Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Black America in Solidarity with the Palestinian Struggle for Land, Peace & Freedom Has been Long, Consistent and Principled.


Psalms for Palestine

by Ewuare X. Osayande

your flag may bear 
the star of David
but the Palestinian people
bear his spirit;
twirling freedom’s slingshot
hurling the bleeding stones of their defiance  
in the face
of your iron-clad Goliath.

Malcolm X Grassroots Movement statement condemning the Israeli assault on Gaza and the Palestinian People

The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement condemns in the strongest terms the Israeli assault on Gaza and the US governments full political and diplomatic support for this illegal and amoral military operation.

We firmly assert the right of the Palestinian people to resist their ongoing occupation and colonization by the Israeli government and the international forces of Zionism. We also firmly support the Palestinian peoples right to self-determination and statehood, and the unequivocal and irrevocable right to return.

We recognize that this assault comes at a very critical period for the Southwest Asian and North African region. A period where political alignments and being renegotiated and political maps redrawn by a shifting body of forces, some progressive and some extremely reactionary. In this context we call on the Arab League and all of the Arab governments from Algeria to Iraq, from Saudi Arabia to Sudan, to stand united in solidarity and resistance with the Palestinian people. And to those states that supported regime change in Libya, and are supporting the ongoing regime change operation in Syria, we call on them to provide the Palestinians with the same level of political and economic support for their just cause against the illegitimate Zionist colonial project.

Finally, we call on all people of Afrikan descent within the United States to stand with us in condemning this assault and the ongoing occupation of Palestine. We ask you all to join us in demanding that President Barack Obama condemn this assault, demand that Israel cease its aggression, abide by international law, and by the numerous United Nations resolutions that condemn the occupation, the apartheid system, and the various human rights violations being committed by the Israeli state.

Free the Land!

Monday, November 19, 2012

 This was published in the NY Times in the Fall of 1969. It was also published in other newspapers across the US.

The Black Panther Party and Palestine Solidarity

by Matthew Quest

"We Are Against the Government that Will Persecute the Palestinian People": Clarifying the Position of the Black Panther Party in Huey Newton’s To Die For The People

Huey Newton, with Bobby Seale, was cofounder of the Black Panther Party (BPP). According to the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a campaign by the state to disrupt domestic radical political organizations, the BPP was said to be one of the major threats to American national security in the twentieth century. In their battles against white supremacy and empire, the BPP throughout its history (1966-1982), was more accurately a profound threat to the American ruling class.

The Panthers, as an autonomous Black liberation organization, embodied for many both the independent validity of the expression of revolutionary Black nationalism, and the need to forge principled multi-racial united fronts to fight injustice. Organizing armed community patrols to fight police brutality, breakfast for children, independent media, and community health programs; the Panthers for a time forged a socialist ethic of popular self-management through direct action among urban working class African American communities, and became an international inspiration toward a free society. The BPP had many linkages to insurgent national liberation movements and defiant communist regimes in Vietnam, Cuba, China, Algeria, and Mozambique, to name merely a few.[1]

Perhaps the international solidarity linkage most overlooked and relevant to contemporary battles against empire is the Panthers’ solidarity with Palestine[2]. The following is an examination of the BPP’s stance on Palestine through one historical text, Huey Newton’s communiqué “On The Middle East” (1970) in his volume of collected writings, To Die For The People (1972, 1995)[3]. It is beyond the scope of this essay to comprehensively document historical opinion of the BPP as a whole, which should not be confused with the ideas of one of its major leaders. To do so, it would be necessary to examine views of many of the thousands of members and local chapters nationwide. Rather, the following is an analysis of this one statement by Newton for insights to contemporary struggles for building Palestine solidarity with a particular concern for African American linkages, accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry, and opposing not any particular policy of Israel, but this colonial settler state as a whole.

On September 5, 1970 the BPP called a press conference in response to media allegations, and a memo spread internationally through embassies, that there was a Panther delegation in Jordan led by Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) promoting the interests of the Black Power movement’s solidarity with Palestine “against the Jewish people.” Stokely Carmichael was a major leader of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)[4], a multi-racial organization famous for using direct action in the Jim Crow South to register Black folks to vote. He became famous for leading the transformation of SNCC into a black nationalist organization. Huey Newton repudiated this news item about Carmichael and the Panthers as incorrect for two reasons before explaining in more general terms the BPP’s philosophy toward Palestine solidarity in a climate of numerous accusations that the Panthers were “anti-Semitic.”

First, the Panthers did not have a delegation in Jordan. They did have an authorized international chapter based in Algeria, led by Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, and these Panthers were in “daily contact” with the Palestine Liberation Organization.[5] Second, Newton distanced the BPP from Carmichael, who was briefly associated with them after the decline of SNCC, continuing a series of unwise destructive exchanges discussing their political differences in public. Admittedly “without evidence”, but under the pressure of COINTELPRO tactics of disruption, Newton sadly accused Carmichael of being a CIA agent, largely over strategic differences in the African American liberation struggle.[6] 

However, their political differences, as discussed by Newton, are worthy of our attention. Not because he fairly characterized all of Carmichael’s positions at that time, or in view of history Carmichael’s evolving political philosophy in comparison with his own. Rather, because Newton asserts certain principles critical to Black and by extension Palestinian liberation.[7]

Newton took issue with the BPP being reported as doing solidarity work under the banner of “Black Power,” a slogan originally closely associated with Carmichael. Carmichael in these years inconsistently advocated socialism and saw the highest stage of Black Power as Pan-Africanism. Newton was critical of ethnic capitalism as the collective economics of liberation, illustrated a similarity between Stokely Carmichael’s and Richard Nixon’s opportunistic support for “black capitalism.”[8] Further while expressing his support for African liberation struggles against imperialism, Newton could not support Pan-Africanism because too many advocates of this philosophy were African governments which in fact aligned themselves with U.S. imperialism.
"In other words, these governments are saying that if the United States will let us exist as a class to oppress our African people then we will cooperate; in other words Black oppressing Black…We know that without the support of the United States imperialism no reactionary government can exist. So we are very careful when we start supporting a government that has relationships in support of the United States."[9]

Newton was seeking to demonstrate “the Black Panther Party [was] internationalist,” and this meant not just international solidarity with all peoples oppressed by white supremacy but international resistance against all whom he understood to be the bodyguards of capital.[10] He did not think the establishment of socialism would automatically eliminate white supremacy but that “the only way to start changing the racist nature of the society is to revolutionize or transform the institutions” of society.[11]

Huey Newton in this statement “On the Middle East” had to preface it with an acknowledgement the Panthers were being attacked for being anti-Semitic, that individual members had in the past said some hurtful, inappropriate things towards Jews which could be publicly cited by enemies of his party, but the official position of the BPP was not anti-Semitic.[12] The Panthers were in the whirlwind of national media incidents where Black Power was in conflict with Jewish Americans.[13] Capitalist economic relations, marked by white racism and ethnic competition for and control over scarce resources, explains, not excuses, some pejorative epithets against Jews by some Black community activists.[14] 

However, it was also a fact that the FBI’s COINTELPRO program was using Black-Jewish tensions as a wedge to disrupt sympathy for the Panthers including manufacturing conflicts which had no material basis.[15] Emerging out of this difficult climate Newton stated the following:
"As far as the Israeli people are concerned we are not against the Jewish people. We are against that government that will persecute the Palestinian people. We have to admit that there is something wrong in the Middle East. The Palestinian people are living in hovels, they don’t have any land, they’ve been stripped and murdered; and we cannot support that for any reason."[16]

Huey Newton then explains he recognized the “shortcomings” of what was supposed to be the progressive United Arab Republic, and the inability or lack of desire of other Arab nation-states, to consistently defend Palestine.[17] 

He believed that everyday Palestinian people were in the forefront of liberating the Middle East, and that he was in solidarity as well with the few Israelis “who were working to see that the Zionist government of Israel is transformed into a secular people’s state” instead of one which privileged those of a certain religion.[18] Newton said Israel was based on “the height of chauvinism and ethnocentrism” and contrasting the Panther viewpoint with Israel’s claim as representative of every Jewish person he stated: 

“We are chiefly interested in the survival of our people, but not at the expense of other people.”[19]
After implying African Americans have a shared history of racial and colonial oppression with Jews and Palestinians and thus a tendency towards solidarity with both, Huey Newton then shares a comparative view on Jewish autonomy, as supposedly represented by the state of Israel, and the hope for Black self-determination in America. It has an immediate relevance to the struggle for Palestinian autonomy as well.

"We have a long history of being enslaved and murdered. We have wrestled with the question of nationalism and we have concluded we have a moral right to embrace nationalism. We have a moral right to choose separatism, just as the Jewish people have that moral right. But we realize that the United States will not allow us to separate and live side by side with United States imperialism. It’s obvious that we cannot become self-determined because the United States will not let countries exist 15 million miles away in freedom…so they will certainly not let us exist in a separate state in North America in freedom. So the question can be put into the future."[20]

Newton in this statement causes the reader to ask why has the US embraced the nation-state of Israel as representative of Jewish autonomy when it allows no other nationality of historically oppressed peoples to be self-determining miles away or within its own borders? Newton exclaims “our central task is the overthrow of the ruling circle, who will not permit the question of self-determination to exist in this world.”[21]
"This transformation can only take place by wiping out United States imperialism and establishing a new earth, a new society, a new world. So politically and strategically the correct action to take is not separation but world revolution in order to wipe out imperialism. Then people will be free to decide their destiny. Self-determination and national liberation can not really exist while United States imperialism is alive. That is why we don’t support nationalism as our goal." [22]

“In some instances,” Newton explained he did support revolutionary nationalism, such as some aspects of the Palestinian national liberation struggle, “as a strategy.” This is because:

"The motives are internationalist because the revolutionists are attempting to secure liberated territory in order to choke imperialism by cutting them off from the countryside. [However,] when the motive for national liberation is solely to create a capitalist state so that the ruling circle of that capitalist state can align itself with [U.S.] imperialism, then it is reactionary nationalism and cannot be supported by revolutionaries."[23]

Unfortunately, this conservative motive for national liberation, which fairly characterizes Zionism, overlords Palestinian national liberation as well to this day led by Yasir Arafat, once their defender and ally of the BPP, now a dictator.[24] This is true whether the U.S. rulers characterizes him as such or imagine still he is their best hope for a dependent pawn as head of an oppressive future Palestinian regime.

Huey Newton characterizes accurately an appropriate standard for anti-racist solidarity with Jewish, Arab, and Muslim individuals and communities as historically oppressed peoples. Do they allow their nationalism to be a pawn for imperialism? Do they oppose not merely some policies of the state of Israel but the Zionist government as a whole?

"Israel was created by Western imperialism and maintained by Western fire power. The Jewish people have a right to exist [there] as long as they exist to down the reactionary expansionist Israeli government. [The African American] situation is similar in so many ways; we say that morally perhaps, the Jewish people can make a case for separatism and a Zionist state based upon their religion for self-defense. We say morally perhaps we could accept this, but politically and strategically we know it is incorrect. In the first place it is perpetuating nationalism…if nationalism is reaction, and I think the United States proves this by using nationalism to rape the world and dominate everyone else. In other words, it went from nationalism to the natural conclusion which is empire or imperialism. So the Jewish people must be careful not to be an agent of imperialism."[25]

Huey Newton concludes this communiqué “On the Middle East” with acknowledgement of two positive developments which he saw emerging three decades ago and a sharp declarative statement. First, Newton felt there was emerging a vocal minority of Jewish people struggling against the racist tactics of the Zionist Israeli government. He expressed the Panthers’ solidarity as evidence they were not anti-Semitic. Second, Newton thought it was a great development that the Arab and Muslim nation states were showing their true colors; their “contradictory” incapacity to defend Palestinian freedom, for to do so compromised the relative privileges of their rulers with American imperialism and inspired visions of freedom among their own subjects.

Finally, Newton took a clear stand against the perpetual assault by Zionist Jews, who insist to be opposed to the state of Israel is to attack the Jewish community as a whole:
"We realize that some people who happen to be Jewish and who support Israel will use the Black Panther Party’s position that is against imperialism and against the agents of the imperialist as an attack of anti-Semitism. We think that is a backbiting racist underhanded tactic and we will treat it as such. We have respect for all people, and we have respect for the right of any people to exist. So we want the Palestinian people and the Jewish people to live in harmony together. We support the Palestinian’s just struggle for liberation one hundred percent. We will go on doing this, and we would like for all of the progressive people of the world to join our ranks in order to make a world in which all people can live." [26]

  1. For global dimensions of the influence of the BPP see Michael L. Clemons’ and Charles E. Jones’ “Global Solidarity: the Black Panther Party in the International Arena.” In New Political Science. 21.2 (1999) 177-204.
  2. Perhaps another international BPP solidarity alliance neglected, related to this story, beyond the scope of this article, but deserving of its own in light of Palestine solidarity is the story of the Black Panther Party of Israel, an organization of “oriental Jews” fighting discrimination against the European dominated Zionist state. See Deborah Bernstein’s “Conflict and Protest in Israeli Society: The Case of the Black Panthers of Israel.” Youth and Society. 14 (1984) 129-151.
  3. Huey P. Newton. “On The Middle East.” In To Die For the People. New York: Random House, 1972. 191-197. The new 1995 edition by the publisher Writers and Readers may be more accessible.
  4. The standard work on SNCC is Clayborne Carson’s In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1995.
  5. These basic facts in the Newton “On the Middle East” document were briefly introduced by another Panther David Hilliard. For further information on the Panther’s Algeria chapter see Kathleen Neal Cleaver’s “Back to Africa: the Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party (1969-1972)” In Charles E. Jones ed. The Black Panther Party Reconsidered. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1998. 211-256.
  6. Newton, 191.
  7. An informative treatment of Stokely Carmichael’s politics in the context of the Black Power era can be found in Robert L. Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990.
  8. An older text worth examining on the emergence of “black capitalism” as a political force which clearly illustrates how populist ethnic entrepreneurial schemes undermine the class struggle within national liberation movements is Earl Ofari Hutchinson’s The Myth of Black Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.
  9. Newton, 192.
  10. Ibid, 192.
  11. Ibid, 193.
  12. Ibid, 193.
  13. These included other Black Power groups support of Palestine, such as SNCC’s and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers’, as well as the Ocean Hill-Brownsville (Brooklyn, NY) public school strike for Black community control which clashed with the predominantly Jewish teachers’ union.
  14. An interesting argument is made that one source of Black resentment towards Jews is consistent with African resentment to middle or model minorities such as Koreans, South Asians, and Arabs. See Vijay Prashad’s Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Cultural Purity.
  15. The Jewish Defense League (JDL) was invented with the help of the FBI to disrupt Black liberation struggles in NYC. See Robert I. Friedman’s The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane, From FBI Informant To Knesset Member. Brooklyn, NY: Lawrence Hill Books, 1990. 96-97.
  16. Newton, 193-194.
  17. The United Arab Republic was a nominal Pan-Arab secular federation of nation-states which was led by Gamal Nasser’s Egypt in unity with Syria and for a time Iraq. Defense of Palestine was often the populist basis for this union. Appearing a strong presence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and decimated in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, by 1970 the U.A.R. was proven a myth as a serious opponent of Israel.
  18. Newton, 194.
  19. Ibid, 194.
  20. Ibid, 194.
  21. Ibid, 195.
  22. Ibid, 195.
  23. Ibid, 195.
  24. A concise informative biography of Yasir Arafat is Said K. Aburish’s Arafat: From Defender to Dictator. New York: Bloomsbury, 1998.Newton, 195-196.
  25. Newton, 195-196.
  26. Ibid, 196

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Arab Americans and Palestine Solidarity
Lauren Ray  

Palestine solidarity activists face intimidation. If we are talented at what we do, organizing and educating about the nature of Israel's white supremacy and colonialism, it is a real risk that we may lose our jobs or get thrown out of school. That the media, the twin managers of corporate capital and trade union bureaucracy, and even so-called defenders of intellectual freedom are liable to turn against us is an occupational hazard. John Watson, member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and student editor of the South End, the campus newspaper of Wayne State University in Detroit, confronted these obstacles in 1968.The paper published an article/editorial favorable toward Palestinian guerrilla operations against Israel. The reaction far outstripped anything before thrown at the South End and set off a series of events that would lead to Watson being pushed out as editor.

Meanwhile in the auto plants of Detroit, thousands of Arab immigrants were laboring, like their African American co-workers, under difficult conditions and represented by a United Auto Workers (UAW) union that was, when not openly hostile, showed willful neglect. By 1973 the number of Arab auto workers had grown significantly. As a sign of increasing militancy, they organized against Leonard Woodcock, then president of the UAW, for accepting an award from B'nai B'rith and against Local 600 for buying Israeli bonds. As well, whereas in the past they had often crossed the picket lines, these Arab auto workers participated in the wildcat strikes called by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

Racial and class subordination at home, along with imperialism abroad, produced important and significant activity among Black and Arab workers in the Detroit area. Looking at such a confluence can bring historical weight to the vital strategic importance of a principled and consistent anti-racist democratic perspective which is independent and antagonistic to the permanent hypocrisy of the politicians, local officials, administrators and the union bosses.

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers arose out of the growing militancy of the Black Freedom Movement during the 1960s.[1] The struggle for black autonomy, that found its form in both non-violent direct action and armed uprisings across the U.S., was being unrelentingly repressed by the forces of coercion protecting white supremacy. The so-called progressive moves by the state to expand public welfare and civil rights legislation were finally implemented to subdue rebellious masses (not forge a "Great Society" as the state pretended). Out of continued frustration, anger, and the hopeless limitations of these progressive moves, Black communities exploded from Watts to Newark to Detroit.

The Detroit rebellion of July 1967 was one of the largest Black insurrections this country has seen. It lasted about five days, and during that time African Americans responded to years of police brutality and oppression in the workplace by taking to the streets and battling all the forces of coercion that the U.S. state had to offer—the Detroit police, the National Guard and the U.S. army were called out to suppress the uprising.

Out of the ashes of the city wide rebellion, Black workers brought militant rebellion directly to their capitalist managers. In May of 1968, while the world was watching an epic uprising in France of workers and students which nearly toppled the French rulers, between three and four thousand workers participated in a wildcat strike at the Dodge Main auto plant. This strike was a protest against two main factors. First, black workers were being stifled in the factory by racist policies that kept them in the most back-breaking jobs with no chance of promotion or pay increase. At a time when intellectuals were theorizing about automation making workers obsolete, black workers at another plant were beginning to refer with ironic humor to the conditions of labor they faced as "niggermation."

Second, Black workers faced racism in the unions, particularly the United Auto Workers (UAW), which the League renamed "U Ain't White" for its policies of discrimination and exclusion towards black folks. This fact has not always been clear in the historical record because the major leader of the UAW, Walter Reuther, while doing nothing to fight racism where he had the power to do so inside his own union, has been written up more as a symbol of unity between civil rights and organized labor than for his actual substance.[2]

Several of the Black workers decided to organize the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM). A number of other RUMs were soon established at other factories in Detroit including the famous and huge Ford River Rouge Plant, and Chrysler's Eldon Avenue Gear and Axle plant, but also with spinoffs nationally.[3] With increasing success and popularity of RUM wildcat strikes and popular associations among black workers, an umbrella organization, named the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), was created in 1969 to centralize the organizing efforts.

During its short lifetime, the LRBW was to become a radical beacon of light in the struggle for Black autonomy in a turbulent time of political assassinations, state repression, and growing imperialist aggression at the hands of the U.S. state. The founding leaders of the LRBW along with John Watson were Ken Cockrel, Luke Tripp, Mike Hamlin, General Baker, and Chuck Wooten. Ernest Allen and James Forman would play prominent roles subsequently. They would be inspired by such precursors as the Afro-American Student Movement, the ideas of CLR James and James and Grace Lee Boggs, Pan-Africanism, and Third World Marxist ideas associated with China and Cuba. There would be a permanent tension between race and class as a prism for maintaining the direction of the LRBW's political philosophy which would lead ultimately to its collapse.

On one hand the LRBW with its initial dual unionism approach was not advocating for a progressive ruling class, where folks of color would replace the colonial or white rulers to whom they were currently enslaved. On the other, their dual unionism did not maintain ideals of working class self-management but contributed to the compromise of affirmative action in both union and managerial leadership. However, in keeping focus on their international outlook, they did maintain that the key to worldwide liberation lie in the dismantling of white supremacy and empire, and the creation of societies based on the self-determination of all people. Elements from the DRUM constitution demonstrate this aspect of internationalism within the LRBW.

The organizers wrote:

We recognize our struggle is not an isolated one and that we have common cause with the black workers in this racist nation and throughout the world…By being in the forefront of this revolutionary struggle we must act swiftly to help organize DRUM-type organizations…be it in Lynn Townsend's kitchen, the White House, White Castle, Ford Rouge, the Mississippi Delta, the plains of Wyoming, the tin mines of Bolivia, the rubber plantation of Indonesia, the oil fields of Biafra, or the Chrysler plants in South Africa.[4]

The LRBW's solidarity with international struggles found its way into many of the organization's writings. Every organization needs its mouthpiece, and for some time the messenger for DRUM, and later the League, was the Inner City Voice (ICV). A publication distributed mostly among Black workers in the various Detroit auto factories, it was originally published in 1967. When funding began to run out for the ICV a year later, the DRUM organizers sought another outlet through which they could continue to advocate autonomous organization of the Black workers and denounce institutionalized oppressions.

John Watson soon found that opportunity when, as a student at Wayne State University, he ran for editor of the student newspaper and won. The South End was turned into an important outlet for LRBW perspectives and a mass circulation paper. Watson sought to distribute the paper off-campus as well. It would become a platform for which it advocated support for a number of national liberation and guerilla warfare struggles in Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa as well as Palestine, making systematic connections between conditions at home and struggles abroad.[5] Making these connections was to lead the League of Revolutionary Black Workers to cultivate links with Arab groups and showing films on the Palestinian struggle. Finally, in 1973, Watson went to the Middle East and met with Palestinian guerrilla organizations.

"Pandora's Box"[6]

After Watson published the editorial statement on Palestinian resistance to Israel in Wayne State's student paper, President Keast of the university—already eager to remove Watson because of the publishing of articles on Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marxism and the struggle in Greece, as well as local controversies such as attacking the United Auto Workers leadership—attacked the paper saying it was "reminiscent of Hitler's Germany."[7] City, state, union officials, local papers and television shortly followed suit, culminating in an arson attack on South End offices. The alumni group and state legislature threatened to cut off funding and even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) made a censuring statement. A Pandora's Box was opened.

Watson's response cut to the heart of the matter. If all of these people were so horrified by racism then why did all of the critics of the editorial say nothing about the institutional racism against Black and Arab workers in the auto plants or in the city. Official society protested criticism of the abuses committed by the Zionist state, and yet remained silent about the abuses being suffered by Black and Arab workers in Detroit, even though the facts and figures displayed these abuses for all to see. Watson also asked why some critics of the editorial belonged to the exclusive Detroit Athletic Club, which discriminated against Jews, or lived in the exclusive suburb Gross Pointe, known to discriminate against Blacks. For Watson the South End, like the League, took a stand against all forms of racism but the critics only selectively and disingenuously responded to racism when it benefited them. Further, Detroit had the largest Arab population in the United States and he wondered why they were so dangerous that their points of view had to be kept in the closet at all costs.

Considering Watson's response from a contemporary point of view is rewarding. While today's politicians, union officials, alumni groups and newspapers piously celebrate jumbled and falsified versions of the African and African American freedom struggles, the Arab struggle is designated still as a major enemy. The discontents and battles fought by Arab Americans are silenced as the state attempts to mold them into another "model minority," when convenient, leaving suppressed a rich history of resistance, especially surrounding Palestine solidarity. On the other hand, when Palestinians and Arabs do not comply, the state, politicians, experts and "responsible" leaders mobilize the rainbow-colored coalition against the "bad races." This reflects the structural relations in the Middle East where the Palestinian struggle is in the forefront of fighting imperialism and colonialism. The "Pandora's Box" is indicative of this important point. The greater the oppression the greater the hysteria over the racial threat found in the Arab peoples and, in particular Palestinians.

We are told that Palestine solidarity arose in the states during the 1980s by white college kids. This historical account offered to us, like most accounts of U.S. history we receive in school and elsewhere, ignores not only the more radical grassroots elements of Palestine solidarity among Arab Americans, but likewise the essential multi-racial alliances forged by Arab Americans with African Americans, among other groups. White supremacy and imperialism cross all racial, ethnic, and geographic boundaries and have been the tools facilitating the oppression of peoples in Detroit and around the globe. As one radical group operating out of the Dodge Main plant put it, "Chrysler figures that no one will try to help an Arab worker when Chrysler attacks him. So now Chrysler is attacking…It's the same kind of shit they have pulled with black people."[8]

Many Arab workers in turn honored wildcat strikes called by the League and when their numbers increased they became more organized, like Black workers, independently within the union. The confluence of fighting white supremacy in the union and the auto plant and in Israel/Palestine took shape in organizational form during this period in Detroit. Arab workers like African American workers got the worst jobs and the least pay – something the union facilitated for the management. Union leadership, had since just after the Second World War, worked with capitalist management to discipline workers from any further advance toward control of the union and ultimately production. Further, union bureaucracy worked with management to use people of color workers as strike breaking leverage, while at the same time tried to keep them out of the union or from forming their own organizations.

By the late 1960's and early 1970's Arab workers were experiencing this same dynamic. Not only did they get low pay, the worst jobs, and were the first to be fired. But when the local union boss, Leonard Woodcock accepted a Humanitarian Award from B'nai B'rith, Arab and other workers walked off the job as two afternoon shifts were shut down to protest the UAW purchase of Israeli bonds. When Ford local 600 union bought Israeli bonds, only adding to its three-quarters of a million in bonds it already held, Arab workers decided to organize against union leadership. Arab workers made the argument that the Union should not be invested in the Zionist state just like it should not be invested in the Afrikaaner or Rhodesian regime. 3,000 marched to the union's offices.[9] The ignoring and coercion of Arab workers by the union bureaucrats and the management was part of a long history of racism and class warfare against the rank and file that is still with us today.

This Pandora's Box in America, its explosive potential for fundamental change, suggests two lessons on some of the key struggles of this period for our own time. The first was in the contradictions within the union between discipline from above and rank-and-file control of the union and, ultimately, moving out into control of production in the plant. The second was the contradictions between two forces. While all along the state and official society talked about democracy and freedom, there was racism directed against Black and Arab workers and students at home along with U.S. support abroad for the racist war in Zimbabwe, Vietnam and the Portuguese colonies, and Apartheid under the Afrikaaner and Zionist regimes. On the other was the struggle by ordinary people against this systematic racial oppression. These two diametrically opposed traditions of democracy still hold their explosive force today – one seeking to enforce racial and class discipline from above in the name of democracy and freedom, and the other the struggle and implementation of self-government towards the abolishment of class and white supremacy from below.


Arab and African American workers never formed an organization coming out of this period of ferment in early 1970's Detroit. However, what is important is that Black and Arab workers, while coming from different cultural histories, found themselves together under white supremacy and capitalism in the U.S., and African and Arab nations attacked and subordinated by imperialism and settler colonialism abroad. Facing this they began to move in the same direction. The explosiveness of the Palestine/Israel situation was indicative of this. Nowhere in the world are the contradictions of imperialism and liberal and social democracy so sharp and clear than in the oppression of the Palestinians. Watson and the LRBW's experience shows how the officials who said they support civil rights could say so little about the exploitation of Black people and workers in Detroit and elsewhere, or about the oppression of the Palestinian people. At this point the state had assimilated the civil rights agenda and used it as a way to beat back more fundamental change suggested by aspects of the Black Power movement, including efforts towards an end to imperialism and colonialism abroad, such as that which the Palestinians live under in the Jewish state. We are witnessing a similar trend today, as rulers, politicians and bureaucrats in the U.S. and Palestine/Israel pay lip service to the desire for peace and justice, while blatantly working to destroy any such hopes by denying return of refugees, equal access for Palestinians to land and water resources, open travel, and the support of Arab-only zones, both financially and militarily.

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers was not the only Black radical organization of its era to express support for Palestine's freedom; numerous groups, from SNCC to the Black Panther Party, likewise expressed solidarity with Palestinians. At the same time the League's solidarity was unique in several ways that we can draw lessons from today. The organization of workers, both in Palestine/Israel and here in the U.S., will be essential to a successful fight against the institutions, such as white supremacy, which oppress us. This is especially instrumental for divestment campaigns; we cannot organize, isolated on our campuses from the outside world, but must actively incorporate the local communities and the thousands of workers who are involved with and give support to our universities. Likewise, the struggle for a free Palestine is not an Arab or Arab American battle, but must be a multi-racial, multi-ethnic struggle of all justice seeking peoples who are opposed to imperialist and racist agendas.

And finally, our struggle must be against all forces which desire to block the self-activity of the Palestinians to liberate themselves—from Arafat and his lackeys, to Western imperialists, to Zionists (leftist, liberal or right-wing). As the League wrote so many years ago, we must continue to battle those enemies "who would further impoverish the poor, exploit the exploited, and take advantage of the powerless."

Thanks to Aaron Michael Love and Matthew Quest for their assistance with this article.


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