Co-opting the American civil rights movement in the interest of anti-Israel activism.
In January 2015, we reported on how anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement supporters hijacked a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event on the San Mateo Bridge.
Some Stanford students turned a Black Lives Matter march into an anti-Israel event by unfurling a huge Palestinian Flag on the bridge span at its highest point. Hundreds of motorists were trapped, and they caused accidents. One of the key activists involved was Kristian Davis Bailey, a leader of attempt to demonize Israel by tying Zionism to problems of non-whites in the U.S. through the theory of “intersectionality.”It is a highly racist approach, seeking to exploit racial tensions by portraying Israel — and Israel alone — as the cause of problems it has nothing to do with. As we saw recently in Chicago at an LGBT conference and Oberlin College, because “intersectionality” theory portrays Israel as uniquely evil in the world, the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism quickly blurs.
This year, we are aware of two attempts to co-opt the memory of Dr. King by putting on anti-Israel events as part of MLK Day activities. There likely were many more that we don’t know about.
George Mason’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education (ODIME) tweeted out the event:
That same George Mason office promoted the event on Facebook, with a more detailed poster of the event, which from the logo in the lower right appears to have been produced by George Mason:
At Ithaca College, the MLK Day events were sponsored by the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs (OSEMA). One of the events promoted the Black-Palestinian solidarity movement. (We have written about that before.)
Even though this was an event sponsored by the college, there were no opposing viewpoints scheduled. The speakers were local anti-Israel activists affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace and the Ithaca Committee for Justice in Palestine, including a retired Ithaca College professor who led the failed GreenStar Food Coop boycott, and an Ithaca College lecturer who uses a photo of Anne Frank in a Kaffeyeh as her Facebook profile. There was one recent graduate on the panel, the person who organized an anti-racism rally at which questioners were prioritized by race (as we previously reported).
At least as planned, there was no attempt at balance on the panel. I don’t know if anyone was added when the event took place.
The announcement of the event in the Ithaca College online event calendar was even more explicit that this event was intended to provide an introduction to activism.
I have not been able, as of this writing, to obtain reports from people who attended either the George Mason or Ithaca College events. But the fact that such event were scheduled with the imprimatur and implicit approval of the university and college shows how deeply the anti-Israel movement is burrowing its way into college programming.
(Update – I’ve heard reports that the Ithaca College event was attended by about 25 students, was led by the IC lecturer, and turned into a session trying to launch a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, but there were few takers. If so, the event was even more inappropriate for a college-sponsored MLK Day program.)
None of this is coincidence. The attempt by anti-Israel activists to co-opt the U.S. civil rights movement goes back decades, though it has intensified since the creation of the BDS Movement at the anti-Semitic 2001 Durban conference.
Gil Troy in The Daily Beast wrote in connection with MLK Day in 2013, Remaking Martin Luther King As Anti-Zionist
King was pro-Israel and pro-Zionist, recognizing much anti-Zionist rhetoric as anti-Semitic. Christian Europe traditionally viewed Jews as the ultimate villains; now, he understood, anti-Zionism cast Israel, the collective Jew, as the modern world’s ultimate villain. Moreover, King and his allies feared this sloppy analogizing—comparing Israel to South Africa or the segregationist South—as threatening the purity of their struggle against what one activist called “real racism.”
The U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 3379 branding Zionism as racism in November 1975, seven years after King’s assassination. As I discovered when researching my new book, Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, even radicals like Cesar Chavez and the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver scoffed at this “travesty upon the truth.” The legendary labor leader, A. Philip Randolph, founded the Black Americans to Support Israel Committee, BASIC, with Bayard Rustin, who had coached King in Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent ethos. More than two hundred leading African Americans signed a BASIC advertisement joining Coretta Scott King and the Reverend Martin Luther King Sr. in rejecting the Zionism-racism charge, including athletes like Hank Aaron, Roy Campanella, and Arthur Ashe.
Many civil rights activists resented the Soviets and Arabs hijacking their language. Bayard Rustin 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 noxious nexus between traditional anti-Semitism and the Arab desire to eradicate Israel, Rustin invoked King’s famous comment that “when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
They critical tactic, Troy pointed out, was a Soviet-inspired racializing of anti-Zionism:
“Indeed, in 1975, Soviet propagandists and their U.N. enablers helped Yasir Arafat supplement the Palestine Liberation Organization’s terror campaign with an ideological and diplomatic war to shape world opinion. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what the Palestinian professor Edward Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinians framed their local narrative as part of “the universal political struggle against colonialism and imperialism.” This “blackening” of Palestinians and “whitening” of Israelis worked, although this is a national and not racial conflict with some light-skinned Palestinians and dark-skinned Israelis.”
And so the exploitation of racial conflict as a means of demonizing Israel plays itself out as a prime tactic of the BDS movement.