Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 6, 2015

Steven Salaita: why I was fired

Filed under: Academia,Palestine,repression,zionism — louisproyect @ 12:51 pm

(Just got a copy of his book from Haymarket. This is an excerpt.)

Why I Was Fired
By Steven Salaita OCTOBER 05, 2015

In August 2014, I was fired from a tenured position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The firing made me a free-speech darling — or the world’s most violent person since Stalin, depending on your perspective. It also sparked a debate about academic freedom, faculty governance, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the role of social media in university life. That debate rages with no resolution in sight.

The story of my notoriety begins on July 21, 2014, when The Daily Caller ran an article about me titled “University of Illinois Professor Blames Jews for anti-Semitism.” With the brio and wisdom for which right-wing websites are known, the piece begins, “The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has continued its bizarre quest to employ as many disgusting scumbags as possible by acquiring the services of Steven Salaita, a leading light in the movement among similarly obscure academics to boycott Israel.”

The article, and subsequent coverage, focused on several tweets I wrote in the summer of 2014. One tweet read: “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” In another, I wrote, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”

It has since become popular to call me uncivil. Or intemperate. Or inappropriate. Or angry. Or aggressive. It’s unseemly to describe myself, but because “unseemly” is an improvement over what many people now call me — why not? I am a devoted husband and a loving father. I never talk out of turn. I deliberate for long periods before making significant decisions. As is normal for somebody born and raised in Southern Appalachia, I call everybody “sir” or “ma’am.” I do not raise my voice at people. I am deeply shy and chronically deferential. That is to say, I am civil to a fault.

This exegesis on my disposition probably seems unnecessary, but it’s important to distinguish between somebody’s persona and his personhood, though in most cases one informs the other. This is the extent of my feelings on the matter: It is precisely because I am a loving person that I so adamantly deplore Israel’s behavior.

My tweets might appear uncivil, but such a judgment can’t be made in an ideological or rhetorical vacuum. Insofar as “civil” is profoundly racialized and has a long history of demanding conformity, I frequently choose incivility as a form of communication. This choice is both moral and rhetorical.

The piety and sanctimony of my critics is most evident in their hand-wringing about my use of curse words. While I am proud to share something in common with Richard Pryor, J.D. Salinger, George Carlin, S.E. Hinton, Maya Angelou, Judy Blume, and countless others who have offended the priggish, I confess to being confused as to why obscenity is such an issue to those who supposedly devote their lives to analyzing the endless nuances of public expression. Academics are usually eager to contest censorship and deconstruct vague charges of vulgarity. When it comes to defending Israel, though, anything goes. If there’s no serious moral or political argument in response to criticism of Israel, then condemn the speaker for various failures of “tone” and “appropriateness.” Emphasis placed on the speaker and not on Israel. A word becomes more relevant than an array of war crimes.

Even by the tendentious standards of “civility,” my comments on Twitter (and elsewhere) are more defensible than the accusations used to defame me. The most deplorable acts of violence germinate in high society. Many genocides have been glorified (or planned) around dinner tables adorned with forks and knives made from actual silver, without a single inappropriate speech act having occurred.

Academics are usually eager to contest censorship. When it comes to defending Israel, though, anything goes.
In most conversations about my termination, Israel’s war crimes go unmentioned, yet it is impossible to understand my tweets without that necessary context. My strong language — and I should point out that much of my language is also gentle — arises in response to demonstrable acts of brutality that in a better world would raise widespread rancor. You tell me which is worse: cussing in condemnation of the murder of children or using impeccable manners to justify their murder. I no more want to be “respectable” according to the epistemologies of colonial wisdom than I want to kill innocent people with my own hands. Both are articulations of the same moral rot.

In 11 years as a faculty member, I have fielded exactly zero complaints about my pedagogy. Every peer evaluation of my instruction — the gold standard for judging teaching effectiveness — has been stellar. Student evaluations ranked higher than the mean every time I collected them. Yet people affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have impugned my ability to teach.

Students are capable of serious discussion, of formulating responses, of thinking through discomfort. They like my teaching because I refuse to infantilize them; I treat them as thinking adults. I have never disrespected a student. I have never told a student what to think. Nor have I ever shut down an opinion. I encourage students to argue with me. They take me up on the offer. I sometimes change my viewpoint as a result. My philosophy is simple: Teach them the modes and practices of critical thought and let them figure out things on their own.

The hand-wringing about students is pious, precious claptrap, a pretext to clean the stench from a rotten argument raised to validate an unjustifiable decision.

Troublesome assumptions underlie accusations about my fitness for the classroom. It is impossible to separate questions about my “civility” from broader narratives of inherent Arab violence. This sort of accusation has been used to discredit people of color (and other minorities) in academe for many decades. Administrators and the public monitor and scrutinize our actions in a manner to which our white colleagues are rarely subject. It is crucial to train us in the ways of civility lest our emotions dislodge the ethos our superiors hold so dear.

When it comes to opposing colonization, there is no need for dissimulation, which is the preferred vocabulary of the cocktail party and committee meeting. I could make a case that dissimulation is immoral. It is undoubtedly boring. When I say something, I have no desire to conceal meaning in oblique and wishy-washy diction. This is especially so when I respond to the various horrors of state violence and the depravity of those who justify it. On campus, such forthrightness is unconventional.

But no tenet of academic freedom considers failure to adhere to convention a fireable offense.

Professors are often punished for disrupting convention in informal ways, however. My case is interesting because administrators ignored the de facto standards that regulate our behavior and exercised their power directly. This should be worrisome to any scholar who isn’t a sycophant.

People with doctorates who make claims unsupported by evidence and who uncritically repeat terms like “incivility” as if it describes anything other than their own dull prejudice are the ones most unfit to teach college.

Being called an anti-Semite is deeply unpleasant. Those who make the accusation should be responsible for providing evidence, yet it is I who has been saddled with the impossible task of disproving a negative.

The rhetorical incoherence of my critics is evident in their ever-evolving justifications for my firing. First I was anti-Semitic. Then I was uncivil. Then I was a bad teacher. Then I was too charismatic. Then I was too angry. Then I was too profane. Then I was too radical. Then I was too unpatriotic. Then I wasn’t really hired. Then I was unqualified in the field of American Indian studies. Then I benefited from nepotism. Then I was a poor scholar. Then my colleagues were incompetent. Then my colleagues were deceitful. Then my colleagues were ignorant. Then the American Indian-studies program required special guidance. Then the decision to hire me was solely based on politics. Then indigenous studies was illegitimate. Then the entire damn field needed to be shut down.

Part of our charge as educators is to encourage students to find the language that will help them translate instinct into concrete knowledge. It’s the kind of preparation we all need to survive the capitalist marketplace. While antiauthoritarianism may start as an attitude, it has infinite capacity to develop into an ethic.

Distrusting the motivation of institutions and their managers often means demotion or recrimination. But there is reason to distrust authority on campus. Universities are lucrative spaces; nothing is lucrative without also being corrupt.

As Thomas Frank put it in an essay in The Baffler:

The coming of “academic capitalism” has been anticipated and praised for years; today it is here. Colleges and universities clamor greedily these days for pharmaceutical patents and ownership chunks of high-tech startups; they boast of being “entrepreneurial”; they have rationalized and outsourced countless aspects of their operations in the search for cash; they fight their workers nearly as ferociously as a 19th-century railroad baron; and the richest among them have turned their endowments into in-house hedge funds.

Frank later pinpoints the reason for campus authoritarianism:

Above all, what the masters of academia spend the loot on is themselves. In saying this, I am not referring merely to the increasing number of university presidents who take home annual “compensation” north of a million dollars. That is a waste, of course, an outrageous bit of money-burning borrowed from Wall Street in an age when we ought to be doing the opposite of borrowing from Wall Street. But what has really fueled the student’s ever-growing indebtedness, as anyone with a connection to academia can tell you, is the insane proliferation of university administrators.

Universities are lucrative spaces; nothing is lucrative without also being corrupt.
The numbers validate Frank’s observation. Benjamin Ginsberg points out that in the past 30 years, the administrator-to-student ratio has increased while the instructor-to-student ratio has stagnated. The rise of untenured, or non-tenure-track, faculty exacerbates the problem; a significant demographic in academe lacks job security or the working conditions that allow them to maximize their pedagogical talent. Over a recent 10-year period, spending on administration outpaced spending on instruction. At American universities, there are now more administrators and their staffers than full-time faculty. In the past 10 years, administrative salaries have steadily risen while custodians and groundskeepers suffer the inevitable budget cuts — as do the students whose tuition and fees supplement this largess.

When so much money is at stake, those who raid the budget have a deep interest in maintaining the reputation of the institution. Their privilege and the condition of the brand are causally related. The brand thus predominates. Its predominance often arrives at the expense of student well-being.

Take the matter of sexual assault. Reporting rates have recently risen, but all versions of sexual assault remain woefully underreported. There are numerous reasons why a victim chooses to keep silent. One reason is that she may expect a wholly inadequate, or even hostile, response from her own university. In 2014, Columbia University fielded 28 federal complaints claiming the university had inadequately investigated reports of sexual assault. Florida State University, with the help of the Tallahassee Police Department, orchestrated a clumsy cover-up of a rape allegation to protect the star quarterback Jameis Winston. A different category of sexual assault infamously occurred at Pennsylvania State University, where the onetime defensive coordinator of the football team, Jerry Sandusky, was found to have molested various children, some of them on campus. The university’s complicity is but an extreme instance of a common phenomenon.

In this era of neoliberal graft, universities barely pretend to care about the ideals upon which higher education was founded. Sure, administrators and PR flacks still prattle about dialogue and self-improvement and the life of the mind, but not even impressionable 18-year-olds believe that claptrap. They know just as well as their superiors that college is really about acquiring the mythical-but-measurable status conferred to them by a crisp sheet of cotton-bond paper.

As universities more and more resemble corporations in their governance, language, and outlook, students have become acutely brand conscious. Guardianship of the brand thus predominates and overwhelms the primacy of thought and analysis to which the academy is nominally committed. Students no longer enter into places of learning. They pay exorbitant prices to gain access to the socioeconomic capital of affiliation with the most recognizable avatars, adorned magisterially with armor and pastoral creatures and Latin phrases.

Take that most sacred element of pedagogy, critical thinking. Many faculty don’t know how to do it, never mind imparting instruction in the practice to those trying to learn it. (My conception of “critical thinking” includes acting in some way on the knowledge it produces, if only in the formulation of a dynamic ethical worldview.) One of the greatest skills critical thinking provides is the ability to recognize and undermine bunk. In short, if critical thinking is to be useful, it must endow a reflexive desire to identify and understand the disguises of power.

This sort of focus is low on the list of what universities want from students, just as critical thinking is a terribly undesirable quality in the corporate world, much more damning than selfishness or sycophancy. Let us then be honest about critical thinking: On the tongues of cunning bureaucrats, it is little more than an additive to brand equity, the vainglorious pomp of smug, uptight automatons who like to use buzzwords in their PowerPoint presentations.

Critical thinking by faculty is even more undesirable. In research institutions, we are paid to generate prestige and to amass grant money; in teaching-centered colleges, we enjoy excess enrollments according to fine-tuned equations that maximize the student-teacher ratio. (In elite liberal-arts colleges, we pamper the kids with simulations of parental affection.) Critical thinking is especially harmful to adjuncts, reliant as they are for income on the munificence of well-paid bosses who cultivate a distended assemblage of expendable employees.

Nowhere in our employment contracts does it say, “Challenge the unarticulated aspirations of the institution, especially when it acts as a conduit and expression of state violence; and please try your best to support justice for those on and off campus who are impoverished by neoliberalism.” If we practice critical thinking, though, it is difficult to avoid these obligations.

Because of their high-minded rhetoric, it is tempting to believe that university managers care about ethics or maybe even about justice, but most managers care about neither. The exceptions, of course, deserve our praise — just don’t poke around the highly ranked schools if you want to find them. The key to a successful managerial career isn’t striving to be a good person, but developing enough instinct to cheat and charm at opportune moments.

Whatever independence can be acquired in academe requires a fundamental distrust of authority, be it abstract or explicit. There never have been pure epochs of uncorrupted democracy, but increasing corporate control disturbs greater sectors of American life, particularly on campus. There has to be a better way to conduct the practices of education.

What to do about injustice? I hear this question a lot since I was fired. I have no solid answer. My instinct, which I fully understand isn’t actually instinctive, is simply to tell people to do what they feel comfortable doing. I’m not big on demands or injunctions. Yet I recognize that as somebody who now exists in a public position I am summoned to analyze a set of dynamics in which I and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are embroiled. These dynamics are especially important to folks in academe who wish to pursue material commitments alongside theoretical and philosophical questions.

Graduate students and prospective graduate students are especially anxious these days. They are right to be. Decent humanities jobs are in decline. Grad-school slots have become more competitive. Any advantage is a great asset. Being deemed a troublemaker or a radical is no advantage.

Making trouble is precisely the function of the intellectual, though. And being radical is a solid antidote to boring work.

There’s always been repression and recrimination in academe. Anybody with an eye toward a career as a scholar has to internalize this reality. Aspiring and established scholars should not abdicate intellectual commitments in order to please the comfortable. This would be careerism, not inquiry.

And that’s the point. If we don’t examine relationships of power and highlight the disjunctions of inequality, then we’re not doing our jobs. (We will be according to the preferences of the managerial class, but pleasing its functionaries isn’t generally the mark of an interesting thinker.) Upsetting arbiters of so-called common sense is an immanent feature of useful scholarship.

“What can/should we do?” is not a universal question. Consider that the labor of minority scholars is already politicized. We have to publish more. It’s risky to be introverted because so many white colleagues cannot tolerate a minority who doesn’t pretend to like them. We have to act as diversity representative on all sorts of committees. We cannot be mediocre because our tenure and upward mobility rely on senior colleagues who reward only their own mediocrity. It’s hazardous for us to show emotion because we’re aware of the possibility of confirming to others our innate unreason. Adding “activist leader” to this list of tasks is a heavy undertaking. In many ways, simply deciding not to appease power is an active form of advocacy. It is the activism of survival.

Getting fired doesn’t make me an expert on anything. I’m doing my best to make sure something productive comes of it, though. My having a job changes nothing if the system that orchestrated my ouster remains intact. I am merely a symbol of the stark imperatives of the wealthy and well connected. We all are, really. Unless the system changes at a basic level, everybody is merely buying shares in a corporation with the power to dissolve our interests the moment we become an inconvenience.

Steven Salaita holds the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut. This essay is adapted from his new book, Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom, just out from Haymarket Books.

September 22, 2015

Israel joins the axis of resistance

Filed under: Palestine,Syria,zionism — louisproyect @ 8:47 pm

As I pointed out in my post on Hungary last week, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss had a profound insight into the way we think. Homo sapiens is susceptible to binary oppositions on any number of questions from good and evil to light and darkness. That is probably what explains the lingering appeal of Platonic idealism on the left, most particularly around the question of imperialism versus anti-imperialism.

On one hand you have NATO, the IMF, the EU and the White House—the guys in black hats. And on the other you have the Russian military, the BRICS Development Bank, the Eurasian trading bloc, and the Kremlin—all in white hats. This kind of binary thinking is poorly suited to explaining why a filthy, racist demagogue like Viktor Orban can line up with the Kremlin. If the criterion is opposition to the West, Orban is a “good” leader while Ukraine’s Poroshenko is “evil”.

But the difficulties reach a breaking point when it comes to Benjamin Netanyahu, who next to Barack Obama, is the most nefarious politician in the world according to the binary brigade. Just a day ago, I learned that Netanyahu and his top military advisers were making a trip to the Kremlin in order to discuss security concerns with Putin and his warmakers. Generally, this has been reported as the two leaders getting together to address Israel’s concerns that the latest shipment of Russian arms flowing into Syria will not get into the hands of Hezbollah, supposedly Israel’s mortal enemy as well as the continuing presence of Iranian troops.

The “anti-imperialists” have told us over and over that Israel is using the jihadists as a battering ram against Syria, which is supposedly the best friend of the Palestinians in the region. Every few months there is a new talking point like in June when wounded al-Nusra front “takfiri” were alleged to being transported to Israeli hospitals and returned afterwards to the Golan Heights battlefields after a full recovery. It did not matter to the Baathist amen corner that none of this could be documented.

Asa Winstanley, one of the Assadiist tools who write for Jacobin, went so far as to tell its readers that Israel was for an ISIS victory in the region:

Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, stated in an interview almost a year ago that Israel wants to “let the Sunni evil prevail” over the greater “evil” of Iran and its regional proxies. Speaking in the context of a massacre of Iraqi soldiers, he seemed to argue that Israel should allow the “Islamic State” to win.

Oren isn’t alone among the Israeli elite. Gilad Sharon — the son of the late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who once called for Israel to “flatten all of Gaza” — stated last month that Israel may actually prefer the “Islamic State” terror group (whose origins lie with the al-Qaeda in Iraq group) to Assad and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies.

Now that Israel is coordinating intervention in Syria with Russia, people like Asa Winstanley will have a major job on their hands explaining this but I assume that he is cynical enough to justify anything. Such people seem to be channeling the CPUSA’s support for the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact. That, of course, is what happens when you are reduced to cheap propaganda rather than radical journalism of the John Reed variety.

What makes a political pirouette all the more difficult for Winstanley and company is Israel’s apparent acceptance of the ongoing Russian-American-Syrian bombing campaign against ISIS, one that Russia and Israel have already begun coordinating as the Jerusalem Post reports:

In Russia, Eisenkot met with his Russian counterpart, General Valery Vasilevich Gerasimov – the first time chiefs of staff from Russia and Israel held a direct meeting. Eisenkot also participated in part of the meeting held between Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Afterward, the two sides agreed to set up a joint working group led by the deputy chiefs of staff from each country. The first meeting will occur in two weeks, and the location will be decided in the coming days.

“It will coordinate air, naval, and the electromagnetic arenas,” the source said. The full composition of the working group has not yet been determined, he added.

“Everything will be raised there. The meetings in Russia were held in a good atmosphere,” the senior source said.

Nice to hear that there was a good atmosphere. I can just see the military brass from each side sharing vodka and pickled herring.

Haaretz, the liberal Zionist newspaper that tends to be less ideological than the Likudist press in Israel, had a shrewd assessment of the Netanyahu-Putin powwow:

And although Netanyahu only last week said “commentators” were wrong when they warned of a collapse of ties between Israel and the United States in light of the Iran nuclear deal, Netanyahu’s current visit to Moscow could be seen as an Israeli jab at Washington. The visit seems to reflect Netanyahu’s lack of faith in the ability or the intent of the United States to protect Israel’s security interests.

The visit cannot be considered good news in Washington, which led a campaign of condemnation and sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the war in Ukraine last summer. (Israel did not take a position on that conflict and was duly rewarded by Russia which issued a moderate response to Israel’s actions in the war on Gaza shortly thereafter.)

The reference to Gaza is likely tied to Russian opposition to the Goldstone Report being taken up by the Security Council in 2009, a document that charged Israel with war crimes. Russia had voted to approve the report in the Human Rights Committee of the UN but shrewdly decided that relations with Israel should not be compromised by putting teeth into a report that might have led to Netanyahu and company suffering the same fate as Milosevic. In explaining their refusal to take up the Goldstone Report on the Security Council, the Russians made that connection clear:

Many of the recommendations of the report, including criticisms of the actions of Hamas-controlled security forces, as well as provisions relating to the observance of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in general, appear justified. However, a number of proposals in the document go beyond the scope of the mission. This applies particularly to the recommendations addressed to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court and the call upon states to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes during the conflict in Gaza, under universal jurisdiction.

We oppose the referral of the report to the UN Security Council. We believe that it is the UN Human Rights Council that constitutes the platform in the format which this report should be considered. Nor do we believe it is advisable to draw international judicial bodies into the investigation.

So Benjamin Netanyahu’s worse fears were averted. There was no need to hire a lawyer to defend him against war crimes even if Ramsey Clark were still available. Bully for the most fearsome enemy of the West on the BRICS front.

So when did Russia make a “turn” toward Israel disavowing the “anti-imperialist” stance that had endeared it to people like Mike Whitney and Andre Vltchek? Unless you are victim to your own propaganda, the evidence was there from the beginning that the Kremlin considered Israel its good friend.

Keep in mind that Russia and Israel share a loathing for what they call Islamic jihadists. In 2000 when Russia was using the same scorched earth military tactics and the same “war on terrorism” rhetoric now being used in Syria, Israel’s foreign minister, the ultrarightist Natan Sharansky, stood behind Putin, comparing his struggle with Israel’s against the Palestinians. The Washington Post editorialized on the Russian-Israeli commonality of interests on April 29, 2002:

Ever since Sept. 11, Putin and Sharon have tried to convince the world that the Muslim national movements seeking to end the military occupations by Russia of Chechnya, and by Israel of the West Bank and Gaza, are indistinguishable from the terrorists of Osama bin Laden and deserve the same treatment. Both have had some luck — Sharon seems to have persuaded most of Congress and half of the Bush administration. But as a season of summits among Russia, the United States and Europe approaches, only Putin seems to have successfully merged the war on terrorism with his own scorched-earth assault on national sovereignty.

Finally, we must say something about whether Israel ever perceived Syria as a mortal threat to its interests, to the point that Asa Winstanley’s ravings could make sense.

Early on Israel took the position that Assad was the “lesser evil”, referring to him as “the devil you know” as opposed to the rebels who were an unknown quantity. As the war dragged on, however, Israel began to see the wisdom of imperialist intervention against ISIS and al-Nusra whether from the White House or the Kremlin.

A more important question is how Syria viewed Israel and the Palestinians. Despite Baathist rhetoric about solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, there is at least one Palestinian who does not buy the bullshit. I refer you to Tariq Al-Faluji, a Palestinian college student who describes himself as “raised to stand up for what’s right, whether it is in Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, or anywhere in the Arab World.” In an April 28, 2013 article for “Beyond Compromise”, he addressed the problem of Palestinian support for the Assad head-on:

First of all, the Assad family is no friend of Palestine. Before Hafez even became president of Syria, he was a commander of the Syrian Air Force. In 1966, when Salah Jadid took over leadership in Syria in a military coup, he was appointed a Defense Minister, effectively becoming the country’s second in command. In 1970, in the wake of Black September, Syria sided with the Palestinians, sending in armored divisions into Jordan. This marks the first occasion of Assad betraying the Palestinians. As commander of the Air Force, he refused to provide the air cover necessary for the Syrian aid to reach the Palestinians. Because of this, the Syrian forces were re-routed and the Palestinians suffered the consequences of losing. Assad used this particular defeat to discredit Jadid and take over via military coup.

That particular instant is not the first occasion and is certainly not the last. In 1976, at the height of the Lebanese Civil War, the Syrian army aided the Phalangist militia in besieging the Palestinian Tel Al-Zaatar refugee camp in Lebanon. After the Syrians and their Lebanese allies shelled the camp, 3000 Palestinians died. The Syrian army was instrumental in the siege of Palestinian refugee camps by the Amal movement, which left several thousand Palestinians dead. The Syrian role in the Lebanese Civil War would lead to many more Palestinian deaths. It should be telling of the nature of the Assad Regime; psychopathic killers with no friends.

Not to mention, Syria has been a perfect “enemy” to Israel for decades. Since 1973, the Syrian army has fired an illustrious zero bullets into Israel. Even with their territory occupied, they remained quiet even when Israeli planes went as far as flying over Assad’s palace in 2006. This illusion that the Syrian regime is the only regime fighting Israel is simply that, an illusion. There is no question that Assad is not by any means a friend of the Palestinian people.

Additionally, what is happening in Syria is a crime against humanity. Thousands are dying, the country is destroyed beyond repair, and millions are refugees. Which is why it is enraging to find Palestinians who support Assad. As a people, we Palestinians know exactly what it is like to be killed in the thousands, lose our country, and have to live our lives as refugees. A Palestinian who can’t see the parallels between what Israel did to Palestinians and what Assad is doing to his own people is simply blind.

If we as a people can be comfortable with the idea that Assad can get away with the murder of his people, then our 65 years under occupation have taught us nothing. Palestinians should be at the forefront of support for any people who are facing killing, forced to leave their country, and being repressed in the most brutal ways possible. The hypocrisy of a Palestinian who spends hours talking about the injustice in Israeli jails while simultaneously supporting a regime that has kept tens of thousands in much worse imprisonment conditions is astounding. How can we be taken seriously as advocates of freedom when we only advocate it when it suits our own purposes? How can anyone talk about Israel killing Palestinians while accepting and condoning the killing of Syrians? The answer is simple. Those two positions simply cannot coexist without hypocrisy.

I imagine sympathy for such an analysis among Palestinians explains why 315 of their number have been tortured to death in Syrian prisons to this point. It is an abomination that the Baathist amen corner tries to turn such murdering beasts into “anti-imperialist” heroes.

June 29, 2015

Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada)

Filed under: Syria,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:48 pm

Response to EI article (Electronic Intifada).


The failure of the Palestine solidarity movement in the West to follow the lead of the Palestinian movement inside Syria, the vast majority of whom oppose the government despite the costs, in offering solidarity to the Syrian uprising or at least the victims of the situation, is something that will be remembered badly in history, although there is still time to change course. (http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/01/23/declaration-of-a-shared-fate/http://beyondcompromise.com/2014/01/18/while-you-were-neutral-about-yarmouk/).

​The “Israel backs Jabhat al-Nusra” fairy-tale and its deadly consequences

Filed under: Syria,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:10 pm

​The “Israel backs Jabhat al-Nusra” fairy-tale and its deadly consequences.

June 25, 2015

The Jewish Voice for Peace Attack on Alison Weir: JVP Loses Its Balance

Filed under: Palestine,zionism — louisproyect @ 1:11 pm

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 5.45.38 PM

A guest post by Amith Gupta, NYU Law Student

Feel free to forward this widely. Contact me if you would like to publish some or all of it.

A personal note: I did not intend on sending this or discussing this any further. But, for the last three years, I have been pushed and pushed to speak about Alison Weir, not out of support for her politics, but out of alienation by those who have attacked her.

Below is a consolidated version of some of the things I have written to associates on organizing lists about the recent statement by Jewish Voices for Peace to malign Alison Weir, which was mass-mailed to various chapters and list-servs. I did not intend to write anything further, but I have had ten people contact me to tell me to spread this further in 24 hours.

These comments are NOT made out of support for If Americans Knew NOR out of opposition to Jewish Voice for Peace. These comments should NOT be read as a defense of any unnamed persons who have separately been accused of anti-Semitism, nor should they be interpreted to suggest that anti-Semitism is not a problem or that it does not exist.

These comments are ENTIRELY PERSONAL and do not constitute endorsement from ANY organization with which I have worked or currently work with, and do not necessarily imply agreement from any of the individuals mentioned or cited. They should not appear as an endorsement of any particular individual or group that shares or circulates them.

These are made for the movement, as a whole, which desperately needs internal criticism of its increasingly problematic and racist politics.

1) Disclaimer: I do not have any formal or organizational affiliation with Alison Weir or her organization, If Americans Knew.

2) My personal experience with the smear campaign against Weir.

3) JVP’s entire accusation against Weir is based on guilt by association and could easily apply to some of the most prominent voices in the movement for Palestine solidarity, including Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Dilip Hiro, Ilan Pappe, Jennifer Loewenstein, Ray McGovern, Joseph Massad, Norman Finkelstein, Glenn Greenwald, Pete McCloskey, Philip Weiss, Richard Falk, John Mearsheimer, Lenni Brenner, and Rachel Corrie’s parents.

a. Alison Weir has not endorsed nor agreed with the racist views expressed by those with whom she has been associated

b. It is unwise to expect Weir or anyone else to completely ignore the communities that are vulnerable to such racism (see below).

4) Inaccurate and hypocritical accusations of ethnic chauvinism

a. Losing Balance: While JVP alleges that IAK downplays the value of Palestinian voices, it is JVP which is constructed on seeing Jewish voices as “particularly legitimateaccording to the JVP website.

b. If Americans Knew and Alison Weir have been principled and expansive in working with Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinian/Arab-Americans, including the Al-Awda Right to Return Coalition and the Beit Sahour-based International Middle East Media Center; both organizations are run and staffed by Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans. The organization has publicly and explicitly supported the full Palestinian-led call for BDS since at least 2006.

c. JVP has not been principled in working with Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinian/Arab-Americans, barring its chapters from working with groups of any ethnicity that take overtly anti-Zionist slogans and politically vetting those Middle Easterners and Muslims with whom they work. It also took JVP ten years to endorse the full BDS call.

d. JVP ‘s statement appears to suggest that Jews alone can define anti-Semitism, despite knowing that such accusations can implicate racism and violence against Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian communities. This is a form of ethnic chauvinism.

e. JVP’s statement suggests that all Jews are somehow personally or familially connected to Israel, a restatement of Zionism

f. JVP’s statement suggests that American imperialism and warfare benefits Americans as a whole, undermining the American anti-war movement and contradicting prior stances that JVP has taken

5) JVP has taken at least 4 different positions on Zionism, implying a lack of any principle regarding racism and colonialism against Palestine in particular and the Middle East as a whole.

a. Open-Ended: JVP’s guidelines state a refusal to state their beliefs in terms of the word “Zionism”

b. Restricted: JVP’s guidelines state that their chapters are banned from working with organizations that use “anti-Zionist demands or slogans”, presumably including Al-Awda and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network

c. Pro-Zionist: JVP interprets Jews, as a group, to be connected to the Middle East, which is Zionism (see above).

d. Anti-Zionist when condemning anti-Semitism: JVP has recirculated letters that explicitly argue that Zionism is a form of racism in the context of disavowing a British-Israeli author for his apparently anti-Jewish statements. The statement against this man is included in their statement against Weir. The implication is that condemning Zionism as a form of racism is acceptable, provided the condemnation is made while disavowing someone for anti-Semitism.

e. JVP’s statements imply a lack of principled positions regarding racism against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, while taking a staunch position against perceived racism toward the Jewish community. This is a racist double-standard.

6) Racism, Colonialism, and Identity Politics

a. Optics & the White Gaze: JVP and IAK are both “identitarian” groups that have sought to navigate the maze of racism in the United States.

b. The racist and colonial roots of anti-Semitism allegations against Palestine solidarity organizers per se.

c. While neither group has navigated perfectly, JVP’s position in particular is highly problematic and warrants serious criticism.

7) JVP has taken an inconsistent position on engagement with “the Right” and those who are in danger of being misled and exploited by xenophobic, right-wing racism.

a. My personal experiences with right-wing racism as a person of color and the son of immigrants.

b. The roots of “the right” and the dangers of ignoring their misguided flock.

c. JVP has not opposed engagement with right-wing elements of the Jewish or Israeli communities.

8) Other Resources that I consider informative.

a. Noam Chomsky on accusations of anti-Semitism within left-wing and anti-racist movements.

b. Joseph Massad: “Sartre, European Intellectuals, and Zionism”

c. Philip Weiss: “Conservatives for Palestine”

d. Norman Finkelstein on ADL anti-Semitism survey and what qualifies as anti-Semitism

e. Louis Proyect: “The Anti-Semitism Canard”

f. Lenni Brenner, “The Demographics of American Jews”

g. Jacobin Magazine: Checkered History of Palestine and the Left

9) Addendum: Spencer Sunshine’s PRA attack on Alison Weir and “Campus Anti-Semitism”

a. The original report

b. The attack on Weir

I) Disclaimer

I have no association with Alison Weir outside of meeting her a few times at activist summits/conferences. I recommended her website to others in the early 2000s when If Americans Knew and electronicintifada were the only pro-Palestinian news sources I knew of, and when I was in college I constructed a banner with the website on it. The last time I saw her, I believe it was when she was the keynote speaker at the convention for Al-Awda, the Right of Return Coalition, which is a large-scale, broad-based Palestinian anti-Zionist organization.

Nonetheless, I find JVP’s statement highly, highly problematic.

II) The Smear Campaign

I’ve never seen someone’s name dragged through the mud as with her. In the past, I worked with an organization at the national level. At the time, I did not know that there was any real controversy regarding how she was perceived; I had only ever heard one person suggest she was an anti-Semite, and I assumed it was just a personal difference. I had seen Alison Weir give a short workshop at the 2012 “Occupy AIPAC!” summit that was organized by Code Pink, so I contacted Weir’s organization about either giving a workshop or tabling at a conference with the organization I was working with. I let the other organizers know, some of them flipped out, claiming she was an anti-Semite. I asked why they believed so, and they responded by accusing me of lacking trust (even though I didn’t know any of these people except via internet), and it was a long, drawn out, angry battle from there.

I was never given any actual reason why they believed she was anti-Semitic. It honestly intimidated me that a people whom I barely knew were willing to label someone else I barely knew an anti-Semite, without being able to at least explain why they felt this way. It scared me, because it made me think that these organizers could have easily made the same accusations against me, no reasoning necessary. It reminded me of COINTELPRO.

After the episode was resolved, one of the organizers posted a link to the letter referenced in the JVP statement in which several Palestinians disavow racism, as if to suggest that those of us who did not agree with the accusations against Weir were ourselves guilty of racism.

III) Guilt By Association

So it is worth giving JVP credit for at least explaining why they feel that Alison Weir is bigoted. But I think the reasons they have given are problematic. JVP points out that Weir gave interviews to a right-wing extremist, and, in their view, failed to properly challenge racist and bigoted statements made by the host.

But appearing on someone’s radio show, including a bigot’s, doesn’t exactly imply an endorsement. Weir also claims that she did express disagreement when those bigoted ideas were voiced, but in either case, it seems like JVP is quite openly admitting that the entire claim is based on guilt by association.

Reading the transcript of her interview with the right-wing extremist, Weir sounds like she is doing her best answering questions from a person who does not sound as though he is “all there”. Interrupting this individual any time he made racist comments would require interrupting him virtually every other sentence. But that is not a reason to completely avoid this individual’s listener base, especially as that base is particularly vulnerable to the sort of racist and violent propaganda that is regularly pushed by both anti- and pro-Israel segments of the far-right against Arabs, Muslims, immigrants, and others (see section VII below).

The rest of the accusations are similarly based on association, pointing to writing and publications rather than radio interviews. With regard to publications, is it even Weir’s obligation to go around checking what seedy groups might have exploited her work and then disavow them?

Would JVP suggest that Norman Finkelstein is an anti-Semite, because many of his earlier works criticizing the exploitation of the Holocaust have appeared in genocide denial publications?

Would they suggest that Chomsky is some sort of anti-Semite because he has appeared on all sorts of right-wing media for odd reasons? Would they claim Noam Chomsky is a racist for “failing to disavow” people who have used his writing for nefarious purposes?

How about Joseph Massad, whose Al Jazeera piece “The Last of the Semites” has shown up in nasty places?

Weir has separately – and correctly — pointed out that JVP’s attacks would also implicate prominent American peace activist Ray McGovern; Palestine solidarity activist and journalist Jennifer Loewenstein; Israeli professor and author of “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” Ilan Pappe; journalist Dilip Hiro; Edward Said; Noam Chomsky; and parents of slain ISM activist Cindy and Craig Corrie.

JVP’s statements also appear to implicate award-winning journalist and publisher of the Snowden leaks Glenn Greenwald, Jewish historian Lenni Brenner, MondoWeiss blogger Phil Weiss; anti-war Congressman Pete McCloskey; and a slew of others.

IV) “Ethnic Chauvinism”

A) JVP alleges that IAK and Alison Weir have expressed the nationalistic and chauvinistic view that only “Americans” who aren’t ethnically associated with Israel/Palestine can make meaningful or “objective” conclusions. It is a strange criticism to hear from a group calling itself “Jewish Voice for Peace”. But compare the positions the groups have taken: IAK has been expansive and principled in engaging and working with Palestinian and Palestinian-American communities — more so than JVP.

Here is what JVP said in their message about Weir:

“For example, in IAK’s “Our Story” on their website it reads:

[Alison Weir] founded an organization to be directed by Americans without personal or family ties to the region who would research and actively disseminate accurate information to the American public.

In other words, according to Weir and If Americans Knew, only non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Palestinian, and non-Jewish voices can be trusted to speak the truth, based solely on their ethnic or religious identity.

Notions of objectivity are routinely used to discredit the experiences of those most directly affected by oppression. But no one is objective, least of all Americans who benefit from the U.S. government’s destructive interventionist and white supremacist policies around the world [emphasis added]”

Compare this with what JVP says on its own FAQ page:

“Q: Why are you a Jewish group? Can’t you just be a peace group?

“A: …

“Because we are Jews, we have a particular legitimacy in voicing an alternative view of American and Israeli actions and policies. As Jews, we can make the distinction between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue to shield Israel from legitimate criticism. [emphasis added].

How is founding an organization directed by Americans who aren’t tied to the region any less chauvinistic than suggesting — and then exploiting — that Jews have a “particular legitimacy” in speaking out? Contrast that with JVP Director Rebecca Vilkomerson’s own statements on the matter:

“…So we have to be aware of the privileging of Jewish voices, and the racism and Islamophobia that underlay that privilege. It’s a balancing act and not an easy one. Its about an awareness of playing into notions of who is entitled to speak out about Israel and Palestine and making sure we are not replicating the very systems of privilege there that we are working so hard to break down, while also being willing to use our voices as Jews to change and challenge some very deep preconceptions.

In practice, both JVP and IAK are constructed on forms of identity politics, knowing full well that a thoroughly racist society would view their organizations with greater “legitimacy” due to their ethnic identifiers (“Jewish” and “American” respectively). Both groups have used such identifiers while also attempting to open spaces of dialog and speech for Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian organizations. How can JVP condemn IAK for pursuing the same “balancing act” that JVP works to navigate? There’s one easy answer: JVP has lost its balance.

B) In reality, If Americans Knew has gone even further than JVP in promoting Palestinian voices and organizations. If Americans Knew has embraced the Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions as one of its strategies of “resistance” since at least 2006:


“By Mazin Qumsiyeh

“…In July 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a historic document. It articulated Israel’s persistent violations of international and humanitarian laws and conventions and called upon “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

The call stated that “these non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by: ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194”[emphasis added].

IAK’s Executive Director was also keynote speaker at the convention for Al-Awda, the Right of Return Coalition, which is a large-scale, broad-based Palestinian anti-Zionist organization. Finally, IAK’s primary source of news promotion is the Beit Sahour-based Palestinian media collective, the IMEMC. Even a brief perusal of the If Americans Knew website makes it clear that IAK’s media campaign relies heavily on promoting Palestinian and Arab voices, including the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Qatar-based Al Jazeera, and various podcasts and live broadcasting from Palestine.

C) In contrast, JVP took over ten years to endorse the Palestinian BDS call. Here is what their “Guidelines” page currently states:

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) endorses the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people. We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real [emphasis added].

We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government…By endorsing the call, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all [emphasis added].

But here is the position JVP took prior to March 25th, 2015:

The boycott/divestment/sanctions movement (BDS) encompasses a variety of tactics and targets.  JVP rejects the assertion that BDS is inherently anti-semitic, and we encourage discussion both within our own community and outside of it of the growing BDS movement. JVP defends activists’ right to use the full range of BDS tactics without being persecuted or demonized. We support divestment from and boycotts of companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. This includes companies operating in or from occupied Palestinian territory, exploiting Palestinian labor and scarce environmental resources, providing materials or labor for settlements, or producing military or other equipment or materials used to violate human rights or to profit from the Occupation [emphasis added].

In other words, until a few months ago, JVP was willing to defend other people’s right to promote “freedom, justice, and equality of all peoples,” but they themselves were only willing to mobilize their resources toward the freedom, justice, and equality of some. JVP is invoking concepts like “freedom for all” but only when convenient. It is like saying “I promote equality all of the time, 60% of the time.

Furthermore, JVP appears to work almost entirely with left and liberal segments of the Palestinian-American community that are politically acceptable to them — for example, JVP bans its chapters from joining in coalitions with groups that use “anti-Zionist slogans,” which would presumably bar their leadership from working closely with Al-Awda.

JVP has also taken inconsistent positions on the subject of Zionism (see Section V).

D) JVP’s FAQ page also reads, “…As Jews, we can make the distinction between real anti-Semitism and the cynical manipulation of that issue to shield Israel from legitimate criticism.” What does this statement mean to imply, if not that Jews and only Jews are entitled to define what is anti-Jewish? JVP appears in its own statement to be fully aware that accusations of anti-Semitism can be used to “shield Israel from legitimate criticism”. Considering much of the “legitimate criticism” in question is about Israel’s racism against Arabs and others, this statement amounts to little more than ethnic chauvinism. Despite knowing that accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry can be used to shield racism against Arabs, JVP believes that Jews alone are entitled to draw the line with what amounts to legitimate criticism, as opposed to “anti-Semitism”. In the process, Arabs, and others who identify with the Palestinian cause can be muzzled if they disagree with the limits set by a Jewish group — which is what has happened here.

E) Note also that the JVP statement against Weir interprets the phrase “without personal or familial ties to the region” to imply the exclusion of Jewish voices. Is JVP suggesting that every Jew has personal or familial ties to Israel? This is Zionism.

F) JVP’s statement also alleges that “Americans” have benefited from the US’ interventionist and white supremacist policies. This is a very strange position for a peace group to take. While there is no comparison between the situation of American victims of imperialism and those of its citizens, American warfare abroad has resulted in thousands of Americans being maimed and killed; a massive increase in international threats to the American public; and the waste of billions of dollars that could have been spent on social resources. Indeed, JVP appears to be very committed to the notion that Israeli policies of aggression against Palestinians harm Israelis; so why does JVP feel differently about US policies, of which support for Israel is one?

It is also difficult to imagine that JVP can make any in-roads within the United States if they are opposed to policies which they mistakenly believe to benefit Americans.

V) JVP on Zionism.

JVP has taken at least four different positions on Zionism.

A) First, JVP refuses to condemn Zionism as a form of racism in order to pander to racist people within the Jewish community to form a “big tent”. While admitting that Zionism is a form of racism in other releases and admitting anti-Zionists as individuals, the group says the following about Zionism:

The terms, “Zionism” and “Jewish state,” are emotionally loaded and defined differently by different people. [JVP] do not articulate our positions in these terms, but instead in terms that affirm the values we endorse: equality, human rights, democracy, and respect for international law.” [emphasis added].

Despite condemning Weir for reaching out to groups with problematic and racist ideas, JVP’s own views on Zionism — the most obvious form of racism relevant to the Palestinian struggle — are explicitly based on pandering to racist people in order to form a united front. It is difficult to imagine that JVP can effectively promote “equality, human rights, democracy,” etc. while explicitly seeking to pander to those who identify so closely with the colonial enterprise of Zionism that they would refuse to work with JVP if it condemned Zionism as racism.

B) JVP even goes further to bar its chapters from working with groups that use “anti-Zionist slogans or demands”:

A JVP group may join in coalition with pro-Zionist or anti-Zionist groups.  JVP groups may not participate in a coalition whose demands or slogans are pro- or anti-Zionist.

That would presumably include principled organizations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and Al-Awda, which condemns Zionism as a form of racism in its points of unity.

It is also difficult to imagine that JVP could ever work with any Palestinian organization that is remotely representative of the Palestinian struggle if it demands that its coalition partners effectively sanitize Zionism in their sloganeering or in any political demands that they make. The effect of this is that organizations cannot critically oppose the colonial ideology that underpins the ethnic cleansing of Palestine or stigmatize this enterprise in public fora. If JVP was around prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, JVP would not have been able to rally support behind the infamous and powerful UN resolution defining Zionism as a form of racism.

C) As noted above, JVP’s statement on IAK  also interprets Jews, as a group, to be personally and familially connected to the Middle East. This is a frank admission that JVP believes in and endorses Zionism.

D)  Ironically, while JVP refuses to use the term “Zionism” to articulate its message and bans its chapters from joining in coalitions with groups that use anti-Zionist slogans, it did not mind circulating a letter by Palestinians disavowing controversial British-Israeli writer and alleged anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, which explicitly rejects Zionism as a form of racism. In other words, when disavowing people like Weir (or Atzmon), it is apparently okay to stretch these arbitrary rules.

E) JVP’s varying stands on Zionism, when contrasted with the group’s ideas of anti-Semitism, exhibit a racist double standard. With regard to racism and colonialism being carried out against Palestinians and Arabs, JVP will take varying stances depending on the circumstances, although it appears that the usual stance is to apologetically write off Zionism as a touchy subject while barring its chapters from coalition-building with groups that are both principled and more likely to be representative of Palestinian demands. In contrast, when discussing anti-Semitism, JVP will go out of its way to launch a behind-the-scenes “whispering campaign” before publicly disavowing a fellow activist, solely based on a guilty association with anti-Semitism. While there is pragmatism in reaching out to those with ignorant or apologetic views within the Jewish community, it does not make sense that JVP would go out of its way to attack others in this fashion except out of a failure to confront their own internal racism.

VI) Racism, Colonialism, and Identity Politics

Overall, this is not about disavowing racism, which is unfortunately pervasive in American society, including its activist organizations. It is about optics. Knowing full well that the “white gaze” of American society views only certain groups with ethnic legitimacy, JVP and IAK have charted out different political strategies in terms of how to navigate the maze. Accusations of anti-Semitism against Palestine solidarity organizing per se are entirely based on the colonial construction of Jews-as-civilized and Palestinians-as-savages whose rights and existence threaten the civilized (AKA Jews).

JVP appears to have taken the strategy of mobilizing liberal and left Jewish voices, even if it means pandering to racism within the Jewish community.

IAK has charted out a different strategy, based on a much wider tent for which the centerpiece is “national interest” and American-centric rhetoric that portrays Zionism as a deviation from the interests of the average American. JVP appears to think this is apologism for America’s crimes (see Section V). But American policy is largely undemocratic, driven by interest groups and donors, and disconnected from the average person. If anything, IAK’s position is a recognition that colonialism/imperialism are driven by elite interests, rather than the reductionist view that suggests there is something inherent about “America” that makes its regime support Israel in a vacuum, removed from the institutional interests of ruling elements (including lobbies).

In any case, without endorsing Alison Weir’s politics as a whole, I think JVP’s position is highly problematic for those reasons. I have removed myself from their list-serv. Personally, I do not find the idea of a distinctly “Jewish” organization that opposes Zionism to be problematic. I am a fan of groups like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. But JVP’s criticisms of Weir appear less to be motivated by any nefarious associations that Weir (or anyone else) might have and more based on their own highly problematic identity politics.

Additional subjects and resources below.

VII) Avoiding the Right — Sometimes

I think it is worth discussing a major organizing flaw that seems to permeate well past Palestine-organizing: not engaging the communities that are most likely to be exploited by the right:

“The enemy is laughing at you. You can wear a t-shirt with the hammer and sickle, you can even hold a huge flag, many, many feet long and go back home with your flag while the enemy is laughing at you because the people, the workers, prefer the enemy, they believe in the enemy. They understand the enemy when he talks, and they don’t understand you. And it’s possible that you’re right, and you can ask your children to put a placard on your grave: “He was always right, although nobody knew.” But when you study the successful experiences of the movements of transformation, you realize that the key to success is to achieve a connection between the reality you have diagnosed and what the majority actually feels and that is very difficult, that means engaging in contradictions…”

As far as I can tell, JVP’s statement correctly labels the radio host in question anti-Semitic. He appears to be a Neo-Nazi, supports former KKK leader David Duke, and appears to be primarily concerned with what he perceives as the decline of the white race. As a person who was raised in California to two non-white immigrant parents, I find that kind of politics to be, quite frankly, scary.

But I also know that in the past, many of the people who listen to such people are not committed to such hateful messages. They buy into it because those kinds of hateful people are the only ones that speak to their sense of frustration with real problems, like the economic crisis. It is very easy for a poor white person from the middle of America who sees the economic collapse take his job to start blaming ethnic cabals and conspiracies for his problems — you know, like that Muslim socialist President we have that was born in Kenya and is secretly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? That is not because he is an avowed racist, it is because he is vulnerable to such messages from people like the radio host in question.

I know this because in my own personal experience of meeting people with, quite frankly, ignorant views on host of race-related subjects, I have found that many of them are not hateful or violent but simply misled. Properly engaging people in a way that they will actually understand and be placed on the right path is important, even if tricky. If even one person stopped listening to the radio host in question and started reading If Americans Knew, where they would hear not only from white American voices like their own, but also from Jewish voices, Palestinian and Arab voices, the United Nations, and the like, that is in my mind a small victory. That would not be possible if Alison Weir did not go on his bizarre radio show or interrupted him every time he said something racist, which was every other sentence.

Most importantly and ironically, it appears that JVP already knows this: that is why they have gone out of the way not to condemn Zionism, knowing (correctly) that to do so would immediately alienate Jewish people who have been brought up in communities where Zionism is a prevalent form of racism. There is wisdom is telling those segments of a society that are committed to various forms of racism to take a hike, but there is also wisdom in trying to put them on the right path, even if it means not always being able to shame them in the strongest terms.

As Weir pointed out, JVP would not be foolish enough to condemn Weir for appearing on Israeli right-wing radio shows, because they know as well as she does that there is at least some strategic wisdom in engaging the people who are most vulnerable to racist messages. There is plenty of historic similarity between poor white segments of American society and some parts of the Israeli settler movement which are also made up of poor and marginalized segments of Israeli society. It is no coincidence that the marginalized Mizrahi Jewish population of Israel also happens to be among the strongest of advocates for Israel’s proto-fascistic movements.

Finally, if the real issue is “justice for all,” then why did it take JVP ten years to endorse the boycott, and why do they bar their members from working with groups that use “anti-Zionist slogans” (see section V)? The answer is that they know that such decisions are not always easy to make when engaging a hostile, racist population. Alison appears to be aware of the same issue, albeit for a different population, and it is not right to publicly shame her for it.

VIII) Other Resources

A) Noam Chomsky speaking on accusations of anti-Semitism within left and anti-racist movements, mostly by left-liberals, SUNY New Paltz:

Q: “Incidents of anti-Semitism have come up at the Occupy protests. Why is anti-Semitism starting to rise among the left, and what is your advice to young Jewish activists?

Chomsky: As far as I know, it’s not true. [applause]

If you’re out to look for it, you can find things. When you take a big mass of people, you can find a little bit of almost anything.

On the other hand, this claim that there’s anti-Semitism on the left, just look at its history. Look at the early 1960s-70s. There was practically an industry of left-liberals, including the Democratic Socialists who were among the worst, trying to show that Dan Berrigan was an anti-Semite, that everyone who opened their mouths were anti-Semites. There were literally efforts — Seymour Martin Lipset well known sociologist, was running big studies to run through Black Panther newspapers to see if he could find a poem by a twelve-year-old kid which maybe had some anti-Semitic implications. Okay, that shows they’re all anti-Semites [sarcastically].

The cry of “anti-Semitism” is a good way to shut people up [applause] because nobody wants to be charged with that. I’d be pretty cautious about those charges. But if it’s real, then you respond to it. Whatever it is, anti-Semitism today isn’t even a toothpick on a mountain compared to anti-Muslim hysteria [applause].

A lot of the states in the Union here in [the United States] passing constitutional amendments to prevent the courts from using Halakha, Talmudic law [sarcastically]. If they did that, people wouldn’t even laugh. But there are states doing something equally laughable and ridiculous — except that it’s dangerous — which is trying to institute constitutional amendments to prevent the use of Sharia law. This is about as likely as an asteroid hitting the state [laughter]. But this is all over the place. That’s real.

The FBI is breaking into people’s houses and arresting them for what’s called “material support to terrorism” — meaning they said something favorable to Palestinian movements or something. Nothing like that is happening to the Jewish population. If there are any bits and pieces of anti-Semitism, then fine, shout at them or argue against it. But I think it’s extremely slight if it’s there at all, in comparison to major movements of hatred and repression, hatred of immigrants, blacks, racism, anti-Muslim racism which is an extraordinary and really major phenomenon. [applause]

B) Joseph Massad, “Sartre, Left Intellectuals, and Zionism”

“What is it about the nature of Zionism, its racism, and its colonial policies that continues to escape the understanding of many European intellectuals on the left? Why have the Palestinians received so little sympathy from prominent leftist intellectuals such as Jean- Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault or only contingent sympathy from others like Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, Etienne Balibar, and Slavoj Zizek? Edward Said wrote once about his encounters with Sartre and Foucault (who were anti-Palestinian) and with Gilles Deleuze (who was anti-Zionist) in this regard. The intellectual and political commitments inaugurated by a pro-Zionist Sartre and observed by Said, however, remain emblematic of many of the attitudes of leftist and liberal European intellectuals today…”

C) Phil Weiss, “Conservatives for Palestine”

The national-interest crowd was traditionally silenced by the anti-Semitism charge. Scott McConnell showed how anti-Semitism charges were used to marginalize writers Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan when they took strong stands against Israel. Steve Walt said that the overuse of the charge by the lobby had helped undermine its power to blacklist speakers and arguments.

D) Norman Finkelstein, “Quick Thoughts: on the ADL Global 100, An Index of Anti-Semitism”

…I would also find it alarming if anyone except Abe Foxman (and perhaps the New York Times) gave a hoot about the poll’s conclusions [in which the ADL found that one quarter of the world is anti-Semitic]. Personally, I am alarmed by genocide and war, death from preventable diseases and from hunger, global warming and massive unemployment. I see no cause for alarm if not everyone loves by far the wealthiest and most successful ethnic group on the planet. Back in the day, most sensible people detested WASPs.

…is it even true that a quarter of the world’s population is anti-Semitic? I am actually surprised at how low the percentage is, in light of the calculated absurdity of the questions…

E) Louis Proyect, “The Anti-Semitism Canard”

There was a time when Jews suffered from institutional racism. At the turn of the century, Jews lived in the slums on the Lower East Side and could easily identified by their Yiddish accent. They suffered from discrimination and poverty on a level that matched that of Blacks or other oppressed groups historically. In Germany they were less oppressed despite the specious arguments of Daniel Goldhagen. It was only the Great Depression and the massive influx of Eastern European Jews into Germany that allowed Hitler to make use of the Jews as a scapegoat.

All that changed after WWII when Jews moved out of the tenements and into the mainstream. The second generation (my mom and dad’s) opened small businesses, went to colleges (most often state universities), lost their Yiddish accent, and even changed their last name to fit in. Bernard Schwartz became Tony Curtis and Issur Danielovitch became Kirk Douglas. If you were fortunate enough to make big bucks on Wall Street, you didn’t even have to change your name.

To put things into perspective, the Anti-Defamation League issued a report on anti-Semitics attacks in 2013 that covered the entire world. Not a single death was reported. Most of the incidents were of the sort that turns up in New York routinely, a swastika scrawled on a Synagogue wall or a gravestone overturned. Compare that to the fate of Muslims who face racism and murder every where they look, from Burma to Kashmir.

F) Lenni Brenner, “The Demographics of American Jews”

In 1991, I interviewed Harold Seneker, then the editor of the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, for an article in The Nation. I told him that I found Jews, 2.2% of the population, to be about 25% of the 400. He told me that he thought this a success story, both for American capitalism and for the Jews, and that he wanted to write a story on it. But Forbes wouldn’t let him. The then publisher had gone thru the Hitler era, when talking about Jewish money was an anti-Semitic specialty.

This mentality is still common on the left as well, and it is wide spread among elderly Jews. Forbes, much of the left, and old Jews share what must be called a ‘folk Marxist’ mentality. Despite the differences in their politics, they all believe that history repeats itself. Someday there is going to be another 1929 Depression. The capitalists will, once again, call up central casting and get another Hitler to smash the left.

This is fantasy. Its a projection of the past, and Germany’s past at that, into America’s future. In reality, journalists constantly turn out articles for Zionist publications about how Jewish campaign contributors play a major role in funding both parties and, very rarely, the topic is touched on in the mainstream media. “The Political Future of American Jews,” a1985 American Jewish Congress pamphlet by Seymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, declared that “While there have been few reliable statistics on the subject — and some reluctance to gather any — the journalistic and anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that more than a majority of Democratic funds on a national level, and as much as a quarter of Republican funds have come from Jewish sources.” They were referring to private contributions, as was an article in the 1/5/93 NY Times announcing that “Jews contributed about 60 percent of Mr. Clinton’s noninstitutional campaign funds.”

G) Jacobin Mag, “Palestine and the Left”

VIII) Addendum: Spencer Sunshine & PRA attack on Alison Weir and “Anti-Semitism”

Although it was not a part of my original conversations with others regarding Alison Weir, a piece written by a CUNY Graduate student and anarchist, Spencer Sunshine, has found its way to me. The piece, attacking Alison Weir and If Americans Knew, was commissioned by Political Research Associates, a liberal think-tank affiliated with Chip Berlet, and released originally in a 2014 report about what Berlet, Sunshine, and the others at PRA believe to constitute “campus anti-Semitism”. While the piece was written in 2014, it has resurfaced on the front page of Political Research Associates, implying that the piece has been posted to double-down on JVP’s attack on Weir. Sunshine’s attack on Weir is tagged on to the end of the report, so it is worth discussing the report in full.

The Report

The report is largely stacked. From its beginnings, it appears that Berlet relies heavily on pro-Israel advocacy groups and Zionist ideologues to construct varying definitions of anti-Semitism, including  Hillel, the Anti-Defamation League, and the like. The report also spends much ink analyzing the varying and arbitrary definitions of anti-Semitism supplied by Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky. While the report is quick to point out dissenting sentiments, the underlying assumptions of these organizations’ views largely color the rest of the report’s conclusions, in which anti-Semitism is defined in such a way as to include various forms of anti-Zionist and anti-Israel activism.

Elsewhere, Chip Berlet gives a lengthy interview to UK sociologist David Hirsh, who has separately written that BDS is “arguably antisemitic in itself,” and that eyewitness testimonies of disgust with Israel’s massacre in Gaza or John Mearsheimer’s comments about the Israel lobby are “reminiscent of classic antisemitic blood libels or conspiracy theory”. Hirsh has written, “…if you organize an academic boycott of Israeli Jewish academics but no one else in the world, that is an anti-Semitic policy”. In his interview with Berlet, Hirsh argues that Nazi analogies made by campaigners against Israel are motivated solely by “Jew-baiting,” ignoring of course that there is a subversive element to reclaiming the Holocaust from a state which has never ceased to exploit its memory.

Hirsh, like Berlet and Sunshine, are often quick to emphasize that anti-Semitism does not necessarily require intent. Instead, they emphasize that anti-Semitism, like other forms of racism, can be institutional. The concept of institutional racism can be useful. The basic gist of institutional racism is “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture, or ethnic origin”. This idea is useful in particular interventions dealing with racism, in which discrimination is system-wide and it may be difficult or impossible to single out an individual’s personal prejudices.

But with so much discussion of institutional racism, none of the individuals in the report carry out any institutional analysis regarding discrimination against Jews at all. Indeed, those who have done so have found that Jews in the United States and Western Europe do not suffer institutional discrimination, but rather have the qualities and traits of the country’s most elite ethnic groups.

Instead, the three individuals have separately and concurrently misused this conception of institutional racism to engineer definitions of anti-Semitism that are vast, vague, and, overall, useless for anti-racist organizers and dangerous for Palestinian rights campaigners.

In the report itself, Berlet argues that any form of “othering” and conspiratorial or populist rhetoric, even when unrelated to Jews or Israel, is potentially anti-Semitic or dangerous to Jews. While the report contains many such examples, one running theme is that virtually any opposition to Israel that involves populistic rhetoric about Israeli power is conflated with anti-Jewish canards. Failing to look at historic, European anti-Semitism within any historical context, the authors instead conflate any discussion of Israeli political power in completely different contexts with canards about Jewish power from different times and places in a completely ahistorical fashion.

After smearing Alison Weir, Norman Finkelstein, and others alongside the likes of notorious racist and Islamophobe David Horowitz, the report closes with interviews with individuals praised for “challenging bias,” including, surely enough, a Hillel leader. But perhaps more troubling is the praise the report reaps on Temple student April Rosenblum, responsible for an anti-Palestinian propaganda pamphlet circulated on the left. The pamphlet, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” is appropriately titled, given that the pamphlet is devoid of any historical grounding. The pamphlet repeats the sophistry of the report, in which various incidents, commentaries, and the like revolving around Jews or anti-Semitism in separate parts of the world are knitted together as a sort of international anti-Semitism, which is apparently to be found any time anyone uses strong rhetoric against Israel. The pamphlet suggests that activists avoid suggesting that Zionism is racism, and that various kinds of strongly-worded or exaggerated criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic. In order to give it credibility, the pamphlet is littered with cheap activist sloganeering and lip-service concerns about Palestinians.

In a separate, hour-long rant that Sunshine gave in Portland, in which he also attacked Weir, Sunshine elaborates on the rhetorical scheme found in the PRA report. Sunshine defines a vast array of varying types of commentary as anti-Semitic in nature, many of which are unrelated to Jews or Israel, including populistic rhetoric against financial capitalism, any sort of rhetoric about national self-interest in light of foreign lobbying, and the like. He suggests that anti-Semitism is a sort of exceptional racism, and as a result, he constructs it in such a way that it can be found virtually anywhere.

Bizarrely, Sunshine believes that referring to the Israeli consulate “the Zionist consulate” is anti-Semitic, that condemning normalization with Israel is anti-Semitic, that refusing to see Israel’s settler population as victims of anti-Semitism is anti-Semitic, that using the image of a “snake” in anti-Israel writing is anti-Semitic even when the artists’ intention was not anti-Semitic and the symbol shares no genealogy with anti-Semitic symbolism of the past, and so on. Sunshine manages to see anti-Semitism in condemnations of Zionism as a form of imperialism, and the like. He also cites fringe Marxist theorist Moishe Postone, the intellectual influence of the right-wing, anti-Palestinian and pro-war Anti-Germans tendency in Germany.

In tandem, it appears that Sunshine, like Berlet, have little expert knowledge of the Middle East itself.  At one point, Sunshine falsely repeats the cheap Western misconception that there “always has been” a conflict between Arabs and Jews, and that the veneer of anti-Semitism has been laid over the situation. Elsewhere, he suggests falsely that Israel did not invade Lebanon until the end of that country’s civil war; in reality, Israel occupied Lebanon for most of that country’s civil war and continued for ten years thereafter.

There is a running theme behind the rhetoric that Berlet, Sunshine, and other left-liberals who churn out witch-hunting propaganda about anti-Semitism. While managing to construct anti-Semitism as an ever-present, grossly exaggerated, abstract threat, found in various kinds of rhetoric and symbols, violence and inequality against Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are downplayed, misunderstood, or ignored, and attempts to address the institutions responsible are themselves reduced to part of the abstract specter of attacks on Jews.

The effect of this rhetoric is to whitewash one of the most blatant inequalities on the face of the earth, in which the Middle East’s foremost military power, armed with nuclear weapons, carrying on a decades-long protracted war of aggression against people under occupation, with the one-sided support of the world’s primary superpower, using blatant racism, is downplayed, and various forms opposition to this extreme situation are presented as toxic and threatening.

Attacking Weir

It is from this context that Sunshine has written a separate hit-piece on Weir. Sunshine has no problem citing rabidly anti-Palestinian propaganda organizations like CAMERA, which he writes off as a “watchdog group,” in order to condemn Weir. Sunshine also accuses Weir of promoting a blood libel by reporting on accusations of organ-harvesting by Israeli troops — a disturbing but real phenomenon in places of armed conflict. Sunshine also finds fault with Weir’s suggestion that Israel has started all of its wars except one [aside: she is correct].

To add to this, Weir has separately responded to my questioning by forwarding me a copy of the “interview” Sunshine carried out with Weir. Many of the questions are loaded, accusing Weir of suggesting that “the Zionists pushed the US into WWI and WWII”. Sunshine also suggests that Weir’s commentary about links between US reporters and Israel are an attack on those reporters’ families and Jewish identity. He attempts to bait Weir into describing Zionists as parasites, and to describe the organ-harvesting scandal as a Jewish ritual.

Sunshine makes it clear that his primary knowledge about the region is based on Zionist historiography. He chastises Weir for not making it clear that Arabs rejected the 1947 UN partition plan, a plan which would have in fact resulted in the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. He is doubtful that Israel attacked the USS Liberty on purpose, citing a lack of motive and ignoring the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He also appears to believe, despite several decades of scholarship on the subject, that the early Zionists were concerned about the Holocaust when in reality many in their ranks took highly irresponsible positions with regards to the genocide in Europe.

The gist of Sunshine’s problem is as follows: “IAK’s criticisms of Zionism and Israel dovetail with traditional antisemitic narratives…IAK narratives are consistent with the antisemitic conspiracisms of the past century, including the claims that Jews are clannish and cabal-like, have dual loyalties, control the media and the government, steal the body parts of non-Jews, and start wars…”

None of these claims are accurate. Instead, Weir has consistently targeted Israel and its supporters. But due to the Sunshine’s ideologically-motived, ahistoric association of European anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism, he manages to find blood libels, canards, and conspiracisms where virtually all of IAK’s commentary has targeted Israel’s state-sanctioned racism against its victims and the behavior of American institutions and communities in providing impunity.

It would be difficult to take Sunshine seriously if one were to see Palestinians as people. If that were the case, it would not be a surprise that Israel’s racist state institutions, its undue levels of support in the United States, its lobbying efforts, or continued racist support for Israel by Jewish community organizations, would come under fire from campaigners. But having refocused his attention on the alleged threats to the community associated with Israel’s campaign of colonization (i.e. Jews), Sunshine, like Berlet, is able to reduce anti-Zionist and anti-Israel rhetoric to canards from completely different time periods with no historical or institutional analysis whatsoever. Mired with dishonest questioning, cheap reductionism, and poor knowledge of the Middle East, the report as a whole, and Sunshine’s comments in particular, amount to sophistry.

March 29, 2015

On the SWP’s turn toward Israel

Filed under: cults,Trotskyism,zionism — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

SWP leader Norton Sandler: “There is no Zionist movement today”

I had quite a few misgivings about writing this article since the SWP of the USA is such a minor player. Yet its Zionist evolution is of such a shocking nature and because so many ex-members—including me—have been so perplexed by it that I finally decided to put something together.

I very rarely write about this group nowadays but at one time it mattered a lot more to me. I was a member from 1967 to 1978 and at the time I left it had about 1500 members. Now it has around a hundred or so mostly aging (like me) cadre. I maintain a mailing list on the group at Yahoo that was originally designed to shunt discussions about it from ex-members off of Marxmail that really didn’t need to be burdened by such trivia. Ninety percent of our subscribers have no idea what the SWP was, even if at one time it was the apple of Leon Trotsky’s eye.

The Militant newspaper article that prompted this response appeared in the April 6th edition that was posted to their website yesterday. Titled “Israel vote marks political openings for workers, Arabs”, it celebrates Bibi Netanyahu’s election:

A strong vote for the Likud Party in the March 17 Israeli elections ensures the next government will continue to be led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The results reflect concerns of working people there that U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy makes the threat of attacks from Iran and the reactionary Islamist Hamas forces that rule Gaza more likely.

If you read these sentences in isolation, you’d think you had stumbled across a NY Post or WSJ editorial except for the boilerplate reference to “working people”. A subsequent paragraph under the subheading “Views from the Left” is even more ghastly:

Virtually the entire U.S. and Israeli petty-bourgeois left holds the view that a Netanyahu victory proves working people in Israel are hopelessly reactionary. Some were dismayed, others overjoyed at the result.

Gideon Levy, a columnist for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, heaped scorn on working people, writing that the election showed “the nation must be replaced,” and called for “general elections to choose a new Israeli people — immediately.”

The Times published a column March 18 by Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which supports the “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” campaign against Israel. “The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel,” Munayyer wrote. “It can’t and it won’t.”

He said he was glad, because if Netanyahu had lost, their boycott efforts would have been weakened.

Supporters of the boycott say it’s aimed at forcing Tel Aviv to end its control of the West Bank and its embargo of Gaza. But the campaign provides cover for Jew-hatred and calls to wipe Israel off the map.

Now there are some good people on the left who oppose the BDS campaign, like Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky but the SWP is coming from a different place altogether. The notion that the “campaign provides cover for Jew-hatred and calls to wipe Israel off the map” is not the sort of thing you’d hear from Norman Finkelstein. Rather it reeks of Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz and Abraham Foxman.

When I was a member, the SWP was probably the most consistent defender of Palestinian rights on the left, with former left-Zionist group member Peter Buch a tireless speaker and writer of books such as “Burning Issues of the Mideast Crisis”. You can still see some anti-Zionist books on sale at Pathfinder such as Dave Frankel and Will Reissner’s “War Against the Palestinian People” but their analysis is at odds—obviously–with the current line of this sect. What you would expect from a group that has changed its line by 180 degrees is some explanation but none has been forthcoming. Of course, this is the norm for Stalinist parties but not one founded to promote Trotskyism. The adoption of such bureaucratic norms was completed a long time ago in the SWP even as it continues to pay lip service to Leninist norms.

By some standards, the SWP is even more egregious in dumping long-hold positions sans explanation than the CPUSA. Only four years ago the Militant posted excerpts from a document written by cult leader Jack Barnes for the 2006 convention that stated:

What the Israeli rulers are seeking to impose in order to consolidate Israel within borders of their own choosing is not a “peace process,” as it’s dubbed by liberals in the big-business media. It’s the consolidation of an Israel still based on the forcible expulsion of the Palestinian majority, together with the “right of return” of those of Jewish parentage—and only those of such parentage.

Only four years later, the Militant defends that “right of return”:

The point of the Law of Return, a key aspect of Israeli law since its founding, is not to foster religion, but to guarantee a safe haven for those facing Jew-hatred around the world.

That’s from another abysmal article titled “Debate flares in Israel over bill to set exclusive national rights for Jews” that appeared in the January 26, 2015 issue, one that also claims that Israel is “the most secular country in the Middle East”, a formulation that is associated with the Israel lobby. Israel is also flattered as the most democratic:

The 1948 declaration also promised Arab residents “full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” While Israel was created through the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the rights enshrined in the country’s Basic Laws are widely used today by Arab citizens to fight discrimination in jobs, housing and government services, and for the exercise of political rights.

Palestinians see it differently. In a document titled “History of the Palestinians in Israel” published by Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the authors state:

Israel never sought to assimilate or integrate the Palestinian population, treating them as second-class citizens and excluding them from public life and the public sphere. The state practiced systematic and institutionalized discrimination in all areas, such as land dispossession and allocation, education, language, economics, culture, and political participation. Successive Israeli governments maintained tight control over the community, attempting to suppress Palestinian/Arab identity and to divide the community within itself. To that end, Palestinians are not defined by the state as a national minority despite UN Resolution 181 calling for such; rather they are referred to as “Israeli Arabs,” “non-Jews,” or by religious affiliation.

In light of this, it is most telling that the Militant article refers to Arab citizens rather than Palestinians.

So what do we make of all this, a question more pressing for ex-members like me who not only spoke numerous times on Israel and the Palestinians at public meetings (my family was very pro-Zionist) but devoted time and money to an organization that we saw as principled and fearless on the Middle East.

The turn toward Israel seems to have begun with a spate of articles in 2006 that took up the question of “Jew-hatred”, a term the sect prefers to anti-Semitism even if it has no currency outside their circles. It was linked with some accuracy to a number of articles that had begun to appear blaming the Israel lobby for promoting a foreign policy that was inimical to American interests—the kind of article associated with realpolitik academics like Mearsheimer and Walt. Needless to say, such articles don’t constitute an ‘existential threat’ to Jews as if they could lead to concentration camps and all the rest. But you wouldn’t know that from hysterical articles such as “More middle-class radicals promote Jew-hatred”  that appeared in the May 15, 2006 Militant:

The dangerous logic of such arguments peddling Jew hatred (to say “anti-Semitism” would be putting it mildly) should not be lost on working people. Such conspiracy theories have been the stock-in-trade of ultrarightists and fascists—mortal enemies of the working class and its allies. Petras’s arguments also point to the political evolution of many middle-class “socialists” like him.

But this was just the opening act in the farce that would follow. In 2009 a startling article appeared under the title “’Zionism,’ its use today, not in 1948” by Norton Sandler. He blithely assures his readers that Zionism existed once upon a time but no longer:

The Palestinian population in the West Bank and in Gaza is approaching 4 million. Faced with these demographic trends, the majority of the Israeli ruling class has given up the dream of a “Greater Israel.” They are forced to opt for what they consider the only pragmatic solution—maintaining a majority Jewish state within borders of their own choosing. This is hardly the Zionist movement’s dream of an Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

This is really atrocious given the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Since the Jordan River is the eastern border of the West Bank, does anybody doubt that Israel’s goal is to expand settlements throughout the West Bank until it is effectively part of Greater Israel or whatever it is called? Sandler’s article serves as Zionist propaganda. Make no mistake about it.

Just a little background on Sandler’s article. He first used the formulation of Zionism not existing today in a talk he gave to a gathering of the SWP’s co-religionists in London. This prompted a letter to the paper by Joaquin Bustelo, a former member:

I think the position expressed by Norton Sandler in the Militant that “There is no Zionist movement today” is mistaken. This reactionary European colonial-settler national movement still exists, and has as its maximum expression the state of Israel, as well as organized expressions in other countries in the form of groups to organize or lobby for aid to Israel and so on.

Unfortunately, Sandler’s statement leads him to further say that Zionism “has become an epithet … a synonym for ‘Jew’ that helps fuel Jew-hatred.” This is a completely unwarranted concession to those who say any criticism or opposition to the state of Israel is automatically anti-Semitic.

Finally, while the Militant projects a “perspective” of a united struggle by all working people in the region for a democratic, secular Palestine, that cannot be a substitute for expressing unconditional solidarity with and support to the just national struggle of the Palestinian people, something which unfortunately is not mentioned in the article.

Joaquín Bustelo
Atlanta, Georgia

Of course, the Militant dropped the demand for a democratic, secular Palestine not too long after this letter appeared.

So how did this all happen? Is Israel paying off Jack Barnes, the cult leader? I doubt that any sensible state power would waste its money, especially on a bizarre sect that exists on the fringes of American politics.

The explanation is social in nature—or to put it another way, the lack of a social foundation. Groups on the left to one extent or another reflect social pressures. For example, the French Trotskyist movement in 1968 adapted to the ultraleft student movement. The CP in the USA adapts to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. It is through social interaction with a broader milieu that such parties formulate strategy and tactics. When a party’s social base is progressive, such as the Bolshevik’s in 1917, the results are salutary. When, however, it rests on a questionable social base such was the case of the Second International and the trade union bureaucracy in 1914, the results are disastrous.

Apart from such considerations there is the world of tiny sects that have no social base such as the SWP or the Socialist Equity Party or the Spartacist League. They tend to have a relationship to a great genius whose ideas are fairly unpredictable. It is worth mentioning that the SWP’s politics are far more capricious than the other two groups for the simple reason that its leader seems more unmoored from a stable base such as was the case with Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”.

Extending the flight metaphor a bit further, the membership of the SWP put itself in the hands of a pilot who was as mad in his own way as Andreas Lubitz. While nobody has died as a result of their membership in the SWP, it is hard to argue with the proposition that the party’s wreckage is strewn across the ground as a result of the megalomania and flawed analyses of its potentate.

November 24, 2014

The crisis over the Temple Mount

Filed under: Jewish question,Palestine,zionism — louisproyect @ 8:10 pm

The Temple Mount

As someone with a morbid fascination with rightwing Zionism, I generally tune in to the Zev Brenner radio show on WMCA, a Christian AM talk radio station that turns the mike over to the Jews on Saturday night. Brenner is a hard-core Likudnik who provides a platform for Israeli officials, Dov Hikind, Alan Dershowitz and other such scum.

Last Saturday night his guests were Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a New Yorker who moved to Israel, and Israeli Ambassador Danny Ayalon. Riskin made the theological case for usurping Palestinian rights to their portion of the Temple of the Mount and Ayalon made the political case. As you might know, Israeli provocations have led to mounting violence including the attack on a synagogue that left 4 Hasidic rabbis dead.

Since this is a call-in show, I fully expected his regular listeners to voice their approval for the Zionist attempt to gain full control over a site holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Was I shocked to hear the first 5 or 6 callers depart from the script. It went something like this:

Brenner: Shmuley from Borough Park, you’re on the line.

Shmuley: So what did you expect when you went looking for trouble with the Arabs? The torah makes clear that the temple cannot be restored until moshiach returns. None of the rabbunim in Israel support this new policy. Riskin speaks for nobody except himself. It will only make things worse.

Shmuley had this right. The Chief Rabbinate in Israel, made up of ultra-orthodox Hasidim called haredi, are opposed to the expansion of Jewish control. An Israeli news service reported:

Chief Sephardic Rabbi (Rav) Rabbi Shlomo Amar has published a call to believers not to ascend to the Temple Mount. The call appears under the heading “avoid ascending to the Mount and touching its edge,” which was the ruling about Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus before the Ten Commandments.

Rav Amar’s declaration was co-signed by former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Rav Eliyahu Bakshi Doron; Rav Shalom Cohen, Head of Porat Yosef Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, Old City Rabbi Rav Avigdor Neventzal, and Kotel Rabbi, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich.

It followed in the footsteps of declarations by Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook and Rav Avraham Elkana Shapira, both Chief Rabbis and heads of the Zionist flagship yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav in Jerusalem, who expressly forbade ascending the Mount. Rav Zalman Melamed, Dean of Beit El Yeshiva, is also against it. All hareidi rabbis forbid it.

“It is a holy obligation to make you aware that it is completely forbidden by halakhah to ascend to the Temple Mount, and this prohibition has always been a simple and clear one, and this thing has been forbidden by all of the Great Ones of Israel.

This is all about politics, not religion. Israel wants to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of all Palestinians and seizing control of the Temple of the Mount is a key tactic toward that end.

It is important to understand that this issue has been around for decades now and was the main trigger of the Second Intifada. On September 28, 2000 Ariel Sharon led a Likud delegation accompanied by hundreds of riot cops to the Temple of the Mount. Palestinians reacted with outrage and the uprising lasted for several years until it burned out.

This most recent outbreak began last month when Rabbi Yehuda Glick began leading Israeli groups to the Palestinian section of the Temple of the Mount. Glick is one of the most outspoken proponents of Israeli control of the site, demagogically claiming that he wants to build a multidenominational prayer site. Glick grew up in the USA and as such is typical of the most fanatical Zionists who were born here.

Here is Glick making the case for Jewish hegemony using a forked tongue:

On October 29th a Palestinian named Mutaz Hijazi caught up with Glick after he made a speech at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and pumped four bullets into his chest. Glick survived and the assassin was killed. Afterwards Palestinians nearby Hijazi’s home mounted a violent protest. It is also likely that the automobile assaults on Jews in Jerusalem by Palestinians have also been a response to the Temple on the Mount crisis.

As tensions continued to mount, the attack on the Hasidic rabbis might have been expected. You might be surprised to learn that I have a Facebook friend who was sympathetic to Glick. What might surprise you (and certainly surprised me) was what a Jewish friend (Lungen) said in response to her Timeline post: “KAHANE WAS RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 2.31.20 PM

The woman who invoked Kahane, a fascist who was assassinated by an Egyptian after giving a speech in New York City, is a symbol of where Israel is heading. She grew up in Woodridge, New York, my hometown, and became intensely religious as a teen even though her family was secular. Although I didn’t know her growing up, my mother was fairly close to her. I suspect that she became an orthodox Jew after the fashion of Bob Dylan but unlike Dylan stuck with it. On her Facebook page, there are links to the late Shlomo Carlebach, a Hasidic rabbi who became famous for his folk singing renditions of Hasidic tales in the 1960s. His synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan became a haven for lost souls, those secular Jews who were alienated from American society and who just as easily might have joined the Hare Krishnas instead of becoming religious Jews.

The last thing I want to do is confront this Woodridgeite with my views, who has remained my FB friend despite my daily postings of pro-Palestinian links. If things weren’t so polarized, I’d remind her that Carlebach said things quite contrary to Kahane:

After the Six Days War, I was one of the first people to walk into the Old City of Jerusalem. I walked up to every Arab, our cousins, and kissed them. I went to the top politicians in Israel and said, “We want to live in peace with the Arabs. As much as we need an army to make war, we need an army to make peace. Give me five thousand free plane tickets to bring holy hipp’lach [hippies] from San Francisco to here. We’ll go to every Arab house in the country. We’ll bring them flowers and tell them that we want to be brothers with them.

This was at a time when illusions about Jewish-Arab amity still lingered on. If there’s anything that has become obvious since Netanyahu began running things, it is that Kahane is the guiding philosopher of Israel today, not any “peace now” hippies. The latest sign of that is the announcement that Israel has defined itself as a state in which religious identity trumps democracy, moving it closer to becoming a full-fledged Kahanist entity as the NY Times reported today:

JERUSALEM — The Israeli cabinet on Sunday approved contentious draft legislation that emphasizes Israel’s Jewish character above its democratic nature in a move that critics said could undermine the fragile relationship with the country’s Arab minority at a time of heightened tensions.

The promotion of a so-called nationality law has long stirred fierce debate inside Israel, where opponents fear that any legislation that gives pre-eminence to Israel’s Jewishness could lead to an internal rift as well as damage Israel’s relations with Jews in other countries and with the country’s international allies.

The vote on Sunday also highlighted political fissures within the governing coalition amid increasing talk of early elections. The bill, a proposal for a basic law titled “Israel, the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” passed 14 to 6, with two centrist coalition parties opposing it. Parliament still has to approve the bill for it to become law.

This vote clearly resonates with Sheldon Adelson’s rejection of democracy as a defining trait of the Zionist state (not that the nakba was ever consistent with true democracy). Adelson, an American gambling casino magnate who has given millions to rightwing causes in the USA and Israel, was even too extreme for Abraham Foxman as the Daily Forward reported:

Recipients of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s largesse are dodging questions about his latest salvo against Israeli democracy.

Adelson, a leading Republican donor, has long stood out among American Jews for his conservative views. He may have stepped farther outside of the American Jewish mainstream than ever before, however, in statements at a conference in Washington on November 9 in which he seemed to write off Israel as a democratic state.

“I don’t think the Bible says anything about democracy,” Adelson said. “[God] didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state… Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?”

While Anti-Defamation League national president Abraham Foxman has slammed Adelson’s remarks, leaders of groups that have taken money from Adelson have not responded to requests to address his statements.

“Mr. Adelson is certainly entitled to his views,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Foundation and former president of the Jewish Funders Network. “The question is whether he seeks to impose those views on the not-for-profits he supports, and whether he seeks to determine their educational message.”

A spokesperson for Birthright Israel, whose group gets $32 million a year from Adelson, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, or the Israeli American Council, all of which have received major funding from Adelson.

Mort Klein, national director of the Zionist Organization of America, which Adelson also supports, suggested that Adelson’s comments may have been an attempt at humor. “I know Sheldon for maybe 15 years,” Klein said. “This is Sheldon Adleson humor, sarcasm, an attempt at humor… Of course he’s a fervent supporter of democracy.”

It will be interesting to see how Israel will fare over the next decade or so as its ethnic cleansing and fascist-like policies deepen and become more and more obvious to world opinion. When more and more secular-minded Jews in the USA become convinced that supporting Israel is no different than supporting apartheid South Africa, the momentum will shift toward BDS and other actions designed to isolate and punish the Zionists. Sooner or later, Israel will rely on the support of Christian fundamentalists, the arms manufacturers and other sectors with a material interest in seeing America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East survive. I only hope I live long enough to see the ship torpedoed and sunk.

August 25, 2014

U. of Illinois: caught with its pants down

Filed under: Academia,repression,Steven Salaita,Uncategorized,zionism — louisproyect @ 12:40 pm

August 20, 2014

Wiesel, weaponized

Filed under: zionism — louisproyect @ 2:54 pm

By Eli Valley

Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel published a new ad campaign in major newspapers across the U.S., in which he claims that the war between Gaza and Israel is a battle between “those who celebrate life and those who champion death,” and refers to “child sacrifice” and “worshippers of death cults.”


August 19, 2014

The scum that rises around the Steven Salaita firing

Filed under: Academia,repression,Steven Salaita,zionism — louisproyect @ 9:06 pm

Having worked at Columbia University for 21 years I developed a real animosity toward the individuals and organizations trying to pressure my employer into silencing or firing pro-Palestinian professors. The first to come under fire was Edward Said. After him came the people in the MEALAC Department that he helped make famous: Joseph Massad, Hamid Dabashi and Rashid Khalidi. Barnard had the same problems. An online petition to deny Nadia Abu El Haj tenure went up after she wrote a book demonstrating how Israeli archaeologists helped to shore up the nation’s racial exclusiveness.

Although there are many reasons to dislike the presidents of Columbia University and Barnard, their commitment to academic freedom is second to none. When Edward Said became target of the Israel lobby for throwing rocks at an IDF watchtower, Lee Bollinger said that this was his protected free speech right. Imagine that! Using actual physical violence rather than offensive tweets was still not enough to get him fired.

Columbia University, I should add, was also very principled when it came to “back office” nobodies like me. On three different occasions assholes contacted the university for things that I said on the Internet that made Steven Salaita’s tweets look like Hallmark Greeting cards by comparison. And each time there was never any question about being disciplined, let alone fired. On one occasion the ombudsman told me that it would be a good idea to get a non-Columbia email account if I wanted to be a flame-thrower (my word, not hers). That’s how I ended up as lnp3 at panix.com

In some ways, the people who are open supporters of Israel like Cary Nelson don’t get me as worked up as those who pretend to be neutral observers. These individuals are the real scum, writing newspaper articles or blog posts taking the administration’s side while trying to conceal their obvious bias. Each day as I check to see if there’s anything new about Salaita on Google, I continue to be struck by the gall of the commentators who are trying to drive the shiv into his back. (As opposed to his tweet about driving a shiv into Jeffrey Goldberg’s article.)

Let me share with you what I have seen, in chronological order. You may want to put on a surgical mask to block the bacteria that floats from the people under inspection, especially from the lawyers (you know what Shakespeare said about them.)

Steven Lubet

This Northwestern law professor wrote an article titled “Professor’s tweets about Israel crossed the line” that appeared in the August 14th Chicago Tribune. Lubet says that his tweets should not be an obstacle to his being hired at the U. of Illinois but uses his article mostly to libel Salaita as calling for Jeffrey Goldberg to be knifed when he was referring to an article he had written, etc. Lubet, like Nelson, affects a “free speech” posture saying “I worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on the Nazis-in-Skokie case in the 1970s, and I would gladly do so again.” Right. Love me, I am a liberal.

As it turns out, Lubet did have a dog in this race. He is a founding member of “The Third Narrative”, a group that represents itself as being for a two-state solution but adds that “We reject all attempts to undermine or diminish academic freedom and open intellectual exchange, including those cases associated with the Israel-Palestine debate.” Other founding members include Eric Alterman, Michael Walzer, Todd Gitlin and –you guessed it—Cary Nelson.

In his brilliant exposé of Cary Nelson, Phan Nguyen delivered the goods on “The Third Narrative”:

Although ostensibly described as taking a middle ground between “two competing narratives on the Middle East—Israeli and Palestinian,” TTN was launched a year ago and designed to “counter anti-Israel bias on the far left.” Thus TTN is geared primarily toward attacking the pro-BDS left and rarely critiques the pro-Israeli right. TTN even distributes a booklet called “Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel.”

This is a common anti-BDS tactic that I discuss elsewhere, where the goal is to drive “a wedge between progressive values and the BDS movement,” in the words of a guidebook from the Israel Action Network (another organization that Nelson has worked with).

Jonathan Adler

On August 17th Adler, the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve, referred readers to the arguments of Hoffman, the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School, on why the administration was in its right in “rescinding” its offer to Salaita, couched entirely in contract law minutiae. He cited the bottom line of Hoffman’s findings:

Why am I so skeptical when Mike Dorf is not? I think it’s largely because I’ve read alot of promissory estoppel cases, and a lot of promissory estoppel articles. And the consensus is that over the last generation, promissory estoppel has waned as a theory of recovery. As Bob Hillman famously concluded, it’s a “remarkably unsuccessful” cause of action, which, in my experience, is brought largely in weak cases as a last-ditch shot to push through to discovery and thus motivate settlement. I think that most contracts professors spend time on the doctrine these days largely because it’s so darn fun — the facts are wonderful! — but not because it’s a regular part of the business lawyer’s arsenal. Promissory estoppel cases are losers. This case would be a loser.

It turns out that Adler is a regular contributor to The Volokh Conspiracy, a website that migrated to the Washington Post in January 2014. Hence Adler’s appearance there. Here’s what MediaMatters  says about the marriage made in hell:

On January 21, The Washington Post announced that it had entered into a partnership with The Volokh Conspiracy, a blog that has operated since 2002 and largely focuses on legal issues but has strayed into other areas, including climate denialism. The Post praised the blog in its announcement of the agreement, calling it a “must-read source [that] will be a great addition to the Post’s coverage of law, politics and policy.” In his first official post, the blog’s founder, Eugene Volokh, revealed that the Post granted him “full editorial control.”

The move was celebrated by right-wing media outlets such as the American Spectator, which praised Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for highlighting a blog that provides legal commentary “from a [generally] libertarian or conservative perspective,” writing, “Perhaps it should stand to reason that a man who made a fortune offering people choices, should offer the same alternatives to his readership. What a novel concept in today’s news atmosphere.” TownHall editor Conn Carroll cited the acquisition as evidence that Bezos was “clearly moving” the Post “in a libertarian direction.”

So you might say that Steven Salaita’s firing is being defended in a newspaper funded by your Amazon.com purchases. The bastards have us coming and going.

Joyce Tolliver and Nick Burbules

These are a couple of U. of Illinois professors who have defended Salaita’s firing in the News-Gazette, a local paper that has been in the forefront of the witch-hunt. They write:

The other questionable assumption of the current debate is that the university’s action violates Salaita’s academic freedom. But the principle of academic freedom is not an absolute, open-ended license; the AAUP’s own statement on principles of academic freedom emphasizes that faculty are also bound by the standards of professional ethics: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, (and) should show respect for the opinions of others ….” Salaita’s comments raise legitimate questions about the limits of academic freedom.

So, who the hell are these people, you might ask. Well, to give you an idea of how committed they are to the rights of professors versus an obviously capricious administration, they are the people behind the “No Faculty Union at Illinois” website. A Wikipedia entry on Burbules states:

Professor Burbules has led the fight to prevent unionization of faculty (including non-tenure track faculty) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Burbules co-authored a 2014 open letter opposing faculty unionization; the letter rejected in principle the notion of fair share, that those workers who receive the benefits of a democratically created and elected trade union ought to pay their fair share of the union’s expenses. Without some semblance of fair share, no union can survive—workers will become free riders and take the benefits without paying for them, as the union gradually loses its leverage for lack of voluntary contributions, and eventually collapses.

Just the kind of people to be relied upon when a witch-hunt is brewing–if you are the administration trying to get rid of trouble-makers.

Spiked Online

This is the electronic magazine of a group of people in Britain that emerged out of the Trotskyist movement in the 1970s. Originally known as the Revolutionary Communist Party, they put out a print magazine titled Living Marxism that took ultra-contrarian positions on a number of questions. For example, they wrote in favor of fox-hunting, smoking cigarettes in restaurants, nuclear power, and GMO crops—all in the name of Karl Marx.

In the 1990s, they morphed into Spiked Online after dropping the Marxism thing. They did hold on to the contrarianism, however, as this assault on Steven Salaita should bear out:

If Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anyone be surprised #Gaza.’

This ugly, anti-Semitic tweet is just one in a long line sent by the American academic and pro-Palestinian activist, Steven Salaita. His response to the kidnapping in June of three Israeli teenagers was typically forthright: ‘You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.’ More recently he informed his Twitter followers: ‘Zionists: transforming “anti-Semitism” from something horrible into something honourable since 1948.’

Salaita is one of the contributors to The Imperial University, a book which makes a consistent case for BDS and the censoring of all connections with Israeli universities, which I reviewed in this month’s spiked review of books. The various authors argue that academic freedom, an overrated concept, is a mere tool employed by the liberal elite to patronise and neuter voices of dissent within the academy. How ironic, then, that Salaita, a man all too happy to ride roughshod over the academic freedom of Israeli lecturers and researchers, should be outraged when his own academic freedom is threatened.

This is even more noxious than anything that rolled off of Cary Nelson’s tongue. The article was written by one Joanna Williams, the author of “Consuming Higher Education: Why Learning Can’t Be Bought.” She has also written articles denying that rape is a problem in British universities and affirming that the pay gap between men and women is ancient history.

You can’t make this shit up.

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