Saturday, November 14, 2020

Some Black Leaders Supported Zionism Before Herzl Did

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a reporter asked Golda Meir about African leaders that were cutting off diplomatic ties with Israel under Arab pressure. The reporter claimed this proved that Israel's African policy and the aid given was a waste of time. Golda Meir disagreed:
Because what I did for Africa was not just a policy of enlightened self-interest. I did it for the benefit of the African peoples, and deep in their hearts they know this to be true. It was an expression of my deepest historic instincts as a Jew, and a demonstration of my most profound and cherished values as a Labor Zionist. [The Prime Ministers, by Yehuda Avner, p. 236]
Golda Meir was not the first Zionist to speak about helping Africa.

Herzl's novel, Altneuland, describes his vision of what Jewish Palestine would look like. At one point, one of the characters declares:
There is still one problem of racial misfortune unsolved. The depths of that problem, in all their horror, only a Jew can fathom. I mean the negro problem. Don't laugh, Mr. Kingscourt. Think of the hair-raising horrors of the slave trade. Human beings, because their skins are black, are stolen, carried off, and sold. Their descendants grow up in alien surroundings despised and hated because their skin is differently pigmented. I am not ashamed to say, though I be thought ridiculous, now that I have lived to see the restoration of the Jews, I should like to pave the way for the restoration of the Negroes. [Translated from the German by Dr. D. S. Blondheim, Federation of American Zionists, 1916, available online]
Herzl's desire for Blacks to be restored to their homeland was mutual.

In fact, Black support for the Jewish State predates Herzl.

In their book, Israel in the Black American Perspective, Robert G. Weisbord and Richard Kazarian start with a chapter on early Black support for the Zionist idea.

As early as the post-Civil War era, when Blacks were still too focused on their survival and that of their families to concern themselves with foreign affairs, there were still a few Black intellectuals and leaders who kept abreast of events overseas.

Some saw parallels between their own situation and that of the Jews -- and others saw Zionism and the return to the Jewish homeland as the paradigm for the transplanted Africans in the US.

Here is a summary of what the book describes about some of those leaders --

Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912)

Blyden was born in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, which had a significant Jewish population, and later immigrated to West Africa in 1851. He was an editor, a prolific writer of books and pamphlets, a linguist, a professor of classics, secretary of state of the newly established republic of Liberia, Liberian ambassador to Great Britain and president of Liberia College.

Edward Wilmot Blyden. Public Domain

As he describes in his book, The Jewish Question, while traveling in the Middle East in 1866, Blyden wanted to travel to "the original home of the Jews--to see Jerusalem and Mt. Zion, the joy of the whole earth." While in Jerusalem he went to the Western Wall.

Keep in mind that Theodor Herzl wasn't even born until 1860. Instead, this was the time of 'proto-Zionists' like Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, who wrote Derishat Ziyon (Seeking Zion), and Moses Hess, who wrote Rome and Jerusalem -- both published in 1862.

Weisbrod and Kazarian write:
In point of fact, Blyden in the 1860's and 1870's was much more of a Zionist than most Jews. He advocated Jewish settlement in Palestine, a phenomenon which, in his judgment would not have an adverse effect on the Arabs. Blyden reproved the sons of Abraham for remaining in the Diaspora and for not migrating to their ancient homeland, which the Ottoman Turks were misgoverning.
Towards the end of the 19th century, with the resurgence of antisemitism in Russia, France and Germany, that political Zionism came into its own with Herzl and his publication of The Jewish State in 1896. The First Zionist Congress followed in 1897.

Blyden's booklet, The Jewish Question, was published the following year:
Blyden was familiar with Herzl's Jewish State and predicted that it propounded ideas which "have given such an impetus to the real work of the Jews as will tell with enormous effect upon their future history." Blyden also commented on the powerful influence of the "tidal wave from Vienna--that inspiration almost Mosaic in its originality and in its tendency, which drew crowds of Israelites to Basle in August 1897...and again in 1898."
However, Blyden also thought that if the timing was not right, the Jewish State could be established elsewhere as well. He felt that because of the shared suffering of Jews and African Americans, they were specially qualified to be spiritual leaders in the world.

So he invited Jews to come to Africa --
Africa appeals to the Jew... to come with his scientific and other culture, gathered by his exile in many lands, and with his special spiritual endowments.
As it turned out, when the British offered Herzl land in Africa in 1903 for a state, that invitation was nearly accepted.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

Booker T. Washington was such a celebrity during the latter part of his life that he was invited to have dinner with Theodore Roosevelt at the White House and to have tea with Queen Victoria.

He was born into slavery, but despite the hardships, he taught himself the alphabet, got an education and went on to found the Tuskegee Institute, which he headed for 35 years.

Booker T. Washington. public domain

From his childhood, Washington had an interest in Jews, based on his familiarity of Bible stories -- and drew parallels between the histories of Blacks and Jews. In a speech he delivered in 1905, Washington said:
In Russia there are one-half as many Jews as there are Negroes in this country and yet I feel sure that within a month more Jews have been persecuted and killed than the whole number of our people who have been lynched during the past forty years.
While Washington believed in thrift and hard work as key to Black equality, he also thought that progress could be achieved through racial solidarity -- just as it had helped Jews:
There is, perhaps, no race that has suffered so much, not so much in America as in some of the countries in Europe. But these people have clung together. They have had a certain amount of unity, pride and love of race.
Washington predicted success for Jews in the US, "a country where they were once despised and looked upon with scorn and derision" -- success that was achieved largely through dedication to education and enabled them to gain positions of power and preeminence.

He did not share the back-to-Africanism of Blyden, and did not see it as a solution to Black problems in the South. Similarly, while he was a friend of the Jews, Washington didn't see a Jewish State as much of a solution for Jews either. When asked if there was anything among Blacks that compared to the Zionist movement, Washington responded:
I think it is with the African pretty much as it is with the Jews, there is a good deal of talk about it, but nothing is done, there is certainly no sign of an exodus to Liberia.
Based on the lesser interest in Zionism in the US at the time, it is no wonder Washington was skeptical.

W.E.B Du Bois 1868-1963

Du Bois championed the cause of racial justice -- and of Zionism as well. He was born in Massachusetts and was educated at Fisk University in Nashville, at the University of Berlin and received a Ph.D from Harvard. He wrote historical treatises, sociological studies and essays on the important issues of the day. Du Bois was one of the founders of the NAACP.

He saw potential in the Balfour Declaration for a similar solution for Blacks. With the defeat of Germany in WWI,  his dream was an independent free central African state carved out of German East Africa and the Belgian Congo.

It didn't happen.

W.E.B Du Bois Public Domain

He believed that such an African state would have a mutually beneficial relationship with Blacks around the world, similar to the Zionist view of a Jewish state.  In 1919, Du Bois wrote an article in the NAACP magazine Crisis that
The African movement means to us what the Zionist movement must mean to the Jews, the centralization of race effort and the recognition of a racial fount. To help bear the burden of Africa does not mean any lessening of effort in our problems at home. Rather it means increased interest. For an ebullition of action and feeling that results in an amelioration of the lot of Africa tends to ameliorate the conditions of colored peoples throughout the world. And no man liveth unto himself.
Du Bois started a monthly magazine for Afro-African children around 1919 called The Brownie's Book. In it, he wrote about Zionism.
  • In the first issue, he told his readers about the new Jewish state planned "'round about Jerusalem"
  • Eight months later, he told them that a "great Zionist congress of the Jews is meeting in London"
  • He also noted proposals to "tax the Jews all over the world for the support of the new Jewish government in Palestine"
  • In January 1921, he wrote about the finished blueprints for a Hebrew university on the biblical Mount of Olives in Jerusalem o In 1929, he wrote about the "murder of Jews by Arabs in Palestine."
In 1948, Du Bois published "A Case for the Jews." In it, he described Zionism as a question of
young and forward thinking Jews, bringing a new civilization into an old land and building up that land out of the ignorance, disease and poverty into which it had fallen, and by democratic methods to build a new and peculiarly fateful modern state.
In June 26, 1948 the NAACP adopted a resolution that
The valiant struggle of the people of Israel for independence serves as an inspiration to all persecuted people throughout the world. We havil the establishment of the new State of Israel and welcome it into the family of nations.'

 Marcus Garvey 1887-1940

Born in Jamaica, Garvey was the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He wrote that Africa needed to be transformed into a 
Negro Empire where every Black man, whether he was born in Africa or in the Western world, will have the opportunity to develop on his own lines under the protection of the most favorable democratic institutions.
His wife described his vision in a way similar to the Zionist goal of a Jewish state:
Garvey saw Africa as a nation to which the African peoples of the world could look for help and support, moral and physical when ill-treated or abused for being black.

Marcus Garvey. Public Domain

In 1920, Garvey told a UNIA meeting that after WWI, 
A new spirit, a new courage, has come to us simultaneously as it came to other peoples of the world. It came to us at the same time it came to the Jew. When the Jew said 'We shall have Palestine!' the same sentiment came to us when we said' We shall have Africa!'
At the same time, the Jewish press was aware of what Garvey was doing and also saw the parallels between his pan-Africanism and Zionism. In the book, African Americans and Jews in the Twentieth Century, edited by V. P. Franklin, Hasia Diner notes in "Drawn Together By Self-Interest" that the Yiddish Press used the idioms of Jewish history to describe Marcus Garvey:

But Garvey was a complex -- and even contradictory -- figure when it came to Jews. There were statements he made that were antisemitic and when British Prime Minister Neville suggested in 1939 settling Jewish refugees in British Guiana, Garvey lashed out, claiming that British Guiana was a "Negro country" and criticized Zionism.

Walter White 1893-1955

In 1947, the UN voted on the partition of then-Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. It was an opportunity to finally create a Jewish state -- but a two-thirds majority was necessary to make it happen.

Enter Walter White.

Walter White. Public Domain

Zionists approached White, urging him to persuade two Black nations, Haiti and Liberia, to reverse their announced opposition to partition and to vote for it instead.

He was opposed to the idea of 'segregating' Jews from Arabs and resented the pressure Zionists put on him. Nevertheless, according to his autobiography, he helped "because Palestine seemed the only haven anywhere in the world for nearly one million Jews of Europe."

When the votes were cast, Liberia, Haiti and the Philippines all voted for partition -- and those votes were critical in achieving the 33 to 13 vote for partition.

Black leaders like these make for a sharp contrast to the likes of Sharpton and Farrakhan.

If you found this post interesting or informative, please it below. Thanks!

No comments: