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From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Grand Inquisitors. On Saturday, November 8, 2003, the second day of the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s 2003 Conference, held at The Ohio State University, Free Speech Radio News interviewed several of the conference’s organizers, speakers, and attendees. These included Adam Shapiro, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement; Ora Wise, co-founder of the OSU Committee for Justice in Palestine, a member of the ISM, and one of the conference’s organizers; Vernon Bellecourt (who, after arriving late to the studio because he was reticent to go through the metal detectors set up at the Ohio Union, misidentifies the university he’s at), co-founder of the American Indian Movement; Ashanti Alston, a former member of the Black Panther Party; and numerous others. The program is two hours, and most of Wise and Shapiro’s comments come in the second half. I’ve excerpted some of the discussion (transcription is my own; I’ve cleaned up some of the “ums” and so on): Hour One; Hour Two. Shapiro notes that he was in Iraq last spring, and that he and some friends traveled around and made a film about their experiences there. The man seems well traveled, and I wonder if he pays for his ventures himself or if someone else funds them (and if so, who?). And don’t think this is any sort of objective radio journalism: The host repeatedly refers to the solidarity movement and his guests in the first person. If you can stomach things until the end of the first hour, you can listen to Alston give both his overview of non-nonviolence and one of the more breathtaking commentaries you’ve ever heard about suicide bombers. The onus for adolescent suicide bombers is on Israel, you understand, and he’s not going to condemn them or say that such acts are wrong. I’ve added some short italicized commentary, but see what you think. But first, here’s a quotation from the original Grand Inquisitor: “Do not answer, be silent. After all, what could you say? I know too well what you would say. And you have no right to add anything to what you already said once.”

Adam Shapiro: What we’ve seen over the decades, after 1967, when Israel took control over the Old City, was the physical erasure of Palestinian cultural symbols, the taking over through government expropriation of Palestinian institutions in the city so as to simply take away the markings, the spaces, that Palestinians have to represent themselves and to express themselves culturally. And I have to say, to me, being and living there, this was nothing short of what the Jews themselves suffered during Kristallnacht. And I know this sounds very inflammatory… but I think we have to understand that perhaps it may not be in Jerusalem in one day or one night, but it has been going on for decades… if you go to Jerusalem now it is very hard to find a Palestinian cultural space despite the fact that… Palestinians have lived there for ages. And we have to start acknowledging exactly what occupation is doing, exactly what this form of colonial domination is doing to the indigenous people who have lived there and who are suffering, of course, terribly. [Note: Shapiro made these comments about Kristallnacht one day before the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht.]

These sorts of deliberately inflammatory and prevaricative comments by which Shapiro and his ilk gleefully court controversy and opprobrium from their critics evidence (to me, at least) not so much any sort of intellectual and moral engagement with such matters but more so their crying need for attention and legitimation. As such, it’s difficult to justify taking them seriously. And if Shapiro is concerned with how Israel has treated Jerusalem, why not compare it with how Jordan treated the parts of Jerusalem it controlled from 1948 until 1967? As intellectually vapid as it is, this predilection for comparing Israel to the Nazis merits a brief comment, if only to point out that it shows the moral posturing and intellectual bad faith of those making the comparison. Such people make the comparisons not because they’re historically apt but because they know people, especially Jewish people, are extremely sensitive to references to the Shoah. For this reason, moral mavens like Shapiro love to compare Israel’s actions to those of the genocidal Nazi regime but not to those of, say, the Khmer Rouge, the Stalinist regime, or any other genocidal government, and not just because such comparisons between Israel and the latter would reveal both the absurdity of such references and those making them. How stunningly hypocritical that many of the same people who bewail the supposed exploitation of the Holocaust at the hands of the Zionists and others have so little hesitation in exploiting the Holocaust to demean Israel.

Question: What are some of the things that Zionists, or pro-Israeli people often say about solidarity activists and about Palestinians in general that we feel are untrue?
Professor Joseph Levine (Philosophy Professor at OSU; faculty adviser for the OSU Committee for Justice in Palestine): Well, I mean, we just have to talk about the people that are hanging out outside, shouting “Stop the hate!” and “You’re all terrorists!” … I actually recently did publish an op-ed piece in the Cleveland Jewish News specifically about this topic, and what’s amazing is there is a perception, and this perception is managed, quite cynically, that there’s some kind of essential Jew hatred that is behind, in Arab culture, in Islamic culture, among Palestinians. And I’ve been working in this movement for 21 years now, and I have not met a single person that I think is moved by anything like—I’m sorry, I did meet one [laughter]—that’s moved by anything like Jew hatred…. I’ve been to the territories, I’ve been welcomed, I always let them know I was Jewish. Anti-Semitism of the kind of traditional European sort that we’re used to, that motivated the Holocaust, is just not what’s going on. But, because of the memory of the Holocaust, and the way it’s been exploited, the Jewish leaders and Zionist leaders have been extremely successful in creating a picture that drives a kind of elemental fear in the Jewish community, and it’s the job of people like us… to break through and just say, look, you just don’t understand what’s going on, it’s about time you opened your eyes and actually listened to these people, and hear they a have a legitimate grievance.

I guess it’s just dumb luck that I’ve met more people affiliated with the solidarity movement in the last six months who were moved by something like anti-Jewish sentiment than Professor Levine has met in the last 21 years. Since I’m not the only person I know who’s encountered such sentiments among solidarity people in recent years, I suspect that Levine is wearing rather conveniently rose-colored lenses in such matters.

Question: Not that many Jews appear to be jumping on the bandwagon in Palestinian solidarity. And those that are here I think reflect a minority in the Jewish community, so I have heard from other Jewish activists, who are expressing these same sentiments. What does it take to bring someone of Jewish identity around to this particular point of view?
Ora Wise: Speaking as one of the two people here who has been named the “Jewish Jihadist,” Adam and I, that’s a recent nickname, which represents that real reactionary element of the Jewish community right now, which is that less and less Jewish voices and positions and perspectives are considered legitimate and are embraced, and this tendency towards fascism, of, you know, a fascist self-definition within the mainstream Jewish community makes it very difficult for Jews to develop some kind of clarity around this issue, some kind of genuinely, independently come to, political analysis of the Israeli Palestinian conflict…. I felt incredibly betrayed and angry when I first literally stumbled upon the occupation. I had returned to Jerusalem, where I was born, and I was living there because I loved it and it was wonderful, and then I was brought to the West Bank, where I was horrified that the barren hill that the Bedouin I was visiting had been forcibly moved to, was just like a reservation I had been taught to condemn… so making that connection between social justice issues I was taught to be devoted to as a Jew here in the United States, making that connection between those issues and the issues of the state that was claiming to act in my name was a step that is made very difficult for many Jews… because their fear is manipulated and because Zionism has become an invisible force that moves the hand of the Jewish community, so that I was raised in cultural and education institutions whose narrative of history, and the way that they defined Jewish self, was Zionist, was based around this, you know, this idea, that the entire Jewish history was always on this trajectory towards the state of Israel, and that the state of Israel is the only form of self-determination that could ever be provided to Jews. And what we need to do is combat that, that fascist cultural and religious and political construction within the Jewish community, and insist on making these distinctions.

Portnoy’s Political Complaint? One response to Wise’s derisive claims of the fascism of the Jewish community is to contrast the response to such a claim with the sorts of response one might expect to claims of fascism within, say, the Muslim community. And considering Wise was speaking on a program that featured a representative from CAIR (Council of American Islamic Relations) I think it can be assumed that such a claim would not be taken lightly. But the Jewish community is a safe target for this and other such sneering derision, Wise and the solidarity movement know it, and they don’t hesitate to take advantage of it accordingly, no matter how boorish and silly they subsequently sound. Indeed, if Wise is concerned with fascistic tendencies within certain communities, one wonders what she has to say about the pictures of gun toting mobs of Palestinians. It would be entertaining to hear the daughter of a rabbi similarly mock “that fascist cultural and religious and political construction” within the Palestinian communities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip who so widely supported the random slaughter of innocent people at the Maxim Restaurant, although the response from certain people in question might not be as pleasant. But my guess, since gun toting Palestinian grandmothers and little kids aren’t especially politically correct targets for progressive anti-Zionists to criticize, no matter how emblematic of fascistic tendencies they may be, Wise will stick with leveling claims of fascism and other potshots at a safe target like the Jewish community. Also, I find it a bit ironic that someone who talks in such overly simplistic, encapsulating terms as “the Jewish community” considers herself qualified to talk about either it or fascism. Whatever aspects of contemporary Jewish life she finds unappealing, they’re hardly emblematic of that “community" as a whole, and they hardly constitute fascism. Her heavy-handed depiction of “the Jewish community” may be beneficial in offering herself fodder from which to establish or contrast her own identity construction, but the depiction hardly holds up well. If anything, it bonds her even more closely to the community she’s supposedly so critical of. One wonders, after all, how old Wise will be before she’s no longer promoted as the daughter of a rabbi or introduced (as she was in this program) as being Jewish herself. It seems a bit hypocritical and opportunistic that at the same time she’s slamming “the Jewish community” she and others nonetheless exploit and promote her connection to it to hail her as the daughter of a rabbi. As Wise conveniently neglects to mention who said this or when it occurred. I’d be interested to know who, if anyone, has made this claim about them. Not that someone like Wise who mudslings accusations about “fascist self-definition within the mainstream Jewish community” has much room to criticize other people for taking cheap shots or for being “reactionary.” Oh, but at least the radio host recognized this movement as a bandwagon!

Adam Shapiro: And just within the International Solidarity Movement, I can say that at least 20% of our participants, from the United States in particular, come from a Jewish background, who are practicing Jews.

20% of the International Solidarity Movement is composed of practicing Jews? I’m dubious, although I’d be curious to know how many of these practicing Jews followed Shapiro’s suggestion that they exploit the Birthright Israel program for a “free ticket,” as Shapiro called it.

Ora Wise: I think it’s really important that we don’t essentialize ourselves, right, and that just as we were saying that Israel was never any more moral or noble than any other nation-state or colonial project, right, that, you know, these claims that Israel’s army is somehow a humane army, you know, or that this nation-state is somehow the only nation-state on earth that has, is like, you know, this, has this moral integrity, and isn’t, you know, supported by exploitation and domination, just as we’re countering that we have to be careful in our solidarity activism to not essentialize ourselves as Jews and say, well, we’re inherently ethical or moral human beings, right, that this tradition, just as many other traditions in history, embodies very repressive elements and periods, and very progressive ones, and so it’s just important that we not allow, um, because I grew up in a progressive identified, in a self-identified Jewish household that didn’t extend its concept of social justice to include Palestinians, and I think as long as Jews continue to delude themselves that, you know, that they come from some kind of, like, inherently more moral or noble, like, position then, you know, we’re not gong to be able to put a crack in that façade, and have people actually facing the reality of the power and privilege of Israel.

How fortunate the Jewish community is to have someone as morally clairvoyant and wise as Ora Wise to, like, tell them, like, how delusional they are, you know? Incidentally, if Wise can think of any other country that, equipped with similar munitions and capability, would not have immediately retaliated upon being attacked by 39 missiles, I might give some credence to her claim that Israel is no more noble or moral and its army no more humane than any other nation-state. Until then, the simple facts of reality are stacked against her. Also, seeing as how it was Wise herself who, according to this article, told an audience that Israeli soldiers opened fire at people who’d come to the aid of Rachel Corrie, she might want to be careful about who she claims is deluding themselves, lest people begin to consider her as a bit of an expert on the subject. (For more about Ora Wise and the International Solidarity Movement, see TBON entry for Thursday, November 13, 2003, and other earlier entries.)

Incidentally, Wise’s references to the concept of social justice that didn’t include Palestinians and her line about “Israel was never any more noble or moral than any other colonial project or nation-state” are hardly original and certainly nothing she formulated on the spot. She’s been saying the same things for a while now, and she expresses nearly identical tropes in her poem “Underbelly,” from which the latter line (“Israel was never any more moral or noble than any other nation-state or colonial project,”) is in fact taken almost verbatim (in “Underbelly, the line is “Israel was never any more noble or moral than any other colonial project or nation-state”). One wonders how much of Wise’s presentations and comments are based on any sort of original or immediate reflection, or if they’re based, as appears to be the case here, primarily on her repeating the same clichéd one-liners she’s been parroting for months. Having read Wise’s piece before hearing her on the program, it was almost comically déjà vu to listen to her regurgitating the same tropes all over again (and there’s nothing like replacing discourse with repetitious, tendentious slogans to prove one’s anarchist and anti-fascist free thinking credentials). No doubt we’ll be hearing about Wise’s shock and awe towards her family and Hebrew school teachers for a while longer, most likely with the requisite observations about nation-states, colonial projects, morality, and so on. Granted, it’s all fairly boorish and predictable after awhile, but nobody ever accused ISM activists of being original.


The Grand Inquisitor: "But finally the foolish children will understand that although they are rebels, they are feeble rebels, who cannot endure their own rebellion. Pouring out their foolish tears, they will finally acknowledge that he who created them rebels no doubt intended to laugh at them."

For what it’s worth, I suggest that people like Wise take Ashanti Alston’s comments very seriously: Your [anti-Zionist] allies today may not be your allies tomorrow. And to that I would add: They might not even be your allies today, no matter how happy they are to see you in the media, chirping away about Zionism and the Jewish community.

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