Israel, Justice, Politics

Anti-Zionist Jews and Palestine Solidarity at the US Social Forum: The Most Anti-Zionist Ever

US Social Forum
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.
usaoj_poster_for_webBut 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?

29 thoughts on “Anti-Zionist Jews and Palestine Solidarity at the US Social Forum: The Most Anti-Zionist Ever

  1. “My jewish education has told me that Israel is my spiritual home, that I must look to somewhere far away ive never been, to be authentically jewish or authentically spiritual.”
    That link gives great insight into what is on the minds of the Anti-Zionist crowd. Imagine if an American Muslim would express that Mecca is too far away to be the spiritual center of Islam, even if they have never been there. Muslims all over the world make an effort to go to Mecca at least once in their lives, while some American Jews would love to give Israel away.

  2. Visiting Mecca is a requirement of Islam. Visiting Jerusalem is not a requirement of Judaism. Muslims have a similar complaint: “Why should I care about what they do in Saudi Arabia?”, referring to a backlash against Wahhabi proselytism within the Muslim community.

  3. Detroit is like the Jewish left. It used to be big and strong and is now just old, shrinking and decrepit.
    Hopefully the 3 (I’m guessing-could be fewer) Jews actually left in Detroit won’t mind the gathering.
    If you go to that website ‘jewsconfrontapartheid’ you’ll find that ‘over 200’ Jews showed up. Wow.

  4. shmuel,
    while visiting mecca is a religious duty for muslims, it is certainly not required. similarly, visiting jerusalem was a religious duty for israelites during the holidays known as the “shalosh regalim”. note the cognates “chag” in hebrew (meaning holiday) to the arabic “hajj” (meaning pilgrimage)

  5. @Oren-
    “religious duty” is not 100% accurate… one was to strive to make it to the Temple to make the appropriate offerings but one was not guilty of any offense if they couldn’t make it to Jerusalem.

  6. to keep with the theme, maybe this social forum is like a pilgrimage to the holy temple, where zionism will take the place of the pascal lamb offering? 🙂

  7. Brazilian_Jew: these people just don’t understand what it is to have a homeland. They don’t understand what it’s like to have an identity you inherit with your blood, that beats to the rhythm of a piece of soil, that hands you paint and brushes and compels you to add to the diversity of the universe.
    They think that all these things that many of us find so important are scams perpetrated on them and tools for their cynical use. And so, they burn their own family picture albums, and get out the torches to burn the rest of ours’ too.
    It appears to me they’re just white people… even the black ones. Over privileged, deracinated, formerly-Jewish Westerners looking to stamp out just one more of the few old tribal societies left on this Earth.
    (I think my favorite part is where that speaker says it’s not for outsiders to judge the methods of resistance employed by oppressed peoples. We must only show solidarity and lend support their decisions. Well, if that’s not a completely immoral statement I don’t know what is. Rule #1 of Judaism (and morality in general): The ends don’t justify the means. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things.

  8. The Palestine Program Book: “to the martyrs of the Freedom Flotilla” and “our heroes in Israeli prisons”. Somehow praising people who chant death to the Jews and attributing heroism to people whose goal is to kill Israeli Jewish civilians is not anti-Semitism.

  9. not every individual on the flotilla and not every prisoner in israeli jails are jew hating, blood thirsty killers. if it is true that most are, then so too are most jews blood thirsty killers whose goal it is to kill arab children. enough of your racism.

  10. Do you even know what the word racism means? When and where did I say ALL people in the flotilla (who were not all of a single race/nationality) or in Israeli jails are Jew haters? The “Palestinian Program Book” makes no effort to separate Jew haters in either place from people who want a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Do you even know my racial/ethinic background to be calling me racist against any specific group?
    I just re-read your second sentence, you are obviously delusional.

  11. no, i’m not delusional. my point is that i’ve been hearing my whole life that arabs raise their kids to hate jews. when i started encountering more arab communities i started to hear that jews raise their kids to hate arabs. my whole life i’ve heard that all the arabs understand is force. since i started encountering more arab communities i’ve heard that all the israelis understand is force. it is not necessary for a group like the us social forum to distinguish between each individual and their political motivation. that you are concerned with the death of israeli jewish children but apparently not concerned with the death of arab children (since most zionist groups do not distinguish either). the fact is that people are people are people are people. parents want to feed their children. children want their parents to live long lives. and that’s most people. so of all of the activists on the various ships of the flotilla, a small group decide to fight fire with fire (an armed military boarding a ship in int’l waters is an aggressive and violent act in its own right), and a specific group at the us social forum seeks to honor those who gave up their freedom and were willingly arrested in the name of justice, and you focus on the small group of people (never mind that you make no mention that 9 of those people lost their lives). that you are either ignorant of the fact that there are tens of thousands of innocent palestinians in prison amongst the “terrorists” (including women and young people, some of whom were arrested at 16 and stay in prison for decades, well, like i said, either you’re ignorant of that fact or you are simply ignoring it to make the statement you made.
    in what universe do small groups of people define the majority? so why, then, should this “Palestine Program Book” waste ink and space on distinguishing a small violent minority from the greater majority?

  12. Just wanted to say, I’m glad folks at the USSF are visiting Jewschool. And it’s super classy that the Palestine folks used one of Emily’s works.

  13. I guess its the same universe where you can make grossly unsubstantiated claims that Jews (whose 40% + of the population is of Middle Eastern descent) are brought up to hate Arabs and are not concerned with the killing of Arab children.
    Is the same universe where a group partaking in an US social forum couldn’t take a few minutes of their busy schedule to acknowledge that members on the boarded flotilla were filmed happily chanting death to the Jews. The same universe where the imprisoned Palestinians whose goal was to kill as many Jews as possible also deserve the title of heroes. You are right, you are not delusional, you are just biased. People are people, but more so if defending them without reservations will help you make your point. What is Hamas today? A small violent minority or the democratically elected representative of the Palestinian people?

  14. Brazilian Jew, if I see any Hamas supporters at the Forum I’ll post about it. And for the record, growing up in Israel, violent racism against Arabs is quite mainstream, for children on up. There’s enough hate to go around.

  15. i think you misread what i said. i’m saying that they don’t actually raise their kids to hate arabs, and nor do arabs raise their kids to hate jews. I do know parents who have raised their kids to hate arabs, and i’ve seen the evidence of parents who raise their kids to hate jews. but most people don’t.
    it’s more complex than the violence. the violence is a manifestation of many other issues at play. Hamas, in addition to everything else that they are, also builds roads, schools and other civil infrastructure. I also don’t believe that free and fair elections exist in “vibrant democracies,” so I’m not sure how easily the Palestinian civil society could have pulled it off anyways. I do not know for sure that there are not people at the USSF that will be mentioning that people were chanting “death to jews,” I’m not in Detroit. Next year you could go to a Social Forum and say it yourself, if I were present, I’d say it. Maybe we can say it together.
    I think that Hamas is both a small violent minority AND the “democratically” elected representative of the Palestinian people (and let us not forget it was George W Bush who was ultimately responsible for that election ever taking place).
    I truly do not believe that neither Jews nor Arabs, by and large, raise their children to hate one another, or anybody else! I’m sorry that you did not understand my words.
    The fact is that there are rotten people on the planet. They come in all shapes and sizes, and all genders and ethnicities. Thank God they aren’t most people.
    The people at the USSF are good people. I do not know if I understand the tone of cW?’s analysis, but it is incorrect based on my knowledge of the World and US Social Forums since they’ve first been held in ’01 and ’07 respectively. Yes there is an element that is incredibly critical of the Jewish State and their rhetoric is alarming, but it is not everybody. As JG stated above, there are groups represented at the USSF (and the WSF) that are truly radical in their worldview.
    But what also needs to be recognized is that the WSF was originally set up as a peoples’ response to the World Economic Forum, where the world’s most wealthy and powerful are invited to a fenced in ski resort to do whatever it is that they do. Where Oprah Winfrey shared a table and a meal with Yasser Arafat (God only knows what they spoke about). Where the richest of the world congratulate themselves on how they’ve raped the world of its resources and created a corporate hegemony over the globe that has a very, very, very real effect on people’s day to day lives (especially those that live on $1 or less a day, which is, well, most of everybody on the planet). Some things call for a radical reaction. Especially when nobody seems to be doing anything about it (and most aren’t even aware of the tip of the iceberg).
    The Palestinian people did not elect Hamas in a vacuum. There are children growing up running from tanks who stand in that voting booth as adults. There are mothers who have/had husbands and sons in prison because they were between the ages of 16-45 during the first intifada. There are men who had their limbs broken when they were in their 20s by Israeli soldiers following Yitzhak Rabin’s unbelievable order (that thank God most commanders did not comply with, as I understand it). It’s the same thing that makes anybody traumatized by any event feel how they feel when acts of perceived injustice (real or not) are perpetrated upon them by “the other”.
    The trauma of the Palestinian people is very real. That does not minimize the trauma of the Israeli people. It also doesn’t mean that every time the trauma of the Palestinian people is mentioned that the trauma of the Israeli people needs to be mentioned alongside it. How often is Palestinian trauma mentioned at Israeli or Zionist events? Unless it’s from a certain wing of the political spectrum, it’s not.
    You’re right, I am biased. Because I was lied to. I’m not biased towards the Palestinian representative government, nor am I even really biased towards the Palestinian people any more than the Israeli people. I am biased against governments and militaries. I am biased against nationalism and national ethos. And because of that I’m biased against those institutions and individuals who espouse those ideas. I do not think that people benefit from nationalism or national ethos, and i do not think that governments exist to help people, and militaries are no more than a means to monopolize violence to instill fear and control.
    I have yet to see a country that functions differently, it’s simply a matter of how much of their resources and energy a society puts into their defense and their militarization. But even in those countries not able to, not willing to, or not interested in militarization and funding such an endeavor, the power structure remains the same. Rich get richer, poor get poorer. The people at the USSF, at least by my own analysis, tend to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the same rubric. On one side you have a well funded, well armed, well trained military and on the other side you have people doing what they can to not get killed, even if it means killing. That being said, I think an overwhelming majority of people at the USSF would not support suicide bombings, bus bombings and other forms of violent terrorism. Resistance against a force to defend your right to live in basic dignity is a very foundational human drive. It is what drives Zionism, ultimately. What is incomprehensible to me is that the pursuit of self-determination for one people should lead to the loss of self-determination for another. And that one people has a right to defend themselves by any means necessary, and not another. Were I to be living in Palestine, I do not think I would be a part of a violent resistance, but then again, I grew up running from bees and dogs way more often than I grew up running from tanks and soldiers. I also didn’t, grow up, per se, wondering if I was going to get off the bus i was boarding alive or walk out of the cafe i was drinking coffee in alive, but i’ve lived it, and am grateful every day for the fact that I have the choice not to have to live it. I’ve also been stopped by the police because my beard was a little too “Hamasnik” and the cap on my head a little too “arab” (in the words of a Jerusalemite whom I will always hold dear to my heart) and my backpack a little too large. And like magic trick, when I lifted that baseball cap and revealed the magical, woven piece of colorful cloth on my head, which apparently substituted just fine in place of my passport (which is required to be carried BY LAW at all times for foreigners in Israel, just as all people in Israel must carry “their papers” BY LAW). When I asked the officer what would have happened had I not had my kippah on, he shrugged his shoulders and laughed. Not so funny in my book.
    Although it truly does sadden me that it is true, the fact is that in our world the WSF and USSF is irrelevant. It has been since 2001. It might not have been were it not for 9/11, but then again, the entire anti-globalization movement may have not been irrelevant were it not for 9/11. By focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its coverage at the USSF, we are ignoring that the REAL purpose of the USSF is to find solutions for peoples’ real life struggles and to come together in our communities and solve our own problems because our governments are not going to help us unless you have money. If you’re poor, you’re on your own. There are 53 pages worth of workshops on the website for the USSF. Did you look at anything other than the Palestine Program?
    I think the USSF and most people there are more concerned about the fact that Detroit has more than 50% unemployment than it is concerned with the fact that there was a handful of crazies on a ship in the middle of the ocean chanting “death to Jews.”
    Our historical trauma is real, Israeli trauma is real, our experience is real, and we are a terribly small minority on a global scale, and because of that we sometimes lose sight that there’s 98.8% of a world out there that is struggling. It’s MUCH more important for us to come up with ways to help people have fresh produce year round at affordable prices and accessible locations than whether or not the Palestine Program makes mention that Israelis suffer too.

  16. I didn’t mean to suggest that there were Hamas supporters at the Forum, just to refute Justin’s argument of a violent small minority. I’m not really surprised Israeli or Palestinian racism against each other, after more than 60 years of conflict is not hard to conceive that hatred is widespread and mainstream. I also know that the situation of minorities within Israel is not anywhere near the rosy picture some staunch supporters of Israel would like everyone to believe in. That still doesn’t make the Israeli Jews “blood thirsty killers”.
    Many people who talk about Israeli/Palestinian conflict freely switch between using Jews/Israelis when is convenient to their argument. Justin wrote that Jews are raised to hate Arabs. As a Jew who has lived in South America, North America and Europe I know that this is simply not true.

  17. Well, we agree in something then. I don’t believe the majority of Jews or Muslims raises their kids to hate each other. Still,somehow, hate seems to be widespread. I don’t think the trauma of Israeli people needs to be mentioned every time the trauma of Palestinian people is mentioned or the other way around. I simply took issue with the group’s literature using words like “martyrs” and “heroes” to describe certain people. That of course, is an insignificant detail in comparison to the much larger, much more complex conflict. I mentioned it because the discussion was related to the USSF and Palestinian Program is a part of it.
    I understand what you mean by having a bias against governments/the military and feelings against nationalism. I grew up in a country where both the government and the military abused their own people in every way imaginable. However, people have organized themselves and fought others around ethnic/religious differences since time immemorial. I think that a lot of good work towards social justice and equality can be done within this existing framework of nations, but hyperbolic and divisive discourse is not the way.

  18. one man’s terrorist is another man’s martyr. I also wouldn’t mind if you could acknowledge that never did I propose that anybody, in most circumstances, raises their children to hate anybody.

  19. When a group attacks indiscriminately attacks civilians, in a civilian setting with the intent of inflicting maximum civilian casualty, it is terrorism.
    I don’t think, for example, that Iraqis of various factions attacking American troops and compounds with IEDs and rockets are performing terrorist attacks. They are targeting legitimate military and government targets. Civilian casualties during these operations are horrific, but do not transform their efforts against the American occupation into terrorist acts. Palestinians can call people who blow up buses,restaurants and lob rockets civilian areas whatever they like, that will not change the facts.
    You are right, you did not propose that anybody, in most circumstances, raises their children to hate anybody. You said you grew up hearing the Arabs raise their children that way and when you interacted with Arab communities you heard the same about Jews.

  20. and the people whom those at the USSF are concerned with, the “martyrs” and “heroes” are not those that have involved themselves in indiscriminate civilian attacks. That there are those who may refer to terrorists as martyrs and heres does not change the fact that we can likely safely assume (unless JG reports on Hamas supporters) that most people at the USSF meant the innocents who were imprisoned, arrested, deported or otherwise abused by the occupation and its many arms.

  21. Charming, with evil Jews kiddies shooting the unarmed tiny martyrs. It’s the little wing of the violent minority.

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