“[Debbie] Wasserman Schultz embodied the enormous influence that American Jews have within the Democratic Party. A Jew with deep communal involvements who was a key pillar of support for the mainstream pro-Israel lobby in Congress and within the party, Wasserman was both chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a member of Congress sitting on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations — a panel that votes on all major government expenditures.
“This put her at the nexus of U.S. policy, politics and political fundraising in a way that few others matched.”
— NATHAN GUTTMAN, Forward, August 5-12, 2016
This article is not about Debbie Wasserman Schultz but of the influence of who and what she represented as chair of the Democratic National Committee until taken down by Julian Assange, and still represents, in Congress, the interests of Israel, and the power of its domestic supporters over the Black American political establishment as represented by the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
To be sure, the CBC’s subjugation by what is generally referred to as the pro-Israel Lobby is not unique. Thanks largely to American Jews having long been the Democratic Party’s major source of funds, estimated by reliable sources to be at least 60% in every election cycle, the Israel Lobby has been not only able to shape the party’s’ Middle East agenda but, of equal importance, determine who will be the chairs and the ranking members on the Congressional committees and subcommittees that have an impact on US-Israel relations. (The same thing can be said about the Republicans but there we see more variety among the donors.)
What makes the Congressional Black Caucus exceptional is that its very presence in Congress has been portrayed as symbolizing the success of the often bloody civil and voting rights struggles of a half century ago of which they are the beneficiaries. Some, like John Lewis, were even notable participants.
Consequently, something more might be expected of them. That the CBC, however, regardless of who comes and goes in their congressional districts, has consistently, as a bloc, voted to send billions of US taxpayers dollars to provide weapons for a foreign government that oppresses another people of color, the Palestinians, is, under the circumstances, nothing less than shameful.
To realize the extent of the problem requires some effort, mainly on-line searches of each CBC member’s name linked to Israel. The link won’t appear on their websites or, if there, is hard to find. (This is actually the case with most members of Congress, whatever the color of their skin). Outside of Jewish audiences who they view as potential donors and for whom, quite literally, they audition, they prefer that their constituents and the general public not know the degree to which they are willing to humiliate themselves for campaign contributions.
Their collective lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, with but some scattered exceptions was all too predictable given that In the late 1980s, at the height of Israel’s arm sales to its sister apartheid state, South Africa, the Congressional Black Caucus was so cowed by AIPAC and the Jewish political establishment that it agreed to utter not a peep about it in public.
As chair of the DNC, Wasserman Schultz was in a position to make the critical appointments to the Democratic Party’s platform committee. From Congress, with Hillary Clinton’s pro-Israel position in mind, she selected two members of the CBC, Berkeley-Oakland’s Barbara Lee, a favorite of the liberal Left, and Baltimore’s Elijah Cummings, making the latter the committee’s chair. Their votes turned out to be instrumental in insuring there would be no criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and its construction of illegal Jewish settlements in the party’s 2016 platform while maintaining Democratic Party support for Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital.
Cummings’ genuflection to Wasserman Schultz’s demands was expected since the 65 year old congressman is the very picture of the “faithful family retainer” from Old South novels and films when it comes to his relations to Israel and Baltimore’s Jewish community.
This past February, with Israeli Ambassador, US-born, Ron Dermer, Cummings co-hosted a celebration of Black History Month at the Israeli Embassy. It was Dermer, a former Republican functionary from Florida, who had collaborated with House Speaker John Boehner to have Netanyahu speak before a joint session of Congress in March, 2015 in a last ditch Israeli effort to sabotage Washington’s negotiations with Iran.
Most of the more senior members of the CBC, including Cummings, were obliged by their constituencies to view it as a slight against the first Black president—which it clearly was–but while joining some other Democrats in boycotting the Israel prime minister’s appearance, they made sure that their decision to do so was not viewed within the Jewish community as diminishing their support for Israel but as a criticism of Boehner.
Cummings was the perfect choice to be co-host. For each of the past 20 years, his Jewish-community funded Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel, “an elite two-year leadership fellowship,” according to its website, has sent a dozen Baltimore area African American high school students to Israel to be suitably indoctrinated into the special relationship between the two countries.
It dovetails neatly into the successful and aggressive outreach program focused on African-American college students conducted in recent years by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Barbara Lee is not in Cummings’ league when it comes to public bowing and scraping before Israel’s domestic supporters but, like her predecessor, Ron Dellums, for whom she served as an aide, Lee has shown herself willing to do just that when called upon by the likes of Wasserman Schultz. Dellums, a Teflon coated living legend among most Bay Area Left activists, managed to serve 13 terms in Congress without losing their support while maintaining the backing of AIPAC and the Jewish voters in his district.
Lee was the sole member of Congress to vote against giving President Bush the war authority after 9-11, for which she was justly praised. That act, apparently, took less courage than criticizing or withholding praise for an Israeli head of state as she had previously sent messages of congratulations to Ariel Sharon, the Butcher of Beirut, on his election and, later, re-election as Israel’s prime minister.
Sharon had been given that title in the wake of crimes committed by the Israeli forces under his command following Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and his having given the green light to Lebanese Christian forces to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital in September of that year and, with Israeli soldiers backing them up, slaughter up to 2,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. This led to him being sacked as Israel’s defense minister. Why would a Black member of Congress congratulate him under any circumstances?
Like everyone else in Congress, Lee has consistently supported military aid to Israel. The closest she came to actually casting a vote critical of Israel was in 2006, following Israel’s most recent invasion of Lebanon when she voted “present” on a House bill strongly supporting Israel’s brutal actions.
In January, 2009, she had been one of five members of Congress, including one other CBC member, Keith Ellison, to send a letter to Hillary Clinton after her appointment as Secretary of State, calling for humanitarian aid for Gaza without saying a negative word about the country that was responsible for the need of such aid.
In August, 2014, in the midst of Israel’s last assault on Gaza, she was reproached by some of her pro-Palestinian constituents for approving an additional $626 million appropriation for Israel. In a written response to her critics she justified doing so as a life-saving measure:
Last week, I cast a vote in support of Iron Dome, which is a defensive anti-rocket missile system that saves civilian lives.
I would not have supported funding for offensive military weapons in the midst of this horrific crisis. I continue to mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in Gaza and Israel.
I have called and will continue to call for a sustained ceasefire to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis, end the blockade of Gaza and stop the loss of civilian lives.
Unless asked to do otherwise by Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
When I phoned Lee’s Oakland office to complain about her vote, I was told by a member of her staff that they had already received 150 similar calls. Lee, he said, was actually against Israel’s occupation and settlement building. Her reason for voting the way she did, he told me, was “complicated” and that Lee would put something up on her website explaining her decision. She never did and we can guess why.
She has no reason to fear being called out for it by supporters of justice for Palestine in her district any more than did Dellums who, while providing occasional lip service to Israel’s critics, his deference to the demands of AIPAC and his liberal Jewish supporters in Berkeley at critical moments is a matter of record.
While issuing a statement criticizing Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 as “a deadly overreaction… [which] cannot be rationalized or justified….only…deplored,” just two years later, Dellums refused to take a public stand on Measure E, a proposition on the Berkeley ballot that would have required the federal government to withhold from the annual aid package to Israel the amount of money it spent on building settlements in the West Bank that the US and the world considered to be illegal.
Early in April, 1984, Dellums received a letter from Lee Marsh, the president of the Berkeley/Richmond Jewish Community Center, demanding that he oppose the measure that concluded with a warning of “the political fact that the Jewish people will consider mere neutrality on this issue as insensitivity to our deep, near-unanimous feelings on a vitally important issue to us.”
In response, Dellums acknowledged that his “gut reaction is that the problems of the Middle East are so complex that it is of questionable value to approach solutions in such a piecemeal fashion; such efforts seem better calculated to cause anguish and divisiveness than to move us to a realistic position of solving these problems.”
“On a personal level,” he went on, “I resent being pushed into kneejerk reactions on ballot initiatives that are irrelevant to any political solution to the problem….a neutral position makes perfectly good sense.” (Emphasis added). And that’s what he took which, of course, played into the hands of Measure E’s opponents. In the end, Measure E lost by a 2-1 margin. Had Dellums stepped up and publicly endorsed the initiative there is no question that it would have influenced the vote and not only of the city’s Black residents.
At the time there were 42,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Today there are over a half million. Would Mr. Dellums still insist that Measure E was irrelevant?
In 1988, some residents of Berkeley, active in the Palestinian cause, placed a measure on the ballot that would have made the refugee camp of Jabalya in Gaza a sister city to join more than a dozen Berkeley sister cities across the globe including two American Indian tribes. Again, Dellums, not wanting to face down the liberal Jews who control Berkeley’s politics, remained neutral.
Dellums’ main contribution to Israel and its US supporters would come three years later when he was the point man in Congress opposing South African apartheid. Before introducing the 1987 Anti-Apartheid Act in the House, he withdrew a plank that would have penalized Israel for its arms sales to South Africa which, at the time, were estimated to be over $800 million.
The plank, added the previous year to the Senate version by retiring senator, Maryland Republican Charles Mathias, called for penalties against any recipient of US foreign aid that was found to be selling weapons to South Africa. While Israel was not mentioned by name it was the only country known to be doing so.
Had the Moony-owned Washington Times not reported on Dellums’ decision in its April 2, 1987 edition, it is likely the story would never have become public.
The change was made “to expand the scope of congressional support,” Dellums’ spokesperson, Max Miller told the paper, adding that Dellums’ bill had been modified to reflect a recent announcement by Israel that it would phase out its arms relationship with South Africa.
“He’s not so concerned about past violations as he is about future violations,” Miller said.
“But,” noted the Washington Times reporter, “the modified bill was introduced March 12, about a week before Israel announced its new policy towards South Africa.” (Emphasis added).
Dellums defended his action in a letter to a constituent on June 11, writing that:
[It] quickly became clear that the bill would rapidly lose significant support among a large number of the co-sponsors if that provision [penalizing Israel] remained in the bill. We faced the prospect of daily loss of support—a situation that would have sent a wrong signal to everybody about US resolve to confront apartheid.
Consulting with the anti-apartheid groups involved in pushing the bill, we decided it would be better to withdraw the section in order to achieve a broad base of support for the main goal of the bill [imposing US sanctions on South Africa.]
The wrong signal? What it would have revealed is that the majority of Democratic members of Congress, including the Black Caucus, gave a higher priority to protecting Israel’s image in the public’s eyes, as well as its funding, than putting an end to South African apartheid. In the Senate, it should be noted, that California’s Alan Cranston, one of the major recipients of pro-Israel funding, withdrew the Mathias plank without any announcement to the public.
In the following year, Dellums was the featured speaker at an anti-apartheid conference at UC Berkeley. During the question period I had an opportunity to ask him how he had been obligated and pressured by his fellow Democrats to pull the plank censuring Israel from the anti-apartheid legislation which, beyond the Washington Times article, had been publicized only by the Middle East Labor Bulletin which I edited and Jane Hunter’s excellent Israeli Foreign Affairs. It had been ignored, to their shame, even by the publications of the anti-apartheid movement for whom Dellums had become an untouchable icon.
Drawing himself up to his full height, Dellums expressed his objections to my use of the words, “obligated” and “pressured,” but then, slowly bending over and with his voice almost a whisper, he told the packed lecture hall how one Democrat after another had come to him and said, “Ron, if you don’t pull that plank you’ll have to take my name off the legislation.” At which point a Black San Francisco State professor sitting beside me gently poked me with her elbow, saying “it sure sounds like obligated and pressured to me.”
It was only later that I learned that a dozen Black South African exiles sitting in reserved seats in the front row appeared to be stunned by Dellums’ response..
About the time the Washington Times article appeared, the State Department issued a report that had been mandated by the 1986 Anti-Apartheid Act to provide the House and Senate Intelligence Committees with a list of countries selling arms to South Africa. It included Israel.
“Nevertheless, at a press conference last week and elsewhere,” reported the No. California Jewish Bulletin (4/10/87), “black members of Congress bluntly rejected invitations to denounce Israel in particular, even as they issued a scathing broadside against all the countries cited in the State Department report.”
The NCJB article described a meeting between members of the CBC, including caucus chair, Mervyn Dymally, from Compton, California, Mickey Leland, from Texas, and New York’s Charles Rangel, and Jewish House members, Howard Berman and Mel Levine, from Los Angeles, and Howard Wolpe, from Michigan. Tony Coehlo, a Catholic from Merced and a strong supporter of Israel, sat in.
It was no coincidence that Berman, who formerly represented the San Fernando Valley and who is now a corporate Washington lobbyist, was also one of Wasserman Schultz’s appointees to the Democratic Platform Committee. A Democratic power broker in Southern California, he had once told a group of his Jewish constituents that he had run for Congress to help Israel.
Wolpe was the chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa which seemed strange except for the fact that Israel had strategic interests on the continent which, as the arms sales case indicated, needed to be protected. This obviously trumped the importance of having an African-American serve in that capacity.
That meeting came on top of another between a number of Black Caucus members and leaders from most of the major Jewish organizations led by AIPAC executive director, Tom Dine, all of whom were anxious to quash any rebellion from below.
A stated concern of the CBC members, according to the No. California Jewish Bulletin (4/10/87)—such meetings are ignored by the mainstream media–was attaining greater aid for the African continent which, despite the terrible famines it had experienced, had its appropriations cut by 37% while aid to Israel, Latin America, Asia and the Philippines had increased with Israel ending up with one third of the total foreign aid allocation.
The article noted that an amendment to the foreign aid bill proposed by Wolpe would increase aid to Africa by $115 million over last year but that, pointed out Dymally, was less than the Reagan administration had asked for which he called a “source of embarrassment” to the Democrats.
The meeting reportedly ended with the Jewish delegation agreeing to support greater aid to Africa in return for the CBC’s not making an issue of Israel’s arms sales to Pretoria.
It quickly became clear that the Israeli government had been apprised by its American agents of the CBC’s ignominious retreat since the daybefore the NCJB article appeared. Israel’s Ha’aretz reported that:
Senior [Israeli] government officials estimate that as a result of the relatively mild response in the US to the report on the issue of arms trade between Israel and So. Africa, at this time the government will refrain from any meaningful steps whatsoever against the apartheid regime and satisfy itself with decisions of a declarative meaning only. (4/9/87).
Four months later, on August 5, another Israeli paper, Davar, was even more straightforward in reporting that business between Israel and South Africa would be unchanged, regardless of its public statements to the world.
An official Israeli delegation headed by Efrayim Dovrat, the finance minister’s assistant director general, will shortly depart for South Africa to ratify the agreement on economic cooperation between the two countries.
This will be the first agreement the countries have signed since the cabinet decision not to strike and new agreements with South Africa.
The CBC’s decision to say nothing about Israel’s arms sales to South Africa, three years earlier, had greatly distressed Dymally.
“We’ve reached a compromise to which our constituents won’t be very receptive,” the NCJB quoted him as saying. He reportedly warned that unless Israel took further steps, that compromise will unravel and “we will want to see stronger language on Israel.” Israel must not only refrain from signing new contracts with South Africa, he said, but terminate the ongoing ones.
“In the pipeline already are enough arms to kill many innocent people,” said Dymally, but he was speaking only for himself. (He declined to be interviewed after he left Congress in 1992 and returned to the California State Assembly because, as I was told, he “didn’t want the hassle.”) Both Mickey Leland and Charles Rangel had by that time, become, like Elijah Cummings, “faithful family retainers” of the Jewish political establishment.
Leland, a civil rights activist in Houston in his youth, began serving in Congress in 1979 and died in a plane crash in Ethiopia a decade later. According to his Congressional obituary, “One of his first acts in Congress was to fund a six–week trip to Israel to allow underprivileged black teenagers from the Houston area to learn about Jewish culture and to create a cross–cultural dialogue between the youths in the two countries.”
He then prefigured Cummings by setting up the Mickey Leland Kibbutzim Internship Foundation in 1980. Financed and operated by Houston’s Jewish Community Relations Council, it sends 10 Black high school juniors annually to Israel for a six-week work and travel experience, as well as, we must assume, for political indoctrination.
Leland’s most obscene display of support for Israel followed its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 when he was chair of the CBC. He flew to Tel Aviv, then bicycled throughout the country and across the Lebanese border to express his “solidarity with the people of Israel.” Hard to top that in “faithful retainer” lore.
Rangel is retiring this year after serving 45 years representing Harlem. Back in 1973, his second year in office, he participated in a very special meeting.
At that time, as the newly elected chair of the CBC, he was invited to dinner with Arthur Hertzberg, president of the liberal American Jewish Congress and Sidney Yates, a Jewish member of Congress from Illinois.
Hertzberg’s intention was to find a way to counter the more militant Black organizations of the late 60s and 70s, most notably the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, led by Stokely Carmichael, later to become Kwame Ture that had declared their independence from white influence. Hertzberg described the meeting in his book, “A Jew in America.” (Harper, 2002):
In the course of our talks over the dinner table, we had little difficulty in understanding one another. We agreed that the continuing need for Blacks in national politics was and would remain the welfare state. Only through welfare programs for the poor could a large number of Blacks live in some minimum decency.
On the Jewish side there was one concern that united all the factions of the Jewish community: the defense of Israel. As a lamb among the wolves of the Middle East, Israel needed sufficient American support to defend itself. Therefore Jews needed friends and allies in American politics who would help make Israel more secure.
The three of us quickly saw the obvious conclusion: let an alliance be made between the Black congressmen and the Jewish congressmen so that each group would vote for the agendas of both sides. Jews would remain committed to the welfare state, even as it meant higher taxes for the middle class, and Blacks would support Israel.
The alliance that was defined that day has lasted many years. It represented a quiet consensus both among Jews and among Blacks. (p.361)
Hertzberg’s recounting of the meeting, what it says and what it implied about the Black-Jewish relationship in America demands our attention. Reeking with paternalism, it consigned the majority of African-Americans to an indefinite untermenschen status while depending on the good will and generosity of Jews for their survival. The Black Caucus would serve as the Jewish community’s intermediary.
And so it has come to pass, and despite the fact that the “welfare state,” as Hertzberg described it, disappeared almost a decade before his book was published, courtesy of Bill Clinton, the Congressional Black Caucus still does the Jewish establishment’s bidding and clearly has been rewarded for doing so. Whether the Black Americans have benefited is another matter.
That isn’t the entire story, of course. There have been periodic efforts by some CBC members to break free of the yoke that Rangel accepted that night. What happened to them is instructive.
In March, 1990, emboldened by Sen. Robert Dole’s surprise suggestion (that he was quickly forced to retract) that 5% of the aid going to the six largest recipients, of which Israel and Egypt ($3 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively) were by far the biggest, should be diverted to Eastern Europe, 10 members of the CBC sent a “dear colleague” letter to fellow House members, noting that “the current distribution [of aid] is unfair, inequitable and indefensible, and does not serve U.S. interests.”
They pointed out that in the proposed budget “every Israeli would receive $700 in US aid while every African would receive a little more than a $1. How can that be justified when Israeli per capita income is $4,990 and African per capita income is only $683?”
The letter was initiated by Rep. Charles Crockett (MI), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and its signers included Dymally, William Clay (MO), Augustus Hawkins (CA), Charles Hayes (IL) Donald Payne (NJ), Gus Savage (IL), Alan Wheat (MO), Walter Fauntroy (DC), and Dellums, then chair of the Black Caucus.
Blanked out by the national media, it was widely publicized in the Jewish community press, thus exposing the congressmen to attacks from sectors of the pro-Israel lobby in each of their constituencies. In Dellums’ district, the first shot was fired by Lucie Ramsey, executive director of the influential Jewish Community Relations Council, who, according to the NCBJ (2/16/90) was “shocked” that he signed the letter.
“I know how poor the African nations are, and perhaps in terms of equity they should be getting more than they do–but not at the cost of Israel losing out,” wrote Ramsey.
AIPAC’s Bay Area regional representative was more diplomatic, acknowledging Dellums as “a supporter, close to the [Jewish] community. We consider him a friend.”
In the end, the letter writers capitulated, not all willingly, to Dellums’ decision to walk back the call for more foreign aid budget fairness.
AIPAC’s Jonathan Kaufman, the lobby group’s chair in Dellums’ Eighth Congressional District, was a gracious winner, hailing his decision to recommend maintaining aid to Israel at its then $3 billion level
“Dellums told us he’s in favor of maintaining the amount of foreign aid to Israel,” said Kaufman, referring to a meeting that took place with Dellums and AIPAC members (NCJB, 3/30/90) “It was refreshing to hear him,” Kaufman said. “He’s all along been very much on our side. What he wants to do with the Black Caucus budget is to increase the pie so there’s more money for the third world.”
Dellums’ Oakland spokesperson, H. Lee Halterman, told the NCJBthat “Dellums has been in regular contact with [congressional] members such as Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Stephen Solarz (D-NY) and Howard Wolpe (Mi.) about the need to forge a coalition between Black members and Jewish members to press for an expanding foreign aid pie.” (NCJB, ibid.).
At the same time, Israel’s arms sales to South Africa were ongoing. Still it was not something that Dellums and his CBC colleagues were ready to raise, even though, at a meeting with Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arad in Washington, according to the Washington Jewish Week (3/15/90), “Israeli officials could offer [them] no timetable for ending Israel’s military contracts with South Africa”.
The WJW, citing “informed sources;” reported that “Israel’s failure to even offer a timetable disappointed the congressmen attending. Nevertheless, none of the congressmen even hinted at cutting aid to Israel at this time.”
“A cut in aid is not called for,” said Missouri’s Alan Wheat, “but this is not to suggest we’re pleased with the current state of affairs.”
Attending the meeting besides Wheat, were Dellums, Berman, Solarz and Wolpe. The Black congressmen were said to have repeated an extraordinary promise previously made to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir “that the [CBC] members were willing to initiate legislation to compensate Israel for any security losses it might incur from cutting its arms ties to South Africa.”
Within two years, the remaining vocal critics of Israel within the caucus: Geoge Crockett, a legendary civil liberties lawyer, who had organized the original letter, Charles Hayes, and Gus Savage, all from Illinois, and Dymally, would be gone from Congress, either through retirement in the case of Crockett and Dymally, or having been targeted by AIPAC and the Jewish political establishment as was the fate of Hayes and Savage.
Hayes, weakened by having had too many overdrafts on his congressional bank account, was successfully challenged in the 1992 Democratic primary by Bobby Bush, a former Black Panther turned Israeli bootlicker. In his position paper on Israel, one that AIPAC demands of each candidate for Congress from both of the major parties, Rush wrote, of his “strong commitment to the survival of the State of Israel [which] has long been the one strategic ally for the US in the Middle East.”
“It is also,” his statement said, “the one nation in the region to be founded upon and demonstrates the democratic values and concerns required in a country of such diverse cultures such as exists within the state of Israel.”
That same year, Savage became a victim of redistricting, a common tactic used by loyalists of both parties to keep key members in office while getting rid of those who make “trouble” and otherwise can’t be defeated at the polls. Savage was the latter.
Against Savage, AIPAC put up Mel Reynolds, who had endeared himself to prospective Jewish donors by having spent time on an Israeli kibbutz. In 1990, that wasn’t a particularly effective inducement for voters in his predominantly Black district and Savage retained his seat.
As a result of that year’s census, AIPAC was successful in having Savage’s district redrawn so that by 1992, it would contain a significant number of white voters and less Black voters and that was all that was needed to reverse the previous election result and put Reynolds in Congress.
What particularly angered AIPAC and Jewish supporters of Israel was that Savage had the audacity to read aloud at a rally the names of Jewish donors to his opponent from outside his district and the state and the amount of money each had contributed to Reynolds’ campaign.
For that he was condemned as being “anti-Semitic,” it being just fine, of course, for Jews who lived in Beverly Hills, Brooklyn, or Bel Air to determine who should represent a largely Black congressional district on Chicago’s South Side. He was also denounced in a headline in theWashington Jewish Week, as “Savage Savage,” a patently racist jibe that merited no attention at the time.
Reynolds managed only to serve two years, when he was convicted and sent to prison as a sex offender for having relations with a 16-year old campaign worker. After being released, he was later convicted and resentenced for an additional term for fraudulently obtaining bank loans and diverting campaign contributions to his personal account.
Following the defeat of Hayes and Savage and with Dymally’s retirement, the last vestiges of resistance to AIPAC’s domination were history and the Israel Lobby’s control of the CBC would never again be challenged. It was then what it remains today, another Israeli Occupied territory.
No Black member of Congress has more epitomized this capitulation than Atlanta’s John Lewis, the same John Lewis who had become a national icon when, as one of the heads of SNCC, he was so badly beaten by Alabama state police on the march to Selma in 1965 that he needed to have a metal plate inserted in his head.
Lewis kicked off the 1992 Congressional session by co-hosting with AIPAC a welcoming reception for new and old CBC members. As AIPAC’s Near East Report described it, Lewis “spoke eloquently of Israel and the common goals and principles that the Jewish and Black communities share.”
In that June, before the vote on aid, Lewis and five other CBC members toured Israel at AIPAC’s expense, afterwards telling theNear East Report that he “hopes visits such as ours will strengthen the bonds between African-Americans, American Jews and Israelis.”
In 1995, Lewis joined his Atlanta Republican colleague Newt Gingrich in signing a Congressional letter to President Clinton, reaffirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and insisting that it maintain total control over the city.
Seeking to protect it from any Palestinian claim, the letter cautioned against “Any policy that makes Jerusalem a center of activity with officials, rather than the self-rule areas of Gaza and Jericho where they have authority, [and] would legitimize Palestinian claims at the very time that the PLO is seeking to establish symbols of sovereignty over Jerusalem.”
As I wrote at the time, “send Lewis his 30 pieces of silver and wrap them in a handkerchief.”
In 2008, Lewis was a featured guest at a “unity” meeting in Brooklyn between Blacks and Jews organized by New York Democratic state assemblyman, Dov Hykind, formerly a lieutenant in racist Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League.
At the meeting, Lewis “emphasized the shared history and values of the black and Jewish communities,” according to the Jewish weeklyForward, which he “summed up at one point with the observation that blacks and Jews “came to this land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat,” a message that he would not dare say in the streets of Harlem, Chicago’s South Side, or his native Atlanta, but “was clearly embraced by the audience of roughly two dozen, which was divided between members of Norpac and members of the local African American community.”
Norpac is one of the wealthiest and most influential of several dozen Jewish political action committees spread across the country that exist solely to contribute money to candidates who push a hardline pro-Israel agenda. According to the Forward, Lewis was at that meeting to get some of the swag from “leaders from Norpac, who are raising money to help Lewis fend off his primary challenge.”
Norpac exemplifies why pro-Israel PACs have long been referred to as “stealth PACs.” Unlike almost every other political PAC, until the era of Citizens United, they deliberately hide their connections to Israel or American Jewry.
Lewis, since his heroic endeavors in the South a half a century ago working and marching at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr., has made part of his life’s work repeating King’s words of praise for Israel and accusations of anti-Semitism against its critics, made before his assassination in April, 1968.
On each of these occasions Lewis implies that King, had he lived, would not have been appalled by and would not have spoken out against Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian land, by its siege and wars on Gaza, by its use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, as he eventually did condemning America’s war on Vietnam and its role as the world’s “leading purveyor of violence.” Nothing, I would argue, is a greater insult to King’s memory.
Lewis likes to tell audiences and interviewers that “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to speak up, to speak out.”
That’s what he said earlier this year, when accepting the 2016 Elie Wiesel Award from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for “never [having] abandoned his commitment to promoting the human dignity of all people.” The award was entirely and ironically appropriate since Lewis, like Wiesel, excluded the Palestinians from the ranks of “all people” and like Wiesel, has never felt any moral obligation to speak up or speak out in their defense.
To set the record straight on King, he did have second thoughts about what Israel was up to almost a year before he died, thoughts he obviously felt he could not express publicly to Jewish audiences that were proving key funding for the civil rights movement.
In a recorded phone conversation with his advisers on June 24, 1967, two weeks after Israel’s quick victory over Egypt and its conquering of the West Bank and Gaza, King canceled a previously announced trip to Israel that Jewish leaders in the US and Israeli government officials had been planning for him, ostensibly to raise funds for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s organization. Said King, speaking presciently about Jerusalem:
I just think that if I go, the Arab world, and of course Africa and Asia for that matter, would interpret this as endorsing everything that Israel has done, and I do have questions of doubt… Most of it [the pilgrimage] would be Jerusalem and they [the Israelis] have annexed Jerusalem, and any way you say it they don’t plan to give it up… I frankly have to admit that my instincts – and when I follow my instincts so to speak I’m usually right – I just think that this would be a great mistake. I don’t think I could come out unscathed. (Jewish Virtual Library)
It is not only highly unlikely that John Lewis is unaware of that conversation, he well may have been a part of it.
It has been now a decade since we have seen any member of the Congressional Black Caucus, or, arguably of any color or gender for that matter in Congress, with the courage to stand up to AIPAC and the Jewish political establishment.
Cynthia McKinney, also from Atlanta, was the last one. In her six terms in office, she defined “fearless,” challenging US foreign policy, questioning the official narrative of 9-11, openly defending the Palestinians and criticizing Israel which resulted, as it had in Gus Savage’s case, in pro-Israel Jews from all over the United States sending money to her opponent in Atlanta to defeat her. It worked in 2002 when she lost in the primary to Denise Majette, also African-American, hand-picked by AIPAC, who was aided by cross over Republican votes.
Two years later, McKinney ran to regain her seat and succeeded, after Majette had angered her Jewish backers by electing to run for the Senate where she was defeated. One of those backers was so upset with Majette’s decision to give up her congressional seat that, in a letter to the editor of a local weekly, he demanded she return the money he had invested in her.
More recently, Rep. Donna Edwards, who hoped to become the first Black senator from Maryland failed to get the support of her CBC colleagues in what turned out to be a losing race with fellow Democrat Chris Van Hollen to succeed the very pro-Israel Barbara Mikulsi. It is likely that her votes on two bills heavily supported by AIPAC were the reason.
In 2009, she was one of 21 members to vote “present” on a resolution that recognized Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza. The bi-partisan resolution, co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, passed by a margin of 390-5.
In 2013, Edwards had been one of only 20 members of Congress to vote against the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act, which contained measures to strengthen already existing sanctions on Tehran which has held the top spot on AIPAC’s enemies list since the US invasion of Iraq.
Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, the only Muslim in Congress, who was picked by Bernie Sanders to be on the Democratic platform committee, is the only member of the CBC who has not been afraid to show support for the Palestinians but that support only goes so far.
In a statement issued during the last Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, Ellison faulted Israel and Hamas while implying that the latter had initiated the violence and that Israelis and Gazans were being equally victimized:
The current escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians won’t get either side closer to security. It empowers bad actors and puts innocent people on both sides in harm’s way.
Therefore I call on Hamas to immediately stop launching rockets, and for Israel to cease air strikes and not send in ground troops.
I support strong diplomatic intervention by the United States and regional partners to help establish an immediate ceasefire agreement.
There was not a word in his statement about ending Israel’s siege of Gaza or noting that this was Israel’s third war on Gaza in six years.
The sorry state of CBC’s affairs was best expressed by Greg Meeks, its current chair, who represents New York’s 5th Congressional District.
On this past March 11, Meeks issued the following a statement from his office in honor of “Israel’s Independence Day.”
Having visited Israel many times and most recently just weeks ago, I have seen first-hand the importance of the partnership between our two nations.
The United States has an obligation to uphold Israel’s right to defend itself; it is our closest ally and the lone democracy in the Middle East.
Under constant threat, the Israeli people demonstrate tremendous strength and resilience.
Through dialogue, collaboration, and shared determination, our two nations remain committed to making the world safer and freer, and to ensuring our vital and durable bond continues for perpetuity.
Yes, reading that might be called a barf bag moment—and certainly not the only one in this article–but what is important to consider is that with only minor changes here and there, Meeks’ statement of affinity for a particularly oppressive foreign government is essentially no different from what most members of Congress, regardless of their color, gender, age, or political party have been making for decades.
If that is not a demonstration of Jewish political power, what then is it?
Now that power is facing a major test. On August 1st, the Movement for Black Lives, representing 50 Black organizations across the country, issued a lengthy, comprehensive platform, “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice,” detailing its views of the problems and challenges facing Black Americans and people of color, generally, and what needs to be done to meet and correct them.
The section of the platform that attracted the most attention was, predictably, one in which the movement expresses its solidarity with the Palestinians, describes the situation under which they live as apartheid and that the actions that Israel has taken against them over the decades as genocide, as defined by the United Nations and the International Court at the Hague.
That drew an angry and anguished, “How dare they!” response from the Jewish establishment whose spokespersons have long accorded themselves the right to determine the language with which Israel may be criticized in the African-American community and by whom. They were joined by Jews who saw themselves as part of the movement and who now claimed to be hurt and bewildered.
Linking of the protests against the epidemic of police killings in America to that experienced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation had already begun on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, following the murder of Michael Brown so the statement of solidarity and criticism of Israel contained in the platform should not have come as a surprise.
There doesn’t appear to have been, as yet, any statements on this issue from CBC members who were in their districts campaigning during the month of August. But at some point, unless the Movement for Black Lives leadership, bowing to threats, rolls over and pulls the offending plank, as Ron Dellums did with the anti-apartheid legislation in 1987, the CBC will be pressed to take sides. That is not likely to happen. A new movement has been born that is in no mood to be turned around.