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Message to Black Israelis

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As an old American Negro who lived through the 1960's civil right movement, I can assure Israel's racism-suffering Ethiopians of one thing: it gets better.

I can only imagine the insult of having practiced Judaism in biblical Cush for centuries only to have "rabbis" from Germany and Poland declare, "Vee don't know eef you are Jeweesh enough." It must have been humiliating after the disruption of leaving Ethiopia and the indignities of resettlement in Israel to have offered your new country your very blood and then discover, months later, that after accepting the blood, health workers threw it away, citing exaggerated fears of Ethiopian-borne disease. I can, however, easily imagine your pain at the latest news of 120 neighbors in Kiryat Malachi signing a covenant to not sell or rent to any Ethiopians.

But in 2012, unlike the Montgomery bus boycott, the Chicago school protests and the Memphis sanitation workers strike, the the struggle for Ethio-Israeli rights has a real-time, global audience.

The whole world really will watch and as a guy who has been there, let me just say, oh, the things we'll see!

White people are already better. There are scores of alabaster Israelis prepared to hit the streets now in your support and it's only the beginning. Allies for equality will spring from the woodwork. Old hippies in Birkenstocks, looking for one last great cause, will craft clever slogans for your protest signs. Students in the thrall of first political passion will compose hip hop anthems in your honor. Your civil rights movement will include American Zionists longing to build Jewtopia and politicians marrying righteous service with free publicity. Comrades will delight you with their numbers and shock you with their passion. Teeny old white bubbes with walkers will hobble up to phalanxes of huge, armed men wagging their fingers on your behalf. Congregations of Haredi, Israel's other black people, will, children in tow, swell the progresses of your rallies because the families could not miss your quintessentially Jewish struggle for justice.

You'll be better, as your best leaders will remind you that the folks on the other side of the picket line are wonderful siblings too. Your Martin Luther Kingsteins and Mohandas Ghandibergs will point out that racism itself has gotten better; at least it used to be much worse. Twentieth century America had white racists who make your Israeli ones look like "Showtime at the Apollo." When I was born in 1956, Negroes were still being lynched in the US. (now they kill us slowly with high fructose corn syrup, but that's a whole other discussion). I don't doubt there is plenty of racism in Israel but unless you are an 8-year-old girl showing too much knee, its not violent and its certainly not organized like it was here. There is no Jew Klux Klan.

I would bet my last drop of melanin that the people who signed the Kiryat Malachi covenant were mostly not hateful but scared. The thought of losing the value of our biggest investments, our homes, is enough to turn most of us, well, white with fear.

But it gets better because many people suffering fear and racism, recover.

Alabama Governor George Wallace was segregation's poster child in the Jim Crow south. He personally blocked the door of the University of Alabama to keep Negro students out. When he ran for president in 1964, the joke was that if he won, he'd make it an extremely White House. But after electoral loss, time and infirmity, Governor Wallace came to rethink his politics and life. As an elder he became the reformed racist Big Bird; sweet, cuddly uncle George, genuinely sorry for the sorrow he sowed in his callow middle age. The same was true of the late Senator Robert Byrd, former "Exalted Cyclops" of the Klan. Byrd became as reliable and passionate an advocate for equality as ever wore milky skin. Here in the US we have a seen scores of wormy white bigots cocooned by civil rights legislation metamorphize into gorgeous butterflies of huge-hearted humanity.

When we can accept their fear and anger without returning it, segregationists get better.

To the precise extent that we can love them, people suffering racism become suckers to their own hearts and will love us back whether they like it or not. The snarling woman with the bulging forehead vein may not look like she's affected by your warm smile and kind disposition, but she is. Just like when a player on the opposing sports team makes a play so excellent you cheer despite yourself. Her better angels can not escape yours.

Best of all, to the extent that you can love or at least not be pissed off at segregationists, your world gets better, as you are happier in it. It's great fun to look at folks on the other side as dear friends not yet in on the secret. Then your attitude is more playful and avuncular. Then we see the folks at Kiryat Malachi as slightly wayward family who've simply to discover that, with a bit of cleverness and the long run, integration is better for everybody. They think they're being dragged to slaughter but we know they're being pulled onto the ark. They may be plotting now, but we know your grand kids will resemble them.

I am not saying America and its Negroes have all the answers or have achieved color blindness. The US has not approached the galaxy containing the planet Racism-Free. But in terms of rights, respect, access and opportunity, not just for Negroes, but for women, people with disabilities, children, gays, vulnerable animals and even the dreaded pale penis people, we live in barely the same universe in 2012 as we did in 1956. Our world is incalculably better, our efforts helped improve it and, like you, we're working with our melanin-challenged mishpucha to make a "more perfect union."

Congratulations Ethiopian siblings, you have brought your movement thus far along the way. We American Jews, Negroes, Jewish Negroes and others will support you and things will get better, beyond all recognition.

You shall overcome.