Masimba Musodza

Would Bob Marley Have Stood With Israel?

Internationally-acclaimed reggae musician in his own right, Ziggy Marley, son of legend Bob Marley, has come under fire from some sections of the reggae, Rastafari, Black Nationalist and “Black Conscious” circles because of his public expressions of support for the State of Israel in its ongoing conflict with Hamas-ruled Gaza. The criticism exposes an antisemitic streak in such circles, with the younger Marley accused of betraying the reggae, Rastafarian, Black Nationalist and “Black Conscious” movements that his father brought together into intersecting groups with his lyrics. It also clothes this antisemitism in the context of Pan Africanism, Black Nationalism etc, and makes it intrinsic to such movements.

Has Ziggy Marley Betrayed The Revolution? asks Prof. Fred Zindi in his In The Groove column for newspaper, The Zimbabwe Independent. The accomplished musicologist, promoter, producer, composer, journalist, critic, university lecturer and author is of the view that the October 7 attacks are simply a case of Israel getting a bit of what she has been dishing out to the Palestinians for decades. He recalls meeting Ziggy when Bob Marley And The Wailers came to perform at the Zimbabwean Independence ceremony in 1980. He asked Ziggy, then aged ten, if he intended to follow in his father’s footsteps as a revolutionary singer. His response was “Yeah, man!” “So signing a petition in support of Israel is not what one expects from a Jamaican-born revolutionary and son of Bob Marley given the history for Israel and the Palestinians since 1948,” Zindi writes.

Now largely out of print, Pan Africanism and Zionism: Political Movements In Polarity (1995) by Toks Adwale reinforced to a Pan African intelligentsia the idea that the two nation-seeking movements are irreconcilably opposed. Source: Author

But, has Ziggy Marley really betrayed the hallowed Pan-African and Black Nationalist ideals that bind Black people across continents, ideologies and cultures? Had he lived to this age, would Bob Marley support the State of Israel or side with the Palestinians? Many who see Bob Marley as a Pan-African icon, who used popular music to express the political message of stalwarts such as Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Walter Rodney and Emperor Haile Selassie I are convinced that the reggae legend would stand unequivocally with the Palestinians and would be appalled and ashamed of his son. After all, do not Pan-Africanist advocates of today rail against the State of Israel, denouncing it as a White settler colonial enterprise that brutalises a non-White, indigenous population? In that respect, Pan Africanism has joined sections of disparate social and political movements such as the LGBTQ, climate activists and others in making anti-Zionism an intrinsic talking point. This was not always the case, however.

Zionism and Pan Africanism

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), Father of Zionism, Pan Africanist. Source: Wikipedia

Zionism as an ideology was already sympathetic to Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism and civil rights years before the latter began to be articulated. Theodor Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism wrote, “There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, though I may expose myself to ridicule for saying so, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”

Pan-Africanism and Zionism

Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), Father of Pan-Africanism, Zionist
source: Wikipedia

Even if they were not in direct communication, the architects and visionaries of the nascent Pan Africanist movement were aware of their Zionist counterparts.

In his 1898 booklet, The Jewish Question, written in response to the 1st Zionist Conference, Edward Wilmot Blyden, the father of modern Pan-Africanism, said, “I have taken, and do take, the deepest possible interest in the current history of the Jews- especially in that marvellous movement called Zionism. The question, in some of its aspects, is similar to that, which at this moment agitates thousands of the descendants of Africa in America, anxious to return to the land of their forefathers…the history of the African race- their enslavement, persecution, proscription and sufferings-closely resembles that of the Jews…. There is hardly a man in the civilised world who does not recognise the claim and the right of the Jew to the Holy Land, and there are few who would not be glad to see them return their place in the Land of their Fathers…“I would earnestly plead for Africa, especially at this crisis in her history, and entreat Israel to remember that land of their sojourn and early training, to assist Ethiopia to stretch forth her hands unto God…”

One of the slogans at the Fifth Pan-African Congress (Manchester, UK, 15th-21st October 1945), attended by such iconic figures as Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Amy Ashwood-Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta and W.E.B. DuBois was “Down With Antisemitism!” In 1957, when Moshe Dayan visited Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah took him on a tour of Christianberg Fortress, where kidnapped Africans were held before being sold into slavery and told him, “We, too, have come a long way.” DuBois wrote: “In their hearts the Negroes’ feelings go out to the Jews. They know what Hitler means because they have known slave overseers, plantation riding bosses, high sheriffs, governors like Cole Blease who shouted, To hell with the Constitution when it interferes with lynching’.”

How The Two Movements Separated

Decolonisation began in Africa barely a few years after Israel’s own independence. Quoting from Herzl, Golda Meir, then Israel’s Foreign Minister, wasted no time in reaching out to the new African nations. In 1958, she visited Liberia, a country established by American descendants of African slaves, and attended Ghana’s Independence Anniversary celebrations, the only foreign cabinet minister invited the event. Israel sent technical teams to some 33 African countries, and hosted students. Israel donated a modest sum to the Organisation of African Unity at its formation in 1963. In her biography, My Life (1975), Meir touched on the historical link between the Zionist and Pan Africanist movements. Africa received her enthusiastically. In Liberia, the Gola people crowned her Queen. In Cote d’Ivoire, the band at a reception played My Yiddische Momme. In 1962, Israel voted at the UN in condemnation of South Africa’s policy of apartheid.

The End Of The Historical Friendship

While Israel continued to support the training and humanitarian programmes Golda Meir initiated, diplomatic relations with Sub-Saharan Africa took a nosedive not long after the formation of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. The Arab speaking states of North Africa demanded that all members sever ties with Israel, or North Africa would leave the continental body in a huff.  As Ethiopian Prime Minister Aklilu Habte-Wolde told an Israeli delegation at a March 4th 1968 meeting; “Ethiopia is interested in a strong Israel and Israel is interested in a strong Ethiopia. We have common interests and a common future. But the two states have their limitations, and each time we try to promote cooperation, the difference in approaches surfaces. Ethiopia is a Christian island in a Muslim sea, and the Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics. They want to destroy Ethiopia. They are after us all the time, criticise us for having relations with Israel and follow our every move. The Egyptians especially follow every move. Ethiopia wants co-operation, but only under the cover of secrecy. Ethiopia is surrounded, and all her neighbours are preparing to tear her into pieces. If they find out about Assab, they will do everything to wipe out Ethiopia. The USA does nothing to help us face these dangers. The Americans do not care that the USSR will control the Red Sea. If the Arabs find out that we [Ethiopia and Israel] are together, they will be all over us before we build our force. They will also leave the OAU.’

The Marxist Element

There was a long-standing Marxist streak in the Pan Africanist movement. By the 1960s and 70s, many Black intellectuals and political leaders on the continent and the African diaspora were steeped in Marxist ideology. With the Soviet Union supporting Yasser Arafat and a slew of African nationalist leaders alike, it was only a matter of time before many African nationalist movements and Black activist groups began to identify with “the Palestinian cause.” Israeli Jews became White settlers, taking land from its “indigenous” inhabitants. Israel’s cooperation with South Africa led to further public condemnation.

So, where does Bob Marley stand on all this?

Bob Marley was grounded in Rastafarian and Pan Africanist philosophy decades before these became influenced by Marxism and the anti-Zionism of the Arab/Muslim states. Today, leftists quote from Bob Marley’s lyrics, but the evidence suggests he was not a fan of Marxism or socialism. He once supported Norman Manley as Jamaican Prime Minister, but this support waned after Manley forged ties to Fidel Castro. When asked in an interview by Jeff Cathrow in 1978 if the Rastafarians have the same ideology as the socialists, Marley vehemently replied; “No mon! Michael Manley is a Marxist-Leninist-Socialist, Rasta is a monarchy. Dig It!” The Rastafari Faith holds that Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, descended from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is the Second Appearance of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Marxist junta that seized power in 1974/5 and overthrew the 3000-year old monarchy, and its ideology, would have been viewed with utter revulsion by the Rastafarians of Bob Marley’s day.

In an interview with Anita Waters (1980), Bob Marley cited Jamaica’s socialist regime as the reason some of his songs were banned. “Of course! Our songs got banned all the while. “Rastaman Vibration” was one of the first record ever banned for me. Yeah, because it carry the speech of Haile Selassie, and because the country trying to go communist or socialist, they never want to hear what Selassie have to say. So them just ban it.” Later in the interview, he spoke on the Marxists in Ethiopia; “November 2nd. Been 50 years now since Christ government set upon earth, returned to earth. The Russians can’t take guns and destroy it you know. Bad man. Mengistu is not a Ethiopian. Mengistu is a Russian. Well them (the Cubans) a idiot them is Russians too. Yeah. Them say there is no God. And me, I know that there is a God. Cause I know who God is. And the guys stick me with a gun and say there is no God. I say yes, there is a God. And them fire it! And it miss. And fire it again and it miss you know. And them fire plenty time and it miss because there is a God.”

In conclusion, I think it is uniformed (even for such an esteemed academic as Professor Fred Zindi) or deliberately misleading for anyone to say that Bob Marley would have been opposed to the State of Israel or sided with the Palestinians. The evidence shows that the reggae legend would have been exposed to a more pro-Zionist Pan Africanist philosophy, one that existed and thrived before Marxism captured cultural and educational institutions around the world.

By standing up for Israel, Ziggy Marley is demonstrating an enduring heritage. In 2015, when accepting the Jewish National Fund’s Shalom Peace Award, Ziggy Marley said, “I’ve been connected to Israel from when I was a child. Through my father, my mother, we have a strong belief in the history. If you’ve heard of my father…you’ve heard of Exodus….We are strongly connected to the history of Israel and feel a very spiritual and personal connection to that land and the people of that land. So this is an honour and a blessing and we will continue to have that connection no matter what anybody says or does and continue to support Israel.”

About the Author
Masimba Musodza is a novelist, screenwriter, essayist, blogger and actor of some note, with work published all over the world and online. He was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, but has lived in the UK since 2002.
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