October 2, 2011
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 income. 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?