There's something distasteful about this whole need for Barack Obama to assure us that he is, indeed, the best friend Israel could ever have. Jeffrey Goldberg has been beaten up some, but I've enjoyed much of his work. Indeed if you want to see how great reporting can be prescient read this piece, pay close attention to the section of Missouri Dems, Claire McCaskill and Hillary Clinton. But it's amazing how much of Goldberg's Q&A is dedicated to Obama proving that he does believe in Israel's right to exist--as opposed to, I guess, believing Israel deserves to be destroyed in a downpour of hellfire.
But Obama, labors under the burden of being a presumed Hamas agent, and thus twice he has to weigh in on whether "justice is on Israel's side." Given the nature of people, I don't even know what that means. Hell, I bleed red, black and green, but I'd never presume that justice was on black folks' side--at least not as a post-25-year-old. Indeed, these days, I'm much more concerned with getting black folks on justice's side, as the saying goes.
Which leads me to my biggest pet peeve--Obama has repeatedly mourned the loss of a natural affinity between blacks and Jews in this country. As some of you know, I think this idea is mostly hokum. More than any statement on how blacks and Jews have ever existed, the ongoing funeral for the great black-Jewish union shows how New York, the civil rights movement, and the academy can combine to distort reality. I know plenty of lefty black intellectuals who've formed great friendships with lefty Jewish intellectuals, much of it based on the commonalities in historical narrative. That would be a pretty apt description of me and one of my best friends. In other cases those friendships have bloomed into romantic partnerships, and indeed, at times--especially here in New York--it feels like most of the biracial cats you know are black and Jewish.
That said, you always run into problems when people who think for a living, mistake their lives for those who work for a living. And when it comes to antisemitism among black folks, I defer to Chris Rock's humorous analysis of why he could never follow Farrakhan:
Farrakhan don't like the Jews, which is bugged. I get my hair cut on Dekalb Avenue. I never heard a bunch of brothers talking about Jews. Black people don't hate Jews. Black people hate white people. We don't got time to dice white people up into little groups. I hate everybody. I don't care if you just got here.
One other point of note--Obama namechecks the civil rights movement, as people are want to do when waxing nostalgically over the black-Jewish love-fest. But Obama, like most nostalgics, misses a complicating point--the Zionist idea is almost the exact opposite of the integrationist idea which dominates black political thought. Indeed, Zionism's natural corollary isn't the civil rights movement, it's the very black power movement which Martin Luther King and his followers rejected.
Now, I realize that black nationalism has often been laced with a nice dose of antisemitism. But my point is that philosophically, Theodor Herzl and Chaim Weizmann have much more in common with Marcus Garvey and Martin Delaney than with Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King. Black leadership--so influenced by Marin Luther King--would almost naturally be lukewarm to Israel, because Civil Rights philosophy not only explicitly rejects nationalism, it actually rejects violence--even in self-defense. Say what you will about Al Sharpton--his response to Sean Bell is Martin Luther King's not Huey Newton's. Thus when people shuffle out the old "Israel has the right to defend itself" number, I hear echoes of Malcolm X upbraiding MLK for singing "We Shall Overcome" as racial terorists bombed churches and sicced dogs on women. "This is part of what’s wrong with you -- you do too much singing," Malcolm once said. "Today it’s time to stop singing and start swinging."
This isn't a criticism of Zionism. I came up in the orbit of black nationalism, went to a black college, and have made my home mere blocks from where Garvey used to lead his parades. Indeed, as the brothers say, Game respect Game. Plus our histories aren't exact matches. Antisemitism is at once older, and more present. Jew-hating is the western world's oldest ethnic prejudice, nearly four times as old as anti-black racism, plus the Holocaust is much closer to us than the epoch of slavery. But that doesn't stop me from, every so often, throwing in my old Malcolm tapes, or thumbing through David Walker's Appeal and wondering whether we took the right path.
As a dude who came up banging Malcolm's "Ballot or The Bullet" like it was the Wu-Tang Forever, who recited Garvey's "Look For Me In The Whirlwind" at the school assembly, Israel is like a parallel universe, what Liberia could have been with the alteration of a few key historical variables. In Israel, cats like me see the shadows of another choice. Then we cut on "Flavor Of Love" and realize that it could not have been any other way.