Ben Lorber - As pro-Palestinian discourse begins to make its voice heard in the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement, right-wing organizations and individuals in the United States, including the Republican National Committee and the Emergency Committee for Israel, have denounced the protests as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
The people-powered movement for social justice and democratic equality, which began in New York City in September, has now spread to more than 900 cities in 82 countries worldwide, it has generated a global discourse critical of the economic and political powers and privileges of the world’s richest 1%, and has opened a space for the 99% of humanity to come together in solidarity, united by a common struggle for freedom. It continues to gain momentum, broadening its message of protest to target injustices committed not merely on Wall Street but all over the world, including the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Among the myriad posters of protest can be seen messages like ‘End Military Aid to Israel’, ‘Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street’, and, from Palestine, ‘Occupy Wall St., Not Palestine- Freedom for Palestinian Political Prisoners!’ There have also been many organized events in support of Palestinian rights- to give just two of many examples, on Tuesday October 18, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine held an event in Boston entitled ‘Occupy Boston, not Palestine’; on October 8, at an anti-war rally at Occupy Chicago, speaker Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, discussed the links between Israeli occupation and American imperialism.
The voice of Occupy Wall Street is growing louder and more compelling and, predictably, right-wing voices have risen to attack the movement in any way they can. Pointing out, among the innumerable signs and posters of Occupy Wall Street, a few deplorable manifestations of anti-Semitism, and conflating these with many more genuine criticisms of the State of Israel, conservative Zionist organizations- such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, who released a video on the 13th insisting that ‘hate is not an American value’ (days before board member Rachel Abrams would use her blog, following the release of Gilad Shalit, to call Palestinians “death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages’, ‘devil’s spawn’, and ‘unmanned animals’)- have used the moment to accuse the entire movement of anti-Semitism, thereby scoring a cheap propaganda point in defense of their neoconservative, pro-Israel agenda.
To be sure, Occupy Wall Street has shown the world a few instances of genuine anti-Semitism. When a protester insists that, “I am against Jews who rob America, they are the one percent”, we can discern an irreducibly anti-Semitic leap of logic that blindly swipes at economic, judicial and ideological power structures, ignorantly and erroneously reducing their complexity to a single ethnic explanation- ‘it’s the Jews’. “From the 13th century expulsion of England’s Jews”, says Ryan Jones in Israel Today magazine on Sunday, October 16th, “to the 19th century Russian pogroms to the Nazi Holocaust, sour economic conditions have historically formed the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism”, and it is pitiful that, 100 years after ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, such superstitious belief still bubbles up, obscuring clear comprehension of the real enemies.
Yet many of those who have spoken out against anti-Semitism in Occupy Wall Street employ a no less nefarious method of ideological obscurity when, in the same breath, they attack those who speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Consider this paragraph from the Israeli news outlet Ynet:
“Among the signs that could be seen in the protest were, ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ‘Hitler’s Bankers’, and a sign urging people to Google the following: Wall St. Jews, Jewish billionaires, Jews & Federal Reserve Bank. In addition, the anti-Israel group Code Pink: Women for Peace was spotted as well as other Arab groups.”
A statement like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’ is not an ignorant racist slur aimed at the Jewish people as an ethnic group, but a cogent political critique of the state of Israel as an occupying power. By claiming that this statement, or that the anti-war group CODEPINK, is anti-Semitic, pro-Israel forces are using a favorite time-tested tactic- shooting down legitimate political criticism of Israel the militarized nation-state, by falsely portraying such criticism as racism aimed at the Jewish people.
The day after the Emergency Committee for Israel published their political ad- which juxtaposed footage of Democrats Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi expressing support for Occupy Wall Street,footage of a few harsh-anti-Semitic outbursts that regrettably occurred on the streets, and photos of pro-Palestinian signs like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ending by reminding the viewing public that ‘hate is not an American value’- columnist MJ Rosenberg correctly identified in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera that “the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests…[using] Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.”
The insistence of right-wing political groups to attack Occupy Wall Street and defend Israel shows to what extent the corporate interests of the American 1% desire a strong Israel to safeguard their imperial programme. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are clearly realizing that there is a direct economic, political and ideological link between the corporate power they confront on Wall Street, and the Israeli occupation that the Palestinian people confront on a daily basis.
As John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt remind us their 2007 book ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy’, “American taxpayers’ money has subsidized Israel’s economic development and rescued it during periods of financial crisis. American military assistance has strengthened Israel in wartime and helped preserve its military dominance in the Middle East…the United States will not be able to address any or all of [the vexing problems in the Middle East] effectively if Americans cannot have a civilized conversation about our interests in the region and the role of all the factors that shape U.S. foreign policy, including the Israel lobby.” (23-28, xi)
The Arab Spring, where it sprung up, sought to throw off the yoke of dictatorship within a single country; Occupy Wall Street seeks to disentangle the American dream from a diffuse and all-pervasive system of economic, corporate, and ideological oppression; the Palestinian people seek to liberate themselves from a foreign occupier of their soil. What unites these diverse movements is the struggle for collective liberation. As the BDS movement said in their statement ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine’, released October 13, the same day as the Emergency Committee for Israel’s video:
“Our aspirations overlap; our struggles converge. Our oppressors, whether greedy corporations or military occupations, are united in profiting from wars, pillage, environmental destruction, repression and impoverishment. We must unite in our common quest for freedoms, equal rights, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, and world peace. We can no longer afford to be splintered and divided; we can no longer ignore our obligations to join hands in the struggle against wars and corporate exploitation and for a human-friendly world community not a profit-maximizing jungle.”
The paranoid racism of the few Occupy Wall Street protesters who blame Jews for capitalist corporate domination is deplorable. No less deplorable, however, is the effort by right-wing Zionist power groups to use the specter of anti-Semitism to squash criticism of Israel as an oppressive occupying power. The sparks of pro-Palestinian solidarity that flare up at Occupy Wall Street should be fanned into a flame, as part of the struggle to secure ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the 21st century.
Ben Lorber is an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank. He is also an independent journalist with the Alternative Information Center in Bethlehem, and has written for many other online magazines. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from Bard College in 2010 and lives in Baltimore, Maryland, where he performs as a musician and works as an environmental activist. Visit his blog at freepaly.wordpress.com
Photo: [shehan365, Flickr]