by BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon
Former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has just returned from an Israeli jail where she was briefly imprisoned, along with human rights activists from several nations, for her second attempt at publicly running the brutal US-Israeli blockade trying to bring coloring books, food and medical supplies. Why are the US and Israel imposing this collective punishment upon 1.5 million civilians. How does McKinney's stand match up against that of our first black president, the most powerful man in the world who calls it a "humantarian crisis" but will do nothing about it? And how do they both stack up against the legacy of Dr. King?
Barack Obama or Cynthia McKinney – Who Represents Black America Toward Palestine and Israel?
By BAR Managing Editor Bruce A. Dixon
“Both Obama and McKinney have traveled to the region more than once in the last several months.”
It's almost an unfair question. Barack Obama's many apologists have explained their lips off telling us how he could not run and cannot govern as president of Black Americans, or the president of Americans neck-deep in consumer debt, or the president of Americans who want an everybody in-nobody out health care system. To get elected and to govern, they wisely assure us, Barack Obama has chosen to be and must be the "president of everybody," if by everybody you mean private health insurers, Wall Street banksters, Pentagon contractors and greedy chambers of commerce everywhere. The president is a grown man, and he gets to make those choices.
So do the rest of us, and on questions pertaining to the Middle East, a Euro-centric place name if ever there was one, every public opinion survey that bothers to differentiate white from black US opinion indicates that African Americans are, in the main, far more sympathetic to the cause of Palestinians than either their white neighbors or their first black president. Barack Obama then, is operating well outside the black consensus on Palestine and Israel, while former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney swims confidently in the mainstream of black opinion and the prophetic tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Both Obama and McKinney have traveled to the region more than once in the last several months. The president gave a speech in Cairo sternly advising Palestinians to give up violence in pursuit of justice, while seeming to ignore the grossly disproportionate violence, official and unofficial, of the Israeli settler state against them. Obama acknowledged what he called a humanitarian crisis in Gaza without facing his own and the American role in creating that crisis, let alone advancing any measures that would ameliorate it.
““My suitcase,” McKinney told BAR, “was full of crayons. Somebody in authority should explain why crayons and coloring books for Palestinian children are a threat...”
What President Obama calls Gaza's humanitarian crisis is actually a medieval siege, in which Israel, with the full diplomatic and military backing of the US, its principal armorer and banker, has sealed 1.5 million people off from the outside world. For more than two years practically no Palestinians have been permitted to enter Gaza, either from the Israeli-occupied West Bank or elsewhere. Electricity has been cut to a few hours per day and water to a fraction of needed quantities while the Israeli armed forces prohibit Palestinians from purchasing or receiving parts to build, repair or expand capacity. Hundreds of ordinary items needed to carry on civilized life are also banned, including cement, soap, toothpaste, foodstuffs, medical supplies, books, paper clothing and crayons.
In December 2008, and June 2009 Cynthia McKinney, traveled to Cyprus and in the company of human rights activists from many countries attempted to sail to Gaza with a cargo of cement, coloring books, building, medical and humanitarian supplies in order to illustrate the inhumanity and absurdity of the blockade. Both times, the boats were intercepted by the Israeli navy, their GPS units destroyed, and the craft boarded. This time, twenty-one persons including the Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire were arrested and imprisoned for several days before being deported.
“My suitcase,” McKinney told BAR, “was full of crayons. Somebody in authority should explain why crayons and coloring books for Palestinian children are a threat. Somebody should tear down this wall.” McKinney took pains to point out that the blockade, as well as the murderous assault that occurred in December, were carried on with arms and fuel supplied by the US, and with its full diplomatic backing. The blockade of Gaza is causing widespread malnutrition among Palestinians, including children, and is doubtless costing lives daily. “All of us need to ask,” McKinney said, “why our government, through the Israelis, is pursuing this barbaric policy toward the Palestinians, and we must demand that it end right now.”
“Why are Israel and the US, with the help of Egypt, imposing this brutal siege upon Gaza? ”
McKinney also brought with her insights on the racial composition of Israeli prisons. She said she met women in the Israeli prison from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Coite D'Ivoire and other African countries. She observed that a huge number of prisoners, aside from Palestinians, were black Africans and Asians. Where Israel formerly depended upon Arab labor to do many of its everyday tasks, since the beginning of its policy of siege it has recruited large amounts of foreigh labor from non-Muslim parts of Africa and Asia to do all the jobs on the low end of the pay and social status scales. Foreigners, of course, have few if any rights in Israel, and can find themselves locked up for extended periods for the most minor of status offenses.
Why are Israel and the US, with the help of Egypt, imposing this brutal siege upon Gaza? After the death of Yasir Arafat in 2006, Palestinians held elections, closely supervised by observers from many nations, and certified by them to be free and fair. But the Palestinians had the poor judgment to elect a political party --- Hamas --- not favored by Israel and the US. Cutting off their trade and travel, what remained of their opportunity to seek work in Israel or visit their Palestinian relatives in the West Bank, only a few miles distant, curtailing their electricity, water, building, medical and other supplies was, according to US and Israeli policymakers, supposed to make them come to their senses. It hasn't worked. Outside pressure has, if anything, made the Palestinians of Gaza stick tighter together, and rally round the government that the US and Israel so disapprove of. It was the Bush policy for nearly two years, and now it has been the Obama policy for all of six months.
While Obama was the president-in-waiting, conducting daily news conferences on his plan for the economy, denouncing the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and browbeating members of his own party in congress into voting trillions of public dollars for Wall Street, Israel launched a full-scale military attack against Gaza, throwing hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery, including cluster munitions and white phosphorus along with strikes from helicopters and jet aircraft, killing more than a thousand civilians. Barack Obama declined to comment publicly, noting that his inauguration was still a few days distant, and that the US had “only one president at a time.” In a similar legalistic vein, during Obama's Cairo speech he pointedly said that the US did not recognize the legitimacy of “continuing Israeli settlements.” But the Israeli government has, with US government funding been planting armed colonies of Israelis on strategic hilltops and ridges throughout the Palestinian West Bank for more than twenty years now, connecting them with a network of roads which Palestinians are forbidden to travel upon or even to cross under pain of arrest. Obama said nothing about these and other longstanding outrages.
“Next to Arab Americans, blacks are probably the nation's most skeptical group about the fundamental justice of an Israeli settler state”
Almost a year ago, when Barack Obama received the Democratic nomination, the air was thick with
comparisons and connections between his career and that of Dr. Martin Luther King a generation earlier. In the heady moments of Obama's historic nomination and inauguration it was easy for many to confuse and conflate one with the other. But the air is clearer now. The president's selective moralizing on violence and nonviolence, his legalistic evasions of responsibility, his lawyerly distancing from the consequences of his own actions and inactions are more the stuff of Boss Daley than they are the prophetic witness to injustice of Dr. King. Six months into the Obama presidency, the man whose career many saw as the culmination of the work of the apostle of nonviolence has killed more than 700 Afghans, many of them civilians, with airborne robot drones.
Next to Arab Americans, blacks are probably the nation's most skeptical group about the fundamental justice of an Israeli settler state which imparts rights of residence, citizenship, and more on the basis of Jewish identity, while denying these rights to people whose ancestors have lived there for thousands of years. To African Americans who bother to educate themselves at all on the matter, Israel's identity-pass system, its Jewish-only roads, its separate license plates that allow Israeli Arabs and other non-jews to be profiled at a distance, the ongoing settlement policy cited by President Obama, and the raw, unpunished racist violence of Israeli settlers toward Palestinians have all the hallmarks of a modern, twenty-first century apartheid state. Thanks to Cynthia McKinney and others, more of us are becoming educated on the real nature of the Israeli state, and the consequences of American support of it. We expect to see that work continue, and be taken up by an ever wider section of African American churches, student and civic organizations who believe, as did Dr. King that a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We said at the beginning that the comparison was almost unfair. Almost. It's really not unfair at all. Neither Barack Obama nor Cynthia McKinney are being forced or compelled to make the choices they do. They are both grown, well educated, sober, sensible parents and US citizens. But between President Obama and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, it's easy to see who is following in the prophetic footsteps of Dr. King, and increasingly, who is Black America's real representative to Palestinians, Israelis, and the Middle East.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at BAR and based in Atlanta GA. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com