[Boycott - Academic]
Israeli Black Panthers support the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
Reuven Abarjel, introduction by Jeffrey Blankfort
5 September 2006
During the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s, the reputation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which had its start in Oakland in 1966, spread far and wide, not only throughout the United States, but around the world, where the party was considered the leading arm of the Black liberation struggle in AmeriKKKa.
In Israel, the Black Panthers’ exploits caught the attention of the Mizrahi, dark-skinned Jews from North Africa and the Middle East – also known, less correctly, as Sephardim – who had been encouraged to come to the country following the expulsion of the Palestinians in the 1948 war.
While the Euro-American Ashkenazi Jews who dominated Israel’s founding Labour Party spoke of the “ingathering” of these immigrants as part of fulfilling the Zionist dream, in reality they were seen as inferior “human material” and were desired mainly as a source of cheap labor. As such, they were consigned to living situations which at times approximated the treatment of Mexican immigrants to America’s farmland. Some had their children kidnapped and given to childless Ashkenazi couples while others were used as guinea pigs in Nazi-like medical experiments.
While the Ashkenazi establishment beamed with “solidarity” toward us, it committed crimes against us, such as medical experiments in radioactive radiation of about 100,000 children, almost all of whom are immigrants from North Africa, the kidnapping of children from large Mizrahi families to transfer them to childless European Jewish couples..
What Asheknazi Israelis feared with the coming of the Mizrahi to Israel was what Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, described as the “Levantization” of Israeli society – Levant being another name for the Middle East. And so a process was begun to de-Arabize the Mizrahi, who, in every way other than religion, such as food, dress and culture, were much closer to the Palestinians and other Arab peoples than they were to the Euro-American Ashkenazis.
A key goal of this program was to make the Palestinians bitter enemies in the eyes of the Mizrahi, and one way they did that was to provide better protection to the Ashkenazi towns and settlements than to those of the Mizrahi. Thus, when the Palestinian fedayeen (fighters who were fighting to get back their land) would choose to attack an Israeli settlement, they would invariably choose a Mizrahi “development town” because it made an easier target.
In 1971, a group of Mizrahi saw through the Ashkenazis’ plans and began vigorously protesting the government’s racist policies that made them second class citizens, and they began identifying with the Palestinians. Someone, as the story goes, compared them to America’s Black Panthers, and the group eagerly adopted that name.
Their struggle lasted for a number of years, without any visible support from Israel’s Ashkenazi American Jewish supporters. Attempts to gain recognition as a group through the political system ended in disappointment
The unremitting and unapologetic racism on the part of Israel’s dominant Labour Party and even by some Ashkenazis who sympathized with the Palestinian struggle eventually caught up with it in 1977, when the right-wing Likud Party, under Menachem Begin, used promises and populist slogans to get the majority of the Mizrachim to vote for it and produce Israel’s first Likud prime minister.
In the 35th year since the birth of the Israeli Black Panthers, one of its founders, Reuven Abarjel, offered the following statement of solidarity with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and the recent stand taken by NATFHE, the University and College Lecturers’ Union, in Britain, to boycott Israeli academic and institutions that have not taken a stand against Israel’s continuing occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. It was translated from the Hebrew by Smadar Lavie, an Israel Mizrahi academic who formerly attended UC Berkeley.
Statement by Reuven Abarjel, founder of Israel’s Black Panthers, in support of the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel
I was born in Morocco and have lived in Israel since 1950. In the 1970s, I founded the Black Panthers Movement. Our struggle against the regime was difficult and without compromise. The violence spread in the streets, and in order to break the Mizrahi resistance, the police acted with full force under the instructions of then prime minister Golda Meir.
From the onset of our struggle, the Black Panthers embarked on a dialogue with both local and European Palestinian leadership. Black Panthers delegations traveled to Italy, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Concurrently, we met in refugee camps with bereaved families who lost their children to the struggle against the occupation. Just before Hon. Chairman Yasser Arafat died, I joined a delegation of activists who met with him in the besieged Muqata`a.
At the onset of our struggle, I began understanding that the problem is way deeper than I had thought, complicated to the extent that the average person finds it difficult to come up with solutions. The confusion is tremendous because the Israeli political system, maintained by external capitalist motives, causes the oppressed Palestinian and Mizrahi groups to collapse under the weight of the oppression and occupation.
The Mizrahim in Israel went through a sophisticated process of oppression under the guise of slogans such as “we are all brothers” and “we are all Jews.” While the Ashkenazi establishment beamed with “solidarity” toward us, it committed crimes against us, such as medical experiments in radioactive radiation of about 100,000 children, almost all of whom are immigrants from North Africa, the kidnapping of children from large Mizrahi families to transfer them to childless European Jewish couples, and the exclusion of Mizrahi Jews from Israel’s educational institutions and centers of influence.
It is the duty of every pacifist in this world, whether academic or not, to join the struggle against racist governments that practice discrimination against the minorities and disenfranchised groups who constitute their population. It is the duty of every pacifist to encourage these groups to raise their voice and enact their influence anywhere, especially in this highly charged region that threatens world peace.
I was glad to hear that a large group of British academics has raised an outcry and OKed a decision comprised of three demands:
(1) An end to the occupation;
(2) An end to the structural discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel in the arena of education;
(3) A demand on Israel that its higher education system must reflect the majority of its citizenry. This majority is the Mizrahim.
These were some of the demands of the Black Panther Movement which I founded. Our struggle was against the racism, discrimination and oppression of the non-European populations of Israel and of the territories it occupied after 1967. Today I am a senior member of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow.
Here we are, 35 years later, when a large group of intellectuals is rising up, able to stand tall against the Zionist academic-political hegemony of Israel and of the world. Their resistance to this hegemony is not dependent on the wishes of Zionism and its followers. The importance of the boycott is not in the very act of boycotting, but in the resistive stand against the Israeli academy and its collaboration with Israel’s political hegemony.
Even though I am not an academic, I add my signature. I take pride in the struggles I conducted and still conduct against a violent force, which requires a larger force in order to restrain it. I hope that the ranks of the boycott will continue to grow until the occupation is over and racism and discrimination abolished.
Let blessings be bestowed upon you.
Reuven Abarjel may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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