You’ve heard of pinkwashing, greenwashing–now “blackwashing” joins the cast of pro-Israel hasbara communities exploited in order to combat the major criticisms of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Pinkwashing is the effort to promote Israel to the gay community in order to point out the homophobia of Arab culture and nations. Greenwashing is the attempt by environmental groups like Jewish National Fund to point to Israel’s alleged sensitivity to environmental issues (excluding of course its heinous treatment of Negev Bedouins whose communities are being bulldozed by the Israeli government in collaboration with JNF). Now blackwashing is the rage.
Israel lobby groups like Aipac have worked closely cultivating relationships on college campuses with African-American students. They send these young leaders to Aipac conferences where they can be trotted out to the media as witnesses for the defense to combat the BDS campaign to label Israel as an apartheid state:
When Vincent Evans arrived as a bright-eyed first-year at Florida A&M, the country’s largest historically black university, he knew he wanted to get involved in politics. So when an older student leader approached him one afternoon after a student government meeting to ask if he wanted an all expenses paid trip to D.C., Evans jumped at the opportunity.
The trip, it turned out, was sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the country’s most powerful pro-Israel lobbying outfit. Israel is under growing attack from Palestinian and international activists who call the country a racist apartheid state. In response, its staunchest U.S. lobby is recruiting black students as moral shields to make the case for Israeli impunity. At historically black colleges and universities (known as HBCU’s) around the country, AIPAC is finding and developing a cadre of black allies to declare there’s no way Israel can be racist.
In his four years in college, Evans traveled to D.C. at least 10 times on AIPAC’s dime. He and a small group of other student leaders from his school joined hundreds of others from around the country, including other HBCU students, for AIPAC’s semi-annual Saban Leadership Seminar.
“Within the program,” says Evans, “they make a concerted effort to reach out to HBCU and majority Hispanic schools.”
Does the Israel lobby care about African-American students? Does it care about the issues close to their heart? Is it about to reach out to Blacks to create political coalitions to advance causes of mutual interest to each community? Are you kiddin’? These kids are fodder in the PR war. They don’t mean anything other than having a black face to show the world that Israel isn’t an apartheid nation. But how much do these kids really know about Israel?
Before he went to D.C., Evans knew nothing about Israel and had no opinions on Middle East politics. “The program starts at a layman’s level and takes you through what the current Middle East peace talks are about,” he recalls.
AIPAC trained Evans and other students in lobbying and campaign work and provided a crash course in its staunchly Zionist version of Middle East history and politics. Participants are introduced to American and Israeli political leaders and spend afternoons walking Capitol Hill to lobby for Israel.
It seemed to Evans an opportunity of a lifetime.
“You’re talking about a lot of students who grew up in a socio-economic place that does not give them these opportunities,” said Evans. “We met amazing people. I met Netanyahu. In 2007 or 2008 I met all the Democratic candidates for president. My dad cried when I met Obama. [AIPAC] opens your eyes to things you’ve never seen.”
Pardon me, but this sounds more like a cult to me than a political campaign. They take kids who know or care nothing about Israel and they indoctrinate them with a narrow set of principles and values they hammer home. At the end, they’ve produced walking anti-apartheid emblems who will supposedly immunize Israel from these charges. Not just that, these Black students also become cannon fodder in the war of ideas on college campuses:
Last year, AIPAC featured several HBCU students as speakers at its 5,000-person national policy conference in D.C. On stage, one student explained that she and a group of other AIPAC-trained HBCU students launched an attack on the Palestinian rights movement.
Specifically, they targeted Students For Justice in Palestine, a national student coalition with branches on a growing number of campuses. SJP frames its work as a struggle against Israeli apartheid…
On stage at last year’s AIPAC conference, an HBCU student waxed indignant.
“How dare they use a word that has historic meaning for me,” said the speaker, to the loud cheers of the audience. “A word that conjures up some of the worst injustices an individual can suffer.” As she spoke, positioning herself as an arbiter of what gets to be called racist, a slide of an apartheid-era South African sign reading “White Area” appeared behind her.
Do these children know anything about Israeli politics or the nature of Israeli society? Do they know how non-Jewish Israelis are treated? Do they know anything about the Occupation? Do they know anything about the racial prejudice rampant in Israeli society? No. They only know what Aipac tells them. The lies and half-truths Aipac feeds them.
I find it almost amazing that some strategists like Frank Luntz sit in a room or hold a focus group and discuss Israel’s vulnerabilities and how to exploit different ethnic and gender-based communities in order to buttress them. It’s cold, exploitative and vulgar. It’s buying support with trips, nice hotels, and meeting famous people. Instead of earning support the old-fashioned way through discussion, study, debate and the battle of ideas, Aipac programs these impressionable young kids to spout the talking points.
Who does it fool? Who does it persuade? I rather think it helps the Aipac donors who fund this sort of charade more than it persuades anyone outside this narrow pro-Israel political niche. One of them is Haim Saban, the wealthy Hollywood and media powerbroker who is one of Aipac’s most important donors. He also is a major donor to the Democratic-leaning think tank, the Brookings Institution. He also played a role in lobbying Rep. Jane Harman on behalf of accused Aipac spy Steve Rosen. Saban also lobbied Nancy Pelosi on Harman’s behalf to appoint her intelligence committee chair, which the then Speaker refused to do.
By the way, the Lobby’s cultivation of Vincent Evans paid off. He used the connections he made on his Aipac trips to DC to land a job working for Florida’s Democratic Party in Tallahassee. As he works his way up the political ladder, Aipac will be able to call on him for ongoing support in its political battles, just as it does a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who routinely sell out their values and principles to sup at the pro-Israel altar of Mammon.
That’s the way the game’s played. It’s a dirty, nasty game. But Aipac has mastered it to perfection. Except that more and more see through it. They don’t buy it. The only people they’re fooling is themselves. Yes, and members of Congress and a president it appears. But so many of the rest of us know better.
H/t to my friend, Nan Rubin.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.