By Benay Blend
Joe Biden states that “the relationship between Israel and the United States” is not about security exchange, but rather about the “shared soul that unites our countries, generation upon generation.” His vision promotes the founding myth of Israeli exceptionalism, the idea that Israel stands as a beacon in the desert surrounded by savage states. Very much like America’s version of a city on a hill, Israel in this scenario exists as a model for other countries.
As Ramzy Baroud observes, Biden’s statements are composed of “a mixture of confused ideological notions, religious ideas and political notions”—wrapped up in a call for unqualified American support for Israel that is “above politics and beyond politics.”
Given the justified fear that four more years of Trump will be America’s undoing why should any of this matter? After all, it is only a small part of Biden’s platform. Placed into a larger context, his words have a deeper meaning, though not in the positive sense that was intended. Both Israel and the United States were founded as settler-colonial states. Different times, perhaps different motivations, nevertheless each sought to replace the Indigenous population with their own.
“Whether through negligence or brutality,” writes Ashraf Ghandour, “police forces in both Israel-Palestine and the United States have proven time and again that they were never designed to protect people of color, but rather to protect white supremacy from people of color.” Indeed, shortly after the police killing of George Floyd gained international attention, Iyad Hallak, a Palestinian who was autistic, was murdered in Jerusalem by Israeli border police while on the way to his special needs school where he studied and worked.
The motivation? Officers thought he had a gun. According to Ghandour, these incidents are linked, as are many others. Neither in Israel nor in America, he claims, are police forces “designed to protect people of color.” Instead, they are calculated “to protect white supremacy” from the Other—“people of color, occupied and indigenous communities, women, refugees, queer folks, the working class, persons with disabilities,” not even “the environment” is exempt.
It is no twist of fate that the same militarized techniques are used in both countries. The consequences of Deadly Exchange, the training of American forces in Israel, have been highlighted the past few days, partly because the Minneapolis police apparently learned the knee-on-the-neck choke-hold during their time in Israel.
It is also no coincidence that Joe Biden clings to a time when support for Israel was bi-partisan when there were no cracks within his own party. In an article for The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah likens his presidential platform to “an Israel lobby wish list,” but with a twist. Motivated by “domestic political pandering,” Biden’s views have little to do with strategic aims such as “peace” or “US interests.”
More insidious, though, and perhaps an explanation for Biden’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric that has since been dropped from his website, is the language of systemic violence that persists on his campaign website. When Biden pledges to “make sure Israel has the capacity to defend itself…in an incredibly dangerous neighborhood,” he uses the same rhetoric that went into his crafting of the 1994 Crime Bill.
In 1989, he charged that then-President Bush was not doing enough to put “violent thugs” in prison. A few years later, Biden referred to “predators on our streets.” Finally, in 1994, he made good with his promise to “lock the S.O.B.s up” with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the consequences of which are described by Michelle Alexander in her landmark book The New Jim Crow (2010).
As Abunimah concludes, Biden has tried unsuccessfully to downplay this part of his career. Similarly, when it comes to Palestine, the racism remains, “both in rhetoric and in substance.” There is no silver lining in the murder of George Floyd, particularly as it was state-sponsored. But there is a flip-side to racism and oppression.
In a sermon given in the late 1950s shortly after returning from Ghana, Martin Luther King said of the new nation’s independence movement: “Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first, that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it.” He noted that “there seems to be a throbbing desire, there seems to be an internal desire for freedom within the soul of every man.”
Relating this to the civil rights movement, he declared that the time had come for that desire to “break out,” as he believed that freedom struggles inevitably do. His words are important now for many reasons.
King’s internationalism reminds us that if colonialism is world-wide, as Biden’s words suggest, so is the freedom struggle. “The parallels between the ongoing racial discrimination experienced by Black people in the US and the treatment of Palestinians and denial of their human rights by the Israeli government can no longer be ignored,” explains Ajamu Baraka, founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network and an editor and columnist with Black Agenda Report.
On June 4, 2020, Palestine Chronicle TV reiterated this stance when editors Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo hosted a reading of Black and Palestinian activists and authors. From the poet Suheir Hammad to the intellectual Angela Davis, their words of solidarity are more crucial now than ever.
“I was born a Black womanand nowI am become a Palestinianagainst the relentless laughter of evilthere is less and less living roomand where are my loved ones?”, wrote famed African American poet June Jordan in her poem “Moving Towards Home”.“Tonight America is looking for an idol. Tell her notto look in the White House. Direct her to the poems of JuneJordan, the diaries of Malcolm X, the survival of nativenations. Tell her idols are born, not produced. Remind Americaof the idols she has murdered, exiled, silenced. Maybe those idols,human and complicated, have some answers for us,” wrote Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad in her poetry collection “Born Palestinian, Born Black”.Palestine Chronicle TV will be hosting a reading of poetry, statements of solidarity, and passages from the writings of Black and Palestinian intellectuals and activists.We invite you to join us on Wednesday, June 3 at 12 pm PCT (10 pm Palestine Time) in a show of solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.We also welcome your comments and contributions, some of which will be shared with our viewers.
Posted by The Palestine Chronicle on Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Hammad, for example, places her own experience of exile within a larger history of imperialism and colonialism that has separated people from their homelands. Her work examines both the notion of her own heritage as Palestinian-American but also the diasporic landscape that offers the possibility of forging wider bonds. On the one hand, as she said in a recent interview:
“There is a larger collective view which is very bleak. It is indeed bleak. And part of the reason it is bleak, in the Middle East and throughout the world, is because of the bleakness we are facing here in America – the reality of the power of American dollars and foreign aid and the WTO and IMF. The reality of how those dollars and agendas affect the everyday lives of the working poor and the disenfranchised is overwhelming.”
But on the other, she sees that “with that reality exists all these pockets of resistance all around the world. And again, it’s people who are making the connection to their local situation as well as connections around the world.”
This is the message that Palestinian Rana Nazzal tweets: to “those out there fighting across Turtle Island” she sends suggestions for “resisting + trying to be safe.” This lesson is repeated in a 2016 manifesto published by Black Lives Matter that gives unequivocal support for the Palestinian liberation movement and condemned the U.S. government for its support for the Israeli settler colony.
“While there has been an imperialist continuum in American history,” concludes Suheir Hamad, “there’s also been Paul Robeson, and that’s the thing that we have to keep reminding ourselves – we are part of a continuum of resistance.”
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, that is the kind of international resistance and solidarity that we are seeing here. Defunding the police and dismantling the Zionist state—both of these struggles are linked to resistance movements worldwide.
– Benay Blend received her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.