The 1957 desegregation crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, is often viewed as the most pivotal development in the civil rights struggle south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Arkansas, which was a hotbed for significant events of the civil rights movement in the 1950’s, is rapidly becoming a central battlefield in the war against ant-Semitism, BDS and Holocaust denial.
Besides being the birthplace and political springboard of President Bill Clinton, the notorious chaver who was the last US President to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together in any form of intense peace negotiations, it is hard to imagine a deep connection between this somewhat obscure American state and the nation of Israel.
It only takes a quick drive through the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, which boasts one of the largest pig statues in the world, to realize that this state is not a deep-seated bastion of Jewish culture. There is quite a bit of interesting conjecture as to the historic source of the razorback sports teams’ renowned battle cry, “woo – PIG – sooie”, otherwise known as the “Hog Call” but it is safe to assume that it is not derived from Hebrew civilization.
What I learned last week, as I visited Arkansas for the first time in my life, as part of a business delegation of ARISE – Alliance to Reinforce Israel’s Security and Economy, is that this state is not easy to position on a typical socio-economic grid. Indeed, it is a land of drastic paradoxes. On one hand, in 2018 Arkansas was ranked as the fourth least educated state in the US, with the third lowest median household income, while also retaining the fourth lowest Jewish population of any state in the US (after Mississippi, N. Dakota and S. Dakota). On the other hand, this state is home to the headquarters of some of the most significant companies in the US, including Dillard’s, Tyson Chicken and Walmart, the largest retail company in the world with well over USD $500 billion in annual sales revenues. This is precisely the reason that a team from ARISE, an organization dedicated to advancing economic development in Israel and combatting the boycott movement, visited Arkansas last week.
We cannot win the battle by boycotting those who boycott us. We will only succeed by creating new trade relations with business people around the world who are positively predisposed to embrace Israeli products and technologies. I am pleased to report that we found many such people in Arkansas.
Arkansas Senator, Jason Rapert, is one such friend. In an interview with the CEO of ARISE, Shimon Myers, Senator Rapert stated that, “there’s no better way to build relationships than to talk about business opportunities which not only help Israel, but people here in the United States as well”.
Arkansas would definitely be considered as part of the “Bible Belt”, with 79% of its population self-identifying as Protestant Christians, 46% of whom are Evangelical. Perhaps this is the reasons that the government of Arkansas has passed the most robust anti-BDS legislation of any state in the USA, laws which are currently being challenged in federal courts.
Activists around the world, who are engaged on one side or the other of the BDS debate, are intently following the outcomes of such cases. The Arkansas Times recently appealed, in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the decision of a federal district court to dismiss its case against a 2017 law which requires any entity, doing more than USD $1,000 of business in Arkansas, to pledge that it does not directly or indirectly support the boycott of Israeli products.
Against the backdrop of the BDS debate raging in the state, Arkansas Tech University was criticized this week for honoring a history professor who included the Protocols of Zion in his syllabus, and actively engaged in Holocaust denial.
There is apparently a fringe network of seven Pentecostal Christian organizations which calls itself “As Goes Arkansas”, and claims that “as goes Arkansas, so goes the nation”. Such claims prima facie seem preposterous and to borrow the words of Amos 7:14, “I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet”. Hence, I cannot judge whether or not such predictions actually hold water. What I am sure of, however, is that the little state of Arkansas is quickly becoming ground zero in the US for the struggle against new forms of racism and bigotry, namely: anti-Semitism, BDS and Holocaust denial.