The 2nd US Social Forum will be taking place in Detroit June 22-26, bringing together an estimated 20,000 people eager to see a big shift leftwards. Claiming that ‘another world is possible’ they further insist that it can only happen if the United States undergoes a fair amount of change as well.
I attended the first US Social Forum, as well as the first ever World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, a decade ago. I’ve attended as both an Israeli and as an American. What less committed observers need to know is that this is the largest US or international gathering of people’s movements, social justice organizations and left wing political organizations. And by ‘left’ we aren’t talking about MoveOn, we’re talking about organizations that have, or had, words like ‘communist’, ‘socialist’, and ‘revolutionary’ in their name. (See here for a list of the National Planning Committee member organizations.)
At the same time, organizations well within the respectable mainstream of American society are also present, including the AFL-CIO, Jobs with Justice, and the American Friends Service Committee. The end result is a unique event that is simultaneously mass based, politically relevant, and very far to the left of what passes for political culture in the United States. It’s an antidote to all the mechanisms in place that seek to embed political change within the Democrat-Republican spectrum.
Israel and Palestine at the Social Forum
Again, this is a big deal for lefties in America. And a variety of movements are piggybacking, knowing that a substantial fraction of their supporters and leaders were planning on attending in any case. The Palestinian solidarity movement will be well represented (as it was last time around) with dozens of approved workshops as well as side events. One the higher visibility efforts is the official ‘Palestine Tent’ which will offer community, discussions and Palestine themed tables during all hours.
But that’s not all. The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network is hosting the 2010 U.S. Assembly of Jews: Confronting Racism & Israeli Apartheid. They are acutely aware that some folks use anti-Zionist rhetoric to mask some nasty anti-Semitism, and so made the effort to say that “We believe that supporting Palestinian self-determination requires challenging Zionist ideas, policies and practice, not the practice of Judaism.”
They also made it clear how they see the relations between themselves and folks who might not agree with the entirely of their agenda:
In addition, IJAN will not align itself with those who either seek to use the struggle against Zionism for their own ends, individual or collective, or who proclaim themselves anti-Zionist but whose divisive actions serve only to further a Zionist agenda, undermining Palestine solidarity work and anti-Zionist organizing.
My reading is that they are carving out a space where folks more extreme than they are might well be anti-Semitic or not part of the anti-imperialist left in this country, even if they pursue similar goals when it comes to Palestine. Folks less committed to their specific interpretation of what it means to be an anti-Zionist Jew are guilty of divisiveness. In this they are indeed faithfully representing a particular kind of left tradition: denouncing folks who don’t adhere to their line as being ‘objectively’ in league with the opposition.
The Sad Part
When I attended the first World Social Forum in Brazil, the organizers brought forth three representatives of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian NGO. A French charity had brought over additional activists from Israel and Palestine representing a diverse cross section of human rights and political organizations. While sympathy for the Palestinian cause was high, it was often expressed as sympathy for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and the language seemed to suggest at all times that the historical subjects of the conflict were both Palestinian and Israeli.
At the first US Social Forum, and this one, the mood is more extreme. Parts of the US left have aligned themselves with (what I find) is a toxic mix of late era Trotskyism, Third World Nationalism and sectarian political behavior. A lot of what I’m talking about was captured in the struggle between two near defunct peace coalitions that were rival in the effort to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: United for Peace and Justice and International ANSWER.
My preference would be for a left ecosystem in which progressive Zionists, post Zionists, anti-Zionists and assorted others are united by a desire to hold Israel accountable and transform it while applying pressure on U.S. foreign policy. J Street would be free to declare love for Israel around the clock, and if that works to help AIPAC lose credibility – super. Jewish Voice for Peace is perfectly fine straddling the fence on Zionism and the preferred number of states west of the Jordan. Anti-Zionist parties like Israel’s Communists and Hanin Zuabi’s Balad perform a valuable service while still adhering to the rules of Israel’s parliamentary process. They would all be considered Zionists for not supporting the “decolonization” of Palestine.
Within Israel and the West Bank, protests around the village of Bil’in and the settlement construction in East Jerusalem have fueled a diverse movement that extends from Anarchists Against the Wall all the way to mainstream liberal Zionists. You might have heard of one of them recently – Jewish American Emily Henochowicz, who lost an eye protesting in the West Bank.
I think that someone with Emily’s politics would feel utterly unwelcome at IJAN’s Confronting conference or within the confines of the Palestine Tent. Just look at what a ‘Z’ she is:
“I really feel like I love Israel, and just like anybody that I feel about deeply, if I see they’re doing something that’s harming people, then I feel it’s my duty to say something out of that love,” Henochowicz said.
She added that Israel was “ultimately hurting itself” through its policies, particularly by allowing Jewish settlements on occupied land and denying equal rights to Palestinians.
Let me take that back. Emily would be treated well, as she has proven herself somewhat. But speaking as a former refusenik, someone who does not identify as a Zionist, a former ISM volunteer and a long time veteran of the Jewish and Israeli peace camps – it hurts that a typical response is to be dismissed as being divisive, or to be told that my proper place is with the full throated champions of Israel right-or-wrong.
Never mind how I feel though. Isn’t it also poor strategy to carve out a small space and united all those outside of it, instead of the other way around? My 25 years of political experience on this space reinforce my view that the politically sensible thing to do be very careful around folks eager to build fences instead of bridges. But that’s the far left for you.
At the time this went to editorial, I haven’t actually left for Detroit. But if encouraged, I might write some more about my experiences as a progressive Jew at the US Social Forum. If any Jewschool peeps are there, look for me! (Kidding. My real name isn’t actually ‘Jew Guevara.’)
PS: Hey IJAN, you are not running the first ever gathering of anti-Zionist Jews. Ever hear of the American Council for Judaism? Rabbi Elmer Berger?