As the second Black female Senator in American history, Kamala Harris has been a pioneer in American politics. Many consider her to be a serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Harris has even been branded by the New York Times as a “‘Top Cop’ in the era of Black Lives Matter,” a tip of the hat to the progressive politics the former California Attorney General has preached on issues of social justice. While Harris has been praised as someone who fights anti-Black racism in the United States, she appears to have failed to be consistent in that approach abroad.
On November 20th, California Senator, Kamala Harris, one of two African American Senators, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Through the meeting, Harris ignored the avalanche of officially sanctioned anti-Black racism in Israel, turned her back on historic Black solidarity with the Palestinian cause, and brushed off the human rights demands of Palestinians living under apartheid. She thus revealed herself as the latest in a long line of “Progressives Except for Palestine,” and one of the most egregious examples given her personal and political background.
Today I met with Senator @KamalaHarris of California. We discussed the potential for deepening cooperation in water management, agriculture, cyber security, and more. I expressed my deep appreciation for America’s commitment to Israel’s security. http://pic.twitter.com/L5qdcgwWG0
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 20, 2017
Ironically, just the day before Harris’ meeting with Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister announceda plan to expel 40,000 non-Jewish African migrants, branding the asylum seekers as “infiltrators” whose existence poses a threat to Israel’s “Jewish character.” This came after years of anti-Black protests in Israel where Israeli politicians across the political spectrum, including those from Netanyahu’s own party, have made statements referring to African immigrants as a “cancer” and “emitting a bad stench” and “likely to cause all kinds of diseases.”
Denying historical Black solidarity with Palestine
Beyond ignoring the anti-Black racism of the Israeli government, Harris has also willfully ignored over half a century of Black American solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were all groups that consistently stood in solidarity with the Palestinian cause.
Malcolm X, Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael were passionate opponents of Zionism, which they regarded as racist to the core and James Baldwin even famously wrote that “The state of Israel was not created for the salvation of the Jews; it was created for the salvation of the Western interests.”
This solidarity with the people of Palestine has has been further revitalized in the present day. Black intellectuals such as Michelle Alexander, Eddie Glaude, Alice Walker and Cornel West have all endorsed a movement of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, or BDS, to pressure the state of Israel to comply with international human rights conventions. West has even referred to the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza as “the hood on steroids.” Colin Kaepernick, perhaps the world’s most influential athlete-activist, has also endorsed the BDS movement. The Movement for Black Lives platform supported the BDS movement and condemned Israel as an apartheid state. Black Lives Matter activists have been taking yearly solidarity trips to Palestine since 2014. The most recent trip even included rapper Vic Mensa, who is currently on tour with Jay Z. Black artists such as Snoop Dogg, Future, and Lauryn Hill have also refused to perform in Israel, in cooperation with the BDS movement’s call for cultural boycott of Israel.
Black American solidarity with Palestine has also been accompanied by a broader international Black solidarity with Palestine. The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, ratified by 53 of 54 African nations, calls for the elimination of Zionism as necessary to bringing an end to racism.
Just a week after Kamala Harris’ meeting with Netanyahu, Mandla Mandela, the grandson of Nelson Mandela and Member of Parliament in South Africa, visited Occupied Palestine and stated that “Palestinians are being subjected to the worst version of apartheid.”
Mandela also cited cited the words of his grandfather, who said that “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Vocal support for Israel’s racist demographic engineering
While the bearer of Nelson Mandela’s legacy rallies support for Palestinian human rights, Harris stated her commitment to “protect[ing] Israel’s identity” and demanded recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” — clear calls for policies that guard the country’s ethnic purity and justify the exclusion of the indigenous Palestinian population.
At a speech at AIPAC in 2016, Harris bizarrely cited her biracial background as her inspiration behind supported the US sending tens of billions of dollars in aid to the Israeli military. While Harris upheld herself as a product of a multicultural US, the Israeli government demands a right to engineer its demographic purity through violence, walls, and laws that have forbidden Palestinian residency in certain areas and which even restrict marriages between Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza and Israeli citizens.
Her opportunism mirrors that of one of the other three Black senators in Congress. Last December, I attended a town hall with Senator Cory Booker, a fellow Democrat who proudly waves his progressive credentials on social issues. After the town hall, a constituent asked Booker about illegal settlements in the West Bank that were destroying his family’s village in Palestine, Booker incoherently somehow brought the conversation to Israel’s “right to defend herself.”
After that, I asked Booker if considered Israel to be an apartheid state. He responded “no” and then turned around. I then asked Booker if he believes that he knows more about apartheid than Black South South Africans who lived under it. After that, Cory Booker sought to ignore me.
Booker is one of the leading recipients of pro-Israel cash, which goes a long way to explaining how he can so shamelessly square his pro-Israel politics with rhetorical support for civil rights in America.
The Israel that Harris and Booker opportunistically support is a dystopian ethnocracy where religious and ethnic segregation is often enforced through violence and the values of racism are implanted in Jewish Israeli youth through official indoctrination programs.
In one recent episode of Israel’s ongoing racial hatefest, the country’s Ministry of Education banned a high school textbook that described an interracial love story between an Israeli and Palestinian, justifying the decision on the grounds that “intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threaten the separate identity,” and that “young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people.”
While progressive Democrats rally for Palestinian human rights, Harris turns her back
By clasping hands with Netanyahu, Harris stood against historical momentum for justice that is even sweeping through the halls of Congress. This past June, 35 members of Congress wrote a letter in support of Issa Amro, an activist from the brutally occupied city of Hebron lauded as the Palestinian Gandhi for his nonviolent approach to confronting Israeli occupation. Israel’s occupation authorities had put Amro on trial for 18 trumped up charges, ranging from “insulting a soldier” to “assault.” Amnesty International has stated that “the deluge of charges against ISsa Amro do not stand up to any scrutiny,” describing the charges as “baseless and politically motivated.” In the letter, 35 House Democrats defended Amro’s right to peacefully protest.
On November 14th, just six days before Harris’ meeting with Netanyahu, 10 House Democrats co-sponsored “The Promoting Human Rights by Ending Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act,” which requires the Secretary of State to certify every year that no American tax dollars given in the form of military aid to Israel are used to “support military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”
In an unprecedented move on November 29th, 10 Democratic Senators authored a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu urging him to put a halt to the Israeli government’s planned demolition of the Palestinian village of Susiya, in order to create yet another illegal settlement. Missing from that letter to Netanyahu were America’s most high profile Black Senators: Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.
As activists, intellectuals, entertainers, and even progressive forces within the Democratic Party began to advocate for Palestinians living under occupation, Harris remains a prisoner of her own opportunism. Desperate to remain in good standing with the powerful pro-Israel lobby and poised to run for president, Harris has attempted to reconcile a progressive politics at home with vociferous support with an apartheid regime that is responsible for some of the worst anti-Black racism and violence against communities of color abroad. If the current trends on Palestine solidarity continue, her hypocrisy may limit her ambitions in a way she never expected.
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