What Rev. Vincent Harding Might Have Said About Benjamin Netanyahu's Visit to Congress

Gil Caldwell, a wonderful, eloquent minister and civil rights activist partly from Park Hill in Denver, thinks below, with Vincent Harding, our friend, about what Netanyahu’s corrupt visit means. Vincent’s words are with us…
  • He calls to mind the great Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who marched with Gil in Selma, and said “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.
  • He recalls traveling on a ship to a work camp in Denmark and being snubbed by Jewish “Whites.”
  • And of Netanyahu’s violation of protocol towards the President, he recalls: “if you are black, stay back…”
  • It is time to stop Israeli imperialism – its violence toward the Palestinians, its incredible warmongering and the vast US military aid to Israel. It is time for the people of the world to force Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, to end the Occupation.
  • Even now, Barack – “my younger brother,” as Vincent sometimes wrote to him – is not moving strongly in this direction, though his goals against ISIS in the Middle East require some cooperation of/with Iran and Syria and he has stood up against the Netanyahu/Romney/Adelson war-mongering even in an election (the opposite of what ordinary American Presidents and Presidential candidates do; see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 1).
  • As among blacks, passing for White, despite near extermination under Hitler, is for Jews a choice. Though it is nearly a vocation among the would-be “kings” in Israel, it is way murderous and self-destructive.
  • I choose to be non-White and act up to that thought, as do many Jews who stand up against the “color line” as in the South Africa anti-apartheid movement (and by the way, many anti-racist, that is self-aware and human Northern and Southern Europeans…).
  • Black folks at Yorktown during the Revolution (see my Black Patriots and Loyalists), in the abolitionist movement and the civil war, in the multiracial struggles of farmers and working people in the South (the Southern Tenants Alliance, the early Populist Party) and in the North (the CIO), and in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s have been great leaders in shaping the cause and meaning of democracy for all of us, as they have shaped – spirituals and jazz – the greatness of American culture.
  • Netanyahu’s corrupt visit has fractured reactionary elite support of the worst in Israel (a cartoon in the Times suggests Netanyahu is planting an immoral settlement in Congress – see here…).
  • The Israel Lobby, a real enough force, nonetheless does not command the allegiance of most American Jews, who were the second most enthusiastic group in voting for Obama after blacks, about 77%, and are 80% opposed to bombing Iran, that is, to Netanyahu’s and AIPAC’s theme song.
  • Furthermore, every helicopter the US provides for the Occupied Palestine is an Apache. As Gil suggests, the basic cause of indigenous Americans and all people is a democratic one, opposed to settler colonialism and racism.
  • Rabbi Heschel rightly believed that King’s words on a mass, nonviolent poor people’s movement are the future of America. That movement makes us all brothers and sisters in this vital, still young experiment in democracy, as Brother Vincent would say.
  • May we fight, with Black Lives Matter!, for a decent future here…
  • But despite the election of Obama, America has temporarily taken the opposite path, resulting in its decline as a decent place and threatening destruction of the world. Israel is a nuclear power and Netanyahu and the corrupt bombing chorus in the US against Iran moves us and the Middle East closer to a wider regional war; a threatened Israel might use such bombs…

Radiation travels….

Dear Alan,

This morning I awakened as I have done before since his death, thinking of Vincent Harding,and wondering what Vincent would say about something that is taking place in our nation and our world. This morning, I am wondering what would the late, Dr. Vincent Harding say about the visit of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu to the Congress; a visit in response not to an invitation from our nation’s first black President, Barack Obama, but from the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. An invitation extended without the consent of President Obama.
I remember well your writings about Vincent Harding and your sharing his insights with your readers. Therefore I am writing this to you in a “thinking out loud” way as I used to write our late colleague, Vincent Harding. You should know this about me; I am an 81 year old retired African American United Methodist Minister who from 1997 to 2001 was the first African American Pastor of the multi-racial Park Hill United Methodist Church. And, in my life and ministry, I became influenced by the book of Henri Nouwen, Wounded Healers. I have sought to allow the wounds that I and my black colleagues, past and present, have experienced because of the anti-black racism that has and still exists in the USA to shape my writings and my wish to heal the deep-seated anti-black racism that not only harms those of us who are black, but also harms the well being of the nation.
The visit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the USA while he is in a political campaign in Israel, that does not have the sanction of President Obama, has reminded me of another manifestation of a street corner bit of analysis that I first heard as I was growing up in North Carolina, Texas and South Carolina;“If you are white, you are alright, if you are brown stick around, if you are black, stand back.” The whiteness of Prime Minister Netanyahu trumps the blackness of President Obama, and the assumption of those who invited the Prime Minister is that President Obama must stand back, because he is black.
Some thoughts…
  1. This week my heart is in Selma as persons gather to remember the Selma to Montgomery March. I was at that March on the Tuesday following “Bloody Sunday” and then returned to the March as it ended in Montgomery. I mention this because Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said of his marching with Martin Luther King in the March;“When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” It is this kind of Jewish solidarity with the black struggle, expressed by Rabbi Heschel, that has made me hope that the realities of anti-blackness and anti-Semitism, past and present, would forge a continuing bond between Jews and Blacks. But, as one of my colleagues has said over and over again, even as I have disagreed,“The ‘whiteness’ of Jewishness separates Jews and Israel from the struggles of people of color.” I still disagree with him. but his words are present with me as Prime Minister Netanyahu visits the Congress. {Many Jews are opposing this visit and war; see, for instance,Tikkun here from the New York Times today and The Hill,tomorrow; I, too, am one of the more than 2400 signatories].
  2. I have never forgotten that 59 years ago as a Seminary Student, I signed up to participate in an American Friends Service Committee-related work camp in Denmark. I was one of a very few black students on the ship that took us from Quebec City to Le Havre, France. I found out there were some Jewish students on the ship, and I sought to be in conversation with them, thinking that theirs would be some identification with me because of the racism I had known in the south. I thought that their being in limited communication with me, would not jeopardize their relationships with their white, non-Jewish friends. But,they chose their whiteness and avoided being in communication with me, because of my blackness.
  3. Later, as the black struggle for independence was being waged in South Africa and other places in black Africa, I remembered that shipboard experience as Israel was less-than supportive of the boycotts, and disinvestment efforts that were essential to challenging South Africa’s racist apartheid. And, I know that some were fearful that Israel would allow its sophisticated weaponry to be used by the South African military.[the apartheid party in South Africa was pro-Nazi; many of the non-black emancipation movement were Jews; the next statement is not quite on target, referring only to the state of Israel and not to ordinary Jews]. The visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu to the USA compels us to ask again, “Why does South Africa with its rightful articulations of the historic oppression of Jews, seem to be insensitive to the oppression that people of color experience in the USA and the world?” Is Mr. Netanyahu blind, deaf and dumb in response to some of the race-based criticisms that President Obama and his family have experienced and still experience? His visit this week represents another one of those race-based insults our nation’s first black President has experienced.
  4. Prime Minister Netanyahu in response to the anti-Semitism that is tragically taking place in Europe, has urged Jews to come and settle in Israel [one might underline how instead of praising the French government for upholding civil liberties, Mr. Netanyahu, being anti-civil liberties and base, said that jews could only find safety in domineering little Israel – a remarkably unsafe place].
Where in the world do blacks find solace and safety in the world, as Jews do in Israel? Sunday’s New York Times, (March 1) has an op-ed titled; “The Next Great Migration” The writer, Thomas Chatterton Williams writes this; “A powerful way to sidestep America’s reluctance to become post racial would be for more black Americans to become post national.” Jews have Israel, where in the world can blacks find what Jews find in Israel? Africa with its obvious residuals of its colonial past, despite black governance, seems not to be the place to go. And, the presence this week of Mr. Netanyahu in Washington, coupled with the treatment of black and brown people in Israel and the Middle East, means Israel is not the place to go.
Alan, W.E.B. DuBois, you and I, know spoke of the 20th century as “The century of the color line”. The calendar convergence of the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March and the visit of Israel’s Prime Minister to Washington this week, in different ways, illustrates what we all knew, the problem that DuBois identified as a 20th century problem is a problem for the 21st century as well.
I have been pleased as I have read of the efforts of the United Methodist Bishop and United Methodists in the Denver Area to respond to the tragic mistreatment of Native Americans by the Church and State. It is time that we in the United States and the world acknowledge and admit that people of color, despite our numerical majority in the world, with some exceptions, are still rendered less-than-equal and without comparable economic power and influence in the world to that of those who are white.
May the visit of Israel’s Prime Minister to Washington this week reveal for to all to see that on matters of justice, freedom, equality, power and influence, in the USA and the world, “If you are white….”

Gilbert H. Caldwell is a longstanding civil rights activist in the South and United Methodist Minister in Park Hill, Denver and Asbury Park, New Jersey. Alan Gilbert is a longstanding anti-racist and anti-war activist and John Evans Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

3 thoughts on “What Rev. Vincent Harding Might Have Said About Benjamin Netanyahu's Visit to Congress

  1. You mention the racism of Jews towards blacks. Much of that racism is found among ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) in cities like New York, Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago.

  2. Thanks for posting the article. A clarification; Alan Gilbert of the University of Denver, wrote
    the prelude, the insertions and the conclusion following my “Open Letter”. I was pleased that
    he posted it on his website and then at my request sent it to Tikkun. Alan has been very helpful
    as he has reminded me of those who differ with Netanyahu and some of the policies of Israel, even as they affirm their Jewish heritage and their belief in the potential of Israel.
    It could be that those of us who “march to the beat of a different drummer”, I, different from
    some in my African American community, and Jews, different from some in their Jewish community,
    might need develop solidarity with each other. A Caucus composed of persons who are viewed as
    traitors within our own communities; “The ‘In’ but not ‘Of’ their communities” : )

  3. Aha! When Zionist Jew Rose Flemming commissioned and posted insulting cartoons of Prophet of Islam at Danish newspaper, his action was defended under “Freedom of Speech” by the so-called “civilized” westerners. However, when an editor of a Tehran daily commission a “Holocaust Cartoon Contest” in December 2006 the same “Freedom of Speech” hypocrites called the 70 participants as “anti-semites”.

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