Middle East Monitor / July 2, 2021
Parallels between Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation with black Americans fighting for civil rights in the US were made by American Congressman Andre Carson in a recent interview with the Haaretz. The Representative from Indiana, one of only four Muslims ever elected to Congress, described how his support for Palestinians is rooted in his experience as a black person growing up in America and spoke at length about the racism he saw during his three visits to Israel.
“I’ve been arrested outside a mosque. I know what it’s like to be in handcuffs and targeted and profiled,” he said, noting how his empathy for Palestinians in particular is largely drawn from his experiences as a Black American. “I’ve experienced this daily as a young, Black male in my community — being stopped and asked for ID and called the N-word. I’ve had guns drawn on me unnecessarily. I know what this feels like.”
Carson was raised in a Baptist environment and went to Catholic school, but converted to Islam in the 1990s after reading works such as the Autobiography of Malcolm X and poetry by the Sufi mystic Rumi, as well as observing Muslims in his community fighting crime and protecting the vulnerable.
“I was moved not just by the beautiful words, but the actions that followed,” Carson said, speaking about his conversion, adding that he also studied Judaism (such as the works of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and monotheism to resolve his inner conflict with the Christian concept of the Trinity.
Speaking about the recent Israeli aggression on Gaza which led to the death of more than 250 Palestinians, Carson said that he was “heartbroken”. In May, The 46-year-old announced to the House floor: “For too long, America has looked the other way as Israel has engaged in this horrific campaign against Palestinians.” He added that he “rose in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they face grave injustices, violence and abuse.”
Carson has been at the frontlines of the unprecedented wave of progressive criticism of Israel. He was one of several Democrat members of Congress to support a bill that aims to regulate US aid to Israel. Some $3.8 billion is sent to Israel annually making the occupation state the highest recipient of American tax-payers money in history. The draft bill draft bill sought to prevent Israel using American tax dollars to target Palestinian children.
During his 13 years in Congress, Carson has visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories three times. Speaking about the racism he had witnessed, Carson highlighted the plight of Ethiopian Jews. “The last time I was there with the Congressional Black Caucus, we met with members of the Ethiopian community, some who were part of the Knesset. They talked about the daily racism they had to experience,” he said.
“It makes me say ‘look at what our fellow African brothers and sisters are telling us about discrimination and bigotry.’ We cannot speak out against this without fear of being labelled as antisemitic? That is unacceptable to me. What kind of world do we live in? We need the media and the activist community and legislators to work collectively to solve this,” Carson added.
Thousands of Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, many of them airlifted into the country secretly in two separate operations in 1984 and 1990 that helped them to escape famine and war. However, despite the government drive to bring them to the country, this community – which now numbers about 135,500, around 1.5 or 2 per cent of Israel’s eight million people – has struggled to integrate. For years, Ethiopian Jews have complained of racism, lack of opportunity, endemic poverty and police harassment.
Commenting on the new Israeli government led by far-right Jewish nationalist, Naftali Bennett, Carson expressed pessimism. “You can paint a car,” he said, “If you haven’t done a tune up, had an oil change, rotated the tires, it may take you up the street but it will eventually break down. It’s still the same car with poor maintenance, and the passengers will suffer.”
“Given the new leadership’s record, we could see a continuation of the same atrocities of the past 13 years and the past several decades.”
On the ongoing US support for Israel despite the demolition of Palestinian homes and ethnic cleansing of occupied East Jerusalem, Carson said: “This is a global matter that cannot continue with business as usual”.
“We’re talking about billions of dollars in foreign aid every year that has essentially become a blank check. That is unacceptable as America continues to suffer economically and educationally, and as the racial divide grows daily.”
On the domestic front, Carson argues that the Jewish, African-American and Muslim communities all face a common enemy in white supremacy — one that can be fought by listening to each other and coming to mutual understandings. “We shouldn’t be so wedded to our view of reality that we become unmovable and unable to advocate for one another,” he adds.