Andrew Goodman was a 21-year-old Jewish anthropology student from New York who went to Mississippi in 1964 to help register black voters. He joined thousands of activists in Freedom Summer, a non-violent challenge to the institutionalized racism of the U.S. South. Goodman was one of the many people who helped bring King’s dream one step closer to reality. But Goodman’s idealism and dedication to justice cost him his life. He was murdered by a white supremacist mob in Philadelphia, Mississippi together with two other activists, the black Mississippian James Chaney (age 21) and a second white New-Yorker, Michael Schwerner (age 24).
Last Thursday, Goodman’s mother received a Civil Rights Award from the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke at the event, which commemorated Martin Luther King Jr.
But not all is well. A few years ago I participated in another non-violent challenge to institutionalized racism, also called Freedom Summer in recognition of that inspiring historical moment. The new Freedom Summer was organized by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and took us to occupied Palestine, where we sought to stand shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians organizing non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, and to bear witness to their struggle for justice and freedom.
Like any serious challenge to racism, the International Solidarity Movement’s campaigns are not without danger. An American ISM volunteer, Rachel Corrie, 22, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while protecting a Palestinian home from demolition. A British volunteer, Tom Hurndall, 21, died after being shot in the head by a sniper while trying to escort Palestinian children to safety in Rafah. Israeli protesters Gil Na'amati, Itai Levinsky, and Jonathan Pollak have been seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers during demonstrations. Many have suffered gunshot wounds, beatings and arrests.
Jews like Goodman played an important role in a Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s, one that has been told many times. Although I don’t have statistics, I can attest that our Freedom Summer was attended by a significant number of American Jews as well. If Goodman were alive today, I have no doubt that he too would be going to Palestine, to stand for the same values he stood for in Mississippi in 1964.
Yet the award was presented to Goodman’s mother in a peculiar place -- Israel’s embassy in Washington.
Goodman’s commitment to voting rights was honored at the embassy of the state that, on that very day, arrested Palestinians trying to hang campaign posters in Jerusalem (Haaretz, January 12, 2006)
Goodman’s commitment to civil rights was honored by a state that disallows inter-religious marriages, refuses residence to foreign spouses of Arab citizens, and reserves development budgets overwhelmingly for its Jewish citizens.
Goodman’s commitment to fight racism was honored by a state that considers 20% of its mothers “a demographic threat.”
Goodman’s commitment to fight for freedom was honored by a state where an Arab must be vetted by the security services before he or she can teach in an Arab high school.
Goodman’s sacrifice was honored by the representative of the state responsible for killing Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall.
Goodman’s commitment to non-violence was honored by a state that defines non-violence as a “security threat” and routinely deports Americans suspected of committing it.
That’s a perk; Palestinian non-violent activists are treated far worse. Israeli forces fire tear gas, rubber and live bullets and concussion grenades at unarmed protestors. Israeli undercover agents have been caught on tape throwing rocks at Israeli forces to create excuses to firing on protestors (Haaretz, April 29, 2005; see also "The Palestinian Gandhi," by Ran HaCohen) Israeli forces kill non-violent protesters. For example, during a non-violent protest in Bidu in February 2004, in which the ISM participated, Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinian protesters, Zacharia Mahmoud Eid, 26, Mohamed Rayan, 26, and Mohamed Saleh Bedwan. 70 year old Abu Nabil Abu Eid also died from a heart attack after inhaling excessive tear-gas. Israel’s security forces have wounded hundreds of protesters, harassed and collectively punished villages such as Budrus and Bilin that dared to protest non-violently, and arrested hundreds of protesters, including nonviolent protest leaders. Muhammed Awad from Budrus is an example. He was deemed a security threat and put in administrative detention (the Israeli version of legal limbo). He explained the threat he poses to the state better than anyone: "Instead of the fence, my friends and I managed to establish bridges of trust between us and the Jews," he said to Judge Agassi. "We let the world understand that there can be coexistence between us and the Jews." (Haas in Haaretz, November 10, 2004)
This is the state that Jackson agreed to honor and to associate with the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. by accepting to participate and speak at this award ceremony.
What is the role of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism in this disgrace? No great mystery here. This is an organization that sees, hears and speaks no evil with regards to Israel. Their general commitment to social justice and “action” is at best limited to the safely uncontroversial. On its website you can find various “issue packets”. On the crisis in Argentina, for example, their package contains information exclusively about Jews. I guess all the other struggles that are taking place in Argentina are just out of luck. What business has this parochial group to honor deeds of the sort it neither advocates nor apparently cares about? Is it because Goodman was Jewish? This “Action Center” is using Goodman’s name, hoping that Goodman’s anti-racist halo would rub off on them, and on Israel, thanks to Goodman’s Jewish ancestry. They should be told that Jewish participation in solidarity against racism is not a credit line they can now freely tap. Those who are today defending the cause of racism and discrimination should not bask in the unearned glow of the sacrifices made by heroes such as Andrew Goodman. They have little in common with him.
But who will tell them that? Not Jesse Jackson, who is now merchandizing the struggle for civil rights. Jackson is today allowing that anti-racist legacy to be used to legitimize institutionalized racism and violence. Thus he ingratiates himself with the Zionist movers and shakers who dispense campaign money and respectability in the Democratic Party.
Gabriel Ash is an activist and writer who writes because the pen is sometimes mightier than the sword and sometimes not. He welcome comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Gabriel Ash
* Dear Ayatollah
* Settlements: A User’s Guide
* A Victory for Israeli Democracy
* Don’t Get Mad, Get Going!
* Pink Delusions