Before BLM: Anti-Semitic black activists’ identification with Palestinian Arabs

Malcolm X was determined to sunder blacks’ alliance with Jews, whom he characterized as “hypocrites” and “Pharisees,” and to forge instead a strong bond between blacks and Arabs.

A poster from a protest in London linking the Black Lives Matter movement to the Palestinians, June 2020. Source: Apartheid Off Campus via Facebook.
A poster from a protest in London linking the Black Lives Matter movement to the Palestinians, June 2020. Source: Apartheid Off Campus via Facebook.
Eunice G. Pollack
Eunice G. Pollack
Eunice G. Pollack, Ph.D., is the author of Black Antisemitism in America: Past and Present and Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews and Israel, 1950‒Present.

Much of the mainstream media has reported on the prominence of representatives and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement among those demonstrating against Israel in the wake of Hamas’s latest battle in the war against the Jewish state. Indeed, Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles BLM chapter, boasted in The Washington Post (May 24), “Being in solidarity with the Palestinian people is something that’s been part of our work as Black Lives Matter for almost as long as we’ve been an organization.” For the most part, however, the media, along with Abdullah, appears unaware of the long lineage of the alliance of black militants and Palestinian Arabs. Only Sam Klug, in Politico (May 30), allowed that it dated from the Six-Day War in 1967, “when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza,” and Zionism was now recognized “as an imperial project upheld by the ‘white western colonial governments’ of the United States and Europe.”

In fact, black militants’/activists’ identification with Arabs and denigration of Zionists, who, they insisted, had stolen the land of people of color, dates from the Suez War in 1956—long before Israel “occupied” the West Bank or Gaza. Although comprised of African-American Christians, the United African Nationalist Movement was closely associated with and shared the views of the Muslim Brotherhood, U.S.A. At the same time, Edward Davis, president of the African Freedom Movement, warned that he would whip Ralph Bunche, the African-American who had “saved Israel from annihilation” by mediating the 1949 armistice with Egypt, “if I ever see [him] in Harlem.”

In 1957, Elijah Muhammad, head of the Black Muslims (now the Nation of Islam, or NOI) from 1933 to 1975, whose belief in the close kinship of American blacks and Arabs was at the core of the organization’s ideology, forged a strong relationship with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1959, when Nasser received Muhammad at his palace in Cairo—“like a father meeting his son”—Muhammad advised him that the best way to promote “the Arab case against Israel in the U.S.” would be through the NOI. Upon his return to America, Muhammad and his lieutenants, lecturing around the country, distributed anti-Israel literature obtained from Egyptian consulates and incorporated their propaganda in their talks. Increasingly, Muhammad Speaks, the NOI organ, reprinted articles issued by al-Fatah, warning its readers that the “Zionist enemy” was “menacing the entire world.”

Also beginning in 1959, Malcolm X, who had formally joined the NOI upon his release from prison in 1952, dwelled on the inextricable links between African-Americans and Palestinian Arabs, instructing his audiences that the Jews “sap the very lifeblood of the so-called Negroes (in America) to maintain the state of Israel.” Picturing Jewish merchants fleeing after dark every night “with another bag of money drained out of the ghetto,” Malcolm X identified Israel as “just an international poorhouse which is maintained by money sucked from the poor suckers in America.” Here was the hoary anti-Semitic canard of the Jew as bloodsucker, updated to link the black “ghetto” and the “Zionist entity.”

Malcolm X was determined to sunder blacks’ alliance with Jews, whom he characterized as “hypocrites” and “Pharisees,” and to forge instead a strong bond between blacks and Arabs. On his trip to Saudi Arabia in 1959, preparing the way for Elijah Muhammad’s visit later that year, Malcolm X informed his hosts that the “millions of colored people in America” would be “in sympathy with the Arab cause” because they are “related to the Arabs by blood.” And it was there that Malcolm X exulted that he had found what he expected—a racial paradise with “no color prejudice among Muslims.” In fact, he insisted, the people here “are just like our people in America in facial appearance … 99 percent of them would be jim-crowed (segregated) in the United States of America.” Determined to see Arabs and blacks as one people, he stressed that “the majority of this Arabian population cannot be distinguished from the people of Africa.”

Here was the hoary anti-Semitic canard of the Jew as bloodsucker, updated to link the black “ghetto” and the “Zionist entity.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), commenting last week on American blacks’ identification with Palestinian Arabs, appears strongly influenced by Malcolm X, as he states, “As a black man in America, I understand on a personal level what it means to live in a society designed to perpetuate violence against people who look like me.”

Somehow, Malcolm X managed to overlook the nearby slave market—Saudi Arabia would not (legally) abolish slavery until 1962, when there were still 100,000 black slaves there. Nor did he notice that the Arab word for “black” (abd) was for centuries the same as the word for “slave.” Desperate to find a place to belong, Malcolm X failed to recognize the centuries-old color-consciousness of Arabs and Muslims, which led them to ascribe a higher status to their lighter-skinned Abyssinian slaves than to the dark Nubian slaves. The Tunisian Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), considered one of the foremost “social thinkers” of the Middle Ages, had explained that “the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because (Negroes) have little that is (essentially) human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals”—a rationale for racial slavery similar to that later heard in the American South. The late Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis pointed out that “the Muslim hagiographic literature … depicts the Prophet himself as of white or ruddy color.”

In 1964, six months after leaving the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, now in Egypt, again drew blacks’ attention to the parallels between the actions of the Jewish vultures in the United States and the Middle East. Drawing on the age-old anti-Semitic image of the duplicitous Jew, which he had absorbed from the Koran and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which he had elevated to the NOI’s required reading list, Malcolm X had warned that the Jew only “poses as being a friend,” but has done “more to take advantage of the so-called black people than any other.” The Jew is determined to subvert the revolt of “the downtrodden black masses,” wherever they are. He now stressed that “Israeli Zionists,” having perfected the art of deceit, “are convinced they have successfully camouflaged their new kind of colonialism. Their colonialism appears to be more ‘benevolent,’ ” and therefore it “has fast become even more unshakeable than that of the 19th century European colonialists.” Thus, years before the Six-Day War—when Jordan still controlled the “West Bank” and Egypt the Gaza Strip—Malcolm X now railed that “Israeli Zionists religiously believe that Israel must fulfill its ‘divine mission’ to ‘rule all other nations with a sword of iron.’ ”

Soon after his assassination on Feb. 21, 1965, the martyred Malcolm X had been raised to sainthood. Black militants, who would quote “at length” from his speeches, fully embraced his paradigm of Israel, which, he had instructed, had been founded by the European imperialist powers to sustain their neo-colonialist needs. After the Six-Day War, Malcolm X’s legacy was ensured. In 1967, Stokely Carmichael, then head of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), declaimed, “The same Zionists that exploit the Arabs also exploit us in this country.” The next year, addressing a national convention of “Arab students” held at the University of Michigan, Carmichael vowed, “We will fight to wipe it (Zionism) out wherever it exists, be it in the ghetto of the United States or in the Middle East.” In 1970, Eldridge Cleaver, formerly Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party, now speaking in Algiers, echoed the mantra: “The Zionists are used to torpedo the struggle of our people for liberation.” “Zionists, wherever they may be, are our enemies.”

The following decade, speaking at the University of Maryland in 1986, Carmichael (now known as Kwame Turé) concluded, “The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist!” When Jewish students organized protests and demanded that he not be paid his $700 honorarium, the Black Student Union, sponsor of the talk, refused to apologize and vowed, “If we have to pay him out of our pockets, we’ll pay him.”

The university administration, choosing to pander to the black students, assured everyone that it welcomed speakers “of all viewpoints” and would not withhold his fee. The call for the death of Jews had become just another “viewpoint.” In the wake of Turé’s battle cry, a swastika—the symbol of genocide—was painted on the Jewish student newspaper’s door; Jewish students “received telephone death threats,” and “anti-Jewish pamphlets” were stuffed under the student union door.

Whenever black leaders, such as Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League, who had been to Israel, praised the Jewish state, black militants always disparaged them. Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones), provided a platform by Newsweek magazine, explained that they had been “bought and paid for like them sleepy ho’s on Lexington Avenue near Grand Central.” And when Young denounced “the myth of Arab-black friendship,” the activists dismissed him as only the voice of an older generation, in the pocket of the Jews.

Years later—in 1994—Louis Farrakhan, head of the NOI from 1977 to the present, who modeled his “walk and talk” on those of Malcolm X because he “was the baddest thing I’d ever seen,” asked a crowd of African-Americans gathered in Malcolm X Park in Washington, D.C.: “What should be done with black leaders who seek Jewish support?”

When the response came, “Kill them!” Farrakhan agreed, adding, “I didn’t say it. I just seconded the motion!”

The BLM woke today, demonstrating to “Free Palestine” and “Boycott the Jewish state,” have a long and distinguished anti-Semitic lineage.

Eunice G. Pollack, Ph.D., is the author of “Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews, and Israel, 1950-Present.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates