Letters / On “From Minneapolis to Jerusalem”
The Fall 2021 issue of Jewish Currents featured an excellent article by Hannah Black, “From Minneapolis to Jerusalem: On Black-Palestinian Solidarity.” Readers who want to dig deeper into the subject would do well to consult historian Michael R. Fischbach’s two-volume study, Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color and The Movement and the Middle East: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Divided the American Left.
Fischbach offers a corrective to Black’s discussion of the 1979 firing of Andrew Young, the civil rights veteran and first African American US ambassador to the United Nations. Black credits Young for his “bravery in breaking with national policy” by meeting with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at a time when the US government, in compliance with an Israeli request, had an official policy of refusing any contact with the PLO. What Black’s account doesn’t mention is that Young—who was about to assume the rotating position of UN Security Council president—met surreptitiously with a PLO representative in order to head off a PLO attempt to introduce a Palestinian statehood resolution before the council.
It’s dubious whether Young was attempting to assert a “black foreign policy,” as Black claims. He was actually carrying out the Carter administration’s instructions to prevent an airing of the resolution, which was on deck to be introduced by the Kuwaiti representative. It is certainly to Young’s credit that, when he was forced out, he openly declared his opposition to the absurd policy of not talking to the PLO—but a more complex picture emerges when Young’s motivations are taken into account.
At the same time, Fischbach provides important context to illustrate the double standard that is applied to Black officials who take a stand on Palestine. It’s significant that the US ambassador to Austria, Milton Wolf, a prominent Jewish industrialist, had met three times previously with the PLO and was not forced to resign, as Young had been. This fact is also missing from Black’s discussion of the Young affair, but it’s as pertinent today as it was in the 1970s.