As pro-Palestinian discourse begins to make its voice heard in the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement, right-wing organizations and individuals in the United States, including the Republican National Committee and the Emergency Committee for Israel, have denounced the protests as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
As the people-powered movement for social justice and democratic equality, which began in New York City in September, has spread to more than 900 cities in 82 countries worldwide, it has generated a global discourse critical of the economic and political powers and privileges of the world’s richest 1%, and has opened a space for the 99% of humanity to come together in solidarity, united by a common struggle for freedom. As it gains momentum, its message of protest has broadened to target injustices committed not merely on Wall Street but all over the world, including the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Among the myriad posters of protest can be seen messages like ‘End Military Aid to Israel’, ‘Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street’, and, from Palestine, ‘Occupy Wall St., Not Palestine- Freedom for Palestinian Political Prisoners!’ There have also been many organized events in support of Palestinian rights- to give just two of many examples, on Tuesday October 18, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine held an event in Boston entitled ‘Occupy Boston, not Palestine’; on October 8, at an anti-war rally at Occupy Chicago, speaker Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, discussed the links between Israeli occupation and American imperialism.
As the voice of Occupy Wall Street grows louder and more compelling, right-wing voices have, predictably, risen to attack the movement in any way they can. Pointing out, among the innumerable signs and posters of Occupy Wall Street, a few deplorable manifestations of anti-Semitism, and conflating these with many more genuine criticisms of the State of Israel, conservative Zionist organizations- such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, who released a video on the 13th insisting that ‘hate is not an American value’ (days before board member Rachel Abrams would use her blog, following the release of Gilad Shalit, to call Palestinians “death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages’, ‘devil’s spawn’, and ‘unmanned animals’1)- have used the moment to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, they can repeat their familiar mantra that ‘to question Israel is to persecute the Jewish people’, thereby shielding Israel, in the thick of this storm of popular revolt, from legitimate criticism; simultaneously, they can smear Occupy Wall Street as a hateful movement, defending their class interests as card-carrying members of the 1% by seeking to delegitimize a mass uprising which questions their power.
To be sure, Occupy Wall Street has shown the world a few instances of genuine anti-Semitism. When a protester insists that “the smallest group in America controls the money, media and all other things. The fingerprints belong to the Jewish bankers. I am against Jews who rob America. They are one percent who control America. President Obama is a Jewish puppet. The entire economy is Jewish. Every federal judge in the East Coast is Jewish”2, we can discern an irreducibly anti-Semitic leap of logic that, by positing Judaism as the root cause of 21st century corporate and political dominance, blindly swipes at economic, judicial and ideological power structures, ignorantly and erroneously reducing their complexity to a single ethnic explanation- ‘it’s the Jews’. “From the 13th century expulsion of England’s Jews”, says Ryan Jones in Israel Today magazine on Sunday, October 16th, “to the 19th century Russian pogroms to the Nazi Holocaust, sour economic conditions have historically formed the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism”3, and it is pitiful that, 100 years after ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, such superstitious belief still bubbles up, obscuring clear comprehension of the real class enemies.
Yet many of those who have spoken out against anti-Semitism in Occupy Wall Street employ a no less nefarious method of ideological obscurity when, in the same breath, they attack those who speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Consider this paragraph from the Israeli news outlet Ynet- “Among the signs that could be seen in the protest were, ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ‘Hitler’s Bankers’, and a sign urging people to Google the following: Wall St. Jews, Jewish billionaires, Jews & Federal Reserve Bank. In addition, the anti-Israel group Code Pink: Women for Peace was spotted as well as other Arab groups.”4
A statement like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’ is not an ignorant racist slur aimed at the Jewish people as an ethnic group, but a cogent political critique of the state of Israel as an occupying power. By claiming that this statement, or that the anti-war group CODEPINK, is anti-Semitic, pro-Israel forces are using a favorite time-tested tactic- shooting down legitimate political criticism of Israel the militarized nation-state, by falsely portraying such criticism as racism aimed at the Jewish people.
The day after the Emergency Committee for Israel published their political ad- which juxtaposed footage of Democrats Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi expressing support for Occupy Wall Street, footage of a few harsh-anti-Semitic outbursts that regrettably occurred on the streets, and photos of pro-Palestinian signs like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ending by reminding the viewing public that ‘hate is not an American value’5- columnist MJ Rosenberg correctly identified in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera that “the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests…[using] Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.”6
By super-imposing anti-Semitism upon Occupy Wall Street and the pro-Palestinian struggle, it seeks to stain the left and portray the right as the guardian both of Israel and ‘American’ values. The insistence of right-wing political groups to attack Occupy Wall Street and defend Israel shows to what extent the corporate interests of the American 1% desire a strong Israel to safeguard their imperial programme. By portraying Occupy Wall Street as both anti-Israel and anti-American, then, their actions reveal the very American-Israeli ideological, corporate and military power network they seek to obscure, and highlight, for those who can see past this smokescreen, the common struggle shared between those fighting the occupation of Palestine, and those supporting the occupation of Wall Street. Implying that a strong Israel wants a weak Occupy Wall Street, then, it pits the Occupy Wall Street 99% on the side of Palestinian freedom, and the 1% on the side of Israeli occupation, thereby revealing the contours of battle lines that have already been drawn.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters are clearly realizing that there is a direct economic, political and ideological link between the corporate power they confront on Wall Street, and the Israeli occupation that the Palestinian people confront on a daily basis. As John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt said in their 2007 book ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy’, “American taxpayers’ money has subsidized Israel’s economic development and rescued it during periods of financial crisis. American military assistance has strengthened Israel in wartime and helped preserve its military dominance in the Middle East…as of 2005, direct U.S. economic and military assistance to Israel amounted to nearly $154 billion (in 2005 dollars), the bulk of it comprising direct grants rather than loans…remarkably, Israel is the only recipient of U.S. economic aid that does not have to account for how it is spent. Aid to other countries is allocated for specific development projects…but Israel receives a direct lump-sum cash transfer…another form of U.S. support is loan guarantees that permit Israel to borrow from commercial banks at lower rates, thereby saving millions of dollars in interest payments.” (23-28)
Now more than ever, America pours economic and military support in Israel’s direction for political reasons. “The problems that the United States and Israel face in [the Middle East],” Mearsheimer and Walt remind us, “have not lessened….indeed, they may well have grown worse. Iraq is a fiasco, Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in conflict, Hamas and Fatah are battling for dominance within the Palestinian community, and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon is deeply troubling. Iran is still seeking to acquire full control of the nuclear fuel cycle, groups like al Qaeda remain active and dangerous, and the industrial world is still dependent on Persian Gulf oil. These are all vexing problems, and the United States will not be able to address any or all of them effectively if Americans cannot have a civilized conversation about our interests in the region and the role of all the factors that shape U.S. foreign policy, including the Israel lobby.” (Preface, xi)
By beginning to link a critique of American corporate domination with a critique of American foreign policy in Israel, Occupy Wall Street seeks to initiate such a civilized conversation. The difficulty of speaking about Wall Street’s influence on the American-Israel relationship, however, lies between the signs ‘Zionists control Wall Street’ and ‘Google Wall St. Jews’- both found at Occupy Wall Street- where a delicate and slippery slope separates a significant and objective factual trend (that the rise of neoconservative economic and political hegemony favors a strong Israel) from a dangerous anti-Semitic generalization (that ‘Jews control Wall Street’).
As Phillip Weiss correctly pointed out on October 21, “the neoconservatives who arose…to justify the military occupation of Palestine and American military support for it have helped to corrupt American politics. The neoconservative rise was aided…by the Israel lobby. I don’t think any analysis of our foreign policy can get anywhere without dealing with these facts.”7 Two equally dangerous Fascisms confront level-headed analysis of this neoconservative Zionism- the anti-Semitic Fascism of pointing the finger at an ethno-religious group rather than a concrete neoconservative interest group, and the pro-Israel Fascism of threatening anyone who dares point a finger at American-Israeli imperialism with charges of anti-Semitism.
The Arab Spring, where it sprung up, sought to throw off the yoke of dictatorship within a single country; Occupy Wall Street seeks to disentangle the American dream from a diffuse and all-pervasive system of economic, corporate, and ideological oppression; the Palestinian people seek to liberate themselves from a foreign occupier of their soil. What unites these diverse movements is the struggle for collective liberation. As the BDS movement said in their statement ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine’, released October 13, the same day as the Emergency Committee for Israel’s video- “Our aspirations overlap; our struggles converge. Our oppressors, whether greedy corporations or military occupations, are united in profiting from wars, pillage, environmental destruction, repression and impoverishment. We must unite in our common quest for freedoms, equal rights, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, and world peace. We can no longer afford to be splintered and divided; we can no longer ignore our obligations to join hands in the struggle against wars and corporate exploitation and for a human-friendly world community not a profit-maximizing jungle.”8
The paranoid racism of the few Occupy Wall Street protesters who blame Jews for capitalist corporate domination is deplorable. No less deplorable, however, is the effort by right-wing Zionist power groups to use the specter of anti-Semitism to squash criticism of Israel as an oppressive occupying power. The sparks of pro-Palestinian solidarity that flare up at Occupy Wall Street should be fanned into a flame, as part of the struggle to secure ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the 21st century.
Ben Lorber is an American activist working with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank, and a journalist with the Alternative Information Center in Bethlehem. Check out his blog at freepaly.wordpress.com.