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.