This month, America will commemorate the anniversary of the birth of iconic civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who used non-violent protests to challenge racist and discriminatory practices by local and federal governments and agencies.
African American and the descendant of slaves in Georgia, King used civil disobedience to confront racist laws that treated blacks differently from whites, resulting in the adoption of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was introduced by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson was merely following up on promises made by his predecessor, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated only months after addressing the American people on his efforts to enforce civil rights for all.
America in the 1960s was not much different from today’s Israel, where racism and discrimination define the Jewish state’s policies, which recognize the superiority of Jews over non-Jews in the Holy Land.
It might be wise for the Palestinians to pause and reorganize themselves using King’s message as a foundation for their own struggle against growing apartheid practises by Israel’s government. King’s methods were based on principles evolved from the struggle of Mahatma Gandhi.
The struggle that King led was not without violence from his foes, and he was assassinated by a white racist on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. King’s “civil disobedience” resulted in the rise of a new wave of racism in America and the election of people like George Wallace, who became governor of Alabama in 1963.
Wallace fought to preserve laws that segregated whites and blacks, requiring the races to be given different public facilities and services, with whites receiving far better treatment than blacks — in much the same way that Israel provides Jews with more funds and services than they do to Palestinians living in Israel.
What did King do that Palestinians can do? A lot.
They can start by building civil rights coalitions inside Israel, coordinated with Palestinians living in the West Bank, where apartheid is used to distinguish government services and rights between Jews, who are favored, and non-Jews, who are discriminated against because of their race, religion and national origins.
And reaching out to the African American community would also be good because the racism against non-Jews by Israel extends to racism against other minorities, including blacks, Asians and others. Last week, for example, Israel’s government shockingly, openly announced that it would give each African refugee living inside Israel as much as $3,500 to leave the country. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is the Israeli version of Wallace, explained the outrageous offer as driven by the need to protect Israel’s “Jewish and democratic character.”
Of course, racism based on religion is no different than racism based on race. I call Israel’s discrimination “racist religionism.”
The analogy of Netanyahu’s offer strikes a strong chord among Americans, who are forced to finance Israel’s government apartheid and societal racism with more than $3.5 billion dollars of their taxes every year.
Tax dollars taken from hard-working Americans are directly used to support Israel’s racist societal values, which are falsely cloaked as being “democratic.” This means that Israel’s violations of civil rights directly reflect on the American people, because the funding spent on Israel represents nearly one-fifth of all of America’s aid to foreign countries.
Americans have not shown a strong sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, mainly because of the poor performance of Arab activists and groups in the US. But Americans will when they understand who is paying for Israel’s racism; a system that defies the fundamental principles of America’s commitment to civil rights.
Palestinians can embrace King’s message and make it their own, and many Americans would identify with that. In fact, to mark his birthday on Jan. 15, Palestinians should close down their stores inside Israel as a form of civil disobedience and declare it as a commemoration to King’s principles in the face of the daily discrimination they face.
Israel’s government continues to motor towards worse forms of racist discrimination. This week, they also announced they would ban members of 20 civil rights organizations from entering their embattled “Jewish state.” Many of those banned are Jews.
Palestinians need to dramatically shift their activism away from their routine protests, which have proven to fail, and embrace new strategies through civil disobedience that reinforce a commitment to peace, compromise and non-violence.
They will find much support from progressive Jewish and Israeli organizations such as B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace, the New Israel Fund, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Seeds of Peace, and J Street, to name just a few. We should be talking with Israelis who support justice, like courageous civil rights writers such as Bradley Burston and Gideon Levy and many of the Israeli groups above, not supporting a blanket and self-destructive BDS boycott of all of Israel.
On Jan. 15, Palestinians should abandon their failed strategies and embrace a new, more principled stand. Suspend all their business and honor King, redefining themselves with a protest process that can be more successful in standing up to Israeli racism. Mark one time that day for a Palestinian and Arab world moment of silence in King’s name and make his successful efforts ours too.
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