Black Panthers

Black Panthers

Black Panthers, U.S. African-American militant party, founded (1966) in Oakland, Calif., by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Originally espousing violent revolution as the only means of achieving black liberation, the Black Panthers called on African Americans to arm themselves for the liberation struggle. In the late 1960s party members became involved in a series of violent confrontations with the police (resulting in deaths on both sides) and in a series of court cases, some resulting from direct shoot-outs with the police and some from independent charges. Among the most notable of the trials was that of Huey Newton for killing a policeman in 1967, which resulted in three mistrials, the last in 1971. Bobby Seale, one of the "Chicago Eight" charged and convicted of conspiracy to violently disrupt the Democratic National Convention of 1968 (conviction later overturned), was a codefendant in a Connecticut case charging murder of an alleged informer on the party. He was acquitted in 1971. A third major trial was of 13 Panthers in New York City accused of conspiring to bomb public places. They were also acquitted in 1971. The results of these trials were taken by many observers as confirmation of their suspicions that the Black Panthers were being subjected to extreme police harassment. Another incident that supported this view was the killing in a raid by Chicago police of Illinois party leader Fred Hampton and another Panther in 1969; review of this incident revealed that the two Panthers had been shot in their beds without any provocation. While controversy raged over the civil liberties issue, the Panthers themselves were riven with internal disputes. A major split took place, with Newton and Seale (who in 1972 announced their intention of abandoning violent methods) on the one side and Eldridge Cleaver (formerly the chief publicist for the party, who continued to preach violent revolution) on the other. Cleaver headed the so-called international headquarters of the party (until 1973) in Algeria. In 1974 both Seale and Newton left the party; the former resigned, and the latter fled to Cuba to avoid drug charges. During the late 1970s the party gradually lost most of its influence, ceasing to be an important force within the black community. The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in Dallas, Tex., in 1989, is not related to the old group.

See H. Pearson, The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America (1994).

The Black Panthers (הפנתרים השחורים, HaPanterim HaShhorim) are an Israeli protest movement of second-generation Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern countries. They were one of the first organizations in Israel with the mission of working for social justice for the Mizrahi Jews. Saadia Marciano, one of the movement's founders, chose the name "Black Panthers" in 1971 when Angela Davis, one of the African American Black Panthers, came to visit Israel where she met with Martziano, who then adopted the name. They are also sometimes referred to as the Israeli Black Panthers to distinguish them from the African American group.


The movement began early in 1971 in the Mosrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, in reaction to perceived discrimination against Mizrahi Jews, which they considered to have existed since the establishment of the state. The Black Panthers felt that this discrimination could be seen in the different attitude of the Ashkenazi Establishment towards the olim from the Soviet Union. The movement's founders protested "ignorance from the establishment for the hard social problems", and wanted to fight for a different future.

At the beginning of March 1971, the Israel Police denied the Black Panthers a permit for a demonstration; the Panthers ignored this decision and proceeded with the demonstration illegally, protesting the distress of the poverty, the gap between poor and rich in Israel, and the ethnic tensions within Jewish Israeli society. The movement successfully built a base of supporters, both in the public and in the media.

On 18 May 1971, "The Night of the Panthers", between 5,000 and 7,000 demonstrators gathered in Zion Square in Jerusalem in a militant protest against the racial discrimination. The demonstrators even demanded to change the name of the square to Kikar Yehadut HaMizrah (Eastern Jewry Square). This demonstration was also held without police permission. The security forces which came to disperse the demonstration encountered an angry mob who threw stones and Molotov cocktails. Both police and demonstrators were injured in the clash; 20 were hospitalized, and 74 demonstrators were arrested by the police.

Prior to the demonstration, representatives of the Panthers had met with Prime Minister Golda Meir on 13 April, who characterized them as "not nice people". She saw the leaders of the movement as lawbreakers and refused to recognize them as a social movement. The violent protest of 18 May brought the government to discuss seriously the Panthers' claims and a public committee was established to find a solution.

According to the conclusions of that committee, discrimination did exist at many levels in society. Following this, the budgets of the offices dealing with social issues were enlarged significantly. However, the Yom Kippur War soon changed the government's list of priorities, and most of these resources were turned, again, towards security needs.

The Panthers eventually moved into electoral politics, but without success, at least in part because of internal disputes and struggles. Some of the movement's leaders integrated into either the main Israeli parties specific, ethnic parties such as Tami or Shas, and through them promoted the Mizrahi Jews' agenda. Charlie Biton became a member of Knesset with Maki and was re-elected four times. Former Black Panther member Reuven Abergel has since been active in the struggle for social justice and peace in Israel/Palestine as a member of various groups and movements. He currently serves on the board of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow.

The young Black Panther activists raised public consciousness to the "Oriental question" which subsequently played a role in Israeli political debate in the Seventies and Eighties, contributing to Likud success in that period. Although inequalities remain, many Mizrahi Jews have over the years entered the mainstream of Israeli political, military, cultural and economic life, including Moroccan-born Amir Peretz and David Levy, Iraqi-born Shlomo Hillel, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Yitzhak Mordechai and Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Katzav.


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