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Discussing Palestine at Occupy Boston

on 13 Comments

I spent my day in downtown Boston in and around the Occupy Boston encampment. Appropriately, the protesters bivouacked across the street from The Federal Reserve Bank here; the image they’ve conjured is a symbolically potent one.

My main task for the day was to lead a Palestine teach-in. About twenty people – from a variety of backgrounds – sat in a circle to offer comments and ask questions. Significantly, the teach-in was organized at the request of the Occupy Boston leadership.

I have to admit that I was surprised at the new baseline that’s emerged in recent years. People took it for granted that America and Israel have been working to undermine Palestinian human rights for decades now. Anyone who remembers talking about Palestine in 2003 knows that the goalposts have shifted. I just wasn’t aware by how much.

The recession has done its part to change perceptions I think. Americans react like normal people when they read that despite everything cash transfers to Israel are unaffected by their economic straits. Moreover, the effect that Dan Levy describes here has had a domestic impact in the past two years. Finally, Israel is breaking on the Left-Right divide, but it’s also about 1% versus the 99%. The moneyed elites and the lobbyists are all about Israel.

One other thing that struck me about the Occupy movement – which saw one or two thousand people march today – were the resonances with Tahrir. The tents, the reliance on community expertise (medical services, a prayer space, etc…) the chants and the positivity all underlined the universality of the experience for me. I wonder if we overstate the impact of culture on social movements sometimes.

I left the protesters feeling good about the movement’s goals and diversity. But I do have one major concern: Unlike Tahrir, the Occupy movement runs a very real risk of being co-opted by a range of establishment Democrat bandwagoneers.

Nothing will bury this nascent American movement for social justice more effectively than the Democratic Party. I hope that enough of the leadership knows that.

Ahmed Moor
About Ahmed Moor

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American who was born in the Gaza Strip. He is a PD Soros Fellow, co-editor of After Zionism and co-founder and CEO of Twitter: @ahmedmoor

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13 Responses

  1. john h
    john h
    October 10, 2011, 11:05 pm

    Ahmed remarked on how much the goalposts have shifted to a new baseline, but failed to elaborate, it appears to me.

    Think about this statement:

    “People took it for granted that America and Israel have been working to undermine Palestinian human rights for decades now.”

    What that says about the shared values of America and Israel makes both of them beneath contempt in my opinion.

    And for some it seems to be going even further. From the Daniel Levy link:

    Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) has lamented a situation in which, in his words “Palestinians have the Gaza Strip and they are occupying the West Bank.”

    Another Congressional clown high on ziocane. People like this can say black equals white with a straight face and are actually believed.

    O I forgot the standard “God bless America” mantra and how that happens; God will only bless America when it stands with Israel. That’s what all those evangelicals never tire to intimidate with and too many others buy into it.

    Perhaps Ahmed was referring to being able to be part of Occupy Boston with the Palestinian teach-in. I guess a small step is better than no step, so may it count for much more than I think it does.

  2. ToivoS
    October 10, 2011, 11:23 pm

    the Occupy movement runs a very real risk of being co-opted by a range of establishment Democrat bandwagoneers.

    I share your worry but I do not think it will happen. You mention 2003, in my experience that was the height of the movement against the Iraq War. No question then that Democratic Party activists were influencing events and preventing any mention of the Palestinians struggle. Their influence was shown that as soon as Obama was elected the antiwar movement went totally limp. Obama continued Bush’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq without much opposition.

    This OWS movement has emerged during the Obama regime and all of those Democratic Party activist that worked to stop “Bush’s” war were fully employed inside the government and did not see this new movement coming. They are now obviously trying to redirect this anger against the Republicans but I do think that they realize that that the people on the streets consider that the enemy is the system (i.e. the two party system with its corporate backers) and it is very unlikely that they will simply roll over and become mindless street walkers for Obama’s re-election campaign.

    In short OWS is trying to move beyond the two parties that represent Wall Street and banking interests. The great thing about OWS is that they are not being led by some small group that can be bought off. The people on the streets have some sense for what is happening and they will not follow any self appointed “leader” back into the Democratic Party.

  3. Abierno
    October 10, 2011, 11:50 pm

    Nothing will bury this nascent movement for social justice more effectively than the Democratic party.

    This reflects considerable political naivete. This country faces a national
    election in a year. In these post Citizen United times, we can expect
    millions, if not billions of dollars of untraceable, non transparent
    money to be thrown into the presidential race. The Occupy protestors
    represent only small fraction of the discouraged, disposessed and
    financially fragile in this country for whom social justice is simply
    a pipe dream. These persons are neither the bastions nor the base of
    the Republican party. The Young Guns such as Cantor and Ryan, with
    their Wall Street super pacs would like nothing better than an
    independent liberal candidate in the tradition of Ralph Nader to split
    the popular, populist vote to guarantee the election of that pillar of
    compassionate consevatism, Rick Perry or his ilk. Those that do not learn from history, live to repeat it.
    history live to repeat it.

  4. radii
    October 11, 2011, 12:12 am

    hard times can create bread riots – which all these demonstrations globally are – and for Americans they are finally forced to calculate their own national self-interest and their individual role in it and israel is a clinging, controlling parasite that sucks our money, credibility, reputation, and human lives and people are aware now – this new public awareness must transform into a movement that cuts israel loose or demands accountability … the Occupy movement must grow up about messaging and move past this nascent directionless phase quickly

  5. Remax
    October 11, 2011, 7:52 am

    Whether the movement can be successfully hijacked or not, attempts will certainly be made to do so. It is both the strength and weakness of such movements that they are born out of opposition to something rather in favour of something else. It is a strength initially because it unites disparate groups in a common purpose but it becomes a weakness as its successes begin to demand a definition of what should replace what is being rejected. It is at that point the movement becomes vulnerable to hijack. We observe this in Egypt where the idealistic uprising has replaced one tyrannical system with another, or Obama who seemed to embody an aspiration that achieved his election (and Nobel Peace prize), then vanished into thin air.

    The level of power exercised by financial interests today is a consequence of recent exponential growth in the global labour force, particularly in the East. This has reduced the value of labour in the West and consequently its influence and authority, and it doesn’t really matter if there is a two party system like the US, or three like the UK, or many like Germany and Israel, or indeed none at all. The influence and authority of working people functions as a counterbalance to exploitation by the rich, and as it declines exploitation increases.

    It is understandable that the OWS and its associate bodies have sympathy for Palestinians but, as Ahmed Moor suggests above, it has more to do with economics than human rights. It would serve Palestinian interests best to bring economic pressure on Israel by provoking grass-roots discontent over US aid. This wouldn’t directly enhance Israeli sympathy for Palestinians but it would make them more amenable to international law and global opinion by reducing the authority of their plutocrats while restoring that of their middle class. Israel, after all, started out as a socially egalitarian experiment. Remember the kibbutz?

  6. asherpat
    October 11, 2011, 8:51 am

    Given the 100% overlap between the Occupy [InsertHere] and Mondoweiss blog interests, perhaps it is time to update the Blog’s moto to:

    “The war of ideas on Israel and Capitalism”

    • Dan Crowther
      Dan Crowther
      October 11, 2011, 9:19 am

      Awesome Asher. Agreed.

    • Theo
      October 11, 2011, 10:16 am

      Not all capitalism, only the type we have in the USA, hire and fire at free will, etc.

      There is no better business system than a fair capitalistic one, based on mutual respect by both employers and employees.
      In western Europe there is a different type of capitalism, where the companies are obligated by laws to protect the rights of the employees, who have an average of six weeks paid vacation a year, unlimited sick leave, cannot be fired at the whim of a boss, and must have health benefit insurance, paid equally by both parties.

      One in the USA may say; you cannot run a business under such conditions!!
      Really? Look at Germany, they have a boomimg economy, only 6% unemployement, (the lowest in 20 years), there is a waiting line on german cars, maschinery, etc., even though they are much more expensive than the concurence, because those items are a great quality. Those employees work hard, because they know that they are respected.
      Perhaps it would help the faltering US industry if they would look at their employees as partners and not as unwanted expenses that must be discarded as soon as possible.

      Fazit; not all capitalism is bad and right now there is no other system that works better.

      • Citizen
        October 12, 2011, 2:32 am

        Theo, I agree with your assessment.

  7. Dan Crowther
    Dan Crowther
    October 11, 2011, 8:54 am

    I cant speak for co-option at the NY occupation – but in Boston, its a real threat. The “leadersip” in Boston are mostly young college kids who are very very wary of letting people discussing political matters. There has only recently been outlets for people to discuss their views and ideas in front of the collective and in working groups. There is a genuine timidity among the current crop of organizers – as well as an almost tyrranical obsession with the agenda being driven by them.

    Union leadership has already played to their heightened sense of self to get a lot of visibility and access to the occupation that most among the group would resist. Im specifically referring to union leaders, not rank and file.

    I would say there is as much of a threat from people organizing ( at least here in Boston) the occupation as there is from outside influences. A very ambitious bunch, to be sure. Ambitious without any formed opinions or real world experience. Very dangerous.

    This was again evidenced yesterday, when the lead organizers unilaterally re-reouted a march to head smack into police at the charlestown bridge, causing the arrest of a couple people. People marching had no prior knowledge they were going to the bridge( the decision was made on the fly- undemocratically), but there were police and helicopters at the bridge, and after all, NY went the Brooklyn bridge……came off as a “radical memory creating moment” – the lead organizers wanted to feel like bad-asses, and ended up risking their brethren. Not cool.

    Last night, the park director came to the new encampment, which the police said they would break up, and asked the people to leave – and it was the ORGANIZERS who were giving voice to the idea of leaving. Weird idea of civil disobedience, I hope that camp is still there

    As for discussing I/P – I have been bringing the subject up with people in conversation a couple weeks now, and I agree with Ahmed’s assessment.
    But again, there is such a general unease from the organizers in letting people discuss politics and issues, its hard to know where people really stand on things. Tahrir Square is the motivation, but BDS needs to be the method. The next step is deciding what and who to protest, boycott and divest from. For that to happen, people are going to have to be able to discuss politics.

    UPDATE: Looks like they decided to stay

  8. Theo
    October 11, 2011, 10:29 am

    The pictures in Boston and NYC show that there is absolutely no difference between the police in Cairo, Minsk, etc. or our blue heroes. They all march on order and beat, torture or even kill as a normal part of their duties.
    Shame on those americans who wear that uniform.

  9. yourstruly
    October 11, 2011, 10:40 am

    decentralization with everyone a leader is what’ll keep the spirit* alive and the movement growing. beware attempts by the democratic party to hijack the movement. taking over the democratic party, as per the tea party’s takeover of the republican party, ah, that’s something to consider.

    *spirit, as in those eighteen magical days in tahrir square

  10. Citizen
    October 12, 2011, 2:48 am

    Concern about being ji-jacked by institutional Democrats, about crystalizing an agenda of prioritized targets, about being trapped by mainstream framing, etc–these are the subject of tweets currently under #OWS hash tag. The I-P issue, not at all, so far; it’s clear the system itself is the enemy and so, far the only thing clear to everyone involved is the banking system has to be changed, and these kids are discovering Ron Paul–but hey, the Republican POTUS wannabees even rob sound bites from him. Originally, Tea Party railed against the bankers too, but they have been hijacked by GOP and sent off to tilt at the fear of socialism chimeras. In fact, the Tea party notions originated with Ron Paul followers.

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