If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing — al-Malik al-Shabaz (Malcolm X)
“If you are Black, do not go to Israel!” screams the heading of a video exposing to horrified and outraged Black audiences around the world how Israel acts with impunity against Black people. Videos such as this one, crafted by al-Jazeera, are powerful, raising emotions in people who would ordinarily feel that what is happening in the Middle East has really nothing to do with them.
As an advocate for Israel and Zionism, I cannot count the number of times that such video clips and links to lurid stories in which Prime Minister Netanyahu vows to rid the Holy Land of “filthy African immigrants,” etc. have been posted to my wall on Facebook by people who take them on face value, and cannot understand at first why I do not. What I can’t understand is why anyone could fall for such obvious distortions and outright lies, especially when accompanied by images that can be traced through a simple Google Images search to older, unrelated stories. If these claims about Israel are true, why do those circulating them have to embellish their stories?
Does Israel have a problem with asylum seekers and refugees? Absolutely. But so too does just about every country in the entire world. Take, for instance, the United Kingdom, where I was granted refugee status in 2010. Asylum-seekers are not permitted to work, but are granted an allowance of £36.62/week. While not in an actual prison, they have no choice as to where in the United Kingdom they get to live. Furthermore, they have to report to a designated reporting centre or police station. This situation may last for years; I know people who have been waiting for over a decade for a decision as to whether her Majesty’s Government recognises them as refugees or not. If the answer is no, they lose that weekly payment and will be evicted from the provided accommodation.
Legally, they are being asked either to make an appeal against the decision or to leave the country voluntarily. If they have exhausted their right to appeal and have not left the UK, they risk being detained the next time they turn up at the reporting centre or police station. From there, they are taken to an immigration removal centre, such as the notorious Yarlswood in Bedford. However, it often happens that the Home Office cannot effect a deportation from that stage and the detainee is released. Still unable to work, claim state assistance, or health care, the failed asylum seeker joins the swelling ranks of destitute foreigners, estimated by some at half a million.
If I am coming across as a quite knowledgeable about the asylum process, that is because I have continued to be an advocate for asylum issues in my own capacity and as part of different groups. I was even named to the advisory panel for philanthropist and businessman Andy Preston’s mayoral campaign.
Incidents of xenophobia in the UK rarely make it to the front page of the news. However, scare stories of local schools, hospitals, etc. stretched to the limit, and of increase in crimes and anti-social behaviour do. Yet there are very few calling the UK a racist state and urging Black Africans not to go there. No one is questioning the right of the United Kingdom to exist.
African countries, such as the Republic of South Africa, who are leading the denunciation of the State of Israel with the “apartheid” tag would do well to look in the mirror before throwing that word around. African societies traditionally tend to be very welcoming of strangers and refugees. One of the epithets of the King of the Kalanga Kingdom, the precursor to a large portion of Southern Africa was Bvumavaranda –– “He accepts captives [as equals].” Members of the Moyo clan bear this title to this day. However, the modern state has an entirely different ethos. Barely seven months ago, South Africa was the scene of bloody incidents of xenophobic violence as local Blacks vented their resentment and frustration on Blacks from other parts of Africa (If you do not have a strong stomach, please do not open the link to the video).
South African political leaders condoned the violence, whether tacitly or overtly. King Goodwill Zwelithini of the dominant Zulu is accused of fomenting it, although the media was to later downplay his comments. I have a source in South Africa who heard a Zulu man declare that he had his spear and other weapons ready, at the king’s command, he would kill all the Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Somalis, Ethiopians in the neighbourhood. The Zulu monarch’s sentiments were endorsed by Edward Zuma, son of the President, Jacob.
On April 14, I was on Ben-TV’s Pauline Long Show, alongside Zimbabwean community broadcaster Simba Nyanhanga and South African event organiser and television personality Pily Mirazi, in a panel discussion about the violence. It was a very difficult time for me, as I have several relatives and friends living in South Africa. What I do recall is that there were not that many Black voices speaking out on what was happening in South Africa. No one ever denounced South Africa as racist or called on Black people to not go there. And no one questioned the right of South Africa to exist. In fact, South Africa now leads in demagoguery that paints Israel as a racist state that is cruel to Africans as a matter of state policy.
Neighbouring Botswana is another African country that has not exactly rolled out the welcome mat to fellow Africans. Some of the atrocities reportedly meted out on foreigners include public beatings on the orders of chiefs, and forcing at gunpoint suspected border jumpers to have sex.
I could cite other examples, such as this graphic video of allegedly Angolan immigration officials explaining to Nigerians that they were not wanted. How many people even know that it is reported that Africans are housed in cages like animals in Libya? Or that the reason there are many Sudanese who have entered Israel is that they were fleeing violence in the first country they sought refuge in, Egypt. These are not the stories that draw international outrage, although they involve countries facing challenges posed by an influx of African migrants. Israel, on the other hand, is held to a different standard from the rest of the world. This one country gets to be vilified as racist while Black people are killed, beaten, humiliated, enslaved, sold like cattle around her. The struggle of Israel’s enemies is incongruously married to the struggle for Black civil rights in places like America, and liberation from colonial rule on the continent, despite glaring contradictions, such as the 1989 “honour killing” of teenage Palestina Isa by her father Zein al-Abdeen Hassan Isa after he discovered she had an African-American boyfriend.
That, in my view, is the real issue here. The situation of African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel is being used as a stick with which to beat up the Zionist state and draw a large population that would otherwise be indifferent to events in the Middle East into active condemnation (i.e., BDS) of Israel. This is why there are people going to great lengths to spread this story. Perhaps al-Jazeera will one day focus on Asian workers in Qatar, but for now, its piece tying recent demonstrations by Ethiopian Israelis to America’s #BlackLivesMatter, interspersed with commentary by Israel’s number one Native Informant, David Sheen, is doing the rounds. Speaking of Sheen, I hear he is currently on tour in South Africa, selling his “Israel’s War On Africans” to every Black Studies institution that has nothing better to do on a given day.
Black people need to form their own opinion of Israel and its racial issues, based on direct interaction with Israelis. In this day and age of advances in communication, there is no reason at all why we should have an opinion packaged for us. This week, I saw this video on the Facebook page of a friend, depicting African Christians praying fervently at the Kotel in Jerusalem. Like the multitude who were confounded, according to the New Testament story of Pentecost, because that every man heard them speak in his own language, I was startled to realise that the two men were praying in ChiShona, my own language! African Christians praying freely at Judaism’s holiest site? This is what happens when Africans take the trouble to actually travel to Israel and see for themselves if these reports are true, instead of joining in the condemnation based on tailored propaganda. For, when we endorse that propaganda, as have the likes of Alice Walker, Jeremiah Wright and Desmond Tutu, when we put on the lie that Israel is intrinsically racist towards Black people the stamp of immutable Black thought, we have ceased to think, but merely follow.