I was a little freaked out by the student uprisings this week at speeches by Israeli officials at Oxford and at University of California-Irvine. One protest targeted an Israeli deputy foreign minister. The other Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. In both cases there was suppression of free speech, and the rage was palpable. A student at Oxford shouted an Arabic curse involving Jews and later defended it. At UC, on the video, a woman can be heard angrily complaining, as she is led out, about the harassment she suffers in the West Bank.
Is anyone surprised that there is rage against the occupation and the Gaza slaughter? At some level the muscularity of the Israel lobby is about suppressing rage that we all know is coming, and is overdue. A former AIPAC staffer was the publisher of a newspaper I once worked for and he said offhand to me years ago, Well we kicked them out of their houses. I was shocked to hear the news, 50 years after it happened. But “We” meant Jews, which equaled Zionists, in my publisher’s view; so now we are inheriting the whirlwind.
The crimes of “our” state are coming home. Especially on campuses where, thankfully, there are more and more Palestinian and Arab students.
The other day Max Blumenthal made the wise point that the Palestinian students are a lot like the SDS nearly 50 years ago. Think about it: Both movements were outraged by a neocolonial situation involving the U.S. Both have righteous anger. The SDS said, Up against the wall motherfuckers, and they scared a lot of people. Both involve radical analysis: in each case the power structure had responded with violence and denial to a basic justice issue: Vietnamese nationalism in the first case, Palestinian nationalism in this one.
Blumenthal’s analogy went further, to American sociology. The SDS had a lot of Jews in it. Jews were all over Ivy League campuses suddenly, and motivated by a desire to break down anti-Semitic discrimination in the top ranks of American society.
The best analysis of this issue is in former SDS radical Mark Rudd’s 2005 lecture on Why there were so many Jews in the SDS. He said that no one talked about Jewishness at the time, but that when he joined the SDS at Columbia, almost every single one of them was Jewish. They were Jews like himself, from a rising middle-class family in suburban Maplewood, New Jersey. His parents were active members of their synagogue. His grandmother ran a candy store. His father was born in Poland and changed his name from Rudnitsky, otherwise he would never rise above Captain in the Army. Shades of Dreyfus. Rudd’s father became a lieutenant colonel!
Rudd and his Jewish buddies hated the “genteel civility” of the WASP establishment that had excluded their fathers. “Even bourgeois Jews were still excluded from civil society by customs and especially by manners,” Rudd said. The president and provost of Columbia were Grayson Kirk and David Truman. “The place was dripping with goyishness," Rudd cracked–and he called Kirk a "shithead" in a speech, scaring people. The top officials told the students they were aginst the war, but they basically lied about their degree of institutional involvement with the defense establishment.
University officials all over this country will tell you they’re for Palestinian freedom, or a two-state solution; but they do nothing to advance it, or even to try and stop Palestinian dispossession, or let the news get out on their campuses.
The beauty of Mark Rudd’s lecture is that he recognized the aspiration and privilege of the Jewish students’ response. He said that Jews have often been privileged, even in Eastern Europe, and that today—the era of the Iraq war—it’s a Jewish adviser at George Bush’s elbow suggesting who to bomb next.
That’s about the neocons, and it’s honest. The honesty came out of Mark Rudd’s own eye-opening trip to Israel in 2005. He saw apartheid up close. He saw the separate roadways and the expansionist settlements destroying a Palestinian state on a fraction of the land they once lived on. “I challenge anyone who thinks of me as a traitor to my people or a self-hating Jew, both of which I’ve been called, to visit Palestinians in the West Bank or East Jerusalem for as little as one-half day. Every Jew needs to see the misery and humiliation which our Jewish nationalism and racism have wrought," he said.
I hope the analogy here is clear. Jews are not outsiders in American society any more. Whatever else it achieved, the shock of the radical 60s helped to break down an old corrupt order that privileged an ethnic-religious group. We knocked out their genteel civility and helped create a new leadership culture, of shrewdness and toughness and humor– in a word Rahm.
And all that time, through decades of denial, the recognition of neocolonial conditions in Israel and Palestine has been delayed and delayed. Mark Rudd only visited Israel in 2005.
The shock of the Palestinian campus radicals is also aimed at a corrupt order, one in which Jews are now members in good standing. If we can learn from that earlier experience, it is that this struggle is necessary and just, and it need not be a violent struggle; and Jews of conscience can take a part again.