We’d like to take this moment to share with you the latest and one of the most offensive and disingenuous campaigns we have seen in a long while. The image above was one of many shared by Dumisani Washington who, according to his Twitter page, is the Diversity Outreach Coordinator for the right-wing and notably Islamophobic organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and the Director of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI).
We’ve all heard about and discredited CUFI. The organization’s latest annual convention fell during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, and on the thirteenth day of Israel’s assault, attendees applauded at the death and destruction Israel brought to the Gaza Strip. It was as though they sought an encore. CUFI, run by some of the most fanatical pro-Israel Evangelicals this country has ever seen, is ironically more pro-Israel than it is pro-United States.
IBSI, though, is another story. They appear relatively unestablished and very few appear to take them seriously, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone considering the kind of inflammatory, exploitative, and fictitious material they publish.
Exploitation of African refugees
Dumisani Washington tweeted the following image to us earlier this month. In the background is a photograph of a group of African youth falsely credited to Sharia Unveiled. It is actually an AFP file photograph. (Original photograph here.)
Inscribed on the front of the image is the following message: “Hamas is funding their ‘resistance’ with the money they receive from selling African slaves. Where is the justice for these African refugees?”
To begin, this image is an obtuse response to increasing international condemnation of the way Israel treats African refugees. An estimated 50-60,000 African refugees currently seek asylum in Israel, but the Israeli government — with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm — has committed itself to deporting these Africans back to the horrors from which they have escaped or otherwise forcing them into containment camps, restricting their movement and civil liberties similar to the way Israel restricts Palestinians, and rejecting every single African application to convert to Judaism. They are modern-day untouchables, all in the name of racial and religious purity, as independent journalist David Sheen’s extensive documentation and research reveals. (In this footage filmed by Sheen, crowds of Israelis — politicians included — protested the presence of the African refugees, calling them “slaves” and accusing them of dirtying the Jewish state.)
To counter the mounting pressure, groups like IBSI have adopted a dehumanizing and illogical social media strategy. Not only does IBSI try so unconvincingly hard to whitewash Israel’s anti-African policies, but it also suggests an absurd scenario in which Hamas somehow goes out of its way to kidnap or purchase African refugees from Israel or elsewhere, sells them in some kind of an underground market to some kind of indentureship, forces them into labor in parts of the Gaza Strip, and uses the proceeds to purchase weaponry.
This is one of IBSI’s most recognizable and absurd talking points. Rather unsurprisingly, it is based on a tenuous claim made by a third-party contributor to The Times of Israel. The article, which reads as a screed against Hamas even though it actually has little to do with Hamas, cites the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s recent report on global human trafficking which, incidentally, contains no information or statistics on Hamas. Similarly, Hamas’s mention is nowhere to be found in the latest 200-page report on human trafficking in the Sinai authored by the same researchers cited at the end of the Times of Israel piece. Israel and Egypt, however, are both implicated dozens of times at least. (PDF versions of the two reports are included below.)
Serial rapists for Zionism
Worse still, IBSI, like many of its supporters and funders, exploits African refugees to make fallacious political statements and to peddle virulently anti-Palestinian sentiments, all while pledging allegiance to Israel and its unabashedly racist laws prohibiting Africans from integrating into Israel and “threaten[ing] the social fabric… and our national identity.” Capitalizing on the misfortunes of African refugees, bluntly and insensitively asserting some kind of patriarchal fraternity with the refugees to disingenuously build a false sense of legitimacy, and neglecting to address the very real abuses these refugees face at the hands of the Israeli government are just some of the many problems for which IBSI is best known.
Incidentally, the group is also responsible for its dull and uncritical support of Eldridge Cleaver, a former leader of the Black Panther Party who has been shunned by many of his colleagues at the time for his history of sexualized violence. This came to our attention only recently, after Dumisani Washington tweeted and IBSI retweeted that Eldridge Cleaver had at one point been anti-Israel before he committed himself to Zionism.
Not long ago, a photograph depicting a Palestinian Liberation Organization delegation meeting with a Black Panthers Party delegation at the 1969 Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algeria began to circulate the various social media platforms. As more and more communities stand up to the structural racism and state-sponsored violence that Black Americans are forced to deal with, the photograph went viral in what we firmly believe was a well-intentioned gesture of solidarity. Black American and Palestinian struggles intersect.
But upon further investigation, we discovered that the photograph was actually a cropped version of an original photograph in which Eldridge Cleaver was also in attendance. As of this moment, we cannot confirm the identities of the other individuals in the frame. Cleaver’s presence, however, forces us to reassess the photograph and its value. Cleaver was a serial rapist and despite his involvement with the Black Panther Party, his chauvinism, his unapologetic history of sexual violence, and later his religious fundamentalism forced other Black Panther Party members to distance themselves from him. It is unclear whether or not the Palestinian delegation at the 1969 conference was aware of Cleaver’s troubling history. It is also unclear the extent to which his history impacted his role within the Black Panther Party.
For an organization claiming to represent the better interests of Black America to champion Cleaver in such a way is an abandonment of principle and an egregious oversight. Cleaver is discredited in many, if not most, circles. Of course, we are in no place to speak about how communities should or should not appreciate Cleaver so we will remind ourselves of our boundaries. But such uncritical support of Cleaver backfires and says more about the organization responsible for championing him than anything else.
Guided by anti-Palestinian sentiment
A cursory look at IBSI’s Twitter page, which bears a striking resemblance to supermarket tabloids, should further entrench any doubts you had over the legitimacy and accuracy of the group. Under Dumisani Washington’s leadership, IBSI singles out “Arab privilege” (because we all know how great it is to be an Arab in U.S.-invaded or Israel-occupied Middle East territories right now), insists that Africans are being enslaved somewhere in the Gaza Strip, tries ruthlessly and without success to break Black-Palestinian solidarity efforts, legitimizes the Israeli military’s actions because of its alleged diversity, and falsely characterizing random people — like former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass — as Zionist or as integral to the Zionist project.
The organization perpetuates three basic myths: one, that Gaza is a still-undiscovered major slave-trading hub; two, that Hamas is a Ku Klux Klan offshoot based out of the Gaza Strip; and three, that photographs of the few smiling ‘disturbances in Israel’s social fabric’ will somehow distract the public from the looming shadow of, say, Israel’s occupation, its treatment of asylum-seeking Africans, its persistent land annexation and illegal settlement building, its violation of countless international laws, its systematic demolition of Palestinian historical and cultural sites, its government’s shift further to the right, its destruction of scarce environmental resources, its history of marginalizing non-Jews as well as Jews who are critical of Israel’s human rights violations, etc.
By shouting these fabrications repeatedly and with conviction, Dumisani Washington is convinced that IBSI can make an impact and convince people, especially people of color, to turn to Israel and to embrace it as some sort of sacred and infallible shrine. IBSI has no integrity and no real guiding principle except for a severe disdain of all things Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian. After all, expecting anything else from a propaganda organization that banks on distorting facts, falsifying stories, and manipulating the public is expecting far too much.