Imagination is deeply entrenched in American ethos. From the “American Dream” to American “History” to “American exceptionalism”: the cruel, savage reality of this country’s past, present, and future beckons us to nurture selective memories and vivid imaginations. We are taught concocted histories and rationales of America’s Immaculate Conception and manifested destinies; where ethnic cleansing, slavery, genocide, exploitation, and appropriation exist only as figments of our… imagination.  President Obama’s recent comments in the Atlantic are a prime example: providing us both a case study and test of our collective capacity to conjure.

‘On Israel, Obama endorsed, in moving terms, the underlying rationale for the existence of  a Jewish state, making a direct connection between the battle for African American equality and the fight for Jewish national equality. “There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law. These things are indivisible in my mind.”’

On its face, it may seem like the above statement shouldn’t warrant even the slightest iota of imagination: President Obama is merely relaying the oft-used trope of Zionist-African-American solidarity! Anyone can understand that, right? Especially the much maligned, ever-resilient African Americans. President Obama is just reminding us of the strong historical similarities that we share with the apartheid state of Israel. No imagination needed here.

I’m sure you’ve heard the story too many times to count, but I’ll refresh your memory.

After much debate between the United States and the British and the signing of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, Black Americans, in addition to a substantial reparations package, were given what was once known as the states of Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama for Africans to settle. Harkening to Biblical references of a miracle balm able to heal any condition the first settlers renamed the land ‘Gilead’, and set about bringing the vision of the ‘Promised Land’ from dream to reality.  

The first settlers began arriving in 1964 and embarked on the grueling task of cleansing the land of white residents and indigenous people. It wasn’t easy but after the massacre of thousands and mass evacuations of hundreds of thousands, and with millions of whites and native peoples resettled in refugee camps scattered across Mexico, Canada, and Texas, the sons and daughters of African slaves finally had a home to call their own. Today, ‘Gilead’ continues the dehumanization, occupation, and incarceration of thousands of native peoples within and outside its ever-expanding apartheid regime. Human rights violations abound, children are bombed, while the ‘civilized’ world is split between defending ‘Gilead’s’ right to ethnic purity and looking the other way.

This must be the ‘direct line’ that President Obama is referring to, right?

In January, I joined a delegation of organizers from the United States in a pilgrimage to Palestine.  What I saw there was cold, calculating racism and ethnic privilege masquerading as a Jewish State.

I listened to the brilliant poetry of an unbroken Palestinian boy, the liberated artistry of once-silenced Palestinian girls, saw the unapologetic paintings of an affable artist-turned-activist.  I dined in the home of a woman who lost her unborn child to brutal Israeli occupation; a life snuffed out before it’s first breath.

Statements like Obama’s, and a chorus of others, would have you to believe that the state of Israel was founded for the safety, security and sovereignty of a “People without a home.”  Pundits and politicians tout their records on Israel and champion its defense at all costs. Detractors to this article will tell you that Israel was founded and filled with love.

It is a lie. It is, like much of what we are told about Israeli history, a figment of our well-manicured imagination. It is a fact that all people deserve security and safety, but that never gives people the right to bomb indiscriminately (Gaza is, yet again, under fire), incarcerate people indeterminately, and replicate the cruel discrimination and displacement that led to the founding of your supposed “homeland”.  The Black Liberation struggle in the US has always understood this and the days of standing idly by while thousands die are over.

The Dream Defenders fully support the growing BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement and will continue to stand with Palestinians struggling to secure their freedom and equal rights against Israeli and US persecution.

There is no direct line from Zionism to the Black Freedom struggle. No rhetorical imagination-acrobatics can conjure one and no amount of intimidation can chart one. It is a racist, exploitative, and exclusionary ideology; its eagerness to attack and silence detractors is only matched by its eagerness to co-opt the struggles of Blacks in this country (by a Black in this country) for its own survival.

Palestinians are far too familiar with lines.  Dotted lines drawn arbitrarily through ancient homelands.  Concrete lines erected through villages, between blood relatives.  Lines of Palestinians waiting at checkpoints.  Cemeteries lined with the bodies of sisters, and brothers, fathers, and mothers.  The political line: “Love for Israel; Hate for Palestinians.”

Maybe THIS is what President Obama was referring to. In both Israel and the United States, there is a direct line between love for Country and hate for the exploited….

Imagine that.

Phillip Agnew is the Mission Director of the Dream Defenders.