haunt the administration. The top priorities, of course, are the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with the possible nuclear threat from Iran.

In addition to having to walk gently but firmly in these hornets’ nests, Obama is going to have to walk gingerly around his various campaign statements – and the intense desires of many of his supporters.

In Iraq his promises may prove to be a particular albatross. Calls for pullouts and exit timetables are effective counterpunches in a campaign, especially when the situation looks disastrous. But such specific vows become straitjackets when governing, especially when the situation has improved so dramatically – thanks to that surge that someone named John McCain pushed so effectively.

Obama’s Israel policy will also present interesting dilemmas for the rookie president between politics and governance. Fears that Barack Obama will sell Israel down the river in an expression of fealty to Rashid Khalidi or other Palestinians he befriended over the years are exaggerated.

Obama has made too many strong, sincere, pro-Israel statements, and has too many pro-Israel supporters, donors, and aides for this to be a serious issue. Among many others, the man who helped Bill Clinton coin the phrase “Shalom Chaver,” Rahm Emanuel, will be Obama’s Chief of Staff. Moreover, it would take more than a first-term president with his eye on re-election to shatter the rock-solid relationship between Israel and the United States.

A more valid concern, especially for those from the center and right, is that Obama, like Bill Clinton, may risk killing Israel – or too many Israelis – with kindness. Obama may have a bit too much of a naïve, “We are the world” view of foreign policy for the brutal, dishonest, realpolitik of the Middle East. His closest foreign policy advisers seem to be a mix of “even-handed” Zbigniew Brzezinski types and Oslo-architect Dennis Ross types.

Moreover, one of the demands Iran has made as a precondition for negotiations will be an abandonment of America’s support for Israel. Whether this stiffens Obama’s spine, as it should, or leads to a cooling toward the Jewish state, may be a first, relatively early test, of Obama’s direction.

Still, for now, all this is in the realm of speculation. As the records of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and all of their predecessors show, the presidency one imagines or promises is rarely the presidency one experiences or provides. Remember how George W. Bush was going to focus mostly on domestic policy, governing as a compassionate conservative? Remember how Bill Clinton was going to be a Mr. Clean restoring faith in government and avoiding the insider politics of the Beltway?

For now, then, let us all join the great Barack Obama love-in. Let us celebrate the kind of country America is – a country that can correct its mistakes, heal its wounds, and elect a black man president. Let us honor the impressive talents that brought this self-described skinny guy with a funny name to the heights of American politics, defeating first the formidable Clinton machine then the Republican juggernaut. And let the people inspired by HaTikvah not be cynical about this new harbinger of hope. Let us hope that the hope unleashed last night can be converted into a powerful governing force that revitalizes the United States of America – for America’s sake, for Israel’s sake, and for the world’s sake.