Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.
(JNS) For the 1,000 black pastors who have joined a movement to pressure President Joe Biden to force a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, the issue, they contend, is solidarity with the “oppressed.” This can be seen as part of a general revolt within the activist base of the Democratic Party against the administration’s policy in the Middle East. Much like the petitions signed by lower-level officials throughout the government, Democratic congressional staffers and even the president’s campaign staff.
But as reports in The New York Times, NPR and other publications have made clear, the opposition of black churches, which have long been key to get-out-the-vote campaigns to elect Democrats, to Biden on an issue they say “isn’t marginal” poses a potentially lethal threat to his hopes for re-election.
But the key question to be asked about this effort is not so much about its political impact, significant though it may be. It’s why so many African-Americans, especially church leaders who have real influence among their congregants as well as the general black community, could come to believe that the cause of the Palestinian Arabs is somehow linked to their own interests and beliefs.
The answer to this puzzle is clear. Intersectional myths in which the Palestinian Arab war to destroy the one Jewish state on the planet is somehow analogous to the struggle for civil rights in the United States are no longer merely a talking point of academic fashion. These toxic ideas have now been embraced by the African-American community. The teaching of critical race theory and the woke catechism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) divides the world into two immutable groups locked in a never-ending struggle: white oppressors and people of color, who are always the victims. Black pastors have swallowed the neo-Marxist lies that Jews are “white” oppressors and that Palestinian Arabs are victimized people of color—and are sharing that with their congregants.
Racial myths about the Middle East
-The clear fact that the conflict in the Middle East isn’t about race—Jews and Arabs are the same ethnicity—and that about half of Israeli Jews are themselves people of color because they trace their origins to the Middle East and North Africa, is left out of the discussion about American blacks’ opposition to Israel.
-They seem equally ignorant or disinterested in the Palestinian Arabs’ consistent rejection of every compromise offer, including those that would have granted them independence and statehood provided they were willing to live peacefully alongside a Jewish state.
-That a ceasefire existed before Oct. 7 and that Gaza hadn’t been occupied since 2005—or that Jews are the indigenous people in the place Americans call “the holy land”—is also omitted from these discussions.
The facts about the Palestinian Arabs’ century-long war against Zionism don’t matter if you believe that any struggle can be reduced to an intersectional equation of good people of color versus evil whites, with the “whites” always in the wrong no matter what either group does.
The language used by pastors in describing their campaign to bludgeon Biden, who knows all too well that he only won his party’s presidential nomination in 2020 and then the general election that year because of black support, is not so much a reflection of political calculations as an attempt to frame their stand as an extension of civil-rights advocacy.
Barbara Williams-Skinner of the National African American Clergy Network, a group that claims to represent 15 million black churchgoers, told the Times that “black clergy have seen war, militarism, poverty and racism all connected.” But she said that anger directed at Israel exceeded any protests heard from her members about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She asserted that the images of Palestinian Arabs set off the sort of, “deep-seated angst among black people that I have not seen since the civil-rights movement.”
This was echoed by another pastor quoted in the Times, “We see them as a part of us,” said the Rev. Cynthia Hale, the founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga. “They are oppressed people. We are oppressed people.”
Missing from these statements is any sense of context about the war. Also left out of the equation is what it is the “oppressed” Palestinian Arabs want, as well as how they are going about trying to obtain their objectives and whether that has anything in common with the objectives of the civil-rights movement. Indeed, the narrative of solidarity with the cause of the Palestinian Arabs has erased Israel, the rights of Israelis, their suffering or their efforts to ensure that the atrocities of Oct. 7 never be repeated.
It also should extinguish the last vestiges of support for something that many once took for granted: the alliance between African-Americans and Jews.
When pressed for any acknowledgment of how the current war started or about Israel, the pastors say that they are against terrorism and in favor of the release of the estimated 136 Israelis who continue to be held hostage in Gaza by Hamas. And they disclaim any connection with antisemitism.
But the disconnect is not on the side of Jews who are wondering how a group that they had resolutely supported has effectively abandoned them.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas pogroms against communities in southern Israel, there has been an unprecedented surge of antisemitism in the United States. This shocking increase in open Jew-hatred on the streets of American cities and college campuses, as well as in commentary in many mainstream outlets like the Times, is directly tied to efforts to demonize Israel and to treat its citizens and its American Jewish supporters as fair game for terrorism. Yet the very people that liberal Jewish groups have always worked closely with—black spiritual leaders—are so obsessed with their alleged common ground with Palestinian Arabs that they are completely ignoring the way their former friends are besieged by antisemitic incidents and hate speech.
This is a shocking turnabout, especially when you consider how loyally legacy Jewish groups have stuck with the African-American community even as the evidence that the relationship wasn’t reciprocal mounted. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have endorsed the Black Lives Matter movement in spite of the fact that it was connected to and led by Jew-haters. They also remain determined to support DEI policies despite the way they provide a permission slip for antisemitism—something that has become obvious since Oct. 7 as colleges and universities failed to protect their Jewish students from the hate directed at them by anti-Israel mobs.
The truth about the Palestinians
The images that have pervaded the media about Palestinian Arab suffering can explain some of the sympathy for their cause, but only if you don’t consider why that suffering occurred or the practical alternatives.
The population of Gaza has suffered terribly as a result of a war they started on Oct. 7 with an orgy of mass murder, rape, torture and kidnapping that they initially cheered as a great “victory.” Palestinian Arab civilians, not only Hamas terrorists in uniforms, took part in massaxring Jewish civilians. Having sown the wind with terrorism, they then reaped the whirlwind as Israeli forces began a systematic attempt to root out Hamas terrorists from their Gaza strongholds. The devastation has been great as Hamas had dug itself into the Strip building a tunnel network underneath homes, mosques, schools and hospitals.
Gazans didn’t protest when billions in international aid money was diverted from humanitarian projects to turn the area into a subterranean fortress where terrorists can hide behind the civilians they deliberately expose to harm. There was no Palestinian Arab protest movement, not even a glimmer of one. During the current war, Palestinian Arab civilians held Israeli hostages in their homes and treated them abysmally.
The notion that Israel has no right to attack Gaza after Oct. 7 is a novel theory of war. If terrorists are now granted the right to use populations as human shields while fighting a war—Hamas has shot more than 15,000 rockets and missiles at Israeli civilian targets since Oct. 7—then murderers will, in essence, be granted immunity for even the most barbaric crimes.
And if a ceasefire is imposed on Israel before Hamas is eradicated, that’s what will happen.
At no point do black civil-rights activists who believe the Palestinian Arab cause is no different from theirs acknowledge why Hamas started the fighting on Oct. 7. The terrorist organization based in the Gaza Strip is explicit about the fact that it aims to destroy Israel and slaughter its people. Contrary to some of Biden’s disingenuous statements about the issue, voting and polls have consistently shown that Hamas and its genocidal platform are widely supported by Palestinian Arabs.
This suffering for the Palestinian Arabs began when Hamas launched its murderous attacks on Israel. It could have been ended at any point by Hamas’s surrender and the freeing of all hostages. But Hamas and its allies don’t care about Palestinian Arab suffering. On the contrary, they wish to maximize it in order to garner more foreign sympathy.
Black pastors claim to oppose the “occupation” without understanding (we hope) that to the Palestinian Arabs, that term refers to any land that Israel controls. These clergy leaders may claim to oppose everything Hamas stands for, and yet they support it because they have accepted the lie that the Jews are intrinsically evil by seeking to defend their homes and families.
How does that differ from the American civil-rights movement?
African-Americans fighting against Jim Crow laws didn’t seek to kill whites or establish a principle that blacks must rule as the Islamists of Hamas do about Muslims. They wanted equal rights and an end to legal segregation. The goal of Martin Luther King Jr. was coexistence and a society where his children would be judged by “the content of the character rather than the color of their skin.”
Morally bankrupt pastors
The upside-down world of intersectionality and critical race theory turns that hope on its head. For the American black community, which claims to be a champion of civil rights, to consider a cause rooted in genocidal intent and intolerance of any notion of coexistence with other faith or ethnic groups as seeing themselves in the actions and fate of the Palestinian Arabs, is absurd.
It is shocking that people like the black pastors, who pretend to have moral authoritym would identify with a cause that would benefit the killers of Hamas.
It’s equally astonishing that they stand with the mobs chanting for the destruction of Israel (“from the river to the sea”) and terrorism against Jews wherever they live (“globalize the intifada”), rather than with their former Jewish allies as they suffer from prejudice and violence.
But in this brave new intersectional world, that is what passes for civil-rights advocacy in the black community.
This is all the more disturbing when throughout the world, atrocities are being carried out against black Africans in countries like Nigeria, Mauritania or Sudan by Islamist forces, including mass killings, rape and even a modern-day version of slavery. Why aren’t these atrocities being spoken about by pastors to their congregations?
Having accepted intersectionality, they are now prepared to ignore crimes committed against people with whom they ought to have a natural affinity—black Africans—because the perpetrators are Muslim or Arabs, while claiming to see Palestinian Arabs who want to slaughter Israelis as worthy not just of sympathy but the expenditure of their political capital.
It is long past time for the Jewish groups that have slavishly stuck to the pretense that these pastors and the organizations that they represent are allies to stop putting their heads in the sand. Those who enable antisemitism and wish to assist those who slaughter Jews are enemies, not friends. When it comes to support for Hamas and indifference to antisemitism, there is no middle ground.
Black pastors who seek to demonize Israel and are silent about the Jew-hatred that is inherent in their intersectional stands embracing the cause of Israel’s destruction should be under no illusions about the choice they’ve made. For all of their high-flown rhetoric about compassion and the oppressed, these pastors are morally bankrupt.
And American Jews who have long stood by their side in the struggle for civil rights should bluntly tell them that they are finished with such antisemites dressed in clerical garb.