The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s

The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s

The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s

The Rise of the Arab American Left: Activists, Allies, and Their Fight against Imperialism and Racism, 1960s-1980s

Synopsis

In this first history of Arab American activism in the 1960s, Pamela Pennock brings to the forefront one of the most overlooked minority groups in the history of American social movements. Focusing on the ideas and strategies of key Arab American organizations and examining the emerging alliances between Arab American and other anti-imperialist and antiracist movements, Pennock sheds new light on the role of Arab Americans in the social change of the era. She details how their attempts to mobilize communities in support of Middle Eastern political or humanitarian causes were often met with suspicion by many Americans, including heavy surveillance by the Nixon administration. Cognizant that they would be unable to influence policy by traditional electoral means, Arab Americans, through slow coalition building over the course of decades of activism, brought their central policy concerns and causes into the mainstream of activist consciousness.



With the support of new archival and interview evidence, Pennock situates the civil rights struggle of Arab Americans within the story of other political and social change of the 1960s and 1970s. By doing so, she takes a crucial step forward in the study of American social movements of that era.

Excerpt

Carrying signs and banners proclaiming “Jewish People Yes, Zionism No,” in November 1973 hundreds of Arab American autoworkers and their supporters picketed an event in Detroit at which the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith was honoring United Auto Workers’ president Leonard Woodcock. Plans for the protest had been building for several weeks, emanating from demonstrations held in reaction to the war fought between Israel and several Arab nations in October 1973. The October demonstrations that took place in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the United States, focused on championing the Arabs’ fight along with protesting American support for Israel. In Dearborn and across the country, Arab American political mobilization on behalf of Palestine had escalated since the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, when Israel had defeated its Arab opponents and displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Arab American autoworkers now charged their own union with complicity in Israeli actions. In the course of the protests held in October 1973, demonstrators revealed that the United Automobile Workers (UAW)—the union to which many Arab American workers belonged—had invested in Israeli bonds. Building on the momentum generated by the October War demonstrations, Arab American activists organized the protest against the B’nai B’rith fund-raising event to pressure the UAW to both divest its Israeli bonds and recognize the pro-Palestinian position held by its Arab American workers. Seeking to appeal to African Americans, whom organizers considered allies in the struggle to protect minority workers’ rights in the auto plants as well as the broader struggle for Third World liberation from capitalism and imperialism, the American Arab Coordinating Committee ran an advertisement in Detroit’s leading black newspaper explaining that “purchase of Israeli bonds is regarded by these [Arab] workers similarly as a UAW investment in racist South Africa would be regarded by black workers.” The ad, which also ran in other media outlets, invited all rank-and-file union members and anyone opposing the UAW’s holding of Israeli bonds to join the demonstration.

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