OpinionWorld News

A new alliance between black Africans and Jews

The African-Jewish Alliance seeks to combat the enslavement and slaughter of black Africans by radical Muslims.

A photograph of an enslaved boy in Zanzibar, circa 1890. The original image states: "An Arab master's punishment for a slight offense." Source: public domain/Wikimedia
A photograph of an enslaved boy in Zanzibar, circa 1890. The original image states: "An Arab master's punishment for a slight offense." Source: public domain/Wikimedia
Henry Srebrnik. Credit: Courtesy.
Henry Srebrnik
Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada.

South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein addressed AIPAC’s Congressional Summit in Washington on March 10. He spotlighted a growing issue that receives scant media coverage and no public outcry: the slaughter of Africans by jihadist terror groups. Recent atrocities have included mass kidnappings, beheadings and the deliberate targeting of children.

American Jewish leaders must recognize that, as Goldstein put it, “Israel’s war with Hamas—and by extension Iran—is against the same enemy raping and pillaging its way through African villages.” The ideology of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Islamic State throughout much of Africa is the same ideology espoused and funded by Iran and its proxies Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis.

“We cannot turn the other way,” Goldstein asserted. “As God said to Cain in the Book of Genesis, ‘The blood of your brother calls out to me from the ground.’” He said that the way to fight a “diplomatic war” against the jihadists is to build alliances with states in Africa, pointing out that the continent contains large Christian communities.

Some American Jews don’t seem to remember that Israel had a very large presence in the newly independent states of Africa in the 1960s. Israel was involved in providing medical, technological and agricultural expertise. This work should be resumed.

Moreover, the large numbers of African immigrants now in the United States could serve as a bridge between our community and sub-Saharan African countries. They could also be a counterweight to the anti-Zionist propaganda spouted by the Muslim-left alliance, including the lies they spread about Israel as a “white settler colonial enterprise.”

As we know, the historic alliance between black Americans and Jews, so prominent during the civil rights era, has frayed in recent decades. Many black American organizations have become anti-Zionist. Black Lives Matter, for example, has defended Hamas and sees an affinity between black Americans and the Palestinians. It considers both groups people of color oppressed by a white society that includes Jews.

This historic black American community comprises the descendants of the people from the west coast of Africa who were brought to and enslaved in the United States. In recent decades, however, thanks to liberalized immigration laws, there are increasing numbers of new black Africans in the U.S. from nations like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Sudan.

They too are concerned about slavery, but this slavery is not in the past. It still exists on the African continent and most of the enslavement is carried out by Arabs. Along the east coast of Africa, this slave trade is centuries old. Exports of slaves to the Muslim world from the coast of the Indian Ocean began after slave traders won control of the coast and sea routes during the ninth century. Across the Sahel, particularly in Sudan, raids to capture black African people were routine.

The island of Zanzibar was an Omani-ruled sultanate that served as a notorious entrepot for slaves sent to the Arab Middle East. The Arab slave-owning elite was overthrown by the black majority in a 1964 revolution. However, a recent BBC report found that female workers from Malawi are abused in a state of near-slavery in Oman today. In Mozambique, village elders have been recently beheaded by Islamic State.

According to the NGO Walk Free, an international human rights group focused on the eradication of modern slavery, an estimated seven million men, women and children are currently enslaved in Africa. Contemporary reports of slavery exist in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Sudan. There, people who are often from minority ethnic groups are born into slavery and bought, traded and sold.

Poverty and economic inequality make Africa an unstable region. Some 35% of sub-Saharan Africans live in poverty. This enables violence and perpetrators of slavery-related abuses are largely members of armed groups who deliberately exploit populations displaced by conflict.

Boko Haram in northern Nigeria periodically kidnaps Christian schoolgirls for ransom or to make them sex slaves. In early March, over 280 students were abducted in an assault on a school. More than 4,000 Christians were murdered in Nigeria last year. Africans are sold in slave markets in Libya and Mauritania. There are an estimated 47,000 enslaved Africans in the former and 149,000 in the latter. 

Most North Americans know little of this. But this may be changing. Some in the American Jewish community are forging ties with black Africans to create a new black-Jewish alliance. This past February in Washington, a coalition of groups came together to educate the public about the mass murder, kidnapping and enslavement of black Africans and to campaign for their liberation.

The members of the African-Jewish Alliance (AJA) represent the victims of these atrocities and their allies and champions. One prominent activist, Simon Deng, is a former slave from South Sudan. He works to raise awareness of Sudan’s jihad that killed more than three million black Africans, most of them Christians, between 1955 and 2005. While South Sudan is now a sovereign country, an estimated 35,000 enslaved Africans remain in northern Sudan.

The AJA includes the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy, which supports black Muslims from Darfur, Sudan. Muslims have victimized the Darfur population through rape, massacre and slavery. The world has acknowledged this as a genocide.

The International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) educates and advocates for the victims of Boko Haram raids in Nigeria, where Christian villagers are attacked and women and children abducted. Many Americans were first alerted to terrorist attacks on Nigerian villages in 2014 by Michelle Obama, who briefly led the well-advertised “#BringBackOurGirls” campaign. ICON is now reviving the hashtag.

Also focused on Nigeria is the Leadership Empowerment Advocacy and Humanitarian Institute (LEAH), which advocates for the freedom of Leah Sharibu and other Nigerian women and girls held in captivity. There is also American Veterans of Igbo Descent (AVIDUSA). The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria are a largely Christian people.

The Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI), under Pastor Dumisani Washington, condemns the “Zionism is racism” ideology, defends Israel’s right to live in peace with its Arab neighbors and seeks to cultivate a mutually beneficial Israel-Africa alliance. Finally, there is the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) and the Jewish Leadership Project (JLP).

All these groups have made it clear that what happened in Israel on Oct. 7 is an almost daily occurrence in some parts of Africa.

The AJA, following meetings with government officials in Washington, launched its first public campaign on March 1 with jumbotron truck messages bearing graphics about attacks against Africans. The truck drove along a major thoroughfare in Cambridge, Massachusetts from Harvard Square to MIT.

Various newspapers have featured stories on the alliance and, in February, activists Ben Posner and Charles Jacobs of the AASG spoke about the new coalition on a JNS podcast entitled “Why the World Cares About Gaza and Not About Africa.”

Awareness of this issue is finally spreading. We must support new ways of engaging with these new African Americans, who see Israel and the Jewish community as potential allies. Groups such as the AJA can show us the way forward.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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