Gaza, sectarianism and anti-Semitism

Like I'd imagine a huge percentage of other active anarchists around the planet my last couple of weeks has been dominated by protests around the Israeli attacks on Gaza and discussion of the politics of the situation. In general the whole thing is quite depressing both from the point of view of the desperation of the situation and for how the online end reminds us once more of the chronically sectarian nature of parts of the anarchist movement.

A fair number of people from Ireland have visited Palestine on 'activist holidays' some with the International Solidarity Movement, some through other routes. This and the growing Arabic and Muslim populations here meant that protests mobilised fairly rapidly and frequently when the Israeli bombings started.

I was at the first of these at the Israeli embassy, which took place on the second evening. I was starting to come down with the flu but had cycled across the city to it. I'd guess there were maybe 250 people there.

The protest was outside the embassy for a while before marching the short distance to the US embassy. In taking part I realised that for a long period of time I been observing the retreat of the secular / nationalist and left nationalist Arab voice at these events and its replacement with an 'internationalist' religious one. Slogans like 'From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free' have very different connotations when they are preceded by chants of 'God is Great' (Allahu Akbar), led at one point on this occasion from the platform. 'Palestine will be free' on its own can at least be interpreted as a call for a secular and even socialist single state solution that would have all the population of Israel/Palestine as citizens. But coupled with 'God is great' it instead carries the sense of a demand for an Islamic state and the question that goes with that of what would happen to the Jewish population of Israel.

When we came to re-writing the WSM position paper Capitalist Globalisation and imperialism a few years back this situation is one of the reasons we qualified our defense of anti-imperialist struggles as follows.

 

11. The National liberation movements of the 20th century were an attempt to defeat imperialism through an alliance of the "progressive" bourgeois and the workers. The bourgeoise always dominated these movements, ensuring that even the 'left' element within them become no more then support for a project of state capitalism. Where an independent workers movement threatened to appear which might have seeked an alternative the bourgeoise quickly reached a temporary or permanent agreement with imperialism in order to suppress this movement.
12. Today with the great reduction in inter imperialist rivalary which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union the room for such National Liberation Movements is greatly reduced. This is the reason why many made peace with their governments in the late 1980's and early 1990's. Most of the few that remain now call on the US and the other imperialist powers to resolve their local situations on their behalf. In that context while they may indeed be struggling for a fairer division of the local cake they can no longer be considered anti-imperialist in any sense of the word. Their calls for intervention may reflect a certain 'natural justice'. But the imperialist powers will only intervene where it suits them. They do so in a way that not only furthers their own agenda but frequently results in far more death and destruction and a far more divided society then that which previously existed. This of course results in the need for 'peace keeping' and hence direct imperialist control into the indefinite future.
13. Without necesserly supporting each and every project of resistance we see our role as undermining the idea that the neo liberal order is inevitable and that resistance to it is both futile and criminal. In the case of National Liberation Movement we defend the struggle against imperialism while attacking the nationalist basis of this struggle.
14. In relation to each situation we will seek to discover and promote the anti-authoratarian strands within that struggle, particularly those that seek to organise on a class rather then national, religious or ethnic basis and win these to anarchism. We will argue that the interests of the ordinary workers of the imperialist countries lies with the promotion of such strands and not with their own rulers. We will argue for and where possible build working class resistance to the imperialist strategies of their own ruling class and direct links with those in struggle.
Most of the demonstrations were called by 'The Irish Anti-War Movement' (essentially the creature of the trotskyist Socialist Workers Party) and the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign a more independent collection of activists from a range of organisations and none. Shortly before the invasion the IPSC had held a picket of the Egyptian embassy demanding the opening of the border with Gaza on the same day we'd held a solidarity demonstration with the pre-Christmas Greek disturbances. We'd been meeting up near the same location and one IPSC activist had mentioned in passing that their picket had met with disapproval from Hamas.

The first demonstration sensitized me to the changing nature of Palestinian politics so on the following ones I tended to be on the look out for stuff that connected with this. It soon became clear that the organisers of the protesters were trying to remove some of the more sectarian religious symbols that some Islamist protesters were turning up with. On New Years day for instance there was a rally at the GPO at midday, essentially a press call to advertise the National Demonstration planned for the Saturday. At this I observed one guy who had turned up with a Star of David = swastika being taken out of sight for a talk by one of the Palestinian organisers.

This rally was odd in that the focus, apart from Gaza, was the presence of a number of celebrities in the crowd including the folk singer Christ Moore and the actor Stephen Ray. Their presence must have been announced in one way or the other a dozen times form the platform. There was also a silly amount of speechifying turning what should have been a 30 minute events of a cold (and for many of those there hung-over) day into a 2+ hours marathon. The only light relief was that a large photo of the Bush press conference in Iraq had been set up on an artist’s easel across the street. People took turns trying to score a bull’s-eye on Bush with a pile of shoes that had been brought along for that purpose.

A number of WSM members had turned up for these and other pickets but given the time of year we hadn't managed to do so in an organised fashion but just as individuals. For the Saturday demonstration though we managed to get enough people together to form a bloc with two banners including the 'Support Israeli Refuseniks' one we had left over from the invasion of Lebanon a couple of years previously. This proved quite popular with the crowd with a lot of people taking photographs or video of it on the demonstration.

Right at the start a Arabic man turned up with three kids all dressed in military uniform and with the red or green headbands of Hamas fighters around their heads. Again I saw the same Palestinian organiser from the GPO rally take him aside and across the street and spend a good five minutes arguing with him. To no avail, the guy joined the demonstration with the kids still in uniform and his presence created a predictable focus point for the pro-Israel trolls on indymedia.ie

On the march itself we were unfortunate to get stuck in front of Republican Sinn Fein, a very traditional conservative nationalist outfit at least some of whose members actually chanted Allahu Akbar on the demonstration! The common identification between catholic fundamentalism and Islamism is not new; it was made at the time of the Iranian revolution by a famously reactionary bishop of Limerick. Although I took the photo it was spotted in one thing I missed was the dread locked guy waving a Palestinian flag on which he'd written the first line of the joke Borat anti-Semitic song 'My country has a problem.' For those not familiar with it the chorus includes ‘throw the Jew down the well’.

This and the other stuff I mentioned generated a lot of Internet discussion after these demonstrations. As usual all sorts of other stuff was also going on across the Internet. I made a couple of interventions on the indymedia discussions of the demonstrations one of which I reproduce below

 

There were certainly aspects of the demonstration I was unhappy with, in particular the coupling of 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' with 'Allah Ak Bar' (God is great) by a small but vocal minority of demonstrators. The first slogan used to be understood as a call for the creation of a secular republic where all the current inhabitants of the region, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and people of no religion would live. Coupling it with second turns it into a religious sectarian slogan.
But the reality of demonstrations is that not everybody who turns up has exactly the same point of view, very often you'll find yourself mixed in with people with whom you have strong disagreements with. How are the organisers to deal with such situations? I've noticed over the last days that they have tried to do what they can without pushing things to the point of conflict. At the New Year day event at the GPO one guy turned up with a 'Star of David = Swastika" banner and I say one of the Palestinian organisers take him out of sight behind the flag to talk to. Yesterday I saw the same guy intercept the father with the three kids dressed in military uniform, take them across the road and talk to them for a good few minutes. Obviously he was unable to persuade them as to how counter productive that get up was but what was he to do then?
Twenty years ago the Israeli state had a program of promoting Islamist groups in other to undermine the secular Palestinian left and nationalist movement. The political weakness of that movement coupled with that promotion has transformed Palestinian politics for the worst. But to suggest this makes it OK to walk away while hundreds of people are being killed in unacceptable. It's quite possible, as Joe Higgins did from the platform on the day, to continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza while criticizing the reactionary politics of sections of the movement. As it happens the back issues of Workers Solidarity I was handing out yesterday included such an article as well, online at http://www.wsm.ie/news_viewer/4425
Considerably more annoying then the indymedia trolling though was the extreme sectarianism that erupted on Anarkismo.net in the comments after the posting of a poorly thought out statement from the FdCA. Actually most of the statement was fine but one paragraph contained a poor analysis put badly. This originally read

"As far as the USA is concerned, there is no doubt. Apart from the important strategic and territorial alliance that Israel represents for American imperialism in the Middle East, it also has to deal with the powerful US Jewish economic lobby, which is strong enough to bring about a stong influence on US foreign policy. And what is happening today comes across as a clear warning to the president-elect, Obama."

which was corrected to
"Apart from the important strategic and territorial alliance that Israel represents for American imperialism in the Middle East, it also has to deal with the powerful US pro-Israel lobby, which is strong enough to bring about a strong influence on US foreign policy. And what is happening today comes across as a clear warning to the president-elect, Obama."
see http://www.anarkismo.net/article/11133 for full statement

The sentence in bold was seized upon by various sectarians from a particular website as some sort of proof of anti-Semitism. I got sucked into the argument that resulted writing

 

It's always depressing to see 'communists' who are so obsessed with point scoring that their first reaction on reading a document is to scan it for something to disagree with and then distort that piece and discuss it in a way that suggests that have not read, never mind understood, the rest of the document.
Lets deal with the distortions first - the statement does not say as zzzz lies in his title that "Jews control american policy?" - true to form yyyy repeats the lie in his piece with his observation that "Conspiracy theories about Jews controlling US foreign policy anti-Semitic, racist and most importantly complete and utter nonsense." This trick of someone creating a lie and then someone else quickly repeating it as truth is typical of the methods of debate used by sectarians and unfortunately not only tolerated but encouraged on XXXX.
The statement does refer to a US-Jewish lobby that has a " stong influence on US foreign policy" "Strong influence does not mean the same thing as 'control" as both the sectarians above know well. It is also hardly a 'conspiracy theory', the existence of a range of religious and national based lobbies in Washington DC is hardly a secret. Would reference to an 'Irish American' lobby with "strong influence" on USA policy in Ireland prove an anti-Irish agenda or would it likewise simply be a statement of fact?
Of course there is one straw for our sectarians to clutch at here. The use of the word 'Jewish' rather than Israeli in front of lobby. The problem for them with that argument is that Jewish rather than Israeli is the self-description used by one of the two main lobby groups, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Maybe the sectarians at XXXXXX could write to them suggesting they rename themselves. But don't stop there, you also need to contact the Jewish Council for Public Affairs with your rebranding suggestions.
Clearly there are lobbies in the USA that self-describe as Jewish and that attempt to influence US foreign policy. There is perhaps room for argument as to how successful they are but certainly that discussion can only take place when xxx withdraw that slur.
Having dealt with the sectarian lies, distortions and straight forward stupidity lets ask a final question. Would the actual FdCA attitudes towards Jews be better understood by the sectarianism we see above? Or by looking at their real concrete work with people of Jewish background living in Israel? Here we are talking of organising speaking tours and fund raising for Anarchists Against the Wall as well as their members translating and circulating statements on a regular basis? Are we too really believe that someone could honestly look at these facts and conclude the FdCA are 'anti-semetic'
Things then got quite bizarre a (Jewish) Israeli anarchist also intervened in the row which outraged our sectarian friends so much that they declared him an anti-Semite as well! I pointed out that You may be unaware but the fact that he is an anarchist of Jewish background who live in Tel Aviv and whose first language is Hebrew might suggest that putting a lot of weight on the words he uses in his second language to demonstrate anti-Semitism is odd to say the least. It does of course allow you to avoid actually answering the argument he makes, again something that is uncharitable to say the least.

But apparently this proves nothing as Jews can be anti-Semites to, especially if they disagree with sectarians it appears and even if they life in Israel and speak Hebrew as a first language. At around this point in the argument the FdCA decided to try and fix the statement by changing the wording to the second form above. Now while this was an improvement I think their analysis that the Israeli lobby has a strong influence on US Foreign policy turns reality on its head. The situation is much closer to one where Israel (and to a lesser extent today Egypt) is a strong regional power whose interests are very often those of the US.

The military and other aid the US supplies to Israel gives the US considerable clout of Israeli policy, the reason they 'fail' to stop the Israeli attacks on Gaza is not so much because of the power of the lobby but because they have a shared interest with Israel in seeing Hamas crushed. To an extent though I'm not sure how important it is for anarchists in Italy or Ireland to have the correct line on which way around the relationship goes. But I do think its useful to work to understand it and this can only be done though a discussion of both possibilities and the points in between. Such a discussion becomes impossible when any attempt to put forward the FdCA position is met by cries of 'anti-Semitism' from the sectarians on the sidelines of the argument whose only genuine interest is point scoring.

The Anarkismo editorial team initially hid the argument under the modified statement on the grounds that it was now an argument about something that no longer existed. After a bit of internal back and forth it was decided that it made more sense to make the comments available in order to preserve the discussion (and reduce the sectarian misrepresentation of it that was already in progress) so it was published as a separate thread at http://www.anarkismo.net/article/11178

I have very little understanding of the purpose of the sectarian approach to disputes such as these. The automatic reaction appears to be to rush in, exaggerate the disagreement as much as possible and denounce whoever you can in the most strident and often hysterical terms. To me its an approach that only makes sense to a school debating team that is trying to score points over its opponents or for the crazy wings of Leninism that see the failure of a revolution to manifest as being down to the misleadership of those closest politically to them.

But anarchist’s keep falling into such counter-productive patterns of argument and the stronger feelings on an issue the more likely it is that this will occur. It's a methodology that in my opinion fails all the basic tests of libertarian politics. It involves trying to trick your audience by lying about the views of your opponent's, it tries to create fear in order to panic people onto one side or the other and stop them asking intelligent questions of both points of view. Worst of all rather than helping to clarify the questions at hand it tends to obscure them, drowning out any chance of understanding in aggressive rhetoric and calls for unconditional loyalty as the other side are clearly 'other'.

Over on http://www.anarchistblackcat.org the Gaza debate also rapidly escalated in a way that was to test the board moderation skills and the moderators themselves. The depth of feeling is such that even then at times all logic went out then window as people accused each other of all sorts of daft exaggerations of their real positions.

Apart from getting sucked into waste of time arguments (and I’ve always been a sucker for that) the other online thing I did was digging out all the material the WSM had written on the issue and posting that as a feature to the WSM site. You can find this at http://www.wsm.ie/story/4967 Although many of these articles are quite old they do still give the start of an overarching anarchist analysis of the Israel/Palestine conflict. I also reposted news and link to the anti-war demonstrations happening in Israel itself, particularly those of Anarchists Against the Wall, see http://www.anarkismo.net/article/11141 Also of positive interest was the article by an anarchist in Syria on the demonstrations there, see http://www.anarkismo.net/article/11102 Despite the row about the initial version of the FdCA statement Anarkismo dealt quite well with the news flow with a large volume of material translated or republished.

On the encouraging side it was fascinating to watch the spread of demonstrations through the Facebook status updates of my FB Friends. I’d been tracking the spread of flu in the same way before Christmas, this was altogether more positive. Not all of it was good news, in Miami I read both firsthand and mainstream media reports of the fights that had broken out between Gaza solidarity demonstrations and pro-Israel counter demonstrations, see http://www.miamiherald.com/457/story/837802.html

The political changes that I talk about at the start mean that over the last decade the chances of a solution seem to have moved further away rather than closer. The political polarization has helped out the hard liners on both sides, those whose main interests is in complete defeat if not the expulsion of their opponents rather than a solution that would allow people of all religions and none to live side by side. I think this is the reason that many Israeli anarchists now advocate a 2-state solution with a return to the borders of 1967 marking out the demarcation between the two states. While this is perhaps the most realistic situation it would also seem to guarantee that the conflict would continue to run, perhaps at a lower level, into the indefinite future as it would set up the situation on both sides for extreme organizations based on recovering the surrendered land.

The older popular left solution of a secular socialist single state no longer seems to be on the cards. And of course you have some anarchists (mostly outside of Israel) that refuse to move off the maximum program of abolition of all states in an anarchist revolution. A safely right position that will probably never get an echo until that revolution arrives as it offers nothing in terms of the day to day situation short of the glorious day, nor it has to be said any path to reach it beyond spreading (yet another version of the) ‘good word’. The working class of Israel/Palestine is bitterly divided, if anarchists are going to overcome that divide they need more that exhortations for the benefits of unity, they need a way to deal with the concrete oppressions that divide the working class now.

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )

  


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