In his book Black Power and Palestine, the historian Michael R. Fischbach seeks to prove that there are longstanding, widespread, and deep-seated feelings of solidarity between African-Americans and Palestinians—and that the pro-Israel sentiments of such major figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. are mere exceptions. David Swindle sees in this argument an attempt to force the Israel-Palestinian conflict into fashionable notions of “intersectionality,” with little concern for the facts:
[I]ntersectional theory . . . poses a problem for academics seeking to delegitimize Israel. If . . . Israel is an inherently racist state and part of the same global structure of oppression holding down people of color everywhere, why have the overwhelming majority of African Americans historically been supportive of or indifferent to Israel? . . . Fischbach’s answer, in effect, is that pro-Israel sympathies within the African American community aren’t genuine.
In other words, Fischbach argues that Malcolm X and his allies distributed anti-Israel propaganda because they sincerely saw Palestinians as “kindred spirits,” whereas black leaders like Bayard Rustin who expressed support for Israel did so for purely tactical reasons, such as maintaining alliances with American Jews. Even more disturbing than this contemptuous dismissal of inconvenient African American opinions, Swindle writes, is Fischbach’s dismissal of black anti-Semitism:
[T]he ugly anti-Zionist rhetoric of Black Power militants, encapsulated in an infamous 1967 article that Fischbach hails as “one of the first expressions anywhere in the U.S.” of a “new vision of the Middle East,” was hardly the unadulterated offspring of [pro-Palestinian] sympathies alone. Its core substance was largely borrowed from a pamphlet published earlier by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Palestine Research Center, with a slew of additional Western anti-Semitic tropes already familiar to many African Americans thrown in for good measure (e.g., claiming that the Rothschilds, control “much of Africa’s mineral wealth”), topped off with a cartoon showing a hand with a Star of David and a dollar sign holding a noose around the necks of an Arab and an African.
For Fischbach, the belief that Jews plot conspiracies to cause wars with their ill-gotten money . . . isn’t anti-Semitism if it emanates from the African American community. It’s just one oppressed people expressing solidarity with another (Palestinians) in a “hard-hitting, polemic fashion.” But the belief of most prominent African American leaders, then and now, that Jews are entitled to self-determination has to be something other than an oppressed people expressing solidarity with another.