As the United States wraps up the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s administration– the worst first 100 days of any administration, according to various assessments–millions of Americans are expressing horrified surprise not at that abysmal record, (it’ll get worse in the second 100 days), but rather, at former President Barak Obama’s speaking fee: $400,000 for a talk on health care, to a Wall Street firm. And in the wake of this (not so) shocking news item, yet more articles are being published reminding us of the reality of his actions, behind the beautiful façade of the elegant, loving, “scandal-free” model family.
Before that, and scandal-ridden as he was, Bill Clinton was described by TV political show host Rachel Maddow as “the best Republican president this country ever had.” Maddow’s description is a sad variation on the sorry refrain we hear in progressive circles today, that the reason we got into the mess we are currently in, is our leniency with what has come to be considered “the left.” Indeed, we seem to fall very easy prey to the power of grammatically-correct, eloquent statements, even when they are utterly belied by the speaker’s actions.
Obama, as well as the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary, are only a few of the many politicians that have completely departed from a stated commitment to progressive causes, into implementing actions that range from neo-liberal to outright hawkish. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who will receive an Israel advocacy award from StandWithUs on May 7th, is another such example.
Murray’s record is exemplary of that of fake progressives and their subservience to established systems of oppression and disenfranchisement. Most recently, in the wake of Trump’s Muslim and Immigrant Ban, he defiantly stated that Seattle will remain a sanctuary city, even as the Seattle Police Department stopped transit service to the Sea-Tac International Airport to stem the flow of protesters heading there. Before that, and also during his administration, members of the Seattle Police Department went on counter-terrorism seminars in Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, a Zionist organization more concerned with Israel advocacy than with the defense of civil rights. Not surprisingly, considering the fact that the Israeli military and police are invested in defending an illegal occupation and repressing the indigenous impulse towards freedom and dignity, the Seattle Police Department is now under consent decree because of the racism and violence it has characteristically engaged in. Murray has also facilitated the building of a new youth jail in the historically African American part of the city, despite sustained opposition from his constituents. And while he expressed his opposition to that facility, it was his administration that granted the permits, and his lawyers who joined the county’s efforts to deny anti-prison organizers the opportunity to be heard, to appeal the permits for the new jail. Today, as Palestinian prisoners in Israel’s jails are currently engaged in a hunger strike for dignity and human rights, up to 750 prisoners in the Northwest Detention Center, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country, are currently on hunger strike to protest their appalling conditions. And while Murray is not directly in charge of that prison, immigrant rights organizers say that Washington state politicians’ claim that they will not follow through with Trump’s immigration ban is proving to be a paper tiger. The connections between the two hunger strikes, one just outside of Seattle, the other in Israeli jails, will be foregrounded with a solidarity rally by Palestinian rights activists on May 13th, days after Murray will have been honored by StandWithUs.
Like other fake progressives, Mayor Murray consistently denounces racism, issuing statement upon statement about his city being welcoming, tolerant, a sanctuary, yet rather than side with the victims of racism, he has chosen to align himself with an apartheid country whose very existence as “the Jewish state” hinges on discrimination. An openly gay man, he has also jumped on the pinkwashing bandwagon, and agreed to keynoting a pinkwashing conference in Israel in 2015, despite appeals from the Seattle queer community to stop promoting that country as a gay haven, when in fact it misrepresents its own intolerance, and exploits regional homophobia, to distract from its egregious overall human rights abuses.
According to StandWithUs’s event information, Murray is being honored for “standing up to anti-Israel pressure, and remaining a good friend of the Seattle-area Jewish community.” StandWithUs’s claim is intentionally misrepresentative, as the Zionist organization knows full well that many members of the Seattle-area Jewish community, from the vibrant Jewish Voice for Peace local leadership and general membership, to the many Jewish members of QuAIA-Seattle (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), are completely opposed to Zionism. Similarly, members of the Seattle-area Jewish community are spearheading the newly-launched JVP Deadly Exchange campaign, which seeks to end US-Israeli police partnerships.
Yet even as ample documentation keeps streaming in from various quarters, including the Israeli government itself, that Israel is an apartheid country that consistently, systematically, engages in human rights violations, Murray stands not with his own constituents, and not with the progressive Jewish community in Seattle, but with apologists for Zionism.
Murray is currently the incumbent in a mayoral race with another nine candidates, and is attempting to sound more progressive in his bid to be re-elected in a liberal city. Nevertheless, at the close of his four-year tenure as mayor, (and well over 20 years in political office in King County) Murray is not being honored by immigrants, youth activists, anti-prison organizers, people of color, the homeless, the queer community, but rather, by StandWithUs, an organization devoted to sugarcoating violent racist settler-colonialism.
Obama was our first black president, Hillary Clinton would have been our first female president, Ed Murray is Seattle’s first openly gay mayor, in an interracial marriage. These are indeed social breakthroughs. But at this critical juncture, we need to look beyond the symbolism of an individual. Throughout history, the greatest progressive leaders and organizers, even when grounded in the issue closest to their circumstances, have understood the global interconnectedness of oppressive systems. Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to end segregation and voter disenfranchisement, but he also opposed war and militarism overseas. Nelson Mandela knew that the freedom of black South Africans was incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians. At the grassroots level, Palestinians understand that the struggle to block the North Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock is a struggle for indigenous sovereignty. Today, the organizers of the International Women’s Strike oppose sexism, but also racism and colonialism around the globe.
At this juncture, as the US critically needs to free itself from the grip of corrupt politicians and the devastation they are wreaking on all our social networks, the question we need to ask is how we can avoid more fake progressives in the future.
One answer may well be that we need to look away from politicians, and focus on amplifying and escalating the work grassroots organizers are doing, with no ambition to holding political office. We can put all our energy into uplifting the efforts of our community members, rather than our supposed “representatives.”
But since political offices must be filled, we need to support our organic leaders as they shoulder that role. And we must always, always, stay away from Zionists and Israel apologists. Because support for Israel, with its well-documented institutionalized racism, hypermilitarism, settler-colonialism, its violation of international law and the human rights of its indigenous community, is a fail-proof indicator of moral corruption and disrespect for disenfranchised communities everywhere.