Maligning Israel at American Public Health Association Annual Meeting


Basic question

Why does an association formally devoted to improving the health of Americans not only concern itself with the Palestinian-Israeli situation – but also side with one (the Palestinian Arabs) against the other. This is exactly what the American Public Health Association did in its recent (2012) 140th annual meeting’s closing keynote speech delivered to hundreds of enthusiasts by Angela Davis.

Davis, who is professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz in what the school calls “the History of Consciousness Department,” was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, and U.S. Communist Party member until 1991 when dissolution of the Soviet Union took place. The party generally sided with the Russian-led Soviet Union against the United States. In 1972, Davis – after being incarcerated for 17 months on charges of murder, kidnaping and conspiracy in connection with a county courtroom shootout in California – was brought to trial and acquitted of all charges. The only evidence presented against her was the fact that the guns used in the shooting – that left a judge and three convicts dead – were registered to her.

Davis’ obsession with Israel’s alleged unfair treatment of Palestinian Arabs apparently leaves no room for focusing any attention on nearby Syria whose real human rights violations include killing tens of thousands of its own citizens in the last year or two, renewed Sunni-Shi’ite violence in Iraq, oppression of Coptic Christians in Egypt or any of the other numerous and statistically more significant examples of Arabs maltreating Arabs.
An apologist for APHA might urge caution in reading too much into the bizarre choice of a keynote speaker, perhaps pointing out that an Israeli official participated in the APHA meeting. Dr. Ehud Miron of the Israel Public Health Association (IPHA) chaired the “Public Health and Public Health Workforce Competencies” working group session (and made one of the session’s two presentations) held on the same day, Oct. 31, 2012, as Davis’ keynote speech.
APHA’s vision and mission

APHA’s characterization of itself is stated in its Website:

The American Public Health Association is the oldest and most diverse organization of public health professionals in the world and has been working to improve public health since 1872. The Association aims to protect all Americans, their families and their communities from preventable, serious health threats and strives to assure community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventive health services are universally accessible in the United States. APHA represents a broad array of health professionals and others who care about their own health and the health of their communities.

APHA states that its vision is “A Healthy Global Society” and its mission is to “Improve the health of the public and achieve equity in health status.” To achieve these goals, “APHA provides public health leadership and collaborates with partners to convene constituencies; champion prevention; and promote evidence-based policy and practice; and advocate for healthy people and communities.”

Davis’ speech defames Israel

But Davis’ speech had nothing to do with such a mission. She maligned the Jewish nation including using loaded, inapplicable phrases such as “Jim Crow,” “black freedom struggle” and “apartheid in South Africa” in falsely equating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with that of African Americans against segregationists in the United States and black South Africans against their country’s apartheid system of enforced separation. Davis’ condemnation of Israel received thunderous, sustained applause and cheers at its conclusion.

What follows is an excerpt of Davis’ remarks transcribed from an online posted video clip originating apparently from a smartphone video capture. Davis, speaking rapidly, in a voice sharply varying in volume and pitch, denounced Israel in harsh tones:

” … illegal settlements and their ugly, ugly, ugly wall between Palestine and Israel. But the landscape is beautiful but it is totally destroyed by this wall that goes for hundreds of miles and (indistinct) corporate purveyor of private prisons in the U.S. of A. has (indistinct) why there are calls for boycotts and divestments and sanctions [applause]. This is what helped bring down apartheid in South Africa and if we understand the extent to which we are ourselves connected with that process of occupation. I used to take (indistinct) and their car service … they own (indistinct) which is a French corporation which is responsible for transportation between illegal settlements in occupied Palestine.

And I’m telling you when I was there I was shocked. I was really shocked. I didn’t expect to be shocked, I thought I already knew, I really thought I knew because I have been doing this work for I don’t know how many decades so I thought I knew what I would encounter in Occupied Palestine but I didn’t know and when I saw the signs, the signs didn’t say white and colored like they did when I was growing up, but they say ‘authorized persons’, or ‘authorized vehicles’ and I said to myself, ‘I didn’t know that highways could be segregated.’ Because even living in the most segregated city in the South during the height of Jim Crow we could, maybe we couldn’t stop and get out of the car [laughter].

But we could still drive. But there are signs on highways that say ‘authorized vehicles only’ and that means if you have a Palestinian license plate – and you see there’s a different kind of literacy you acquire there. You learn how to read the numbers and you know what license plates are Palestinian and which ones aren’t. If you have a Palestinian license plate you can’t drive on certain streets and you can’t walk down them. So I urge you to find out more about what is happening in that part of the world and also to remember that not very long ago some young Palestinians – less than a year ago — boarded some of those segregated buses that transport people from one illegal settlement to another and they knew they would be arrested because Palestinians are not allowed to board those buses and so guess what they called themselves?”

Audience: “Freedom Riders.”

Davis: “Fre
edom Riders yes! Freedom Riders [applause]. And therefore they were acknowledging the part, the influence of the Black freedom struggle on their freedom struggle today and I think as people would have it in this country — Black or Latino or Native American or Asian American or Arab American or White or whatever — we have a responsibility to support that struggle.

I know there are people in this country who are asking you to support divestment like with TIAA-CREF [financial services popular with educators] because I want – I’m already retired but it does not feel like retirement – but I desperately want an occupation-free retirement. Now, let’s remember [voice lowers to almost a whisper], do you remember when Nelson Mandela (indistinct)? Do you remember when the U.S. government considered it not safe to deal with the man who is now (indistinct) and that’s because he was involved with (indistinct) armed struggle against the apartheid regime that ruled South Africa? Let me just say this, I hope you are recharged for this coming year because we have an enormous amount of work to do and let us remember that justice is never partial – justice is always indivisible and an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. We need peace, equality, solidarity, justice and power and maybe eventually socialism for us all.

[vigorous, sustained applause]

Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Angela Davis

The great African-American civil rights leader would have likely butted heads with Davis regarding Israel. King said,

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.” (A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., HarperCollins 1991, pg. 670)

Moreover, “Those who knew King well have recalled his strong support for Israel, his understanding of the links between Israeli security and peace, and his opposition to anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism” (MLK on Peace, Israeli Security and Anti-Zionism online report).

Davis’ propaganda refuted
• “Illegal settlements”: Davis’ characterization is erroneous because basic international law in this case, the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate, Article 6, calls for “close Jewish settlement” on the land west of the Jordan River. Article 6 is incorporated by Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, sometimes referred to as “the Palestine article.” In the San Remo Treaty of 1920, the World War I Allied powers committed themselves to reconstituting a Jewish state “from Dan to Beersheva”; San Remo was incorporated in the 1922 Treaty of Sevres, disposing of lands of the defeated Ottoman Empire, as well as into the Palestine Mandate. The United States endorsed the mandate, including Article 6, in the 1924 Anglo-American Convention.
Further, the West Bank is not sovereign territory of any country, but rather land disputed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Part of Jerusalem (which has never been the capital of any nation except Israel) and the entire West Bank were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, when Israel took control as a result of successful self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War. As Eugene Rostow, a co-author of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), the keystone of all subsequent successful Arab-Israeli negotiations pointed out, 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal. Rather, the status of the territory, to which Jews as well as Arabs have legitimate claims, is to be resolved in negotiations as called for in the resolution and by U.N. Security Council Resolution 338 (1973). Meanwhile, Jewish villages and towns built in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people) since 1967 are no more illegal than areas built since then in previously existing Arab villages and towns.

• The “wall”: Israel’s security barrier, whose main aim is to prevent Palestinian terrorists from murdering Israelis, is misleadingly referred to here by Davis as a “wall” since less than 5 percent of the barrier can be considered a “wall.” Originally planned to encompass approximately 12 percent of the disputed West Bank, it has been re-routed by the Israeli military in response to Israeli Supreme Court decisions in cases brought by Palestinian Arabs. It now includes less than eight percent of the West Bank on the Israeli side of the barrier. The barrier was constructed in response to the “al-Aqsa intifada,” the 2000 – 2004 Palestinian terror war in which more than 1,000 Israelis – Jewish and Arabs, more than three-fourths of them non-combatants – and foreign visitors were murdered, most by Palestinian terrorists crossing unimpeded from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). The barrier’s completion has contributed significantly to the roughly 95 percent decrease in lethal attacks from the area.

In addition to blocking terrorist attacks, the barrier was constructed to end illegal Palestinian, Jordanian and other Arab immigration into Israel, which had grown to more than 200,000 in the years immediately prior to the start of its construction. Such migration by Arabs from Arab lands into the Jewish state would seem to contradict Davis’ “apartheid Israel” paradigm.
• Boycotts, divestments, sanctions (BDS): The BDS movement potentially jeopardizes the existence of thousands of jobs in businesses employing West Bank Arabs (see example below). Moreover, it is ironic that while Arabs in Israel have more legal rights and exercise them with more assurance than Arabs in any other country in the Middle East, Israelis are the only target of BDS activists. Thus, it’s clear that their primary goal (or only goal) is to spotlight invidiously Israel. So, as noted with Davis above, BDS participants focus none of their attention on major human rights violators and oppressive governments such as the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has killed tens of thousands of its own citizens in the last two years. An example of how BDS potentially jeopardizes the existence of many jobs held by Arabs is the current boycott push against SodaStream, an Israeli company, which sells a popular kitchen gadget that turns tap water into carbonated drinks. SodaStream has a large factory in a West Bank settlement employing 500 West Bank Palestinian Arabs, 400 Arabs from eastern Jerusalem and a mix of 200 Israeli Jews and foreign workers, including refugees from Africa. Two groups – the largest BDS group in the UK, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and one of the largest BDS groups in the United States, the Interfaith Boycott Co
alition – are now actively promoting boycotts of the company.
• Israel-only highways: From online report BDS Activist Peddles Fabrications in California Newspaper:

While there are roads prohibited to Palestinians in the West Bank, there are no ‘Jewish-only roads.’ Israel’s Arab citizens and, indeed, Israeli citizens of any religion or ethnicity, have just as much right to travel on those restricted roads as do Israeli Jews. Israeli Arabs frequently use the bypass roads for business and to visit relatives. Moreover, at least one Israeli Arab was fatally shot by Palestinian terrorists on one of these roads. As The Los Angeles Times reported on Aug. 8, 2001: ‘Wael Ghanem, an Israeli Arab, was shot and killed as he drove toward the Jewish settlement of Tzofim in the West Bank, not far from where an Israeli woman was killed on Sunday. . . . However, he was driving a car with yellow license plates on a West Bank road where a similar shooting attack had taken place, raising the possibility that Palestinian gunmen thought they were targeting an Israeli settler.” Georgios Tsibouktzakis, a Greek Orthodox monk, shot on June 12, 2001, was another non-Jew killed by Palestinian terrorists while on these roads.

Multiple major mainstream news outlets have corrected the canard about Jews-only roads. For instance, The Washington Post on Jan. 28, 2010.

• Falsely portraying Israel as against people of color or minority status: Often, this charge refers to Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but they largely run their own affairs under the leaders they select. Arabs in the Gaza Strip are ruled by a Hamas-led government that attempts to impose stricter Islamic practices; the daily lives of those in the West Bank are administered by the Palestinian Authority. Sometimes the charge refers to the more than one million Arab citizens of Israel but these enjoy full citizenship rights. Sometimes the reference is to the more than 25,000 Ethiopian Jews now residing as citizens in Israel after being rescued from religious oppression, war, and famine in 1984, 1985 and 1991 in dramatic large-scale, secret Israeli airlifts. They are being rapidly integrated into Israeli society. As the late New York Times columnist William Safire memorably wrote on Jan. 7, 1985: “For the first time in history, thousands of black people are being brought to a country not in chains but in dignity, not as slaves but as citizens.”

Those who falsely charge Israel with racial oppression are generally silent about Arab-versus-black or black-against-black violence in Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Congo and elsewhere in recent years that has resulted in literally millions of deaths.

• Apparently unknown to Davis are the remarkable accomplishments of Israel in the field of health which include widespread treatment of non-Israelis including many Africans, and Palestinian Arabs:

“Israel has been a pioneer in the contemporary concept and practice of Public Health and as a result has one of the world’s healthiest populations. The country’s success in pursuing effective Public Health policies is reflected in the fact that a nation of immigrants, who have arrived during the past 64 years principally from North Africa, the former Soviet Union and Central Europe, has one of the highest average life expectancies in the world (”

The intensive news media coverage of the West Bank and Gaza Strip creates the impression that Palestinian Arabs experience harsh levels of deprivation. But data collected by the chronically anti-Israel United Nations has consistently shown for many years that West Bank and Gaza Arabs, who benefit from enormous amounts of foreign aid as well as from close access to Israeli health services, are healthier and live longer than most of the people in the Middle East. A chart published by London’s Daily Mail citing the CIA World Factbook (which uses U.N. data) shows the longevity rankings of different states and entities.

The West Bank at 90th nevertheless ranks near the top of the Middle East, ahead of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and most of the North African states. Even Gaza at 110th, routinely portrayed in the media as suffering deprivation due to Israeli measures, experiences greater longevity at 74.16 years than neighboring Egypt at 72.93 years. Interestingly, most of these states rank well ahead of Russia and other former East bloc countries. Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank have greater longevity (and other favorable health measurements) than the majority of the world’s population. Their receipt of foreign aid may contribute to their health standard of living, not in spite of it.

Informing APHA’s members
APHA members should be made aware of the erroneous, omissions and inversions of reality in Davis’ speech, as pointed out in this critique. Association members should be informed that it is demonstrably true that Israel, in contrast with its neighbors, has from the first (in 1948) upheld equal rights not only to secular and religious Jews but also to Christian and Muslim Arabs. They should know that it has been a leader in public health, for all its citizens, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity, and that by all basic measurements – life expectancy, infant mortality, availability of health clinics and so on – Arab public health in the Gaza Strip and West Bank improved dramatically after Israel took control from Egyptian and Jordanian occupiers in 1967. The choice of Angela Davis to give a major address at the APHA convention, her topic and the enthusiastic reception that met her mistaken, misleading, even bigoted remarks raise questions about the association’s judgment and fidelity to its announced mission.

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