The members of the Christian Allies Caucus of Israel’s parliament sat in stunned silence. A visiting African American pastor had just told them something they had never expected: Israel had a potentially powerful ally in America’s black community.
Pastor Glenn Plummer, 50, former Chairman of the prestigious National Religious Broadcasters Association told those gathered in the Knesset lecture hall that the potential for support for Israel from black Americans is huge. Plummer claimed that more than 80 percent of 33 million African Americans are “Bible-oriented Christians.” According to Plummer, a recent survey asking respondents if they had read the Bible in the past week indicated that 62 percent of African Americans polled responded in the affirmative. By contrast, only 31 percent of white Americans did.
“And the Bible their preachers are preaching from is largely the Old Testament,” Plummer continued. “It’s hard to outdo a black preacher when he talks Old Testament…” the charismatic Detroit pastor added with a chuckle. “As a biblical American, I find myself connected to Israel,” Plummer said.
Plummer, making his third visit to Israel in recent years, asserts that Jews need to remind African Americans that they stood together on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. “I know it was Jews who were lynched and jailed as they stood by black Americans,” Plummer went on. “It was Jews who helped establish the NAACP.” He implored those present, including a group of 25 friends and congregants from Detroit, the heads of Christian organizations working in Israel, as well as the Knesset members, not to forget “that we’ve been friends for decades.”
“You need to get in our face and remind us that we stood together in the 60s. Say ‘we need friends now,’ and you’ll be met with the open arm of embrace from black Americans,” Plummer promised, as the members of his delegation murmured their agreement.
Plummer blamed a few media hungry black figures for the rift in Black-Jewish relations that has deepened with the demonization of Israel. “Don’t listen to the Farrakhans,” Plummer implored. “It’s the pastors who have the sentiment of the people, and they’re friends and allies of Israel.” “It just doesn’t make any sense for those black leaders who label Israel as the aggressor in the Middle East conflict—not if you know history,” Plummer exclaimed.
Besides invoking the historic alliance of Civil Rights era, Plummer assured the Israelis that two other issues point to strong pro-Israeli sentiment among American blacks. One is the common experience of slavery in countries that still exist today. The other is the rescue and resettlement of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia. Both issues should be emphasized, Plummer said.
The enslavement and eventual liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt and the two hundred years of oppression suffered by black Americans links the two peoples, Plummer asserted. “I don’t totally relate to blacks in Ethiopia, Brazil or even Africa because they haven’t shared that experience,” he says. “But we have a strange relationship with Jews who have also experienced oppression and deliverance.”
Plummer cited Israel’s rescue of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in two dramatic operations in 1984 and 1991 as a total secret for most Americans. Despite his position as head of the NRB, Plummer claims he was completely unaware of the existence of black Jews until his trip to Israel last summer.
“It’s the greatest tool to reach black Americans,” he claimed. “There’s never been a people of color brought out of a country of oppression to freedom—you did that,” he said. “That story needs to be told.”
Plummer mentioned the members of his own delegation—a cross section of Detroit’s black community—as people who had never given Israel much thought prior to their visit. “But now, having seen and experienced and encountered the land and people of Israel, their lives are forever changed. They’ll stand with Israel, they see Israel as our ally, they love Israel.” The delegation members applauded Plummer’s statement, even as he went on to unfavorably compare the group’s feelings of safety in Detroit to how they felt in Israel.
Plummer left his best line for last. Stressing the black community’s familiarity with the history of the Jewish people, Plummer noted, “We’re people who understand the difference between Isaac and Ishmael. We get it.”