Newclench is the pseudonym of a longtime American-Israeli activist.
Previous articles here have addressed the issue of anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the Occupy Wall Street movement. Some things MW got right, some things not so much. As someone who was present at the first General Assembly to plan #OWS and has participated in the movement part time, allow me to share some thoughts.
Press reports from the earliest phases of the occupation included references to anti-Semitic posters. One well known new media activist pointed out that the immediate adoption of marginal pro-Palestinian rhetoric might inadvertently discourage more mainstream folks, including most Jewish New Yorkers, from taking the nascent movement seriously.
With five weeks of hindsight, let’s all calm down a bit. First, despite the predictable attempt to use anti-Semitism to smear #OWS, it’s not working outside the narrow hardcore Republican/Neocon circles from whence it came. None other than Abe Foxman has come out to rebut the charges of widespread Jew hatred. One could go on about the massive Jewish presence at #OWS, but why bother?
But we must. At the start of Yom Kippur, between 800-1400 Jews attended a moving Kol Nidre service as an expression of support for the occupation. It was organized independently of any organization, and took place in a number of other cities as well. The liberal and radical wings of the organized Jewish community have mostly come out for #OWS, but in this they are simply behaving like large swaths of electorate that leans left. Nothing Jewish about it.
The vibrant atmosphere at Zuccotti Park, the other occupations and the online watercoolers of the broader movement are full of issues and debates. Should there be goals? Demands? Principles? Are supporters of Ron Paul welcome or merely tolerated? Are police obsessed anarchists or MoveOn coopters working to kill the movement through too much love? Great questions all, each with many answers. And inside of it, a few familiar debates. Are Native American voices given enough respect? Are people of color marginalized? Is the General Assembly process somehow biased in favor of white young men?
At the root of all these debates are single issue diehards. The refrain is ‘if you won’t do X then you’re a Y.’ And how do we know? Because they said so! Never mind that the movement seems to be doing fine, that the decision making structure of working groups and general assemblies is pretty darn successful, that they’ve built an amazing meta-brand, a resilient vehicle for engaging in politics without becoming any politician’s tool. Somehow, the failure of committed and idealistic people to shift gears and listen to the sensitive brings out the worst in single-issue diehards.
Enter Palestine. There have been educational and political events on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Occupy Wall Street and other occupations around the country. I see veteran Palestinian solidarity activists at OWS. It’s all good, really. But there’s a reason why we’re talking about WALL STREET and not, say, the AIPAC-Industrial-Complex. It’s because Wall St. resonates as a metaphor for the economic crisis that is causing so much pain and suffering to Americans from all backgrounds. America’s foreign policy isn’t unconnected (it’s the cause of so much debt, imperial overreach, etc.) but it’s not in the foreground as it was in 2003-2004. And that won’t change. And American involvement in Israel/Palestine represents only one foreign policy issue, of primary interest to two main groups: American Jews and the far left.
It is hard to talk about the role of American Jews in supporting a pro-Israel foreign policy as a Wall St. issue. If you do it, you’ll be accused of using and misusing an anti-Semitic trope that puts Jewish concerns at the heart of US imperial wars. Elsewhere, I might argue that such an argument is incorrect. But here I’ll argue that it’s stupid even for adherents of such views. If there is one issue that goes together poorly with Wall St. and the over-reach of American finance capital, it’s the role of American Jews. But don’t let me stop you.
Pushing Palestinian rights to the foreground of #OWS would make it easier for millions of sympathizers to dismiss this great American protest and nip it in the bud. Ditto for reparations for slavery, ending the US military presence in the Philippines, and reopening an official 9/11 investigation. Which is why most of the Zuccotti Park protestors would likely see such an effort on a par with policemen dressing in black and urging idiots to break some Starbux windows.
Newclench is the pseudoynm for a longtime activist who spent time in prison as a refusenik during the first Intifada.