Let’s Not Compare Ferguson to Palestine

  • by:
    • Kenneth Jacobson, Deputy National Director
  • January 31, 2015

The latest strategy being used by those who make a career of assaulting the good name of the state of Israel is to link the issue of full equality for African-Americans, as symbolized by the word “Ferguson,” with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most recent egregious example of this took place in Santa Cruz at an event on Jan. 28 commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. sponsored by UC Santa Cruz.

The announced speaker was Angela Davis, a professor emerita at UCSC, who among other things has a long record of anti-Israel activism. Our concern about Davis surfaced first in the title she gave to her address: “Racism, Militarism, and Poverty From Ferguson to Palestine.”

So here was an event that should be unifying, celebrating the life of the great civil rights leader, that was now going to be apparently transformed into an assault on Israel.

And Ms. Davis did not disappoint. She linked Ferguson to Palestine by noting it was no coincidence that while events were taking place in Ferguson, Israel was attacking Palestinian civilians in Gaza. And she crudely connected Israeli police methods, among the most sophisticated and reasonable, to the militarized police of Ferguson.

Shame on Angela Davis for distorting and abusing one of the most important days in the calendar year to bring people together.

There is a long history of using legitimate American social justice issues to undermine the Jewish state. We saw it during the Vietnam War, where small contingents linked opposition to the war to opposition to Israel. We saw it in protests against the war in Iraq, which some linked to Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. We saw it during the Occupy Wall Street movement, when some targeted Israel as well as the financial system.

There is, however, no rational connection between the challenge of racism in America and the situation facing the Palestinians.

In America, the history of racism has been our great sin — whether it was slavery, segregation, lynchings, institutionalized discrimination, racial profiling. The list is painfully long. Of course, we have come a long way, as represented by the commemorations of the Civil Rights bill of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the March on Selma.

But the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and barometers highlight that we still have a long way to travel on the road to justice in America. Getting there requires much work from all segments of society so we may live up to the ideals of equality that are at the core of this nation’s values.

Israel’s relations with the Palestinians are of a completely different character. The fundamental issues at stake are a product of a history in which two peoples had historic claims to the same land. The conflict is complicated — neither side is 100 percent right — and it begs for a solution to improve the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

From the 1930s on, international efforts were made to satisfy each community’s desire for self-determination. The U.N. resolution of 1947, which provided for a Jewish and a Palestinian state,was accepted by the Jewish side. The Palestinians did not.

Had the Palestinians accepted partition, they could have begun to build an independent and free life for their people. Their failure to do so — and unwillingness to do so now — is the result of a desire to destroy the Jewish state that is greater than their desire to build their own. Israelis then face the dilemma of what to do when Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism continue to threaten them.

Even today, as the Palestinians appeal to the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, the same dynamic is at work. The Palestinians would like to get a state without ending the conflict with Israel.

Let’s be clear: There can be criticism of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. But it is not a question of institutionalized racism. It is not a matter of Israel wanting to rule over the Palestinians. Israel has tried in various ways to break the deadlock: comprehensive negotiations, partial negotiations, unilateral withdrawal. None have worked.

It is neither helpful in dealing with the racial challenges facing this country nor in solving the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict to conflate two very different issues. It is particularly unfortunate that some have sought to do so on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

King’s message was about building bridges, bringing people together, and joining forces to fight hate and oppression. Comparing American racism and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, by contrast, seems driven by individuals more invested in undermining the Jewish state than in furthering race relations in America or working toward a solution to the conflict the Middle East.

Those of us interested in both improving race relations and resolving the conflict in the Middle East must stand up and reject this cynical strategy.

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