Last month, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and United Nations, took a trip to the American South to learn about the civil rights movement.
Ostensibly, he learned about Jim Crow discrimination and ongoing racism. Yet he understood so little that he rejected any comparison between American racism and segregation and Israel’s denial of equal rights to Palestinian citizens and military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The undertaking was mainly about optics.In its aftermath, Erdan maintains that activists for Palestinian rights “are trying to take advantage of intersectionality, [claiming] their struggle against Israel is the same as what’s happening here with Black Americans, which is clearly not the reality.”
But there are profound similarities between Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies, the Jim Crow American South, with ongoing current discrimination, and apartheid South Africa.
As Michelle Alexander, author of the highly influential book The New Jim Crow, wrote in The New York Times in 2019: “We must, with as much courage and conviction as we can muster, speak out against the system of legal discrimination that exists inside Israel.”
The Twitter feed of the city of Montgomery, Alabama, highlighted the visit as “part of an all-immersive experience to explore the legacy of historic communities and learn more about the depth of African Americans’ unique and countless contributions to the country.”
Erdan’s visit, however, comes across as an attempt to co-opt Black leaders and whitewash Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.
The trip must be placed in the context of the Israel lobby viewing the Black Lives Matter movement as a strategic threat.
A 2017 leaked report from the Anti-Defamation League and Reut Institute, a leading Israeli think tank, complained about how “a discourse of intersectionality” and the so-called “delegitimization movement” have “successfully been able to frame the Palestinian struggle against Israel as part of the struggle of other disempowered minorities, such as African Americans and the LGBTQ community.”
The report, as noted by my colleague Ali Abunimah, recommended that Israel lobby groups try to disrupt this development by “Partnering with other minority communities based on shared values and common interests such as on criminal justice reform, immigration rights or in fighting against racism and hate crimes.”
The notion of Erdan holding a sincere social justice concern is belied by his earlier efforts as Israel’s strategic affairs minister to undercut, surveil and sabotage the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights as well as by his connection to the racist Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
Additionally, Erdan and ZOA head Morton Klein share similar anti-BDS views.Klein is stridently opposed to Black Lives Matter, calling it “a Jew-hating, white-hating, Israel-hating, conservative-Black-hating, violence-promoting, dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters.” What has Erdan said in response? Nothing.
Erdan seems to think he can successfully exploit civil rights issues in the American South and be feted by the bigoted Klein, all while denying that Palestinians under Israeli control face what Human Rights Watch has termed “separate and unequal conditions.”
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has recently gone even further, finally agreeing with Palestinian human rights defenders that Israel’s rule over Palestinians both in the occupied territories and in Israel itself is apartheid.
Former South Carolina Democratic state lawmaker Bakari Sellers, promoted as a student leader by AIPAC and later conveying an anti-BDS message as a Hillary Clinton surrogate, was among those who met with Erdan during his southern tour.
Sellers, now a CNN political commentator, has conflated the BDS movement for equal rights with anti-Semitism.
He has also proudly displayed his connection with anti-Palestinian billionaires Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.
Sheldon Adelson, who died in January, had urged dropping atomic weapons on Iran, including the middle of Tehran.A decade ago, Sellers co-sponsored a South Carolina resolution endorsing the Zionist claim that Israel had a “God-given” right to Palestinian land granted by the Old Testament.
The resolution also asserted, contrary to international law, that “Israel is neither an attacking force nor an occupier of the lands of others.”
Yet it also endorsed the notion that rather than a two-state solution, “peace can be afforded the region only through a united Israel governed under one law for all people” – including “non-Jewish citizens.”
Sellers and Erdan may have agreed on civil rights for African Americans, but they also agree on apartheid for Palestinians as – rhetoric aside – there is emphatically not “one law for all people” between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea.
Israel is an occupier and an apartheid state, even if Erdan sought to hide the fact during his journey to the American South.