Defying Israel’s Civil Rights abuses through Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., came to symbolize the successful struggle against racism and bigotry in America not just against the racism of Americans in society but also the racist practices of the American government. While others in the African American community embraced violent resistance, King advocated “cvil disobedience” and a rejection of violence. Today, Jan 15, marks King’s birthday. Palestinians should turn away from violence and embrace the same strategy of civil disobedience to confront Israel’s racist practices, policies and discriminatory government practices.
By Ray Hanania
This month, Americans will be commemorating the birth of iconic American civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who used non-violent protests to challenge racist and discriminatory government practices by local and Federal governments and agencies.
African American and the descendant of slaves in Georgia, King used civil disobedience to confront racist laws that treated Blacks differently from Whites resulting in the adoption of Civil Rights Act in 1964 introduced by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Johnson was merely following up on promises made by his predecessor President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated only months after addressing the American people on his efforts to enforce civil rights for all Americans.
America in the 1960s was not much different from today’s Israel where racism and discrimination define the Jewish State’s policies recognizing the superiority of Jews over non-Jews in the Holy Land.
And it might be wise for the Palestinians to pause and reorganize themselves using King’s message a foundation for their own struggle against growing Apartheid practices by Israel’s government. It was based on principles evolved from the struggle of Mahatma Gandhi
The struggle that King led was not without violence from his foes and he was assassinated by a White racist on April 4, 1968 in Memphis Tennessee. King’s “civil disobedience” resulted in the rise of a new wave of racism in America and the election of people like George Wallace who became governor of Alabama in 1963.
Wallace fought to preserve laws that segregated Whites and Blacks, requiring Blacks and Whites to be given different public facilities and services with Whites receiving far better treatment than blacks in much the same way that Israel provides Jews with more funds, and services than they do to Israeli Arab citizens.
What did King do that Palestinians can do? Much.
They can start by building civil rights coalitions inside Israel coordinated with Palestinians living in the West Bank where Apartheid is used to distinguish government services and rights between Jews, who are favored, and non-Jews who are discriminated against because of their race, religion and national origins.
And reaching out to the African American community would be a good start because the racism against non-Jews by Israel also extends to racism against other minorities including Blacks, Asians and others.
Last week, for example, Israel’s government shockingly openly announced that it would give each African refugee living inside Israel as much as $3,500 to leave the country.
Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the Israeli version of Alabama’s racist Governor George Wallace, explained the outrageous offer as driven by the need to protect Israel’s the “Jewish and Democratic character.”
Of course, racism based on religion is no different than racism based on race. I call Israel’s discrimination “racist religionism”.
The analogy of Netanyahu’s offer strikes a strong cord among Americans, who are forced to finance Israel’s government apartheid and societal racism practices with more than $3.5 billion dollars of their taxes.
The amount of money spent by America to support Israel could easily bolster areas of need for American citizens.
For example, the US spent $63 billion in 2015 on “Housing and Community” resources for America’s, which is one of the most important challenges facing Americans. With 321 million Americans, that’s only $196 per American (321 million). The money taken from Americans for Israel’s 8.5 million citizens amounts to an annual subsidy of $425 per Israeli. If you eliminate the 2.2 million non-Jews from that, the actual subsidy for Jewish Israelis rises to $549 per Jewish Israeli.
American tax dollars taken from hard working Americans are directly used to support Israel’s racist societal values which are falsely cloaked as being “democratic.”
That means that Israel’s violations of civil rights directly reflect on the American people because the funding spent on Israel represents nearly one-fifth of all of Americans aid to foreign countries.
Americans have not shown a strong sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, mainly because of the poor performance of Arab activists and groups in the United States. But Americans will when they understand who is paying for Israel’s racism, a system that defies the fundamental principles of America’s commitment to civil rights.
Palestinians can embrace Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and make it their own and many Americans would identify with that. In fact, on his birthday next week (Jan. 15), Palestinians should close down their stores inside Israel to mark his birthday as a form of civil disobedience. Declare it as a commemoration to King’s principles in the face of the daily discrimination they face.
Israel’s government continues to motor towards worse forms of racist discrimination. Last week they also announced they would ban members of 22 civil rights organizations from entering their embattled “Jewish State.” Many of the banned are Jews.
Palestinians need to dramatically shift their activism away from their routine protests that have proven to fail, and embrace new strategies through civil disobedience that reinforce a commitment to peace, compromise, non-violence.
They will find much support from progressive Jewish and Israeli organizations such as B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace, the New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Seeds of Peace, and J Street just to name a few.
We should be talking with Israelis who support justice, like courageous Israeli civil rights writers like Bradley Burston and Gideon Levy, and many of the Israeli groups above, not supporting a blanket and self-destructive BDS Boycott that targets all of Israel.
On January 15, Palestinians should abandon their failed strategies and embrace new more principled stand. Suspend all their business and efforts to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and redefine themselves with a protest process that can be more successful in standing up to Israel racism.
Mark a time that day for a Palestinian and Arab World “moment of silence” in King’s name, and make King’s successful efforts our own.
(Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist, author and former political reporter who covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 until 1992. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)