Monday, March 4, 2013

Israel Does Practice Racial Apartheid, But Its "Segregated" Buses are Not the Same as Jim and Jane Crow in America

The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Freedom Struggle have served as inspirations for people around the world. Ethnic groups such as the Roma for example, have used Brown versus Board, and the legal strategies of the NAACP, in their own struggle against State sponsored discrimination and bigotry in Europe. Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have also taken inspiration from the Black Freedom Struggle.

In total, The Civil Rights movement constituted a set of strategies and practices designed to leverage moral truth against Power. It is also a set of historical memories, myths, stories, and a source of inspiration for people around the world.

The Israeli government recently announced that it will be creating a "Palestinian only" bus line from the West Bank into Israel. This policy has been met with protest, complaint, and the obvious claim that Israel is now practicing the same morally contemptible practices that typified Jim and Jane Crow era America.

These allusions and comparisons are challenging and problematic in a number of ways. Here, I am less concerned about who "owns" the history of the Black Freedom Struggle--and its iconography, symbolism, and public memory--than in how inaccurate comparisons of events across time and space can lead to specious conclusions about the current nature of politics and social reality.

In the United States, discussions of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians can be combustible.

Criticisms of Political Zionism and Israel's policies are often dishonestly conflated with antisemitism. It is verboten to speak of the Israeli lobby and to work through the basic premise that groups try to access and manipulate access to the resources of the American government (and her citizens) in any number of ways. The farm lobby does it. The oil lobby does it. Israel, like other countries, uses interest groups to advance its agenda as well.

The rise of Christian Dominionism, and powerful groups such as Christians United for Israel, have also worked to manufacture a reality where the interests of the Israeli government are taken to be identical with those of the American people. Once more, reasonable conversations about Israel's foreign policy and treatment of the Palestinian people are limited to a very narrow approved public discourse that few souls in the news media and American public life dare to deviate from.

Here is the puzzle. Like the United States, South Africa, and Australia, Israel is a racial settler state. It practices a type of Apartheid against the Palestinian People. Consequently, the life chances of the Palestinian people are profoundly impacted by their "racialization," as well as internal colonization and segregation by the Israeli government.

This quite logically leads to the "security concerns," the catch-all language, which legitimates all manner of human rights violations by the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people.

Nevertheless, real life is far more complicated than the idealized notions of politics and statecraft that many folks are deluded by, and attracted to.

One should logically expect that Israel would have security concerns given its foreign policy, oppression of the Palestinians, and continued expansion into lands which it does not have a legal or moral right to. The Palestinians also have security concerns as well: they are trying to maintain their safety, security, human rights, and access to basic resources such as water, in the face of an oppressive foreign power.

Israel's segregated bus line exists in the middle of this political and ethical morass.

Buses carrying Israeli citizens have been the targets of suicide bombers. Some elements acting on behalf of the Palestinians have used asymmetrical warfare, hitting soft targets, in order to counter the massive superiority in firepower and resources possessed by the Israeli military.

The application of a narrative wherein the segregated buses of Birmingham and Selma are deemed comparable to the "segregated buses" running from the West Bank falls flat because the black community was not engaged in acts of retaliation or warfare against white society. In fact, Jim and Jane Crow was systemic violence against African Americans in the service of white supremacy.

The Black Freedom Struggle and The Civil Rights Movement "won" because they were able to leverage moral outrage and to shame a nation into action. Moreover, the terrorists in the Civil Rights Movement were the faces and forces of White authority that savaged non-violent people who simply wanted their full citizenship rights and human dignity respected.

The actions of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people are often criminal in nature. And yes, there are many parallels between American Apartheid and Israeli Apartheid. But, we do a disservice to history when we carelessly and imprecisely conflate the Palestinian and Black freedom struggles.

There are many similarities; there are also some significant differences. Truth-telling demands that we respect these important distinctions.


Dena Shunra said...

Your description of the Palestinian situation in Israel is at odds with the reality I know of. You talk about the asymmetrical warfare when Palestinians fight Israelis - but the home demolitions and checkpoints (both inside the 1967 boundaries, where the Palestinians are nominally citizens - and have even had the military regime lifted in '66, although the school staff is still vetted by the shin-bet - and in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank) seem pretty asymmetrical to me, and are hard to ignore when we talk about why it's a racial apartheid.

My credentials for discussing the matter include having lived in Israel for thirty years, working to this day as a professional translator and interpreter between Israeli Hebrew and U.S. English, and spending a big chunk of my day reading the Hebrew newspapers.

But if you want to talk about racism in Israel, don't restrict yourself to Palestinians. Israeli treatment of dark-skinned Africans is appalling, and stems from the same thought error. There are basically three main groups of dark-skinned Africans in Israel (I'm not counting the North Africans among them; only the people who'd be seen in the U.S. as racially marked because of their skin color):

- African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem - emigrated to Israel in the 60s and 70s; twitter user David Sheen has been publishing about the hatred of this group and how some two thirds of Jewish Israelis wanted to deport them. There are about 2,000 of these in Israel today;

- Ethiopian Jews - were moved to Israel between '84 and '91; there are about 120,000 of these in Israel today. Racism against them is extreme, there is school segregation keeping the groups separate, they were declared to be not fully Jewish (so mass conversions had to take place to permit intermarriage with white Jews), and it recently became known that Ethiopian Jewish women were given long-acting hormonal birth control against their will and/or without full disclosure to them; and finally,

- Asylum seekers from Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, the Ivory Coast; about 60,000 of them have managed to get into Israel, and Israel's treatment of them is worse than either of the other groups. The Wikipedia entry about it in the English version of Wikipedia is "Illegal immigration from Africa to Israel" and it documents some of the emotions around the situation. Documentary-maker David Sheen has hours and hours of footage on his BluePilgrimage youtube channel, showing demonstrations where rabble-rousers try to oust the asylum-seekers from the neighborhoods they live in; homes and preschools have been torched (six months probation was the sentence for one guy who was caught torching a preschool). There are massive internment camps in the south of Israel, built for housing the asylum-seekers. The plan seems to be round them up and keep them in prison with no right of appeal, until they can be repatriated. How are they caught? By police from the "Oz" unit, who go by skin color.

This text box is getting kind of over-full, so I won't catalog any of the other aspects of Israeli apartheid. I'll just sum up by stating my feeling that Israeli racism is in no way retaliatory - that's just the story they sell the U.S. press.

chauncey devega said...

I think we are more in agreement than disagreement. Especially here:

"But if you want to talk about racism in Israel, don't restrict yourself to Palestinians. Israeli treatment of dark-skinned Africans is appalling, and stems from the same thought error. There are basically three main groups of dark-skinned Africans in Israel (I'm not counting the North Africans among them; only the people who'd be seen in the U.S. as racially marked because of their skin color):"

Do share some more if you would.

Alon said...

In addition to what Dena said, there's also the question of timing. There were two big bus bombing eras, one in the Rabin administration in the 1990s and one in the early 2000s. For a number of years, there have been no bus bombings, and Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians within Israel (as opposed to the West Bank) takes the form of rocket attacks. There have not been any recent alerts regarding bus bombings. The segregation originated from recent complaints by settlers about sharing buses with Palestinians.

A related question is which buses are being segregated. The buses that were bombed in the bus bombing eras were crowded city buses. Line #5 in Tel Aviv, serving a busy commercial strip, was a favorite target, as were city cafes, malls, etc. In contrast, the buses being segregated are longer-range commuter buses carrying people from the West Bank to the Israeli cities (settlers for whom the settlements are effectively subsidized suburbs, and Palestinian day laborers), and those are less crowded and were not major bombing targets.

In fact, bus bombings are distant enough a memory now that Likud supporters are already rewriting history about them. Nowadays, the places being hit by rockets are low-income towns in southern Israel, which vote for the right, and their supporters then propagandize that the center-left city centers are not targeted by terrorism and have no right to oppose air strikes on Gaza.

Also, 972Mag has some good sources, including really bad quotes from members of all parties from the center and right, about black refugees in Israel. It's more accessible if you're not into videos. But David Sheen also had a good intro article somewhere on the Electronic Intifada site.

Bad Company said...

'The application of a narrative wherein the segregated buses of Birmingham and Selma are deemed comparable to the "segregated buses" running from the West Bank falls flat because the black community was not engaged in acts of retaliation or warfare against white society.'

Huh? What? It falls flat on that single factor? In that case a comparison of Jim Crow (who the hell is Jane Crow?) with apartheid South Africa falls flat as well. No form of racist oppression is exactly the same in every nation that practices it.

Palestinians, as a black American, I authorize you to make the analogy of my situation and your own. When oppression is this bad, you have to oppose it. By any means necessary, in the words of your Muslim cousin..

rory said...

i´m also wondering why nobody is speaking about the racial segregation of black people in palestinian territories? they define themselves as whites towards this blacks people and as established a white supremacy like structure. When i discovered that, i lost any interest in supporting or being interested in the palestinians struggels against israel with whom they share the same animus against black people

chauncey devega said...

I didn't say the Palestinians were not oppressed. I said the busing policy is different.

Whites were never at a security risk from black Americans. Blacks were terrorized by whites.

This is a nuanced claim, relax and reflect.

Now folks talk about Jim and Jane Crow, i.e. to include the gendered nature of the discrimination. That is how the grown folks talk about this issue.

Folks who do comparative race studies usually talk about South Africa, the U.S., Israel, and Australia. No one says they are the same. Just that they are constituted as racial settler states with much in common.

Again, more grown folks talk as Mark Henry would say.

j.ottopohl said...

There was plenty of armed resistance in South Africa against apartheid and the regime in Pretoria also labelled the actions of groups like Umkhonto We Sizwe to be terrorism. So maybe this is a difference with part of the US Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. Although the Black Panthers in the late 1960s were hardly pacifists. But, it does not in anyway justify Israeli apartheid and it makes Palestine closer in terms of comparison to what actually happened in African settler states such as Algeria, Kenya, and Rhodesia where there was a lot of asymmetrical violence against racist colonialism all of which was termed terrorism by the white regimes in power.

chauncey devega said...

I have heard of that too. We often don't talk about anti-black racism among arabs as it isn't a neat fit for the "people of color" assumed alliance--which really isn't--among non-whites in the U.S.

Bad Company said...

"Grown folks!" lmfao! Nuance is cool. Don't let the tail wag the dog.

SabrinaBee said...

I don't know CD. Seems kind of similar. On top of what you mentioned, as the plight of the Palestinians. I understand that they are also a source of cheap labor for Israelis. In other words they need the labor but don't want to grant the dignity. I bet if Rosa Parks, had a few IED's, knew how to make them, and could readily get her hands on the material, she might have lobbed one or two at SOMEBODY. Or someone else would have. It just seems to me, that for a people who have lived through similar treatment, there should be a visceral revulsion to even proposing such a thing.

chauncey devega said...

black folks were terrorized; we did not use terror as a weapon. and i say that in the sense of realpolitik and acknowledging 1) the asymmetrical strategy of the palestinians and also 2) how they too are terrorized by the israelis.

SabrinaBee said...

Yes, I agree. Blacks were terrorized and by the time of civil rights there were enough laws in place and being enforced where blacks could barely walk together after dark. Remember many of those laws were passed because of whites fear of retaliation, real or imagined. I am not saying we are savage attackers. We were however, as has been shown from time to time, willing to die to be free. Despite generations of will-breaking, some fought. I'm just saying, if the ability to get such weapons were as readily available to blacks here as they are oversees. There would be a few extra stories in the histories.

rory said...

sorry but the system in "rhodesia"- hate this name ,which originated from a evil human being- was not different from the system in south Africa: it was apartheid, in all the same meanings and shapes and it was as terrible and outrageous as the one in SA . It was also so outrageous because, the 1% Europeans aliens thought they could oppress 99% of the population of Zimbabwe because they were Africans. That´s also why the armed conflict- despite the active support of all white "brother" countries- went bad for the whites: they were numerically very inferior to the natives. Otherwise the situation would have probably evolve like in south Africa and some other countries in southern Africa where the white didn´t really lost any of their privilege from the colonization period: other white countries wouldn´t have allowed it. Did you people know that nelson was cast as a terrorist in the united states until recently? why? i think you know the answer...

just to say there is a difference but similarities with the systems

rory said...

i also learned that arabs consider theirselves whites and according to census data in the us they are aknowledged to be so. So i don´t really understand why would some people among them many black people consider them as PoC i know that they are not really seen as "whites" in the society" , but that´s how they see themselves and they have a long history of creepy anti-black racism : slavery(before europeans), castration of black males and use of black women as sexual objects. They have no interests supporting the black struggles , unless it helps them fighting their enemies of the moment and in many instances they are the source of the problem in many. In the us they are kind of quiet since america decided to make of them the public enemy Nr.1 and here they powerless. So they need to allie with other minorities , but if you look in Africa for example you´ll be scared to see what happens to black people in arab areas,

CNu said...

rotflmbao...., uh, no.

Django strictly a figment of Quentin Tarantino's imagination. Negros marching, protesting, and suing for their rights were considered radical and beyond the pale by the responsible negroes du jour.

Alon said...

Are you talking about the Palestinians right now, or about other Arab peoples? The Palestinian territories have very few if any blacks to oppress. Within Israel, ethnic Palestinians hold noticeably more progressive attitudes than Jews toward black refugees, though it's a matter of degree rather than kind. The pogroms against blacks are committed by Jews rather than by Palestinians, and the range of opinions among ethnic Palestinian politicians in Israel excludes the vilest and more violent racism expressed by right-wing Jews.

Yastreblyansky said...

From what I've seen--there's a beautiful Israeli left news aggregator in English called +972 ( the question of bus bombing is not on anybody's mind, the Transportation Ministry and the drivers are all about overcrowding, and everybody feeling "comfortable". And it's "not racist" of course. Also, amazingly, it's not even legal and officially nobody will be forced off the wrong bus; the border police will just "suggest" switching to the more "comfortable" one.

It is true that the Palestinian and African American issues are very different in significant ways. Also that some Palestinian people have done evil things in the course of the struggle and some of them may be fanatical Salafists etc. etc. Pointing really hard at this segregated bus situation isn't meant to equate the two: but it does tell the black or white American liberal or progressive in a really vivid way how it feels to be a Palestinian trying to get to your shitty job in Jerusalem, which is really important.

j.ottopohl said...

You obviously have a reading comprehension problem. I did not say that Rhodesia was not an apartheid system. My point is that Palestine like Rhodesia and South Africa is an apartheid situation. If you include the Palestinians expelled in 1948 and 1967 and their descendants they clearly outnumber the Israeli Jews in the territory. Ben Gurion was just as evil as Cecil Rhodes. In fact in some ways more so. The Rhodesians never forcibly expelled most of the indigenous population into neighboring states. If your point is that ZANU was justified in its violence against the settler regime, but the Palestinians are not then we disagree. There is no moral difference between Israel and Rhodesia. You might also as suggested above check out Israeli treatment of Black Africans. Max Blumenthal has some great videos on this. Here in Africa most people do not have trouble understanding that in fact Israel is an apartheid state no different from the old South Africa or Rhodesia.

Bad Company said...

"racial segregation of black people in palestinian territories? "

not challenging this, just can't find anything by Googling. can you give a source?

Bad Company said...

If blacks had to withhold empathy from every people that practices discrimination against blacks there would be no one we could have empathy for; except maybe the native Americans. Heck, we'd have to withhold it from ourselves. In fact some of us *do* withhold it from blacks less fortunate than ourselves or who are members of other tribes. Discrimination against blacks is, alas, universal. Even among blacks.

CNu said...

po thangs...,

lol, anything that pitiful sounds like it deserves to die!

jemand2 said...

I'm not sure if this policy has been stopped yet, either, the sterilization of Ethiopian Jews in Israel:

There's also growing gender apartheid, from public buses where women are only allowed in the back, to a gynecological conference where only men were allowed to speak, etc:

rory said...

@ bad company & Alon

hi to both of you

did u guys really google it? with a quick search i could find this video in the first results:

and i´m not speaking about other arab people , but palestinians. i´´m not confused here. There is a terrible history of racism from arabs towards blacks ( in facts black people are still used as slaves in some arab countries) and awful things that the israelis are doing to black people could also be a topic, but since we were talking about the oppression of palestinians by jews here, i wanted to point out that, it´s difficult for some people to see them as victims, since they created a similar system in their territories to oppress black people and don´t have a better attitudes towards blacks than the people who oppress them. And i think that there is a problem by stating that someone is a victim when in fact he oppresses another because of it´s origins and use his victim status in purpose because he is in a position of weakness towards other powerfull groups. I don´t know if you understand my point, but that´s what i wanted to point here.

to deny this racism would be to be in denial, and the other reason is that nobody wants to see victims as oppressors, that´s why you will not see many articles, discussions about it. But the people who know the long history of arab negrophobia wouldn´t be surprised that it happens in palestinians territories too :

another video but unfortunately it´s in french :

rory said...

@ bad company : another sources

if you really wanna see it , you´ll find informations about it

Bad Company said...

That's the color hierarchy of racial discrimination. White alright. Brown stick around. Black get back. Semites would be like white flat or brown sharp.

Bad Company said...

That's how respectable Negroes revolt. Nonviolently.

rory said...

so it´s ok for you to have empathy for someone who oppress you, just because you are what you are? No it´s not. I agree that there had and has many issues among blacks , dark-skinned/light skinned, africans vs african-americans etc... but i also notice that most of this divisions are cauzed by low education and are to some degree a consequence of white supremacy (the one who think they are closer from whites despise the others)...but to compare it to the racialized superstructure of power is foolish , naive (it´s not personal here, just general) and doesn ´t help us understand how it actually works

Bad Company said...

It works both ways. Jews have done a hell of a lot more abuse of blacks than Palestinians have. Not because they are more racist necessarily. They just have mo money and power; the means by which to enforce their racial prejudices. As I said; discrimination against blacks is universal. They see us as the least among the people of the world; according to that color hierarchy of racial discrimination that I laid out. By your logic, if you can't have empathy for Palestinians neither can you have empathy for the even more racially oppressive Isrealis. You can't have empathy for hardly people in the world. Except maybe Eskimos..