Not a conspiracy – it’s capitalism, stupid
On Charges of “antisemitism” at Occupy Wall Street
Max Ajl, Jewbonics
Friends and comrades who have been down to Wall Street to look at and participate in the protests have told me that it’s been amazing: varied, non-sectarian, organized, flexible, spontaneous, bold, innovative, eloquent. Labor unions and striking pilots have endorsed and supported the protests. The crackdown began early and has escalated, with hundreds arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge today and shipped off to the Tombs for a night or two of political internment. Has the spirit of Tahrir traveled across the Atlantic? Are these isolated spot-fires from Madison, soon Boston and Chicago, going to turn into a bloom of social revolt?
It’d be about time. The “objective conditions” have not been so conducive to social insurrection in the United States for decades: corporate after-tax profits have sextupled, from $250 billion to nearly $1.5 trillion, since 1990; a large chunk of that, 1 trillion dollars since 2001, the result of dizzyingly high prices for petroleum at the pump, in effect a regressive tax the petroleum companies have been laying on American working-class consumers. Our health-care system is by far the worst in the industrialized world, 16 million small children live in poverty, while the top one percent brings back nearly 20 percent of national. The class war is right out in the open, papered over insistently by an endless war on terror against shadowy and nebulous Islamist foes, and with beleaguered Democratic voters glancing right at Satan – or Rick Perry – who might, heaven forfend, destroy Social Security (As opposed to the melanin-rich mannequin in the White House).
What I am disappointed to see is that some people claiming to be leftist supporters of Palestinian rights – but who are neither leftists nor supporters of Palestinian rights – are complaining about “antisemitism” at Occupy Wall Street. To be clear, there are internet wackos and real wackos everywhere. As Alex Cockburn recently pointed out, “These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly ‘rogue’ agencies,” to which one should add, Protocol-esque non-sense. That there is a fringe of this at Occupy Wall Street does not surprise me. That it’s more vocal online, in whose dark shadows provocateurs grow wildly, surprises me even less.
But then I see one Daniel Sieradski, whose primary purpose in life seems to be commoditizing his dissent, suggesting that a sign which reads, “End financial aid to Israel, end occupation of Gaza,” is going to scare off the “7 million” [sic] Jewish New Yorkers who support murdering Palestinian children. According to this line of thinking, if the Occupy Wall Street Protests are going to attract a broader base – like the mostly middle class or working class Arab communities in Bay Ridge, the Iraqi cab drivers, the Yemeni and Egyptian deli operators and the Moroccan kebab-stand proprietors of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the mostly poor or working Afghan, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi communities on Coney Island Avenue and Queens, all of whom hate the occupation, let alone the broader white, black, and Puerto Rican working classes whose tax dollars go, in yearly three billion dollar chunks, to Israeli Aircraft Industries in the holy land or straight to Raytheon and Boeing in America, in the process chopping up some Lebanese and Palestinian children into pieces – they have to drop issues like the occupation and military aid to Israel.
Explain to me how this works. An anti-capitalist anti-corporate movement for social justice should not also be antisemitic. That goes without saying. But apparently it should also, Sieradski seems to be demanding, accommodate Jews, not simply as Jews, on the basis of mutual respect for others, but as people whose identity is intimately bound up with occupying Gaza and ensuring that people shower in water filled with fecal residue. On its own terms this is ugly. Israeli war crimes are carried out with American tax dollars. Whose sensibilities are we offending by suggesting that a non-sectarian movement include those suffering in a different but related way from the same system? “Those other Jews”? Or Sieradski’s?
But it is worse. The upshot of suggesting that an anti-capitalist anti-corporate movement blot out mention of the Palestine case for fear of offending American Jewry is that the American elite will stuff more and more of the agenda of American imperialism into the sack of “support for Israel.” Want to devastate Iraqi society? It’s for Israel. Want to ensure a several billion dollar yearly subsidy for the American military-industrial complex? It’s to “defend Israel.” Want to wage a massive endless decades-long war against exotic, menacing, terrorism-prone scimitar-wielding Asiatics, to the enormous benefit of the militarized industries which compose the spinal column of American accumulation? It’s for Mother Israel. Want to ship off weapons to apartheid South Africa, evading congressional resolutions? Have Israel do it. Thus imperialism, shrouded in the blue-and-white flag, steals into the American left. Sieradski, following in a long line of apologists for Israeli mayhem, thinks that to defend the anti-sectarian nature of leftist mobilization necessitates making one exemption: Palestinians.
But it is the reverse: a protest that starts with sectarianism will founder on it. The quibbling about signs being “anti-Israel” has nothing to do with fighting the class war and nothing to do with fighting imperialism. It’s about a problem within the American Jewish community. Some section of it feels the libidinal need to embrace a place where it has no intention of living or moving, which was built on stolen land, and which is keeping millions of people encaged for the crime of being born wrong. Is accommodating that mindset an agenda that the most exciting mobilization in almost a decade should even entertain?
A U.S.-based contrarian grapples with Zionism, Gaza and the future of peace
By Mischa Geracoulis, Levantine Center
What makes a twenty-something Jewish guy from Brooklyn want to go to Palestine—and on his own dime, at that? Perhaps the answer can be best summed up in the words of Albert Einstein. “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Max Ajl, poet, essayist, and self-professed rabble-rouser, is also a man with an inordinate conscience and sense of justice, which renders him a force to be reckoned with.
Jewbonics, Ajl’s blog site, has been a primary medium for him to air his findings and sometimes contentious opinions on topics including Latin and South American politics, climate change, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Anything but an armchair theorist, Ajl has taken leave of his New York comforts to conduct his own field research in Palestine. He’s also written for the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Comment Factory, solveclimate.com and pulsemedia.org.
In Jewbonics, Ajl represents a viewpoint shared by Jews and non-Jews alike; with regards to Israel, he rejects a popular assertion that Palestinians must be tyrannized in order to keep Israel safe for its Jewish citizens. Rather, Ajl believes that peaceful reconciliation and a win-win outcome are not only plausible, but probable, albeit with consummate intercession and support.
Ajl gets that the destiny of Israel, Palestine and the Middle East is greatly influenced by the United States. Grasping the import of the patently misreported information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in mainstream media, Ajl seeks to clear things up—for himself and anyone else who’ll pay attention. In fact, he’s taken it upon himself to cover the issue on the ground with the intention of effecting positive change.
I caught up with Max Ajl via email in Cairo en route to Gaza.
MG: What inspired you to start Jewbonics?
For some time, I had been thinking of starting a blog, and started to set one up at the end of December 2009. What it would be about had been less clear. I was very interested intellectually in social change and the agriculture-development nexus in Latin America, and more broadly. I was also involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict, again, through writing. After Cast Lead*, my writing began to gravitate towards issues clustering around the conflict: liberal American Zionism, Palestine, and Gaza especially.
*Operation Cast Lead was the 2008-2009 three-week war in Gaza. The Israeli Defense Forces named the military operation Cast Lead. Outside of Israel, it’s also known as the Gaza Massacre.
MG: At what point did you know that you’d be participating in working towards a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
I think once again that my political work-beyond isolated writing of articles and letters-began after Cast Lead. After something so horrific, it seemed important to spend as much time as I could and to put all my efforts into finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I would adjust the wording a bit. My work is peaceful-it’s reading, writing, giving talks, organizing them, too, and organizing solidarity efforts like the Gaza Freedom March.* And most of those involved in the conflict want a peaceful resolution. Even hard-line fundamentalist settlers want a peaceful resolution. Graveyards are peaceful places. But that is different from a peaceful path. I do not advocate that the Palestinians struggle peacefully. I don’t think I have any right at all to tell them how to resist a violent occupation.
* The Gaza Freedom March took place on 31 December, 2009 by an international, diverse, peaceful coalition focused on human rights in accordance with international law. The march was aimed at showing solidarity with Palestinians, and in hopes of ending the illegal Israeli occupation.
MG: What did you hope to achieve with the Gaza Freedom March?
The Gaza Freedom March was symbolic warfare. Israel is in a tenuous position vis-à-vis the Palestinians and American/European support for Zionism. In the Israeli imaginary, their country is a moral state and a democracy. But that imaginary has to be sustained by external support, for whatever reason. They want to be regarded as a democracy, as a European nation, by the United States and Europe. Their leaders are well aware that when they attack non-violent protests, they partially dispel this fantasy. This is to some extent important in regards to trade, especially in the European Union, because as it becomes increasingly clear that Israel is not acting in a just manner, the citizens of the EU wonder why it is that they should have trade links with a pariah state.
In the United States, the construction of a vision of Israel is qualitatively different. American liberal Zionists sincerely believe that Israel is a democratic, Jewish state. This is fantasy, but that does not make it any less sincere. Of course, Israel is not a democracy. Arabs have circumscribed citizenship rights, and Israel is carrying out ongoing settler-colonial dispossession, including repression of non-violent protests (in this sense Israel is exactly like other democracies, with one crucial difference-Israeli depredations are ongoing, and not just historical). Non-violent protests-unjustly-are regarded as ethically superior to violence, and almost no one can support their repression. And it’s hard for a vision of Israel as a democratic state to gibe with the reality of Israel as a country viciously repressing non-violent protest. Something has to give. Liberal Zionists will choose to be liberals or they’ll choose to be Zionists. I hope for the former.
In that sense, the Gaza Freedom March was meant to be a foray into the breach. 1400 people don’t cross every ocean to protest democratic, liberal policies. They did so to protest occupation and apartheid. So the point was to focus attention on the occupation, taking advantage of the fact that this international protest would garner considerably more media attention than, say, 1400 Palestinians protesting. This is also unjust, but it’s an injustice we chose to exploit, and turn in our favor. We hoped to strike a symbolic blow against Israeli policies. Hopefully, we did so.
MG: What are your objectives for being in Gaza?
As of this writing, I am stuck in Cairo, waiting to get into Gaza. If necessary I will wait here, or in West Bank/Israel, for quite a few more months. But that aside, I want to go into Gaza to record what is going on there and bring it to an audience that is capable of acting on that knowledge-an American audience. I also hope to be able to talk American and especially Jewish audiences when I get back. I think people respond more strongly to those who have been to a place, who have borne witness to the rubble, the death and destruction, and so that the experience of being there will make me a more effective and persuasive advocate.
MG: Do you feel more like a lone pioneer in your work, or are you abundantly supported?
My strongest support comes from my local peace group, the Brooklyn for Peace Israel-Palestine Committee, because we work together. Also many people who have found me through my writing support my efforts. But I am not a pioneer, not by a long shot. Many Jews have been much more outspoken long before me. And many Westerners—unthinkably brave people from the International Solidarity Movement whom I’ve met here in Cairo, especially—remind me that I’m no pioneer.
MG: Are there any significant lessons that you’ve learned thus far in terms of your work on this longstanding conflict?
The most important lesson has been personal. It is that my anger and my self-righteousness convinced no one, ever. People aren’t convinced by a young man’s fury. So I was apoplectic over Cast Lead. So what? That does not convince a middle-aged liberal Zionist who reads the New York Times condemning Hamas’s rockets and asserting the-inapplicable-Israeli “right” to self-defense. Anger and fury have a place, sure, and can energize or incite resistance. But they don’t help convince people of what I think is the truth, and most importantly, they don’t help people convince themselves of that truth either.
Mischa Geracoulis is an LA-based writer and Associate Editor of the Levantine Review.
Ami Kaufman, 972 magazine
Over two years ago I decided to start blogging. I called my blog “Half & Half” (which I later on moved to +972) because of the feeling I had of being half American (born to American parents) and half Israeli (born and raised in Israel). It’s always been a feeling that ran somewhere between “cool” to “confusing.” Now, that duality is kicking in once again. This past summer has been one of the most interesting and exciting I’ve ever encountered, thanks to the #J14 social protests. They made me proud of my homeland again.
4 weeks into the #OccupyWallStreet protests in New York, and I’m feeling proud to be an American. Proud that my brothers in the States are getting off their couches and heading to the streets, fighting the fiercest enemy out there today – capitalism gone wild.
A few weeks ago, on September 17th, when #OccupyWallStreet began, I went to a rally in Tel Aviv to show solidarity for New Yorkers. There were only about 50 people there. Nobody seemed to understand the potential #OccupyWallStreet had back then.
Finally, people and media, in Israel and abroad, are starting to get it.
The similarities between #J14 and #OccupyWallStreet are uncanny. The tents in Zucatti park and Rothschild; the media center; the food donations; the absence of a coherent message (there doesn’t need to be!); the absence of a list of demands (there doesn’t need to be!); the lack of leadership (the true advantage!); the mocking of the protesters (MK’s calling us “nargila smokers”, Repulicans calling New Yorkers “hippies”); the slow yet steady growth in numbers of demos and protesters; the slow and steady rise in media coverage; theunions joining in (and Ofer Eini as well) but not in leading roles; the politicians who still have no clue what to say or how to react; and most importantly: the non violent civil disobedience.
There are a few differences as well. There’s no NY version of Daphni Leef, for example. There’s cold weather already in NY, which would have scared many Israelis off Rothschild (probably). Israelis began with demands for better housing conditions, and then slowly reached the much more holistic “social justice.” The Americans right now seem to be a fairly young crowd concerned mainly with student loans.
But the message about capitalism gone wild is slowly seeping through from the crowds on the streets, through the televisions, all the way to those who are thinking about getting off the couch themselves. And they will. Just as we did here during #J14.
The people are understanding that now is the time to judge the morals and ethics of capitalism.
And all this is happening just in time for #globalchange day, on October 15 – the day when “people from all over the world will take to the streets and squares. From America to Asia, from Africa to Europe, people are rising up to claim their rights and demand a true democracy.”
These are amazing times. In America, #OccupyWallStreet has spread to 50 cities. If you haven’t joined a demo yet, do it now (it’ll be hard for you guys to reach the 7% of Israelis who took to the streets in Israel – that would be about 15 million Americans – but I’m rootin’ for ya).
And I’ll see you all, wherever you are, on October 15th.