Days after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I meditate on tragic stories from my mother and grandmother about living in the Jim Crow South. Racist policies impacted every single aspect of life: separate buses, separate schools, and murder at the hands of the ruling whites without recourse. It's hard to believe such oppression is possible, but when I hear my father's side of the family in Palestine talk about the discriminatory laws and practices they currently face while living under Israeli rule, I am reminded that racism can exist anywhere so long as it goes unchallenged. I take King's words to heart: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." My commitment to justice does not end at a border wall or checkpoint; none of us can be free until all of us are free.
Over the last several years, I have worked with a broad, grassroots coalition to get the New Orleans City Council to pass a resolution supporting human rights. Groups involved in environmental justice, immigrant rights, and prisoners rights, among others, came together on what ought to be an uncontroversial position: the city should not do business with companies that profit from human rights abuses. Our aim was to create a mechanism by which New Orleans could review contracts to ensure that recipients were not complicit in human rights violations.
It was surprising, then, to see Mayor Mitch Landrieu's reaction to the passage of the amendment we had worked so hard to pass. He claimed the resolution "does not reflect the city’s history of inclusion and diversity." What about such a broad resolution targeting violators of human rights could possibly transgress our city's vaunted respect for "inclusion and diversity"? He doesn't say. What could possibly be the negative impact on our community of having our city government reject contracts with human rights abusers? No one — neither Landrieu nor other critics of the resolution — has made any of this clear.
Critics have failed to answer these questions because they don't have substantive objections to the resolution itself. Instead, they have made hollow and baseless objections to the procedure and, moreover, to who advocated for the resolution — namely, that some members of the coalition are, like me, Palestinian. The assaults on this resolution and its passage are the very definition of ad hominem attacks: unable to attack the resolution itself, critics are resorting to ugly smears. Distancing our city from companies that profit from human rights abuses, wherever they may occur, is morally righteous.
Anti-racism is at the core of my organizing work as a member of New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee. Our group supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights because we oppose Israel's discrimination and apartheid — separate schools, housing inequity, and extrajudicial execution — and daily terror that forced my family and many others to leave our homes in Palestine. BDS is a peaceful tactic that honors the spirit of the civil rights and anti-apartheid South Africa movements. It is a way that our city’s vibrant and sizable Palestinian community can advocate for our loved ones back home, meanwhile raising our families to be conscientious and productive New Orleanians.
We are your neighbors, corner store owners, and friends. We advocated for the human rights resolution because we value your lives as much as our own. This bold resolution will hold all human rights violators accountable and bring ethical investment to our great city.
New Orleans is paving a path toward a more just world for us all. The landmark decision to pass a human rights resolution is a victory for all who dare dream of a better future.
Tabitha Mustafa is the founder of the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee and program associate at American Friends Service Committee's Peace by Piece program. She lives in New Orleans.