Zionism and Pan-Africanism
A Common Journey to Recapture Ethnic Self-Realization
The following is an academic article written by Ansel Brown, J.D., Assistant Professor, North Carolina Central University School of Law, June 27, 2019.
The familiar journey of Africa and Israel is one of close kinship, shared history, common adversities, and resemblant triumphs. Both Africa and Israel have historically experienced enslavement, colonization, exile, and systematic oppression – most prominently at the hands of European societies. This subjugation of African and Jewish communities has been notably precipitated by the dismantling of sovereignty within their homelands and rooted in a consistent psychology of oppression. In the face of these difficult trials and sojourns, both groups drew upon mutual inspiration as they resolutely marched toward reestablished sovereignty. The collaboration between Africans and Jews and their common lessons of resilience and ingenuity in the face of dire obstacles holds the promise of catapulting both peoples, distinctively and collectively, to unprecedented heights of self-realization and contribution to human progress.
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Introduction: Common Bonds
The 20th century witnessed a unique moment in history where African and Jewish communities around the world experienced parallel movements of national emancipation and reconstitution in their historic homelands. Jewish communities emerged from 2000 years of exile, inquisitions, expulsions, pogroms, and genocidal antisemitism to be reestablished as a sovereign people in the state of Israel. African communities emerged from centuries of slavery, colonialism, segregation, lynchings, and institutional racism to be reestablished as liberated peoples in the continent of Africa and in the diaspora.
Before being reconstituted with sovereign rights, the bitter journey from rootedness in a homeland to a perilous existence of exile rendered comparable calamities for Africans and Jews. Both diasporic communities were serially stereotyped, demonized, and dehumanized in what transpired into the most heinous crimes against humanity. The extensive degradation of both
similitude in the sufferings of African and Jewish communities is prominent, closer examination reveals that this is not coincidental.
The melded history of Africa and Israel has been forged in an ancient bond of peoplehood that goes back millennia. This interconnectivity is quite natural given the proximity of Africa and Israel, geographically, culturally, sociologically, and politically. These ties have been noted by historians and archeologists, but perhaps most significantly, they have been preserved in the annals of Jewish history recorded in the Jewish Bible. According to the Torah, its author Moses was raised as an African in the house of the Egyptian Pharaoh, married to an Ethiopian wife, and led the people of Israel and a mixed company of Africans out of Egyptian bondage to establish the Jewish nation in the land of African Canaanites.This enduring tradition suggests that the nation of Israel was, in fact, born out of Africa. While the historicity of these traditional Jewish accounts has been debated by scholars, they have been increasingly supported by archeology and have undoubtedly served as the sustaining constitution of Jewish identity for over 2000 years.
There are more examples of the emphasis that Jewish tradition places upon the intimate ties between Israel and Africa in the formative years of the Jewish nation. The Torah makes references to Ethiopia’s connection to the legendary Garden of Eden, attributes the founding of Near Eastern civilization to an African king named Nimrod, and chronicles the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs spending much of their lives in Africa as a land of refuge from famine and existential threats.The connection of Israel to Africa is echoed by the Jewish prophets, who recognized Africans, namely Ethiopians and Egyptians, as uniquely having a kindred destiny to that of the people of Israel. In the Book of Jeremiah, when the prophet Jeremiah predicted the fateful defeat of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians, it was an Ethiopian named Ebedmelech who was credited with rescuing Jeremiah and receiving a special promise of deliverance.
The Jewish people were ultimately exiled by the Babylonians and later by the Romans. During this period, several Jewish communities arose in North Africa, the African Horn, and eventually Southern Africa. These African Jewish communities were widely recognized in antiquity and even acknowledged in the New Testament.During this second temple period, the heart of Judaism outside of Israel arguably was in Africa, where the community in Alexandria, Egypt preserved a vast archive of Jewish texts and translated the Hebrew Bible into the prominent Greek-based Septuagint.
The North African Jewish communities in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco developed into what is known as Maghrebi and Sephardic Jews. These populations were relegated to socially inferior “dhimmi” status under Muslim rule,but continued to grow. Today there are approximately 740,000 North African Jews who have been absorbed as Israeli citizens upon being expelled by Arab governments hostile to Israel.
The Ethiopian Jewish community numbers over a quarter of a million, 135,000 in Israel and over 150,000 outside of Israel, mostly members of the Bet Abraham or Kechene Jews who were forced to join the Ethiopian Orthodox Church under harsh persecution.Ethiopian Jews trace their origins to the son of Makeda the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba and Israel’s King Solomon, Menelik, who established the ancient Axumite dynasties in Ethiopia. The last of the Solomonic Ethiopian kings was the heralded Pan-Africanist, Emperor Haile Selassie. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has recognized the Ethiopian Jewish community to be members of the exiled Israeli tribe of Dan that mingled with local Africans and Yemenite Jews in Ethiopia. Persecuted by their countrymen, Ethiopian Jews fulfilled their generational longings to return to Jerusalem and have been largely absorbed as Israeli citizens.
Another group of African Jews, the Lemba, are a community of approximately 80,000 living in present-day Zimbabwe and South Africa. The Lemba tradition corresponds to Ethiopian Jewish history, asserting that they migrated from Yemen into Ethiopia, branched from the Ethiopian Jewish community, and eventually traveled to Southern Africa where they intermarried with the local population. Recent DNA studies confirm that the Lemba have a genetic match with the “Cohen Gene” that is found in many Jewish men around the world.
The Lemba have been joined more recently by approximately 67,000 South African Jews who fled persecution in Eastern Europe. The South African Jewish community primarily immigrated to South Africa from Lithuania, escaping the pogroms that infested the country. Although the number of Jews in South Africa has diminished, the community has grown worldwide to 110,000 while remaining a relatively significant and substantial community in South Africa.In addition, there are other African groups that identify as Jewish such as approximately 30,000 Igbo in Nigeria, who were recognized by the British with the incorporation of the Star of David into the Nigerian colonial flag.
Homeland and Ethnic Degradation
The historical ties of African and Jewish communities go beyond the ethnic bonds forged in antiquity. An unfortunate reality of history is that many of the same tragedies have befallen both Africans and Jews. The sufferings of protracted diasporic experiences and suspended sovereignty have caused damage to both communities. The difficult lesson has been that with the compromised sovereignty of the “homeland” as a haven of communal identity, security, and self- realization, devastating injustices have ensued. The actuality of national and international systems is that social justice for constituent groups does not typically materialize without their exercising leverage in the formulation and implementation of the systems governing them. Groups lacking sovereignty or political leverage are vulnerable to exploitation and subjugation. In the case of Israel and Africa, there was an intentional crippling of national sovereignty and participatory justice that produced gross injustices.
Beginning during the second temple period, the Jewish community encountered the woes of degraded sovereignty through European colonization. The first Europeans to colonize Israel were the Greeks. The Seleucids established Greek settlements throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, including in Israel. At the same time that Greeks were expropriating Egyptian culture and innovation, they concurrently occupied the Jewish homeland.The Greeks sought to culturally dominate Israel much in the same way that Europeans later attempted to culturally dominate Africa. This “Hellizination” came to a head in 175 B.C.E. when Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Jewish temple by sacrificing a pig in the temple to the Greek deity Zeus. Judas Maccabee, a national patriot in Israel, recognized the threat posed by the Greeks to Jewish national identity and led a revolt to overthrow Greek cultural hegemony.
The Greeks were defeated but followed by the Romans, who imposed another iteration of European colonization of the Jewish nation. During the brutal Roman occupation of Israel, the Jews lost sovereignty again and were forced to pay taxes to Rome with minimal rights. Romans installed political and religious leaders who served the interest of the Roman Empire to the detriment of the native Jewish population.Under Roman rule, thousands of Jews were barbarically executed by crucifixion for any actions that defied Roman rule. It was in this context that the Roman imperial leadership crucified Jesus, fearing that he and his followers would attempt to assert Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.
There were several attempts by Jewish revolutionaries to throw off the yoke of Roman domination. In 70 C.E., Jewish resistance to Roman rule suffered a shattering defeat when Emperor Nero sent his general Titus into Jerusalem to crush a Jewish revolt, burning Jerusalem to the ground and destroying the Jewish temple.In 132 B.C.E., Simeon bar Kokhba led a final revolt against Rome, which was again crushed by the Romans. On the heels of the defeat of Simeon bar Kokhba, the Romans banned Jews from entering Jerusalem and renamed Israel to “Syrian Palestine” after Israel’s ancient enemies, the Philistines. The naming of Israel to “Palestine” was an attempt to completely wipe the Jewish identity from the land, replacing it with a foreign identity associated with the Philistines from the European isle of Crete.
The tactics of the Greeks and Romans were later deployed by European colonialists in Africa. For example, the British commissioned Cecil Rhodes to penetrate and ravage Africa with genocidal crimes, murdering tens of thousands of Africans.Later the British consummated their conquest of African societies by renaming places of ancient African civilization such as Great Zimbabwe to “Rhodesia.” The renaming of Zimbabwe was the same tactic that the Romans employed against the Jewish nation when they renamed Israel to “Palestine.”
The British government’s promise through the Balfour Declaration to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in modern Israel was an acknowledgment by European powers of the need to make right the historical wrong committed by the Romans against the Jewish people. Coincidentally, the British made contradictory promises to Arab leaders in order to preserve Western political and energy interests in the Middle East.The vast majority of the land promised to the Jews was granted to the oil-rich Saudi Hashemite family to rule over the newly established Arab country of Transjordan. A comparable pattern followed when African countries won their independence from colonial powers, but with strings attached that allowed European countries to continue to exploit African resources and economies. For example, the African Financial Community franc (CFA franc) remains a French colonial vice in West Africa that divides the region, controls the currency of sovereign African states, and utilizes this control to manipulate the governments.
The trek to regaining sovereignty for Africans and Jews has been one befouled with similar exilic traumas. The Jewish communities in Europe were societally marginalized and endured repeated attempts to forcibly assimilate them into the larger culture. Just as Africans in the Americas were forced to disassociate from their native cultures and languages, the Jewish people were pressed throughout Europe to abandon their faith and traditions. Just as African Americans were denied the right to fully engage in economic enterprise in the world’s mightiest economy, Jews in Europe were relegated to industries such as tax collecting that the dominant society deemed to be unbecoming.Before African Americans were redlined into ghettos in the United States and Black South Africans were herded into shanty towns, Europeans introduced this abhorrent practice by forcing Jewish communities to live in “ghettos” in Venice and throughout Europe.
These practices were all justified by demonizing Jews as inherently evil, untrustworthy, unredeemable, and pariahs to their countries and countrymen. Even their physical features were depicted in disturbing manners as out of step with “normative” European appearance. All of these horrific experiences transpired in the context of Jewish communities lacking a sovereign voice in the global arena. The diminution of the Jewish homeland was indeed catastrophic to Jewish ethnic vitality. Jews were impotent to protect themselves, while their identity and value in society were woefully downgraded. When the Roman Catholic Church burned Jews at the stake during the Inquisitions, there was no Jewish sovereign to defend the Jewish people. The culmination of this ethnic alienation was the Holocaust in which there was no sovereign Jewish nation to defend Jews or provide them refuge from mass genocide.
Corresponding atrocities were later committed against Africans. Europeans seized African lands, exiled and enslaved millions of Africans, and stripped Africa of its sovereignty by military aggression. In this process, Africans were demonized as lazy, menacing, child-like, and prone to uncivilized impulses. African features such as coarse hair, dark skin, and broad facial features were associated with inferiority in contrast to exalted European features. Compounding this affliction, Europeans were not alone in the crimes committed against Africans. According to Ghanaian scholar Dr. John Alembellah Azumah, Arab conquerors enslaved 20 million Africans with over 50 million killed in transit to Arab countries.Enslavement of Africans in Arab lands was only recently outlawed in the 20th century and still persists illegally in many places today. Most of the slaves in the Arab Slave Trade were taken as female sex slaves or castrated as male eunuchs, and so there is minimal demographic evidence of their enslavement as compared to European slavery.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates estimates that during the European Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, there were 12.5 million Africans stolen from the continent by European slave traders and shipped to the Americas.Approximately 388,000 of those 12.5 million were brought to the United States. African Americans particularly had no representation in matters that affected them, and there was no sovereign foreign power to assert or protect their rights. In 1787, an elite group of wealthy white male landowners gathered in Philadelphia to draft the Constitution of the United States. When the slave issue was addressed, it was agreed that African slaves would be treated as three-fifths of a person in order to maintain the political balance of power between the North and South in the House of Representatives. The controversy of the legality of slavery was generally circumvented, but by implication affirmed. By constitutional mandate, the slave trade specifically could not be banned until 1808, at which time there were already hundreds of thousands of African slaves building the country by free labor.
After slavery was abolished in America by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Congress passed the 14th amendment requiring states to provide all persons with “equal protection under the law.”In the notorious 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, all white male jurists determined that segregated rail cars in Louisiana satisfied the equal protection requirement so as long as they were equal in quality. This decision entrenched suffocating Jim Crow laws in the South for a century. Consequently, African Americans were denied representation in government, voting, juries, and other important political positions, setting the stage for unjust convictions and extrajudicial killings with no legal recourse. These horrors materialized in the absence of any African American connection to a sovereign African continent to defend its progeny in the diaspora. Interestingly, civil rights for African Americans finally came about when newly sovereign African (and Asian) nations held levers of pressure and influence in the West’s struggle against Soviet expansionism.
This experience of the African diaspora corresponded globally to the African struggle for independence from colonialism. In 1884, European powers convened in Germany at the Berlin Conference to plot how they would partition and rule the African continent.The absence of African sovereign representation in Berlin and other subsequent international conferences such as the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 produced an international system that pillaged the continent of Africa, crushing it in Western indebtedness and neo-colonial policies.
Resilience and Mutual Inspiration
There is a consistent psychology behind the ethnic alienation of Africans and Jews throughout history. Revisiting the Moses narrative in the Jewish Torah, the psychosis behind this oppression is strikingly manifest. In the recorded story of Israeli bondage in Egypt, the Jewish male babies were killed by the Egyptians who feared that, “. . . the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.”
In the timeless wisdom of this text, the psychology of supremacy and cultural subjugation is exposed as fear. The onslaught to debase and dehumanize Africans and Jews historically has been fueled by deep-seated societal insecurity. Dominant societies have been keen on their own irrational sense of fragility in observation of the resilience that has sustained Jewish and African communities. Calev Myers notes in his book, Crucial Alliance: African Americans, Jews and the Middle East Conundrum, that the chutzpah or “nerve” of African American and Jewish communities to stand and thrive against all odds is a common characteristic,one that has unnerved dominant societies.
Dominant societies, in essence, have sought to undermine the self-realization of those they perceive as threatening to their own sense of security. The irrational fear towards Africans has been that they pose a threat to the population of dominant societies, while the fear of Jews has been that they pose a threat to the power of dominant societies. Not surprisingly, white supremacists habitually attack people of African and Jewish heritage together as an amalgamate threat to white dominance. These ethnic phobias and bigotries are deeply rooted in psychological complexes of inferiority masked and inverted as superiority. The dominant societies have taken this position to externally stabilize an underlying psychosis of perceived weakness. These dangerous perceptions must be overcome by safeguarding the sovereignty of African and Jewish communities to preserve their vitality and optimally contribute to the common good of society, contrary to false constructions.
The commonalities of resilience and struggle by Africans and Jews have not gone unnoticed within the communities. There is a long history of mutual inspiration drawn between both diasporic communities. W.E.B. DuBois, the renowned civil rights scholar, Pan-Africanist, and one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), saw parallels between Pan-Africanism and Zionism. In the 1919 editorial, Crisis, DuBois wrote, “the African movement means to us what the Zionist movement must mean to the Jews.”Incidentally, DuBois and the NAACP were supported by Jewish leadership including Chairman Joel Spingarn and others who served on the NAACP Board in its founding years.
The most well-recognized leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was himself inspired by the Jewish story. In Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, he quoted the Jewish prophet Amos with the words, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”Amos is the same Jewish prophet who declared:
And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the wastecities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.
In his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King also quoted from the Jewish prophet Isaiah, echoing, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”Dr. King’s final sermon was deeply inspired by Moses’ viewing of the Promised Land of Israel. Dr. King preached in the prophetic tradition of the ancient Jewish sages:
We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land.
It was not surprising that Dr. King drew heavily from Jewish texts and the Jewish narrative in his messages of freedom. For decades, African Americans had been inspired by the story of Jewish deliverance from bondage to be established as a free and sovereign people in the “Promised Land.” Negro spirituals such as “Go Down Moses” and “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” were all inspired by the Jewish story of liberation and establishment in the land of Israel. African American churches often took the names of Old Testament geographic sites such as Mount Nebo, Mount Moriah, and Mount Zion.
The allusion to “Zion” is also found in Afro-Caribbean cultural traditions. Zion, in fact, represented to Africans in the diaspora what Israel represented to Jews in the diaspora. For instance, the famous song by the Jamaican group, the Melodians quotes the Jewish Psalms:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; Yeah, we wept when we remembered Zion; When the wicked carried us away in captivity; Required from us a song; Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? Let the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight here tonight.
The connection between the African diaspora and the Jewish community was not only one of solidarity in faith, but there was a genuine friendship. The relationship between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Heschel was well-documented and representative of the strong ties between many in the Jewish community and the Civil Rights Movement.A majority of “Freedom Riders” from the North were Jewish, and some such as Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner spilled their blood alongside African Americans in Mississippi.
Jews were likewise impacted and inspired by the African American experience. In his book, Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance of the 1960s, Marc Dollinger explains that many American Jews were compelled to be more vocal in their Jewish identity and support for Zionism when they witnessed the Black Power Movement and Pan-Africanism.Shaul Magid expounds upon this idea, noting:
. . . Jews active during the rise of Black Nationalism often compared it to Zionism. Reform Rabbi Allan Levine, a Freedom Rider who was also at the Selma March in 1965, compared black militancy with early Zionism, as did Shad Polier, a lawyer, civil rights activist and member of the executive board of the American Jewish Congress . . . Reformrabbi and ardent Zionist Roland Gittelson wrote, ‘The Black Power advocate is the Negro’s Zionism . . . Africa is his Israel.’ His colleague Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins noted, ‘Black Power is nothing more and nothing less than Negro Zionism . . .’
The encouragement that the Jewish diaspora derived from African Americans was also connected with Holocaust survival and refuge. When Jewish intellectuals in Germany were banished from academic institutions by the Nazi regime, only Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America often granted them professorships.Jewish assimilation into American “whiteness” had clearly not settled in and the Jewish community was embraced by its fellow Americans of non-European heritage in the community’s most vulnerable moment.
The mutual solidarity of the African and Jewish diasporas to stand against ethnic tyranny is profound. Just as Africans in the diaspora were inspired by the Jewish narrative of liberation, the Jewish community was inspired by African movements to boldly stand for civil rights and political freedom. The march to sovereignty by Africans and Jews has been symmetrically expressed in Pan-Africanism and Zionism, two sister movements.
Homeland Solidarity and Collective Self-Realization
Pan-Africanism and Zionism both emerged in the hopes and recognition that only through a sovereign “homeland” would the dignity and security of Africans and Jews be realized. At their core, both Pan-Africanism and Zionism are movements of diasporic communities to be reconstituted in solidarity with their historic homelands. The legitimacy of this aspiration is recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, reading:
the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, affirm the fundamental importance of the right to self-determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
It is instructive to examine the parallels between Jewish self-determination and African self-determination, which collaboratively present the possibility of a future where the full self-realization of both communities could yield immense benefits for humanity. This comparative analysis can oscillate in either direction, but the chronology of Israeli exile preceding African exile is well-served by beginning with an examination of Israel.
For 3000 years, the Jewish people have been connected to the land of Israel. The age-old, unbroken connections of the Jewish people to their homeland has served as a cohesive force in the perseverance of the Jewish people as a distinct nationality. The dispersed and persecuted Jewish communities around the world persistently longed for restoration in their national homeland. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his book, Durable Peace, recalls the yearnings of the Jewish people to be resettled in the Land of Israel:
. . . the Jews kept alive the hope of Return to their old homeland. This desire was no mere sentimental impulse, soon to be discarded. Indeed, rather than diminish with the passage of time, it got stronger. It contained the essence of Jewish peoplehood, the memory of the Jews’ unique history and struggle, and their desire to rebuild their national and spiritual life – not merely because it was the land of their forefathers but because it was the irreplaceable crucible in which their identity and faith had been forged and could not be reforged after centuries of formless, helpless wandering.
The journey leading to the modern rebirth of Israel in 1948 was given an invigorating breath of life under the leadership of the father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl. Herzl toured Europe in the later portion of the 19th century, corralling support for Jewish resettlement in Israel.On the eve of Herzl’s death, a new debate arose in the Zionist movement, a debate to settle the Jewish people in East Africa. Although Herzl initially acquiesced to the “Uganda Plan” as a temporary solution for the Jews, the Seventh Zionist Congress rejected the plan in 1905. Unlike the Europeans, the Jews were not seeking to exploit opportunities in Africa. Instead, the Zionist leaders held steadfast to the yearnings of the Jewish people to reclaim their homeland in Israel.
Theodor Herzl drew a direct correlation between the aspirations of the Jewish people and the aspirations of the African diaspora. In a moving statement, Herzl expressed his desire to help advance the cause of African liberation and self-determination in the same way that he championed Jewish self-determination, stating:
There is still one problem of racial misfortune unresolved. The depths of that problem, in all their horror, only a Jew can fathom. . . I mean the Negro problem. Think of the hair-raising horrors of the slave trade. Human beings, because their skins are black, are stolen, carried off, and sold . . . Now that I have lived to see the restoration of the Jews, I should like to pave the way for the restoration of the Negro.
Herzl and other Zionists inspired the 19th-century trailblazer of Pan-Africanism, Edward Blyden. Blyden, an Afro-Caribbean from St. Thomas, believed that Africans in the diaspora could only realize their human potential and secure their freedom by returning to Africa. Blyden himself immigrated to Liberia, where he served in several important government posts, as well as in Sierra Leone. Blyden believed that Zionism was a model of inspiration that Africans in the diaspora should follow in their own quest for self-realization. He went so far as to coin a phrase for his vision that he saw as a counterpart to Zionism, “Ethiopianism.”In a pamphlet titled “The Jewish Question,” Blyden promoted the validity of Jewish efforts to be re-established in Israel as an example for the African diaspora’s repatriation in Africa.
Blyden was not the first modern-day Pan-Africanist. He was preceded by Martin Delaney, who in the 1800s advocated for African Americans to return to Liberia. In his work, The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Delaney suggested that African Americans and Jews similarly deserved a sovereign home:
. . . such also are the Jews, scattered throughout not only the length and breadth of Europe, but almost the habitable globe, maintaining their national characteristics, and looking forward in high hopes of seeing the day when they may return to their former national position of self-government and independence, let that be in whatever part of the habitable world it may.
Delaney and Blyden were prototypes for other leaders who embraced Pan-Africanism.
Blyden, in particular, inspired the likes of Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah who kept a picture of Blyden on the wall of his office.Marcus Garvey perceived the re-establishment of sovereignty in Africa as the answer to the ills of Africans in the diaspora, stating:
As four hundred million men, women and children, worthy of the existence given us by the Divine Creator, we are determined to solve our own problems, by redeeming our Motherland Africa from the hands of alien exploiters and found there a government, a nation of our own, strong enough to lend protection to the members of our race scattered all over the world, and to compel the respect of the nations and races of the earth.
Others such as Stokely Carmichael, advocated for a Pan-Africanism much akin to that of Garvey, drawing a comparison to Israel in spite of his sometimes oppositional posture to Israel:
We need a land base . . . In the final analysis all revolutions are based on land. The best place, it seems to me, and the quickest place that we can attain land is Africa . . . We need a base that can be used for black liberation, a land what we can say belongs to us . . .
[From land a collective can we] demonstrate our willingness to fight for our people wherever they are oppressed . . . I believe that people basically defend their own kind . . . In the Middle East, they did it even in 1967 with Israel.
The correlation between Israeli self-determination and that of Africans was recognized early in the history of the modern state of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Gold Meir, a proponent of the alliance between Israel and Africans, explained, “Like them . . . we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves.”In subsequent years, Israel provided economic and military support to Africa.
African countries likewise have supported Israel. Most notably, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, a global symbol of Pan-Africanism, provided considerable political support to Israel. Eventually, his government and other African governments caved to pressure from Arab countries for Africans to distance themselves from Israel. The African-Israel alliance suffered setbacks in the 1970s due to the agenda of Arab governments on the continent and desperate missteps by Israel to make imprudent friends globally such as the white government in South Africa.Nonetheless, the foundations and potential for the alliance have remained strong.
For decades, Israelis have invested in agricultural technologies to support the development of African economies. The potential of ongoing economic collaboration between Israel and Africa is immense. Israeli innovations in agriculture, technology, science, and medicine could help to unlock the boundless potential of Africa. Likewise, Africans possess the resources that will be necessary for Israel to continue to advance as a global leader in innovation. Unlike Europe, China, and other global powers, Israel is not vying for global dominance but for national security and prosperity. The interest of Israel in promoting prosperity and security extends beyond the interest of Israel, as the Jewish ethos of “tikkun olam” (or repairing the world) is a core Israeli mandate. Economic partnership with African countries will allow Israel to fulfill a fundamental tenet of its national mission. Likewise, African partnership with Israel will help the continent to develop for itself the full value of its abundant resource wealth.
This strategic partnership cannot reach its full potential without the participation of the African and Jewish diaspora communities. Joint business ventures by members of the African and Jewish diasporas in connection with Africa and Israel can provide a catalyst for the synergic advancement of the communities worldwide. Further, the Jewish community needs strategic partners to help combat contemporary antisemitism around the world. African Americans have garnered unique wherewithal to confront institutional racism in the United States. The Jewish community could benefit from partnerships with the African American community to face down the uptick of antisemitism around the world. African American and African churches, in particular, have unique influence to weigh in morally on the justice of Israel’s existence in the face of increasing global efforts to delegitimize the Jewish state. Reliance upon the United States alone remains a volatile policy that can unravel with one political shift in American politics. African and Jewish partnerships can facilitate critical relationships to help stave off global antisemitism and attacks on the legitimacy of Israel.
Economic cooperation alone, however, has proven an inadequate vehicle for fortifying an African and Jewish barricade against global antisemitism and racism. Africans and Jews must engage in strategic cultural exchanges that mutually build their communities. The cultural and spiritual richness that African and Jewish communities offer to one another and to the world is perhaps their greatest asset. Jewish communities have much to gain from the soulful depths of African cultural expression, while African communities can benefit greatly from the pragmatic values of Jewish communal life.
There are many lessons from Zionism, politically and culturally, that can be successfully replicated by African countries. For instance, the unifying power of Hebrew for the Jewish community might serve as a model for Africa in adopting an African language such as Swahili to help unify Africans. Israeli programs such as Birthright Israel that allow Jewish youth around the world to have a cultural immersion experience in Israel is a model for African immersion programs for young people in the African diaspora. Likewise, African and Jewish summer programs can share cultural values and histories through curricular and co-curricular initiatives.
Institutions should be established to harness the potential of strategic alliances between Africans and Jews globally. Investment funds can be a mechanism to promote economic projects and enterprises. Academic programs can be established that facilitate coordinated learning by African and Jewish youth. Faith-based programs can be incorporated to encourage exchange and understanding of the rich spiritual traditions of Jewish and African communities.
The potential for a strengthening strategic alliance between Africans and Jews, politically, economically, and culturally, could have historic repercussions for both communities and for the world at large. Jews and Africans have indeed significantly shaped human history. The collective contribution of the Jewish people to humanity through timeless ideas and values, often at the peril of persecution and death, is well-established. Jewish values such as life, peace, justice, redemption, freedom, progress, and hope have left an indelible mark upon modern civilization. Jewish contributions to the world have included monumental breakthroughs in faith, science, medicine, and technology.Equivalently, scholars have settled by overwhelming consensus that Africa is the cradle of humanity and nurtured transformative civilizations such as Egypt, Ethiopia, and Carthage. African innovations, creativity, and artistic expression have fueled human development and shaped human culture the world over.
African countries and Israel have a mutual interest and natural affinity as nations that emerged out of European oppression into full sovereignty in the 20th century. The experiences of Israel have historically been a harbinger of things to come for Africans, and the recent successes of Israel can serve as a blueprint for African success. Similarly, it naturally flows that the future success and destiny of Israel is inextricably linked to its African roots. A resolute partnership between Israel, Africa, and the diasporic communities can propel the full self-realization of these communities whose destiny of contribution to the world is immeasurable.
Ansel Kebede Brown is Assistant Professor at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Law, where he teaches Legal Reasoning and Writing, International Law Seminar, Civil Procedure, and Critical Thinking. He is also Co-Director of the Social Justice and Racial Equity Institute. His research focus is Pan-Africanism and international law. Professor Brown recently published an article in the Minnesota Journal of International Law entitled, “Establishing an Integrated Judiciary to Facilitate the African Continental Free Trade Area.” He previously served as the NCCU Prelaw Advisor and Director of the University Honors Program. Prior to entering academia, Professor Brown served as policy counsel at both the North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development and the Center for Responsible Lending, where he advocated for consumer protection laws aimed at reducing predatory subprime lending and rising student debt. Brown earned his Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School. While a law student, he received the Dean of Students Community Leadership Award and served on both the International Law Journal and the Black Letter Law Journal. Professor Brown is a member of the North Carolina state bar.
See Exodus 2:1-10 (King James), Exodus 12:37-38 (King James), Leviticus 35:28 (King James), and Numbers 12:1-16 (King James). See also Genesis 10:6, associating Canaan with African nations.
See RICHARD FRIEDMAN, THE EXODUS: HOW IT HAPPENED AND WHY IT MATTERS (2017).
3 See Genesis 2:8-13 (King James), Genesis 10:8-12 (King James), Genesis 12:10 (King James), Genesis 41:56- 42:2, and Genesis 46:1-7 (King James).
See Amos 9:7 (King James) and Isaiah 19:25 (King James).
See Jeremiah 38:1-39:18 (King James).
See Acts 2:5-11 (King James) and Acts 8:27-39 (King James).
See Encyclopedia Judaica: Alexandria, Egypt, JEWISH VIRTUAL LIBRARY, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/alexandria.
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See Ethiopia Virtual Jewish Tour, JEWISH VIRTUAL LIBRARY, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/ethiopia- virtual-jewish-tour.
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See Wars Between the Jews and Romans: The Destruction of Jerusalem (70 CE), LIVIUS WEBSITE, http://www.livius.org/ja-jn/jewish_wars/jwar04.html.
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Promises and Betrayals: Britain and the Holy Land, (Content Productions 2002). See also BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, A DURABLE PEACE: ISRAEL AND ITS PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS 64-68, 79-80 (2000).
See Ian Taylor, France à fric: the CFA zone in Africa and neocolonialism, Third World Quarterly, (April 2019).
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See Robert Finley, The Foundation of the Ghetto: Venice, the Jews, and the War of the League of Cambrai, American Philosophical Society 141 (1982).
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Henry Louis Gates Jr., How Many Slaves Landed in the US?, PBS.ORG (originally posted on the Root), https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us. 33 U.S. Const. art. I, § cl. 3.
U.S. Const. art. I, § cl. 3.
U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 1.
U.S. Const. art. 13.
Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
See Matt Rosenberg, Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa, THOUGHTCO, https://www.thoughtco.com/berlin-conference-1884-1885-divide-africa-1433556. See also Ieuan Griffiths, The Scramble for Africa: Inherited Political Boundaries, Geographical Journal, Vol. 152, No. 2, Jul. 1986, at 204-205.
Exodus 1:8-16 (King James).
CALEV MYERS, CRUCIAL ALLIANCE: AFRICAN AMERICANS, JEWS AND THE MIDDLE EAST CONUNDRUM 67 (2016). Humor is plausibly a related characteristic that African Americans and Jews have developed as a coping mechanism of survival in the face of adversity.
W.E.B. DuBois, Editorial, CRISIS (1919), at 166.
See Howard Sachar, Working to Extend America’s Freedoms: Jewish Involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, MYJEWISHLEARNING (excerpt from A History of Jews in America, Vintage Books 1992),https://web.archive.org/web/20090301185659/http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history_community/Modern/Over view_The_Story_19481980/America/PWPolitics/CivilRights.htm.
Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER WEBSITE, https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html, See also Amos 5:24 (King James).
Amos 9:14-15 (King James).
Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream, available at https://www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream- speech.pdf. See also Isaiah 40:4-5 (King James).
Martin Luther King, I See the Promised Land, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST WEBSITE, https://www.ucc.org/sacred- conversation_dr-kings-last-sermon.
Melodians, Rivers of Babylon (Beverley 1970). See also Psalm 19:14, 137:1-4 (King James).
See MARC SCHNEIER, SHARED DREAMS: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY 33 (1999). 48 See id. at 101-02.
See id. at 101-02.
MARC DOLLINGER, BLACK POWER, JEWISH POLITICS: REINVENTING THE ALLIANCE IN THE 1960S 155-158 (2018).
See Magid, Zionism, Pan-Africanism, and White Nationalism, TABLET MAGAZINE, https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/276626/zionism-pan-africanism-and-white-nationalism.
From Swastika to Jim Crow, (Independent Television Service 2000).
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, available at https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html.
Netanyahu at 32.
See id. at 9-13.
See JEHUDA REINHARZ & ANITA SHAPIRA, ESSENTIAL PAPERS ON ZIONISM 119-132 (1996). Edited SHMUEL ETTINGER AND BARTAL ISRAEL, THE FIRST ALIYAH: IDEOLOGICAL ROOTS AND PRACTICAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS.
See Netanyahu at 31.
Theodor Herzl, Altneuland, New York: Herzl Press, 1960.
See Benyamin Neuberger, Early African Nationalism, Judaism and Zionism: Edward Blyden, Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Spring, 1985), at 151-166.
EDWARD BLYDEN, THE JEWISH QUESTION 5 (1898).
MARTIN DELANEY, THE CONDITION, ELEVATION, EMIGRATION, AND DESTINY OF THE COLORED PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES (1852).
See Benyamin Neuberger, Early African Nationalism, Judaism and Zionism: Edward Blyden, Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Spring, 1985), at 151-166, available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4467292.pdf?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.
Marcus Garvey, The true solution of the Negro problem (1922), TEACHINGAMERICANHISTORY.ORG, https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/the-true-solution-of-the-negro-problem.
Stokely Carmichael, Pan-Africanism: Land and Power, The Black Scholar, Vol. 1, No. 1, (Nov. 1969), at 36-43.
GOLDA MEIR, MY LIFE 306 (1975).
See Abel Jacob, Israel's Military Aid to Africa, 1960-1966, Journal of Modern African Studies, (August 1971), at 165-172.
See Mitchell Bard, Israel’s International Relations: The Evolution of Israel’s Africa Policy, JEWISH VIRTUAL LIBRARY, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-evolution-of-israel-rsquo-s-africa-policy.
See WE JEWS: Little Known Jewish Inventions, AISH.COM, https://www.aish.com/j/f/WE-JEWS-Little-Known-Jewish-Inventions.html.