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Black Solidarity with Palestine Faces Its Greatest Test

May 1, 2024

Graphic reading "Palestine is a Black Issue"

AS PALESTINIANS FACE a genocidal Israeli onslaught in Gaza, Black–Palestine solidarity must answer the question that confronts the entire movement: what can those of us in the United States do to stop the slaughter? We ask this question in the context of the greatest outpouring of action against Israeli violence, and solidarity with Palestinians, witnessed in the history of this country.

The recent tidal wave of protests, walk-outs, sit-ins, lockdowns, city council ceasefire resolutions, Congressional office occupations, among countless other methods of protest, form part of a second great wave of Black–Palestine solidarity. Beginning in August 2014, this largely evolved from the Ferguson, Missouri, uprising, in response to the police murder of Michael Brown, which coincided with Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the same year.

Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Cornel West, and other prominent Black public intellectuals, called attention to the plight of Palestinians in the years leading up to that summer. Their work laid the foundation from which similarities could be identified between the explosive Black revolt against institutional racism—which, at its heart, was epitomized by the racist policing and criminal legal system—and the oppression of Palestinians subjected to the naked face of Israeli colonial violence.

A year prior, three young Black women activists famously coined the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in response to the perpetrator of the racist vigilante murder of Black teenager Trayvon Martin having been acquitted of all charges. But it was the non-indictments of the police murderers of Michael Brown, and also of New York City’s Eric Garner, that sparked massive, nationwide protests.

This Black revolt served as a setting for a new moment of Black–Palestine solidarity. In the twelve months after August 2014, Palestine received several delegations of Black people from the US, including the Dream Defenders, which were founded in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s lynching. A year later, more than 1,100 Black activists, artists, and scholars signed the Black Solidarity with Palestine Statement, which became the basis for the Black4Palestine project.

The Dream Defenders and Black4Palestine worked to raise awareness of Israeli apartheid and its similarities with the racism and oppressive institutions characterizing the US. Moreover, the Movement for Black Lives coalition forcefully and clearly advocated solidarity with Palestinians and an end to US support for Israel in its landmark 2016 platform. These efforts were key among the many to build Black–Palestine solidarity, all in the context of waves of Black Lives Matter protests.

The tectonic 2020 Black-led revolts in response to the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor played a crucial role, priming more people than ever to sympathize with Palestinians.

The period from 2014 through to the present has vividly illustrated how the championing of social justice for Black people, the growth of antiracist consciousness, and the struggles of the Palestinians have drawn strength from each other. Indeed, the tectonic 2020 Black-led revolts in response to the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor played a crucial role, priming more people than ever in the US to sympathize with Palestinians in the face of Israel’s current assault, and to agitate to force a ceasefire.

The current rise of Black–Palestine solidarity is not the first time that a high point in the Black social justice movement has merged with a historic moment in the Palestinian cause. The Black Power Era of the 1960s and 1970s also saw a convergence of Black and Palestinian movements and collaboration for mutual liberation, with a flourishing of solidarity among Palestinians and Black American activists.

Malcolm X forcefully condemned Zionist colonialism in the Egyptian Gazette in 1964. Additionally, the most dynamic civil rights organization of its era—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—came out in solidarity with the Palestinian freedom struggle in 1967, in the aftermath of Israel’s victory and occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and parts of Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. The Black Panther Party devoted many articles in its newspaper to the Palestinian cause and sent militants to Palestine to learn and build solidarity. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers also educated and agitated for Palestine, as did other Black Power organizations and efforts.

The situation today is one in which the Palestinian movement in the US—as committed and effective as it has been at raising awareness of Israeli apartheid and the Palestinian struggle for liberation—has something that it has never had before: power. This flows from a set of crucial historical developments that played out prior to October 2023 and the current, horrific Israeli assault. These include the flowering of Students for Justice in Palestine on campuses across the country, ensuring that most North Americans who have attended college in the past decade have encountered a perspective in favor of Palestinian freedom.

We have also witnessed the coming-of-age of a generation of Palestinian Americans and a Palestinian political presence in US society. Prominent Palestinian American scholars such as Noura Erakat have offered deep critiques of Israeli colonization in mainstream news media, as well as journalists such as Ayman Mohyeldin on MSNBC. Lastly, a generation of primarily young Jewish Americans have broken with Zionism and have upended the notion that a commitment to Israel is part of Jewish identity, with many instead prominently mobilizing for Palestinian rights.

Many people in the US support a ceasefire in Gaza—another unprecedented situation in which an American majority sides with the Palestine movement on a key question. This comes in the context of an extraordinarily unpopular presidency. As President Biden seeks reelection, he desperately needs the progressive vote, but he is confronted with a reality that liberals are especially opposed to the White House’s dogged support for Israel. As a result, the movement is in a stronger position to call for a ceasefire, an end to US weapons sales to Israel, and other demands which explicitly oppose US support for Israeli violence. The president and Democrats in Congress cannot avoid it—despite the Party’s deep commitment to Israel.

Biden is counting on the Black vote as the bedrock of his support in November. With the resulting mainstream attention to political attitudes in Black America, those of us building Black–Palestine solidarity are in a unique position to make demands of the administration fueling this genocide. This requires deepening knowledge and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and strategically confronting the administrators of the US–Israel relationship where they are most vulnerable.

With mass organizing, winning goals like ending the flow of US weapons to Israel, and cutting US aid, are possible. Whereas for years, we educated ourselves and advocated solidarity with Palestinians in word, we now have opportunities to disrupt US support for Israel in practice, doing our part to support the next chapters of the Palestinian freedom struggle as it pursues liberation. ×


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