The author Alice Walker is the latest black American celebrity to condemn Israel for its treatment of Palestinians by refusing to allow an Israeli publisher to translate her novel “A Color Purple.”
In a letter published on the website of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, Walker thanked the publisher for seeking to translate her award-winning book, but then proceeded to slam the Israeli government over a number of human rights issues.
“Israel is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories,” she wrote to Yediot Books.
“I grew up under American apartheid and this was far worse. Indeed, [even] South Africans … including Desmond Tutu, felt the Israeli version of these crimes is worse even than what they suffered under the white supremacist regimes that dominated South Africa for so long.”
Walker told Foreign Policy magazine last year that she has embraced the Palestinian cause since 1967, when Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War redrew the map and forced tens of thousands of Arabs into refugee camps.
This is David and Goliath, but Goliath is not the Palestinians, she declared.
Walker’s sentiments echo similar arguments made by other prominent U.S. blacks, including, among others, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan.
While I agree with Walker that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has been horrid, I also feel that she (as a black woman) is making a grave error by embracing Arabs as her “allies” and espousing their “cause.”
Among other things, Arabs (in the Middle East and across North Africa) have abused, raped, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured and enslaved sub-Saharan black Africans for thousands of years.
Indeed, Arabs have been trafficking in black African slaves since time immemorial (long pre-dating the arrival of European slave-traders to the African continent in the 16th century).
Some of these victims of Arab violence and repression probably looked a lot like Alice Walker and might have been some of her ancestors.
But, we need not concern ourselves only with ancient history.
Consider what has been happening in the Middle East in recent years. During the revolution in Libya last year, opponents of Moammar Gaddafi rounded up and murdered hundreds (perhaps many more) black Africans -- partially out of revenge since Gaddafi had used African fighters as his bodyguards and gunmen, but also out of pure racism and prejudice.
The extreme violence in Libya forced hundreds of thousands of black Africans to flee back to their native countries like Niger, Mali, Chad and parts of West Africa.
Meanwhile, migrants from Sudan and Eritrea, fleeing famine and civil war in their homelands, have received a brutal welcome in places like Libya, Egypt, Lebanon (as well as Israel itself, it must be noted).
Even now, in Mauritania, the ‘light-skinned’ Arabs hold ‘dark-skinned’ blacks as slaves as they have done for thousands of years.
The conflict in Sudan could also be viewed through an anti-black racism prism.
Arab racism against black people is deeply-rooted and stretches back centuries.
In Egypt, Anwar Sadat somehow climbed to the top of the country’s politics despite the prejudice he faced due to his “African” features (courtesy of his partial Sudanese ancestry).
A black American Muslim named Sunni Khalid wrote on NPR last year when Cairo was convulsing in revolution: “Blacks, whether American or not… are never mistaken for Arabs … Blue-black-skinned Southern Sudanese women, who walk around Cairo with their thick, kinky hair … are routinely the targets of verbal public abuse. Carloads of Arab men drive by, hanging out of windows, shouting catcalls or making loud demands for sexual favors.”
Khalid made a crucial point when he said: “Over the years, Egypt has had a particularly difficult time coming to grips with its African identity. Many Egyptians do not consider themselves Africans. Some take offense even to being identified with Africa at all.”
With respect to former President Sadat, Khalid commented: “More than a few Egyptian women, for example, told me that they disliked the dark-skinned … Sadat, ridiculed for years as ‘[Gamal Abdel] Nasser's black poodle.’ Sadat… they insisted, ‘did not look Egyptian enough.’”
Similar tales of anti-black racism can be found across the Arab and Muslim world, making black America’s support of Palestinians rather ridiculous and perhaps eve self-defeating.
Indeed, Palestinian media has repeatedly insulted and demeaned black people, particularly such figures as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In addition, given how heavily involved Jews have been in the civil rights movement in the U.S., perhaps black Americans should embrace Israel instead of pretending to have “solidarity” with the Arabs.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.