Norr responds to Ash: Who is trying to get the solidarity movement back on track and who is merely fanning the flames of division?

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Gabriel Ash’s diatribe reminds me of an adage that seems to become truer by the week: “Anti-semites used to be people who hate Jews; now they’re people Jews hate.”

Among the 1,614 words Ash uses to denounce my 116-word paragraph criticizing the Swedish Boat to Gaza’s “disinvitation” of Col. Ann Wright, the central allegation is that I “consider antisemites who support Palestinian liberation to be valuable voices, demand their inclusion, defend their legitimacy, and challenge refusal to tolerate them misguidedly as ‘silencing.’”

I can’t imagine where Ash got all that from, especially considering that (as far as I know) he and I have never met nor even had any dealings in cyberspace. The views he attributes to me are certainly not in my “two cents” about the exclusion of Ann Wright from the Estelle, nor in anything I’ve ever written, here or elsewhere.

In fact, his allegations are entirely bogus – if we’re talking about real antisemites, people who hate Jews simply because they’re Jews. Ash apparently has a much broader definition of antisemitism, and I suspect it’s true that some people he brands antisemites I consider valuable and legitimate voices it’s important to defend. But since he never spells out his definition or identifies the individuals he accuses me of supporting, it’s hard to understand or clarify the differences between us.

In my book, though, no one becomes an antisemite simply because she or he is so labeled by self-appointed tribal watchdogs – or their non-Jewish allies, even Palestinians. Nor does one become an antisemite just by criticizing aspects of Jewish culture, tradition, and even theology, or by exploring how they relate to the vicious crimes perpetrated by the Zionists and the “Jewish state.” (Are we supposed to believe there’s no connection?) Hell, I’ll even say – knowing the abuse I’m inviting – that questioning conventional wisdom about the Holocaust, including such sensitive matters as Jewish collaboration, isn’t by itself proof of antisemitism. We take it for granted that re-examining received truths about every other aspect of history is not only legitimate, but necessary and important, because it’s potentially productive of new insights. Why isn’t that equally true when it comes to the Holocaust?

What’s crazy-making in this whole controversy is that of all the people involved, I know of only one who actually deserves to be call an antisemite, by my standards: Eustace Mullins, the man speaking in the video Greta Berlin linked to. (And I concluded that Mullins was an antisemite only after reading the Wikipedia entry about him – in the video in question, he disparages only bankers and Zionists and speaks of other Jews not as villains but as victims.) Even Ash doesn’t try to claim that Greta Berlin and Ann Wright are antisemites. So whom exactly is he accusing me (and Greta and “others”) of defending? Where is the antisemitism we’re allegedly incapable of recognizing?

In the second half of his piece Ash veers off into a bizarre attempt to claim some constitutional high ground. First, he says that I (and Greta Berlin, but I’m speaking only for myself) “read rejection of bigotry, falsely, as an unacceptable challenge to ‘freedom of speech,’” then that we “seek to deny the rest of the movement the freedom of association.” Where on earth does that come from? I never questioned the right of the Swedish Boat committee (or anyone else) to reject what they consider bigotry, nor their freedom to associate with whom they please. I simply expressed my opinion about the way they used these rights in this case – i.e., that disinviting Ann Wright from the Estelle was deeply misguided (“sheer madness”) because she’s one of our movement’s most competent leaders and credible spokespeople, because excluding her certainly won’t ward off charges of antisemitism against the Estelle crew, and, overall, because dividing the movement this way does nothing to further the cause of justice in Palestine.

Ash also accuses me “bullying” because I invoked the phrase “guilt by association.” To me its applicability is self-evident: the Swedish Boat to Gaza group excluded Ann Wright not because of anything she herself has done or said, but because of her association with Greta Berlin. Ash counters this logic by arguing that Col. Wright actually bears personal responsibility because she, like Greta, is a member of the Free Gaza board and contributed to a board statement  about the controversy that’s been whipped up around the misbegotten tweet. According to Ash, the statement “characteriz[es] all those who took issue with them, including the approach of the former board members, longstanding and respected Palestinian and solidarity activists, [as?] ‘vicious attacks.’ … The word for this is bullying.”

Unfortunately, the statement has been posted at Mondoweiss only in a comment, but it’s entitled “We support justice in Palestine not demonizing each other,” it repeatedly acknowledges that Greta made a mistake, and it does not accuse “all those who took issue” with the board of “vicious attacks” – it simply says that Greta has been “viciously attacked,” an assertion I don’t see how anyone can deny. Here’s the essence of it:

We, the new board of Free Gaza II would like to add our comments and support for Greta’s work and for the ongoing work we need to do to keep the illegal blockade of Gaza front and center. For, after all, our work has always been about freedom and justice for the Palestinians.

It’s time we got back to work and stopped battering one of the leaders of the non-violent direct action Palestinian solidarity movement.

And here is Ann Wright’s personal contribution:

I have known Greta Berlin  and have worked with Free Gaza for several years.  In neither word or action have either Greta or members of the Free Gaza movement been anti-semitic.  They challenge Israeli policies, but that is not anti-semitic.

The word for that is bullying?!? In whose language? And the statement is what justifies Ash’s argument that Ann’s exclusion was not a case of “guilt of association”?

I strongly urge everyone to read the statement in full. Then go back, re-read what Ash says about it, and decide for yourself who is trying to trying to get the solidarity movement back on track and who is merely fanning the flames of division.

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I have to agree with Henry on this one — Gabriel is unnecessarily fanning the flames of division. At a fairly abstract level he makes the case why the left at certain times should ally with those who hold objectionable positions, but that under other circumstances, such compromise is wrong. Different circumstance, different political conditions lead to different resolutions of this question. Then he dives in and criticizes Norr and Ann Wright for making the… Read more »

Good for you, Henry Norr. Glad you took Ash on with a few words of reason. I have an idea though why he may have attacked you so underhandedly: were you by any chance seen within a block of a venue where Gilad Atzmon was playing and/or speaking? have you inadvertently said anything semi-non-accusatory about the man? or, god forbid, have you ever known anyone who has known Gilad – including his kindergarten teacher –… Read more »

OK, here’s my two cents: Greta Berlin did something that seriously damaged the reputation of the Free Gaza movement. In my opinion she should step down as a spokesman for the Free Gaza Movement. One of her defenders on Mondiweiss said she’s not an antiSemite, she just did something dumb. Well, do you want someone who does something dumb – seriously damaging the Palestinian cause – as a leader?? I think not. The other side… Read more »

I hope this is the end of it – not just because Norr delivered a pretty thorough beating here – I just can’t take anymore of this

Well said Henry!