This article is published in Mondoweiss.
On 18 October 2014, a self-professed racist, pro-Israel counter-protester at a Block the Boat action in Los Angeles told black Palestinian solidarity activist and radio personality Margaret Prescod to “take your Ebola a*s and get out.”
LA-based activist Taher Herzallah first tweeted the picture and quote.
This quote was corroborated by numerous activists who attended the demonstration. I asked several LA protesters personally, all of whom verified that the Israel-supporter indeed spewed such racism. I was told that there was even video of the incident. I asked I could get ahold of it, and an activist who goes by the name of Sanchez uploaded the cinematographic evidence to YouTube on 26 October.
At 1:15 in the video, you can see Prescod begin to walk over to the group of Zionist counter-protesters. She holds a large yellow “Free Gaza” sign, in the shape of a hand, a common design used by Block the Boat activists. At 1:26, when Prescod arrives next to the counter-protesters, you can hear one tell her “Get the f*ck* out of the way, d*ke.” Prescod responds noting the First Amendment guarantees her the right to stand in a public space and protest. The pro-Israel protester replies “Maybe I don’t want any Ebola.” Another counter-protester, off screen, says “Take your Ebola ass and get out.” Prescod, aghast, asks “What kind of racist comment is that?” The racist in the red shirt proudly replies “I am racist. Step the f*ck out; step the f*ck out!” (At 1:43, her racist cohort also asks, entirely relevantly, “Do you like Obama?”)
In spite of being verbally assaulted by a white supremacist, Prescod bravely stands her ground, insisting on the importance of her First Amendment right. Off to the side, a Zionist counter-protester, wrapped in an Israeli flag, argues with a Palestinian solidarity activist, rehashing popular myths and distortions about Islam (e.g., Muslims cannot be friends with Jews and Christians, the prophet Muhammad was a pedophile, etc.). Very often, concomitant with diehard Zionism is not just racism, but also Islamophobia.
At 4:10, Prescod expresses her concern to this man, who appears to be at least slightly less pugnacious than his ethnocracy-defending confrères. “Excuse me a moment. For your message,” Prescod politely says, motioning toward the Zionist who proudly identified as a racist, “your supporter said ‘Get your Ebola self outta here.’ To have a racist person—” The man cuts her off, promptly insisting “That’s not racist” and parroting his racist companion.
At 5:34, this same red-clad bigot then yells into the microphone “There never was a Palestine.” A fellow counter-protester echoes her ahistorical balderdash, chanting “No such thing as Palestine,” “There is no Palestine,” and “No Palestine,” the self-identified racist punctuating the hogwash with “Never existed!” This degree of sheer delusion demonstrates that Zionists are not just motivated by an historical revisionist nationalist ideology of ethnoreligious supremacy; they are also explicitly anti-Palestine.
The group of Israel aficionados then, at 6:50, proceeds to accuse Palestine human rights advocates of being connected to ISIS—another popular Islamophobic tactic. At 7:00, the proud racist points over to Prescod and yells “How many black people have committed crimes, b*tch?” By 7:40, fellow Palestinian solidarity activists of color have joined Prescod and have begun chanting “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime.” This appears to prompt another Zionist counter-protester,at 7:47, to flail her arm at the peace advocates and violently yell “Uneducated!” six times.
Next on the list of racist stereotypes from which the Zionists draw is right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric, prevalent among the US Republican Party. A counter-protester refers to the people of color present as “anti-American.” At 8:48, she yells into the megaphone “Get outta here. All anti-Americans, get outta here!” and, at 9:40, “You’re all anti-Americans.”
In a mellifluous conclusion to to the Zionists’ chauvinist cacophony, at 11:00, the Palestinian solidarity activists begin chanting “Racists go home!” The counter-protesters take their leave. The racist in red flips them off as she ambles angrily away.
Two Ugly Sides of the Same Racist Coin
Margaret Prescod is well known in the community as a host on listener-supported KPFK 90.7 FM public radio. Four times per week, she hosts the morning show “Sojourner Truth,” covering local, national, and international new with an emphasis on “how those of us most impacted – women, communities of color and other communities are responding.”
After the racists left, Global Voices for Justice filmed Prescod as she addressed the crowd, recounting the incident and explaining that the struggle against Israeli apartheid is part of a larger movement against apartheid and racism around the world. At 0:20 she explains:
I’m really glad to be out here, as a person of African descent, and to see some of my other brothers and sisters of African descent here, because we know that the apartheid practiced in Israel is the same apartheid that was practiced in South Africa, and the racism happening against the Bedouins and the Palestinian people in Israel is the same racism that we are facing here in these United States.
An incident happened this morning that I intend to report on the show on the air, and really to encourage more of my African-American brothers and sisters to be part of this effort. Our women’s group has been part of the Block the Boat coalition and we tried to get the word out as best we could.
But as I walked across the street this morning, to where the Israeli lobby and supporters were, I was the first person that walked over there. First, the police turned me away. I then stayed on the other side. And then I thought ‘Well why should they be able to occupy that corner?’. And I walked back across the street … and one of the women viciously said to me ‘Get your Ebola self outta here.” She did, and it was caught on video. And I said, ‘Because I’m black, you’re saying that to me? That’s racist,’ and she said ‘Yes I’m a racist and get your f’ing Ebola self off of my corner; get away from me.’
Now that tells us something, and that sends a message not only to all of us here, clarifying to many who may be confused about what’s going on with the occupation and the repression of Palestinian people, that level of racism, being out here, representing the state of Israel, is shameful.
I just wanted to report that to you. The police officers who are out there, you should know that as well. I reported it to one of the Long Beach police officers; he made no comment. But I really felt attacked, as a person of African descent. And that is bloody outrageous.
And also, just finally to say, that just didn’t fall out of her mouth. There are people that are now running around with this. And the guy she was with defended it saying ‘You black people want to be called African-Americans, and everybody knows that it’s Africans that are putting people at risk of Ebola.’ This is the level of racism going on, and this is the kind of racism that Zionism represents and that we stand against. So thank each and every one of you for being out here and supporting us.
Echoing Israeli Racism
That Zionists are open about their racism is not surprising. Their support for the ethnocratic state of Israel is doubtless, at least in part, motivated by this racism. It’s telling that the group of Palestinian solidarity activists in attendance is large and racially very diverse, whereas the modicum of pro-Israel counter-protesters is entirely light-skinned.
As journalist Rania Khalek has noted, Zionism “enable[s] Israel’s genocidal ambitions” by normalizing this racism within an ethnoreligious-supremacist political philosophy. Zionism’s hyper-nationalism inspires egregious stereotypes that lead to the demonization and subsequent dehumanization of entire peoples. The same racist (il)logic that leads to the generalization of all Palestinians as “terrorists” leads to seeing all people of African descent as having Ebola.
Muslims have been racialized through “race thinking,” so Islam, as a synecdoche, has come to represent, and to be wielded against (toward iniquitous ends), these Arab “terrorists.” The sign the Zionist counter-protesters held read “Radical Islam is the new Nazi.” The anti-Palestinian and anti-black racism festering in these zealots also manifests itself in a virulent Islamophobia. They presumably know that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, but use the racialization of Islam to present themselves as brave warriors, combating “radical Islam”—this phrase, of course, meant, through this series of connections, to refer to the Palestinian people.
At an even more basic level, semiotics and cultural connotations aside, moreoever, this sign is too somewhat strange considering the many, many more recorded instances of Israeli actual neo-Nazis beating up Palestinians, African refugees, and Jewish leftists, often while police stand by, doing nothing.
It’s also strange considering journalist David Sheen has collected video footage of numerous rallies in which groups of Israeli fascists chant “Death to Arabs” & “Death to leftists.”
Israeli peace activist and Duke University professor Rann Bar-On was attending a demonstration in Haifa this summer, with “about three or four hundred left-wing activists demonstrating against the war, for peace between Arabs and Jews, refusing to be enemies,” when
well over a thousand … militant activists from the right, surrounded by police and others, screaming, ‘Death to Arabs! Death to leftists!’ As we were protesting, they moved towards us. The police allowed them to move towards us. The police allowed them to attack us, to throw stones at us. Later on, as we were trying to leave, … the police did not attempt to allow us to leave. They took over an hour to evacuate us while we were under heavy attack by stones and other missiles. Many were injured. We’ve had over 30 injured. Two women are still in hospital. There were gangs roaming the streets, beating up anyone they thought was an Arab or member of our demonstration.
During “Operation Protective Edge,” Israeli fascists roamed the streets, looking for Arabs and Jewish leftists, whom they would then harass and attack. There is video footage of Israeli mobs shouting “Death to the Arabs” and attacking Palestinians at a Jerusalem mall. Israeli fascists took the life of 17-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir, burning him alive, after forcing him to drink gasoline (which made his internal organs burn while he was still alive).
As if it was not enough to take a young, innocent man’s life, Israeli police then ransacked the home of Abu Khdeir’s family and arrested relatives in “revenge for the family’s role in publicizing CCTV footage of [Tariq, his cousin] Abu Khdeir’s brutal beating at the hands of Israeli police, and their public campaign to secure his return to the US.”
Anti-Black Racism in Israel
Events like these serve as regular reminders that Zionism is indeed, au fond, a racist, colonialist ideology.
The racism of these California-based Zionist counter-protesters is symptomatic of a much larger culture of bigotry and hate. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has gone on record calling his country, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “a sick society that needs treatment.” Haaretz, the “Israeli New York Times,” has also shown that racism is getting even worse among younger generations, that Israeli teenagers are “Racist and proud of it.”
This racism manifests itself politically in the form of apartheid. In 2007, David A. Kirshbaum, of the Israel Law Resource Center, published a piece titled “Israeli Apartheid — A Basic Legal Perspective,” meticulously detailing the myriad ways in which Israel is an apartheid state, under its very own laws. Once again, Israel’s most-read newspaper has published pieces confirming this fact, admitting that “Israeli Arabs have never been equal before the law.”
And yet, as the aforementioned incident evinces, this racism is not only directed at Palestinians. David Sheen has been “carefully chronicling the racist attacks against non-Jewish African asylum-seekers in Israel for several years,” documenting “social media stories about the recent violence, footage from four years of anti-African rallies, and extended one-on-one interviews about opposition to the presence of Africans in Israel.” He writes:
In January 2012, an organization in Israel that aids African asylum-seekers, the African Refugee Development Center, asked me to author on their behalf a report to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). After receiving the report in text and video form, the UN committee urged the Israeli government to prevent racist attacks against Africans in Israel. The Israeli government ignored the UN’s call, and the following month, Israelis firebombed a kindergarten for African children in Tel Aviv, igniting a wave of violence against non-Jewish African people in Israel that is still ongoing.
Blumenthal and Sheen released a brief documentary titled “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land.” In it, they show video footage of prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Member of Knesset Michael Ben-Ari, calling African refugees “infiltrators” and “cancer,” and openly using the n-word; of Israeli citizens harassing fellow Israelis for engaging in interracial relationships; and of some politicians even going so far as to propose the creation of concentration camps in which to hold African refugees.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also drawn attention to the vitriolic strain of anti-black racism in Israeli society. In its September 2014 report “Make Their Lives Miserable”: Israel’s Coercion of Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum Seekers to Leave Israel, details how “Israeli authorities have labelled Eritreans and Sudanese a ‘threat,’ branded them ‘infiltrators,’ denied them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and used the resulting insecure legal status as a pretext to unlawfully detain or threaten to detain them indefinitely, coercing thousands into leaving.”
HRW writes that “Israel’s policies are well summed up in the words of former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai who said that as long as Israel cannot deport them to their home countries, it should ‘lock them up to make their lives miserable.'”
In the time since Blumenthal and Sheen’s documentary was made (mid 2013), Israel has in fact created what are effectively concentration camps for African refugees. Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, reporting for the Real News, has documented these horrific practices.
Tarachansky notes that African refugees are imprisoned en masse in open-air prison camps in the middle of nowhere. They are told they are not prisoners, but they must sign in three times per day, and the prison camp is so far from any neighboring city that it is impossible to leave on foot. Moreover, when African refugees collectively decide to leave in protest of the concentration camp conditions in which they are involuntarily held, the army violently stops them. In response, African refugees are now going on hunger strike.
Israel’s modus operandi for dealing with this supposed refugee “problem” has been to trade African asylum-seekers with other countries in exchange for weapons. It goes without saying that such a decision bears striking and grotesque resemblances to slavery. (It might also, significantly, be herein noted that the US is complicit in this neo-slavery process, as the weapons Israel is exchanging for human beings may very well have been bought with the US’ over $100 billion of military aid.)
Even African Jews are not immune from this intense, unmitigated racism. Israel has admitted to forcibly sterilizing Ethiopian Jews, in an action that some argue constitutes the legal definition of genocide.
Magen David Adom, the “Israeli Red Cross,” refused to take blood donations from one of its own country’s Members of Knesset, Pnina Tamano-Shata, referring to it as “the special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood” they avoid.
Scholar Hanan Chehata has thoroughly detailed Israel’s “overt racism” against and segregation of African Jews, calling the ethnocracy the “promised land for Jews … as long as they’re not black.”
The chief rabbi of Petach Tikvah (a “sister city” of Chicago) went to so far as to refuse to wed Ethiopian Jews, because he doubted that they were truly Jewish. Clearly Israel’s white supremacist Zionism leads to its own despicable form of anti-Semitism.
The Palestinian Solidarity Movement Is an Anti-Racist Movement
Given the obscene levels and grotesque displays of racism in Israeli society, it should not be a big surprise that Israel’s supporters tell black Americans to “take your Ebola a*s and get out.” As Prescod noted in her speech, this Zionist’s (and her accomplices’) racism “just didn’t fall out of her mouth”; it’s a reflection of the racist ethnostate she (and they) support.
Racist Zionist protesters like these remind one that the Palestinian solidarity movement is a fundamentally anti-racist movement. In the words of Blumenthal, we are “principled” anti-Zionists because “we’re genuinely disgusted by any form of racism. It’s why we’re disgusted by the Israeli government and by the structure of Israeli apartheid.”
Palestinian solidarity activists—advocates for Palestinian human rights, freedom, and dignity—organize and fight precisely because they oppose racism, in all of its forms, and want to see an end to it anywhere and everywhere.