The Arab American Radicals Who Paved Way For BDS

| Strategize!

Above Photo: From Popular Resistance

The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s by Pamela E. Pennock, The University of North Carolina Press (2017)

One of the earliest boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, victories in the United States came in 1973 when United Auto Workers Local 600 in Dearborn, Michigan, voted to divest its Israeli bonds after a campaign waged by the Arab Workers Caucus and the American Arab Coordinating Committee. The campaign drew comparisons with apartheid South Africa and won the support of many Black autoworkers in Michigan.

Was it just an oddity that decades before Palestinian civil society called for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in 2005, industrial workers in the US heartland were already waging a BDS struggle? Or, far from being a rogue wave, was it an integral part of the oceanic upheavals among workers, students, immigrants and people of color during the heady maelstroms of the 1960s and ’70s?

The Rise of the Arab American Left makes it clear this was no oddity, although it did have certain characteristics unique to the Arab American experience. Given the relative paucity of scholarship on the history of the Arab American left, this book is a must-read for those who wish to learn more about that community’s activism during this period of radical upheaval.

Pennock, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, focuses on radical activists, who she defines as “secular, ideologically leftist and avidly pro-Palestinian.” She concedes that this group – with its support of armed struggle, a revolution for what was then called the “Third World,” and one democratic, secular state throughout all of Mandate Palestine – was a subset of the Arab American population at a time when a majority of Arab Americans held more moderate positions.

“Nevertheless,” she notes, “the issue that most united and galvanized Arab Americans – across differences of generation, social class, religion and national origin – was their shared outrage over the dispossession of Palestinian Arabs through the establishment of the state of Israel.”

The book’s narrative covers the impact Israel’s 1967 War had amongst Arab Americans, the intense period of repression and surveillance that followed the rise of activism in the 1970s and the gradual moderation of activism in the 1980s, when outlooks became less transnational and more focused on domestic civil rights issues.

Natural allies

In the 1960s, organizations such as the Association of Arab American University Graduates and the Organization of Arab Students arose, along with such figures as the academic Ibrahim Abu-Lughod and civil rights attorney Abdeen Jabara. The Rise of the Arab American Left offers a unique opportunity for readers to learn about these early trailblazers.

One of the book’s most enlightening chapters, aptly titled “Intersections,” documents how Arab Americans began to find “natural allies” in the movements of other oppressed groups with roots in the Third World.

In particular, the book looks at the alliance that developed between Arab American autoworkers in Michigan and activists with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, also based in the auto plants.

The alliance extended to issues related to urban removal as the city of Dearborn attempted to turn the Southend neighborhood, where most Arab immigrants lived, into an industrial zone to act as a buffer between Dearborn and predominantly Black Detroit in the wake of that city’s 1967 rebellion.

Pennock’s singular focus on Dearborn is illuminating and detailed, but she also surveys the national scene, showing how central figures in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, such as James Forman and Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture), came to embrace the Palestinian cause, along with the Black Panther Party and other prominent Black activists such as Jack O’Dell of Operation PUSH and Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance.

In the early 1970s, Pennock observes, the largely white, student-based New Left also “developed a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist position.” However, she concludes, that “on the whole, the American Left’s commitment to the Palestinian revolution was soft and somewhat perfunctory; in general, the activists’ understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict was superficial, and their position was rooted in an idealized image of Third World guerrillas.”

For many white activists, the New Left’s embrace of the Palestinian struggle opened a rift that lasted for decades, although it actually delineated an already existing faultline: namely that between the left-liberal wing of the movement and the more radical, Marxist-Leninist wing.

Pennock describes in detail how both black and white radicals embraced the Palestinian cause, while more centrist forces emerging out of the civil rights and student movements failed to break with Zionism.

Political intimidation

Another chapter documents how Arab American activists faced repression and surveillance, with the active assistance of the Israel lobby, as early as the Organization of Arab Students’ 1969 convention when the Anti-Defamation League sent infiltrators posing as media.

In Pennock’s account, both the ADL and the Israel lobby group AIPAC colluded with the FBI and the CIA, leading to the creation of the Cabinet Committee to Combat Terrorism and a concerted political intimidation campaign known as Operation Boulder. The cabinet directed the FBI, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Services to monitor Arab Americans, surveillance that included an illegal FBI burglary of the Dallas, Texas, office of the Arab Information Center.

Pennock says the triggering incident was the Black September attack at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics but clarifies that the creation of the cabinet committee was seen as a way to placate AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.

The author notes that “the investigations never detected a single case of terrorist or espionage activity among Arabs living in the United States.” But that, of course, was not the point. Operation Boulder was essentially “a program of political intimidation,” Pennock observes, that was meant to suppress Arab-American activism and to inject “divide and conquer” tactics within the movement.

The direct role of the Israeli government in this surveillance was also strongly suspected, but never proved. Both The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune published articles describing collusion between Israeli intelligence agencies, the Anti-Defamation League and the FBI, with the ADL keeping files on Arab American activists for the FBI.

Eventually, the National Security Agency was also exposed for its electronic surveillance of Abdeen Jabara, wiretapping at least 40 of his telephone conversations even though the FBI admitted that Jabara was not the subject of a criminal investigation.

It’s hard to think of any of this as lost history, given that the same practices prevail today, with groups like Canary Mission and others compiling dossiers on Palestine student activists at US campuses.

If one of the first recorded BDS victories was that of United Auto Workers Local 600 in 1973, then the trajectory continued in 2015 when both the United Electrical Workers and the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO adopted pro-BDS resolutions, as did the Black Solidarity Statement and the Movement for Black Lives.

If today’s BDS movement reaches farther, it’s because it stands on the shoulders of the giants who came before.

  • DHFabian

    The Arab states are in a peculiar situation. Americans are deeply dependent on Arab oil even as we remain at war to protect US oil interests in the Mideast. Similar to an addict’s love/hate relationship with his supplier. The US is responsible for the permanent state of war in the Mideast, but since we never accept responsibility, we condemn Israel.

    Israel itself is a complicated issue about which the general population knows little (and contemporary media is glad to keep it that way). Israel is both the historic and the modern Jewish nation. Jews are indigenous to this bit of land (now shrunk down to roughly the size of New Jersey, one of our smallest states). Americans, of course, relentlessly interfere/meddle in the politics of the Mideast to protect our oil interests.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    A good review of an important literary/historical contribution. The machinations of the Zionist scourge are clearly apparent to anyone with eyes and the experience to recognize them. E.g., “Operation Boulder was essentially “a program of political intimidation,” Pennock observes, that was meant to suppress Arab-American activism and to inject “divide and conquer” tactics within the movement.” The Zionists are experts, in their psychotic focus, in suppression and divide-and-conquer/control-and-dominate tactics.

    The Zionization of America continues apace, these many years after 1973….

    At the end of my day, Palestine Is Still THE Issue. Viva Palestine!

  • Helen4Yemen


    “In the course of the past year, a new belief has emerged in the

    town: the belief in war against Iraq. That ardent faith was

    disseminated by a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives, almost

    all of them JEWISH, almost all of them intellectuals people who are

    mutual friends and cultivate one another and are convinced that

    political ideas are a major driving force of history a partial list:

    Richard Perle,

    Paul Wolfowitz,

    Douglas Feith,

    William Kristol,

    Eliot Abrams,

    Charles Krauthammer”

    Haaretz – March 4, 2003

    Here is the long list:

    Alan Dershowtiz
    Bill Kristol
    Charles Krauthammer
    Daniel Pipes
    David Frum
    David Wurmser
    Donald Kagan
    Douglas Feith
    Dov Zakheim
    Eliot Abrams
    Eliot Cohen
    Frederick Kagan
    Henry Kissenger
    Irving Kristol
    James Schlesinger
    John Podhoretz
    Joshua Bolten
    Marc Grossman
    Michael Ledeen
    Norman Podhoretz
    Paul Wolfowitz
    Richard Perle
    Robert Kagan
    Scooter Libby
    Stephen Bryen
    William Kristol

  • Helen4Yemen

    PNAC letters sent to President Bill Clinton

    January 26, 1998

    The Honorable William J. Clinton
    President of the United States
    Washington, DC

    Dear Mr. President:

    We are writing you because we are convinced that current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War. In your upcoming State of the Union Address, you have an opportunity to chart a clear and determined course for meeting this threat. We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We stand ready to offer our full support in this difficult but necessary endeavor.

    The policy of “containment” of Saddam Hussein has been steadily eroding over the past several months. As recent events have demonstrated, we can no longer depend on our partners in the Gulf War coalition to continue to uphold the sanctions or to punish Saddam when he blocks or evades UN inspections. Our ability to ensure that Saddam Hussein is not producing weapons of mass destruction, therefore, has substantially diminished. Even if full inspections were eventually to resume, which now seems highly unlikely, experience has shown that it is difficult if not impossible to monitor Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons production. The lengthy period during which the inspectors will have been unable to enter many Iraqi facilities has made it even less likely that they will be able to uncover all of Saddam’s secrets. As a result, in the not-too-distant future we will be unable to determine with any reasonable level of confidence whether Iraq does or does not possess such weapons.

    Such uncertainty will, by itself, have a seriously destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East. It hardly needs to be added that if Saddam does acquire the capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction, as he is almost certain to do if we continue along the present course, the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard. As you have rightly declared, Mr. President, the security of the world in the first part of the 21st century will be determined largely by how we handle this threat.

    Given the magnitude of the threat, the current policy, which depends for its success upon the steadfastness of our coalition partners and upon the cooperation of Saddam Hussein, is dangerously inadequate. The only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action as diplomacy is clearly failing. In the long term, it means removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy.

    We urge you to articulate this aim, and to turn your Administration’s attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power. This will require a full complement of diplomatic, political and military efforts. Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing this policy, we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater. We believe the U.S. has the authority under existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.

    We urge you to act decisively. If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk.


    Elliott Abrams Richard L. Armitage William J. Bennett

    Jeffrey Bergner John Bolton Paula Dobriansky

    Francis Fukuyama Robert Kagan Zalmay Khalilzad

    William Kristol Richard Perle Peter W. Rodman

    Donald Rumsfeld William Schneider, Jr. Vin Weber

    Paul Wolfowitz R. James Woolsey Robert B. Zoellick

    Archived from: http://www.newamericancentury.ORG/iraqclintonletter.htm

  • Helen4Yemen

    Enthusiastic IDF Awaits War in Iraq

    Senior security figures paint a rosy picture of the post-war future Israel can expect. They envision a domino effect, with Saddam’s fall followed by that of Israel’s other enemies: Arafat, Nasrallah, Assad, the ayatollah and maybe even Gadaffi.

    Aluf Benn and Haaretz Correspondent Feb 16, 2003 12:00 AM
    The Prime Minister’s Office ascribes little importance to the diplomatic hurdles America must overcome in the UN Security Council on the path to a war against Iraq. Israel estimates that the date of attack depends only on logistical considerations, when the deployment of U.S. troops is complete, and that the war will begin at the end of February or the beginning of March. No delays or any kind of influence are expected from the coalition negotiations.
    The military and political leadership yearns for war in Iraq, seeing it as an opportunity to win the war of attrition with the Palestinians. According to their approach removing Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat from his position will signify Palestinian surrender. Major General Amos Gilad, Coordinator of Government Activities in the West Bank and Gaza, expressed the army’s position Saturday, saying that a U.S.-led attack on Iraq would remove the Iraqi threat, and would be an example for “the removal of other dictators closer to us who use violence and terror.”
    Senior IDF officers and those close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such as National Security Advisor Ephraim Halevy, paint a rosy picture of the wonderful future Israel can expect after the war. They envision a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein followed by that of Israel’s other enemies: Arafat, Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Assad, the ayatollah in Iran and maybe even Muhammar Gadaffi. Along with these leaders, will disappear terror and weapons of mass destruction.
    There is also excitement in the IDF’s planning department over the standoff between the U.S. and its NATO allies. A paper distributed to the army’s upper echelons even spoke of an opportunity to remove the pro-Palestinian Europeans from the Middle East. A senior source said Saturday that the U.S. will punish the Europeans for their back-stabbing on the road to Baghdad, and will no longer ask them for input regarding Israeli concessions.
    But the conflict in the Security Council shows that the U.S. is having a hard time controling the international community, and is still focused on transforming the Middle East into an area under U.S. protection, in which Israel will enjoy privileged status.
    The conflict centers mainly around Iraq, but is also found in the Palestine-Israel arena. The U.S.’s partners in the “Quartet” – representiatives of the EU Russia and the UN – demonstrated their strength Friday when they managed to persuade Arafat to publicly announce his unconditional acceptance of the international “road map” to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as his intention to appoint a Palestinian prime minister. The announcement on the appointment of a prime minister was intended to show the Americans that there is a reason for the insistence of the Europeans, the Russians and the UN to continue to talk with Arafat.
    Arafat’s announcement was a huge triumph for Sharon who demanded the appointment of a prime minister with authority in the PA, and he even succeeded in enlisting the Europeans and the UN, Arafat’s main supporters, to pressure the Palestinian leader to change his tactics. The problematic part, from Sharon’s point of view, is in the “road map.” The Europeans want to implement the current draft which Qartet representatives are slated to discuss Monday in London. Sharon, however, wants to make some changes and to limit UN and European influence. Gaining Palestinian agreement to the road map will be more difficult after such amendments are made.
    The Prime Minister’s Office will finish Israel’s draft of the road map this week, which will be brought for approval before the new government. Head of the Prime Minister’s Office Dov Weisglass and representatives of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz (Military Secretary of the Defense Minister, Brigadier General Michael Herzog) and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Advisor Uzi Arad and Foreign Ministry General Manager Yoav Biran) are working together on the draft.
    After the document is completed, Weisglass is due to go to Washington to discuss the special aid package that Israel has requested from the U.S. Weisglass is also likely to meet with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice for general policy discussions. Before that, however, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon is due to return to Israel for consultation talks, and Sharon is to meet with representatives of the Congress subcommittee on Middle East affairs, scheduled to arrive in Israel Sunday. All the talks this week, and the London summit on PA reform, make up the Israeli-Palestinian part of the preparations for war on Iraq.
    Israel expects little from the London talks, since the U.S. promised there would be no progress in the drafting of the road map or in discussions about the aims of reforms within the PA. Within the committee of donors to the PA, the Palestinians will face a hostile front demanding that supervision of the how funds are used be improved. They will also be informed of a reduction in the support they received as compensation for the freezing of tax revenues that Israel collected on their behalf. With the renewal of revenue transfers from the Israeli treasury to the PA, the Palestinians are likely to lose the generous “bridging funds” donated by the EU.

  • Helen4Yemen

    “Israel is both the historic and the modern Jewish nation”

    This entity never existed in the real world except in the hocus-pocus world.
    This entity was established as a predatory colonial enterprise by Europe’s
    white Jewry who arrived with the utmost contempt for the natives of the
    region. Your entity is modern but also a Mafia state as an article in the
    Times of Israel indicated:

    Is Israel becoming a mafia state?

    ♦ Some 25% of the revenue of Israel’s lauded high-tech
    sector comes from shady or fraudulent industries;
    three-quarters of MKs are said to be in thrall to
    special interest groups

    The massive growth of organized crime in Israel over
    the past ten years, as well as the fact that Israel has
    become one of the world’s leading exporters of
    investment scams, stealing an estimated $5 billion to
    $10 billion per year from victims worldwide.

    ♦ Israeli police recently announced that these
    investment scams are largely run by organized crime,
    which has grown to “monstrous proportions” as a
    consequence of little to no law enforcement for years,
    the Israeli government, parliament and authorities
    have to date proved unwilling or unable to shut them
    down, in part because these fraudulent industries
    have a powerful lobby in the Knesset.

    ♦ An estimated 25 percent of the revenue of Israel’s
    lauded high-tech sector comes from shady or
    fraudulent industries, including online gambling,
    binary options, forex, downloaders/injectors and the
    payment, affiliate marketing and adtech companies
    that service these industries.

    ♦ The report suggests that rampant money laundering
    was a significant factor in the rise of apartment prices
    in the first place.

    ♦ Three-quarters of the 120 parliamentarians here are
    in thrall to special interest groups, whose lobbyists
    and PR flaks crowd the halls of the Knesset, and are
    relentlessly pressured to the point where the public
    interest, this MK lamented, becomes a weak voice in
    the back of their heads.

    ♦ “black market” of driving instructors who demanded
    hefty sums of money from new immigrants before
    agreeing to set a date for a driver’s test.

    ♦ “Lobbyists control the Knesset; they set the agenda
    and they usually win,” he said. “There is no question
    that the majority of Knesset members today work on
    behalf of lobbyists and not the people.”

    ♦ Earlier this year, draft legislation that would have
    banned all of Israel’s fraudulent online trading
    companies, and not just the part of the industry
    called “binary options,” was watered down in the
    course of behind-the-scenes consultations among the
    Israel Securities Authority, the Justice Ministry and
    the online trading industry itself.

    ♦ Anti-fraud advocates were stunned to arrive at the
    Reforms Committee meeting where the legislation
    was being debated to discover that the bill had been
    constricted and truncated without their knowledge,
    as a direct consequence of input from the very
    industries it was originally formulated to target.


  • Helen4Yemen

    I am Middle Eastern, Indigenous, Semite.

    95% of world Jewry is Ashkenazi with a confirmed DNA of 99.9% European

    (ask me to provide proof).

    Please tell me how white Europeans and I are indigenous to the same land?

    What proof does the white man known as the Ashkenazi have that he is indigenous?

    Got any proof? Where is it?

  • Helen4Yemen


    Imagine that I come busting through your house and immediately start
    murdering and raping and expelling members of your household. The
    few remnants of your family are given a small shed in the back. Then
    I begin to bitterly complain that the house I stole is a tiny one, why is
    everyone making a fuss about my invasion, right? Your loot is:

    • bigger than Kuwait,
    • 3 times the size of Bahrain, Singapore,
    • twice the size of Lebanon, Qatar, Jamaica

    And it wall stolen at gun point!

    Always remember that Palestine is not your grandma’s land. POLAND is!

  • Helen4Yemen

    Zionism succeeded only because Europeans found
    the perfect opportunity to remove the European Jews
    whom they hated spanning many centuries. I read
    Herzl’s Complete Diaries and it was stunning how a
    journalist was received by emperors, governors,
    prime ministers as if he was the head of state. In
    one of his diaries, Herzl made the remark that the
    PM of Germany had spent a lot of time talking with
    him even though a mayor was stilling waiting for his
    turn – and the mayor had even arrived before Herzl
    did. So Herzl was there to show the way to perform
    The Final Solution and we the people of the region
    are now saddled with a foreign and deadly enemy
    inserted in our midst.
    The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl – page 905

    February 16, (1900) Vienna

    Yesterday morning I had the audience with Prime
    Minister Koerber (of Austria) which Dr. Ehrlich had
    arranged. At 9 o’clock I appeared at the Ministry of
    the Interior and was immediately taken to Koerber
    who gave me an extraordinarily friendly reception. He
    was already fully informed about the Bank matter,
    which I had come about, had got out the file on it,
    and read me the decrees of the governor’s offices of
    Lower Austria and Galicia. He said he was prepared to
    be as obliging to me as the law permitted. I replied
    that we would be satisfied if at least the people who
    had already made down-payments were allowed to
    complete the transaction and pay up their shares, so
    that no one would lose money on the Bank. Zionism, I
    said, deserved to be encouraged rather than
    weakened by the government, for it constituted the
    only way out of the serious Jewish Question.
    Otherwise all the persecuted Jews, to whom we are
    opening up an ideal vista, would become enemies of

    Koerber said: “I admire the perseverance with which
    you have been pursuing this work for years.

    I remarked that it was really the most beautiful
    life-work. I was aware that people were laughing at

    He smiled: “Yes, I know that, too.”

    I: “But I pay very little attention to it.”

    Civilities and amiability concluded the half-hour
    conversation. He asked me for a concise, factual
    presentation of the entire sub- scription project, and
    invited me to call on him whenever I had anything to
    say to him. He would also ask me, as occasion
    offered, to visit him at his home in the evening, where
    we could then talk at greater leisure.

  • Robert H. Stiver

    Helen, you are simply wonderful…my hero. Thank you for being you.

  • Helen4Yemen

    Certainly appreciate the kind words but not sure if I deserve them. Hope to be meet with you online again and soon.