For an hour this afternoon
eighteen seventeen human rights activists demonstrated, once again, that Israeli apartheid and the Egyptian and Israeli stranglehold on Gaza will not go completely unprotested in Ann Arbor. They bore witness that the Palestinian call for broad boycotts against Israel will not go completely unheeded.
Others, valuing more highly the good opinion of polite society, joined the racist, the uninformed, and the indifferent and did something else. The sin of Sodom comes to mind:
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49
As they walked up the steps to the Hill Auditorium, many of the concert-goers were offered a leaflet and greeted with this rap:
Please boycott racist orchestras.
God gave you a conscience–time to use it.
Children are starving in Gaza.
A few were moved, most were not. In addition to the occasional responses of “Fuck you” and “Go to hell” from the cultured, well-heeled patrons of the arts entering Hill Auditorium, a man identifying himself as a reporter from a Detroit newspaper had something to say. The man, who was not protesting, felt empowered to complain about a sign that read “Zionists are Racist Nazis” or words to that effect.
Oblivious to the very real parallels, not to mention documented collaboration, between Zionists and National Socialists, this sensitive soul was concerned that these words were ‘harmful’ to the cause. You are confused, my friend, no person who ever truly cared about justice or truth abandoned the struggle just because of someone else’s offensive words. The people who do quit in such cases are those who are in it for some other, probably selfish, reason and not because they care about oppressed people.
I mean, for example, can you imagine a truly committed abolitionist abandoning the cause because of the words of Frederick Douglass in his great speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He said:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour. … You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own.
Douglass spoke well earlier in the same speech when he said:
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
One is reminded, too, of Dr. King’s observation in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail“:
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods … ” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
The principle holds true today.