Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Knesset Council Bans Bill to Define Israel as State for All Its Citizens

In unusual move, bill disqualified before being discussed on Knesset floor because it 'seeks to deny Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people'

Jonathan Lis Jun 04, 2018 4:59 PM

MK Haneen Zoabi (Joint List) discusses a bill in the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 30, 2018.Olivier Fitoussi

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A bill submitted by three Joint List MKs calling for Israel to be defined as a state of all its citizens was disqualified by the Knesset presidium on Monday before it even reached the Knesset floor for deliberation.

Seven MKs supported the decision to ban debate on the Basic Law: A Country of All Its Citizens," submitted by MKs Jamal Zahalka, Haneen Zoabi and Joumah Azbarga; two MKs opposed it (Esawi Freige from Meretz and Ahmad Tibi from Joint List); and MK Bezalel Smotrich from Habayit Hayehudi abstained.

This is the first time proposed legislation has been disqualified before being discussed in the plenum during the past two Knesset terms.

Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon clarified in a statement that, “both in the theoretical plane and in the specific one, it is hard to not see such a proposal as one that seeks to deny Israel’s existence as the state of the Jewish people, and therefore, and in accordance with Article 75(e) of the regulations, the Knesset presidium is qualified to prevent its submission.”

The bill, Yinon noted, “includes several articles that are meant to alter the character of the State of Israel from the nation-state of the Jewish people to a state in which there is equal status from the point of view of nationality for Jews and Arabs."

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The legal adviser also said that the legislation seemed to be aimed at altering basic principles – for example, by essentially cancelling the Law of Return (which declares the right of every Jew to immigrate to Israel), and determining instead that receipt of Israeli citizenship will be based on a person’s familial affiliation to another citizen of the state.

In addition, wrote Yinon, the bill negates the principle according to which the symbols of the state reflect the national revival of the Jewish people, in addition to rejecting Hebrew language as the principal language of the state.

In a discussion on the Joint List proposal, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said: “This is a preposterous bill that any intelligent individual can see must be blocked immediately. A bill that aims to gnaw at the foundations of the state must not be allowed in the Knesset. This is the first time since my appointment as Knesset speaker 5 years ago that I am recommending that the presidium disqualify a bill. The three MKs from Balad [one of the parties making up Joint List] keep trying to garner votes through provocation, and we cannot lend a hand to this.”

By contrast, MK Freige said that, “the Jewish majority often challenges the Arab minority, and an example of that is the so-called nation-state law. Why are the drafters of that law allowed but Zahalka is not?”

"The minority," said MK Tibi, "has a right to protest and to oppose conventions such as rights being enjoyed only by the Jewish majority in Israel, a situation that reinforces the inferiority of the Arab minority.”

MK Smotrich, who had abstained said he agreed "completely with the Knesset speaker, that this is indeed an absurd bill. However, a directive that prevents a bill from being discussed at the Knesset needs to come by means a Basic Law, and not from Knesset regulations.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Unexpected Uprising: The Crisis of Democracy in Nicaragua

Courtney Desiree Morris
May 14, 2018
North American Congress on Latin America

The Nicaraguan government’s brutal response to protests over social security cuts has produced a nationwide grassroots mobilization against President Daniel Ortega. The Ortega-Murillo regime faces a crisis of legitimacy, which could open the door to the forces of both democracy and reaction.

Nicaraguans Protest Social Security Cuts. A Catholic Church-mediated dialogue between Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, representatives of university students, who are leading the protests, and business groups and trade unions, began on Wednesday. , The NationOnline (Nigeria)

Over the last two weeks, tens of thousands of people—university students, pensioners, environmentalists, feminists, religious leaders, black and Indigenous activists, journalists as well as left-wing and right-wing opposition groups—have flooded the streets of Nicaragua, calling for the resignation of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo. The protests have shocked the world and shaken Nicaraguan politics to its core. The unfolding crisis has taken many, including the government, by surprise. Yet the conditions for this uprising have been in the making for more than a decade and reveal a deepening crisis of legitimacy for the Ortega administration.

On April 18, Ortega announced that the government, under executive order, would institute a series of reforms to the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS), which manages the nation’s pensions fund and is teetering on the brink of insolvency. The reforms would increase the amount that employees and employers have to pay into the system, while cutting benefits to elderly pensioners by 5%. As Jon Lee Anderson notes in The New Yorker, public response was “furious and swift, with demonstrators taking to the streets to protest” the following day, April 19. University students, many of whom had been involved in protests earlier in the month following the government’s mishandling of a wildfire in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve on the Caribbean Coast, joined with outraged pensioners to protest the government’s actions.

The government’s reaction to the demonstrations escalated rapidly into violent repression. The state shut down multiple television stations broadcasting live coverage and ordered anti-riot police forces to disperse the demonstrations, firing live rounds into crowds of protestors while ordering the mass arrests of student activists and attacking universities in Managua. Pro-Sandinista gangs, known as turbas, and members of the Sandinista Youth also attacked demonstrators with mortars and other arms; there are reports of turbas assaulting protestors as the police stood by and failed to intervene.

By the end of the first week of protests, the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) had confirmed 43 deaths, two people in critical condition, and hundreds more wounded; other groups, relying on official and unofficial reports, estimate approximately 60 deaths. Among the dead was a journalist, Angel Gahona, who was shot and killed while live streaming coverage of protests in the Caribbean coastal city of Bluefields on Facebook. The Nicaraguan Red Cross reported that it assisted 435 people, 242 of whom had to be hospitalized.

The Ortega Administration on Thin Ice

The administration’s response to the protests was alarming and revealing. On April 19, Vice President Rosario Murillo spoke about the protests during her daily midday address to the nation. In her talk she described the protests as an effort to “promote destruction [and] destabilization,” and decried the protestors as “tiny groups that threaten peace and development with selfish, toxic political agendas and interests, full of hate.” President Ortega responded two days later in a televised speech that echoed Vice President Murillo’s earlier comments. In his speech, he claimed that the protests had been infiltrated and were being manipulated by narco-traffickers, gang members, and delincuentes covertly equipped, financed and directed by conservative political elements in collusion with the radical Right in the United States. “I understand that the mobilized student groups probably do not even know the party that is moving all of this,” he said.

If Ortega’s comments were intended to restore law and order, they had the opposite effect, further inflaming public sentiment. Protestors observed that Ortega never mentioned the protestors that had been killed or addressed ongoing allegations of police abuse. Instead, he appeared to be more concerned about the economic impacts of the protests on Nicaragua’s image as a safe and attractive tourist destination. For many, Ortega’s response proved that he was out of touch with the public. Even his own Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) supporters including Jaime Wheelock and Bayardo Arce, Ortega’s current economic advisor, have admitted that “Ortega made a mistake” in his handling of the protests.

As the protests continued to escalate, calls for peace and calm came from the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), Nicaragua’s most powerful business association, and the Catholic Church, which later agreed to serve as a mediator in talks with the state. On April 22, Pope Francis, speaking during his Sunday address to thousands of the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City, expressed his concern about the crisis in Nicaragua and the deaths of protestors and police officers. He called “for an end to every form of violence and to avoid the useless shedding of blood” and urged that political differences be “resolved peacefully and with a sense of responsibility.” Meanwhile, on April 23, the United States Embassy in Managua announced it would cease routine operations and family members of embassy staff were ordered to leave the country.

These are not the first protests that Ortega has faced while in office. In 2013, a coalition of environmentalists, human rights organizations, black and indigenous activists, and mestizo campesino activists mobilized to protest the passage of Law 840, which granted a concession to the Chinese corporation Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Company (HKND Group) to build an interoceanic canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific to rival the one in Panama. Activists filed 38 suits against Law 840, the largest number of cases to be brought against a single law in the nation’s history. Opposition is nothing new for Ortega—he’s dealt with it his entire political life during his first term as president in the 1980s and three terms since 2007. But the recent INSS protests, which have become known as the 19th of April Movement, mark the first time that so many different sectors of Nicaraguan civil society have united to oppose him.

On April 22, in response to mounting public pressure, Ortega announced in a televised speech surrounded by representatives of the business community that the government had rescinded the reforms. He called for peace, stating: “We have to restore order. We cannot allow chaos, crime and looting to prevail…and we will act under the rule of law and under the Constitution to ensure and guarantee the restoration of stability and social peace so that workers can peacefully go to work.” He also announced the mass release of detained protestors and agreed to participate in a “dialogue,” but only with the business community. Regardless, the reforms, along with the state’s brutal crackdown on protestors, have done considerable damage to the government’s public image.

This is reflected, for example, in the protestors’ targeting of the most potent symbols of the administration. They have burned billboards featuring portraits of the president and party propaganda and toppled the massive “Tree of Life” light installations that line major thoroughfares throughout the capital and the nation’s major cities. The trees (140 in total) have been a pet project of Murillo in her rebranding of the FSLN as a party of love, reconciliation, Christian charity, and solidarity. Described as a “gift to the Nicaragua people,” each tree costs $25,000 to install and collectively they generate $1 million in annual energy costs. The public assault on these critical symbols of the Ortega-Murillo administration reveal that the protests have expanded far beyond anger over the austerity reforms and have given way to a much deeper set of political demands. As one protestor at a demonstration held by the Catholic Church on April 28 told reporters, “the changes in social security were the last straw. But they were doing so many things before—stealing elections, stealing government money, so much corruption.”

From Radical Revolutionary to Quiet Caudillo

Nicaragua's current crisis is tragically ironic, considering that 40 years ago, Ortega played a central role in leading the armed movement that toppled the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza. He served on the nine-member National Directorate that governed Nicaragua during the transition from the Somoza dictatorship to the revolutionary government. He was elected president in 1984, which he held until the Sandinistas lost the presidential elections in 1990 to the United National Opposition, a coalition of right-wing parties. Ortega thus became the first Nicaraguan president in history to peacefully cede power to an opposition party.

Over the next 16 years Ortega would transform himself from a revolutionary to a political strongman who wielded decisive political influence in both the FSLN party and in national politics. During this time, he consolidated his control over the FSLN, purging the party of dissidents who questioned his actions, brokering pacts with rival political leaders, and stacking the National Assembly, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), and the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) with his supporters. Upon his re-election in 2006, made possible by changes to the nation’s electoral laws that allowed Ortega to win the presidency with only 38% of the vote, he quickly set about consolidating his hold on state power. The Ortega administration currently controls all four branches of government, the military, and the national police force, and has effectively transformed Nicaragua into a one-party state.

The recent protests have prompted comparisons to the Sandinista Revolution. When protestors chant, “Ortega y Somoza son la misma cosa,” (“Ortega and Somoza are the same thing”), they highlight the fact that Ortega, the former revolutionary, has evolved into a would-be dictator. Certainly his use of cooptation, party patronage, and political repression seems to be taken directly from Somoza’s governing strategy. For more than 40 years, the Somoza family ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist and enjoyed the full backing of the United States government. From 1936, the Somoza-controlled Liberal Party dominated Nicaraguan politics through a system of corruption, bribery, constitutional manipulation, clientelism, and—when that failed to quell dissent—violence, imprisonment, and political assassination. In the 1960s and 1970s, following the Somoza regime’s mishandling of a 1972 earthquake that displaced thousands of people combined with outrage over the government assassination of a respected journalist, thousands of young men and women joined the FSLN to overthrow Somoza in an unlikely revolution that many people, both inside and outside of Nicaragua, never saw coming. Ortega’s seeming inability to realize the full implications of the protests and his initially tone-deaf response to the public may prove to be his greatest mistake, echoing Somoza’s underestimation of the FSLN, which proved to be his undoing.

The Birth of the 19th of April Movement

The 19th of April Movement shares many characteristics with similar popular democratic movements that have emerged in recent years. Like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the Movement for Black Lives, and the Zapatista movement, this mobilization is defined by its diffuse, collective leadership model, strategic use of social media as a tool for collective protest, and the reclamation of public space as a site for direct political action. The flexible structure of this emergent political formation has opened a space for many different kinds of political voices to enter these debates and frame their critiques of the government from their specific social location.

Black and Indigenous activists from the Coast, particularly after the murder of Angel Gahona, have emerged as some of the most militant critics of the Ortega-Murillo party-state. While they are explicitly critical of the administration’s assault on the nation’s democratic institutions, they have also criticized the state for its undermining of the nation’s multicultural constitutional reforms as well as recent attempts by the government to charge a group of young Creole men with Gahona’s murder despite eyewitness accounts that allege he was murdered by local police. That costeños, or coast residents, have been able to articulate a place within this broader political formation suggests that the movement presents an exciting opportunity for rethinking the racial politics of Nicaraguan nationalisms in ways that were previously unimaginable.

But this model also produces its own political challenges. It is unclear, for example, whether the student protestors will be able to translate the gains that they have achieved in the streets into meaningful institutional transformation and democratic policy reforms. A small group of university activists, many of them from the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI), have agreed to participate in dialogues with the national government. But they have remained wary of the government and have stated that the government must immediately cease its repression of protestors and release all detained protestors before they will engage in talks. Older activists, many of them former Sandinistas, have warned that the government will attempt to use the talks as a strategy to neutralize and coopt the students.

These concerns are warranted. Daniel Ortega is an experienced and skillful negotiator who cut his political teeth brokering a truce with the Contras and Miskitu resistance fighters during the civil war in the 1980s. Ortega’s biographer, Kenneth Morris, argues that his political opponents have tended to underestimate him—to their own detriment—and Ortega has masterfully used this to his advantage, presenting himself as an unassuming political figure while quietly brokering pacts with allies and opponents and increasing his own power.

Many protestors have claimed that the movement is neither Left nor Right, rather it is an expression of the collective discontent of the Nicaraguan people and thus occupies a moral space above the fray of party politics. Given the way in which political parties pervade the most mundane aspects of daily social life—determining access to employment and educational opportunities and the benefits of government-sponsored social programs—it is striking that protestors have opted to frame their dissent using the moral discourse of nationalism and citizen leadership that refuses the disciplining and constraining logic of party affiliation. The politics of refusal embodied in the repudiation of party politics signals a radical rethinking of the meanings of Left and Right, liberal, conservative, and revolutionary. What does it mean to define oneself in these terms when it is clear that authoritarianism is operable across a range of divergent ideological standpoints? What do we make of the project of post-revolutionary neoliberalism and managed democracy that has unfolded under the Ortega administration?

Rebranding the FSLN

Political analysts inside and outside of Nicaragua argue that it is a misnomer to refer to the FSLN as Leftist party. Since returning to power in 2007, Daniel Ortega has reinvented himself as a reformed revolutionary willing to do business with the private sector and to accede a certain amount of political power and influence to the Catholic Church in order to secure his own claims to state power. Prior to his re-election in 2006, Ortega oversaw the approval by the National Assembly of one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the hemisphere, which bans abortion even in cases of rape and incest. He has proven to be an adept neoliberal, quietly honoring free trade agreements, increasing foreign investment and the influence of the corporate sector while publicly railing against capitalism and imperialism. Upon taking office, his administration launched a vicious public media campaign against the women’s and feminist movements in Nicaragua, vilifying them as a group of lesbians, pedophiles, witches, and abortionists bent on destroying the heterosexual, nuclear Nicaraguan family. The administration launched a similar attack on the independent media, buying up newspapers and radio and television stations and denying or withdrawing permits for independent media organizations that are critical of the state.

While the government has maintained a series of successful social programs that are vital for the survival of poor Nicaraguan families, these programs serve a dual role. They are administered by local government agencies known as the Life, Community, and Family Cabinets. Though the Ortega administration claims these institutions reflect the government’s commitment to accountability and participatory democracy, in fact, they are a mechanism of party patronage that allows the FSLN party-state to provide direct social benefits to its supporters while excluding its critics from much needed resources. This has been a critical strategy in Ortega’s efforts to maintain the appearance of democratic rule and electoral legitimacy. Ortega’s wholesale cooptation and weakening of the nation’s democratic institutions contravenes the very values of Sandinismo that defined the revolution as a moment of utopian possibility. In this current iteration of the Sandinista Party, very little leftist ideology remains.

The FSLN and its domestic and international supporters have argued against the protests and claimed that the FSLN is the victim of a complex scheme by right-wing opposition groups to destabilize the country and seize the state. An op-ed piece published in Telesur, “Nicaragua: Next in Line for Regime Change?” claims that the protests “have been characterized by lethal violence from extreme right-wing shock groups trying to destabilize Nicaragua, just as they have done in Venezuela.” These critiques have found considerable support among the U.S. Left, which has a long relationship of solidarity with the FSLN. But Nicaragua is not Venezuela, and the crisis unfolding in Nicaragua is largely of Daniel Ortega’s own making. Despite the growing indications of an authoritarian turn under the Ortega administration, the international Left has tended to highlight the administration’s work for the poor and Ortega’s recurring success at the polls—by all accounts, he won at least 70% of the vote in the 2016 presidential elections.

Nevertheless, the concern among leftists that the Right may capitalize on this moment of political instability to push through a more conservative agenda is based on previous patterns of intervention and must be taken seriously. The current threat from the Right in the United States comes in the form of the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (NICA). In 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed NICA, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) and Representative Albio Sires (D-New Jersey), which opposes “loans at international financial institutions for the Government of Nicaragua unless the Government of Nicaragua is taking effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections.” The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has languished in the Senate since 2017, but it appears that the legislation enjoys at least nominal support from the Trump administration. Political analysts and activists have largely repudiated this measure, arguing that it will only harm Nicaraguans and do little to unseat the Ortega administration.

While no evidence has surfaced that substantiates the claims of the Ortega administration and its supporters, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that right-wing actors are attempting to leverage the moment to their own advantage. If history serves as any indication of the outcomes of U.S. involvement in this conflict, NICA would likely tip the scales in favor of a more conservative, pro-U.S., business-friendly administration. Yet it does not appear that NICA is the primary element behind the protests. The fact that the protests unfolded in the absence of a major foreign intervention illustrates that Nicaraguans stand as the real force behind the demonstrations, signaling the emergence of a grassroots, nationalist movement.

The People Have Spoken

The government recently launched a truth commission—staffed primarily by individuals with former or existing ties to the FLSN—to investigate the deaths during the first wave of protests. It has further committed to engaging in a “national dialogue” with a select group of representatives from different sectors of civil society, including the university students in the 19th of April Movement. The administration has refused, however, to allow representatives from the Organization of American States (OAS) to lead the truth commission investigation as activists have demanded, and it is difficult to see how the state can investigate and hold itself accountable for the crimes that it has committed against the people of Nicaragua, especially while government repression continues in various cities throughout the country. In the meantime, activists around the country are planning a national strike, suggesting once again that these protests represent merely the opening salvo in a much longer struggle against the Ortega administration.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has given the administration one month to respond to the protestors demands for dialogue. Regardless of their ultimate outcome, the protests have produced an irreversible shift in Nicaraguan politics. They have produced a crisis of legitimacy that may ultimately be the unexpected undoing of the Ortega-Murillo regime.

The people are speaking. It remains to be seen how Ortega will respond.

[Courtney Desiree Morris is a visual artist and assistant professor of African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She is a social anthropologist and has worked on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua since 2004. She is currently completing a book on black women’s activism and the authoritarian turn in Nicaragua. For more of her work see www.courtneydesireemorris.com.]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

What the Gaza Protests Portend

from the NY Review of Books

Tareq BaconiMay 15, 2018, 6:00 am

Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesA Palestinian woman on the Gaza side of the fence on a day of bloody protests at the buffer zone with Israel, May 14, 2018
The battle against infiltration in the border areas at all times of day and night will be carried out mainly by opening fire, without giving warning, on any individual or group that cannot be identified from afar by our troops as Israeli citizens and who are, at the moment they are spotted, [infiltrating] into Israeli territory.

This was the order issued in 1953 by Israel’s Fifth Giv’ati Brigade in response to the hundreds of Palestinian refugees who sought to return to homes and lands from which they had been expelled in 1948. For years after the war, the recently displaced braved mines and bullets from border kibbutzim and risked harsh reprisals from Israel’s army to reclaim their property. The reprisals included raids on refugee camps and villages that often killed civilians, as the Israeli historian Benny Morris and others have laid out. Still, refugees persisted in their attempts to return, and Israel persisted in viewing these attempts as “infiltration.”

Over the past six weeks, Israeli soldiers have killed some forty Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them unarmed civilians, and injured more than five thousand protesters. As the US relocated its embassy to Jerusalem Monday, the violence escalated alarmingly. Israeli forces shot dead at least another fifty Palestinians and injured more than 2,400, making it by far the bloodiest day yet in the current round of protests in Gaza.

Like their grandparents, these Palestinians are seeking justice and redress for their families’ expulsion from their land. Unlike the house-to-house reprisal attacks of the 1950s, however, today’s killings are carried out from a distance. Israeli snipers are positioned on raised berms just beyond the sophisticated fence and expansive buffer zone that separate Gaza from Israel. From this safe perch, soldiers aim their rifles and shoot Palestinian protesters; according to Amnesty International, the targeting includes “what appear to be deliberately inflicted life-changing injuries.” Yesh Gvul, the movement founded in 1982 by Israeli combat veterans who refused to serve in the war in Lebanon, has publicly endorsed the call by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem urging these soldiers to disobey a patently illegal order.

Yet the shootings continue. As in the 1950s, Israeli officials justify the army’s use of overwhelming lethal force as a necessary security deterrent. Calling the protests a “March of Terror,” Israel’s Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, noted that the army will not “hesitate to use everything [it] has” to stop them.

Palestinians in Gaza have preferred to name their demonstration the “Great March of Return.” It began on March 30, when thousands congregated close to crossing-points into Israel. The start date marked the anniversary of Israel’s shooting of six unarmed Palestinian citizens as they participated in strikes and marches in 1976 against the government’s appropriation of their private lands. The March of Return was planned to continue until May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba, the Palestinian “catastrophe” caused by the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. (For Palestinian citizens of Israel, even commemorating the day has been penalized since 2011 by the Nakba Law.)

Seventy years ago this month, more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced to flee homes that fell within the borders of the nascent state of Israel. These refugees, their children and their grandchildren, are the “infiltrators” whom Israel is still bent on deterring from claiming their right of return. This right was first upheld by the United Nations in 1949 and has been ratified every year since, making it one of the rights most consistently upheld by the General Assembly in the UN’s history.

Out of this mass exodus of refugees, some 200,000–280,000 had taken shelter in the Gaza Strip, overwhelming the coastal enclave’s population, which was then about 80,000. They built temporary residences on the peripheries of Gaza’s cities and waited for a resolution to their dispossession, often only a few miles from their original homes. Today, their grandchildren have proclaimed a “national” and “humanitarian” march at the fence area, in which “Palestinians of all ages and various political and social groups… meet around the universal issue of the return of refugees and their compensation.”

Hamas, the party that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, has jumped on the bandwagon of this popular movement. Its leaders have made speeches encouraging Gazans to join the marches, while its administration has offered services, including bus rides and tents, to support the protests. Facing its own challenges in Gaza, primarily in the form of economic stagnation and humanitarian suffering, Hamas hopes to reap the rewards of this nonviolent protest—though its efforts to do so threaten to hijack the protests and derail what has hitherto been a genuine grassroots mobilization. To underscore its engagement with this movement, Hamas has temporarily embraced a tactical commitment to popular resistance rather than press its official policy of armed struggle. Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader, recently stated that protesters will be unarmed, stressing that Hamas is not seeking a new war with Israel. While there have been isolated instances of armed fighters attempting to breach the fence, Hamas’s military restraint is evident in the fact that, at the time of this writing, no rocket had been fired from Gaza despite Israel’s repeated and reckless use of excessive force.

This March of Return is a story of Gaza, one with deep roots in the strip’s history and current predicament. The Gaza Strip forms less than 1.3 percent of the land of historic Palestine. But because of its geographic proximity to Israel, refugee restlessness, and population density, Gaza is an exceedingly troublesome sliver of land for Israel. It has been a hotbed of resistance, giving birth to national leaders, armed movements, and popular uprisings. Since 1948, as the French historian of the Middle East Jean-Pierre Filiu has charted, Israel has unleashed no less than twelve full-scale wars on this coastal enclave, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians. In a 1956 letter to Israeli’s prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, regarding the ferocity of Israel’s military tactics toward Gaza, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld wrote, “You believe that reprisals will avoid future incidents. I believe that they will provoke future incidents.”

The trouble is not just with Gaza’s popular defiance. This strip of land presents Israel with another, equally insoluble, challenge: demography. In 1967, the Gaza Strip fell under Israel’s direct control as part of the wider occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Israel’s occupation initially entailed placing 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza under direct military rule, while it settled only around 9,000 Jews in the Strip. Integrating such a high number of non-Jews under Israeli jurisdiction, which included the West Bank, threatened to make Jews a minority ruling over a majority population of non-Jews.

Shortly after the first Palestinian Intifada erupted in Gaza in 1987, Israel initiated measures to correct this problem and began separating the Gaza Strip from the rest of the territories. As the veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass has reported in detail, stringent crossing requirements and elaborate permit systems were put in place. These measures were expanded against the backdrop of the peace process that began in 1993 with the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

While countless rounds of negotiations wore on throughout the 1990s, Israel gradually reshaped the architecture of its occupation. After three years of the bloody Second Intifada, under the pretext of security, Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, announced his decision in 2003 to formalize Israel’s separation policies toward the Gaza Strip—to “disengage”—while simultaneously strengthening Israel’s hold on the West Bank. In a rapid transition, Israel’s occupation of Gaza morphed from direct colonization into a system of external control.

The loss in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections of Fatah, the dominant PLO faction, to Hamas, an Islamist organization that refuses to explicitly recognize the state of Israel and is committed to armed resistance, appeared to give credence to Sharon’s unilateral security measures. Fighting between the two groups eventually broke out, leading to Hamas’s takeover of the Strip in 2007—though this came only after months of US and Israeli interference, which included supporting Fatah’s efforts to undermine the elected party, arming Fatah, and starving the democratically-elected Hamas government of funds. Hamas’s seizure of power provided a perfect alibi for Israel’s policies of separation and enclosure of the Gaza Strip. Israel reacted by tightening its hold over Gaza into a hermetic blockade, conclusively severing the Strip from the outside world and creating, in effect, an isolated Hamas-run territory there.

Sharon’s reconfiguration, however, did not change the essential facts of the occupation. Politicians in Israel may have hoped the new policy would give the impression that Gaza’s two million Palestinian inhabitants no longer fell under Israeli jurisdiction, thereby resolving their demographic quandary. But all international organizations agree that the Gaza Strip remains firmly under Israel’s grip. It is the Israeli government that today controls Gaza’s population registry, a clear sign that the state has never relinquished full control. The Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is an administrative unit within the Israeli Ministry of Defense that “implements the government’s civilian policy within the territories of Judea and Samaria and toward the Gaza Strip.” Perversely, as its website notes, this includes “the implementation of humanitarian aid programs” in the occupied territories. For Gazans, COGAT is the entity that controls the entry and exit of all goods and people from the enclave with dire precision, including the calculation of the calories required to avert mass starvation.

The Israeli government’s references to “infiltrators” who threaten to swarm into Israel have little basis in the reality of Gaza as an occupied territory, and obscure Israel’s history of harsh reprisals against it. Absent from the official discourse is the fact that, under international law, Israel has a responsibility to protect those civilians living under its occupation. Absent, also, is the acknowledgement that Gaza is not a state bordering Israel. It is an anomalous space in which a non-Jewish population is penned for reasons of demographic engineering—namely, to safeguard the Israeli state’s ethno-nationalist aims. Recent data (from COGAT) suggest that more non-Jews than Jews now live in the land of historic Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Great March of Return is thus not just a story of Gaza. Israel’s fear of “infiltration” is not limited to a few Palestinians breaking through the fence. It is a deeper and more existential fear that dates back to 1948—a fear that demands for Palestinian rights, which Israel has long worked to marginalize, might infiltrate the consciousness of a restive population. It is a fear that defiance might seep back into everyday Palestinian life and undermine an occupation that has been designed to ensure permanent subservience. This goal was embedded in the architecture of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the main product of the 1993 Oslo Accords and the entity ruling over the West Bank, which is committed to expansive security coordination with Israel. Palestinians have grown increasingly disillusioned with the PA, viewing it as little more than a subcontractor to the occupation that puts Israeli security interests before Palestinian rights. Although originally planned as a temporary measure lasting five years, the PA has become a permanent institutional fixture of the occupation, subsuming the PLO and forfeiting Palestinian liberation in return for limited powers of local government.

The PA’s drift toward authoritarianism and its crackdown on civil society have prevented protests in the West Bank. Yet the grassroots defiance in Gaza is the latest manifestation in a long history of popular struggle that has recently gathered force throughout the Palestinian population. Arab political parties in Israel have become far more active against the government’s systemic discrimination against non-Jews. In April, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel carried out their own March of Return south of Haifa as Israel celebrated its independence. Last year, Palestinians in East Jerusalem successfully led the “prayer intifada” to protest Israeli efforts to alter the status quo around al-Aqsa Mosque. Elsewhere, the Palestinian diaspora is coalescing into a more effective international solidarity movement organized around the goals of freedom, justice, and equality.

Civic engagement and grassroots mobilization were perhaps last at their peak in 1987, with the eruption of the First Intifada. That popular uprising was first met with force—Yitzhak Rabin as defense minister famously instructed Israeli soldiers to “break the bones” of protesters—and then sidetracked into fruitless diplomatic efforts toward a two-state solution, beginning with the Oslo Accords and ending with President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration in 2018. Palestinians have come to realize that this political process, which held out for Palestinian nationhood as part of that strategy, failed them. The endless negotiations merely allowed Israel to entrench its occupation to previously unimaginable levels.

Today, time has run out even for the bad faith that characterized Israel’s approach to the peace process—demanding Palestinian concessions while building more settlements on occupied land. Israeli leaders now openly and brazenly speak of annexation. As comparisons to South Africa’s system of apartheid become more difficult to ignore, nationalist leaders like the minister of education, Naftali Bennett, are pushing Israel toward a one-state reality, seemingly confident that an apartheid-like regime might, in Israel’s case, prove sustainable. Little in the five decades of occupation has challenged Israel’s belief that it can run things in ways that flagrantly violate international law.

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’s Gaza government have become servile proxy authorities, stabilizing a captive population under Israel hegemony. While the PA is explicitly committed to this supine role, Hamas’s pacification is different—arising from its de facto need to manage and restrain its official policy of armed resistance from Gaza because of the devastating force Israel has used in a series of short wars against the coastal enclave since 2007. In these circumstances, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination has, in effect, dissolved into numerous local battles: equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, freedom of movement for West Bankers, residency rights for East Jerusalemites, education for refugees, an end to the blockade for Gazans.

This fragmentation is not, however, a given for all time. The dense smoke, burning tires, and the masses of people huddled under gunfire on Friday afternoons is what, at this moment, the recalibration of the Palestinian struggle looks like. The images coming out of Gaza are an indication of Palestinian disenchantment with the political process and with their leaders. In a deeper and more significant way, we are also witnessing a revival of the core principles that always animated the Palestinian cause but that were displaced in the tangled maze of political negotiations.

Israel rightly fears the power of such popular mobilization. Movements like the Great March of Return have the potential to transcend the fracturing of Palestinian political aspirations so deftly imposed by the state, by uniting the Palestinian people around a single message of rights. Israel’s response to this message—from the Giv’ati Brigade commands of the 1950s to Rabin’s orders during the First Intifada and Lieberman’s recent statements on the March of Return—is always to resort to overwhelming force. For close to a century, Palestinian popular protests for rights have yielded only bloodshed. But Palestinians also take notice of global precedents.

From Sharpeville to Selma, the history of marches for civil and political rights is long and bloody. This mass mobilization around the core principles of Palestinian liberation—arising from civil society independently of discredited political leaderships—holds immense power to disrupt the status quo. Whether this movement, from East Jerusalem to Gaza, Israel to the West Bank, eventually bends toward justice depends on whether the international community will tolerate Israel’s capacity to deny an entire people their basic rights and rob them of a future because they are not Jewish. The past record is not encouraging, but something new has started.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Gazan Gandhis: Gaza Bleeds Alone as 'Liberals' and 'Progressives' Go Mute

By Ramzy Baroud
Three more Palestinians were killed and 611 wounded last Friday, when tens of thousands of Gazans continued their largely non-violent protests at the Gaza-Israel border.
Yet as the casualty count keeps climbing - nearly 45 dead and over 5,500 wounded - the deafening silence also continues. Tellingly, many of those who long chastised Palestinians for using armed resistance against the Israeli occupation are nowhere to be found, while children, journalists, women, and men are all targeted by hundreds of Israeli snipers who dot the Gaza border.
Israeli officials are adamant. The likes of Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, perceives his war against the unarmed protesters as a war on terrorists. He believes that "there are no innocents in Gaza." While the Israeli mindset is not in the least surprising, it is emboldened by the lack of meaningful action or outright international silence to the atrocities taking place at the border.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), aside from frequent statements laced with ambiguous legal jargon, has been quite useless thus far. Its Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, derided Israel's killings in a recent statement, but also distorted facts in her attempt at 'even-handed language', to the delight of Israeli media.
"Violence against civilians - in a situation such as the one prevailing in Gaza - could constitute crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ... as could the use of civilian presence for the purpose of shielding military activities," she said.
Encouraged by Bensouda's statement, Israel is exploiting the opportunity to deflect from its own crimes. On April 25, an Israeli law group, Shurat Hadin, is seeking to indict three Hamas leaders at the ICC, accusing Hamas of using children as human shields at the border protests.
It is tragic that many still find it difficult to grasp the notion that the Palestinian people are capable of mobilizing, resisting and making decisions independent from Palestinian factions.
Indeed, for the nearly decade-long Hamas-Fatah feud, the Israeli siege on Gaza and throughout the various destructive wars, Gazans have been sidelined, often seen as hapless victims of war and factionalism, and lacking any human agency.
Shurat Hadin, like Bensouda, is all feeding into that dehumanizing discourse.
By insisting that Palestinians are not capable of operating outside the confines of political factions, few feel the sense of political responsibility or moral accountability to come to the aid of the Palestinians.
This is reminiscent of former US President Barack Obama's unsolicited lecture to Palestinians during his Cairo speech to the Muslim world in 2009.
"Palestinians must abandon violence," he said. "Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed."
He then offered his own questionable version of history of how all nations, including 'black people in America', the nations of South Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe and Indonesia fought and won their freedom by peaceful means only.
This demeaning approach - of comparing supposed Palestinian failures to others' successes - is always meant to highlight that Palestinians are different, lesser beings who are incapable of being like the rest of humanity. Interestingly, this is very much the core of the Zionist narrative about the Palestinians.
That very notion is often presented in the question "where is the Palestinian Gandhi?" The inquiry, often asked by so-called liberals and progressives, is not an inquiry at all, but is a judgement - and an unfair one at that.
Addressing the question soon after the last Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, Jeff Stein wrote in Newsweek,"The answer has been blown away in the smoke and rubble of Gaza, where the idea of non-violent protest seems as quaint as Peter, Paul and Mary. The Palestinians who preached non-violence and led peaceful marches, boycotts, mass sit-downs and the like are mostly dead, in jail, marginalized or in exile."
Yet, astonishingly, it is being resurrected again, despite the numerous odds, the unfathomable anger, and unrelenting pain.
Tens of thousands of protesters, raising Palestinian flags continue to hold their massive rallies across the Gaza border. Despite the high death toll and the thousands maimed, they return every day with the same commitment to popular resistance that is predicated on collective unity, beyond factionalism and politics.
But why are they still being largely ignored?
Why isn't Obama tweeting in solidarity with Gazans? Why isn't Hillary Clinton taking the podium to address the unremitting Israeli violence?
It is politically convenient to criticize Palestinians as a matter of course, and utterly inconvenient to credit them, even when they display such courage, prowess and commitment to peaceful change.
The likes of famed author, J.K. Rowling, had much to stay in criticism of the peaceful Palestinian boycott movement, which aims at holding Israel accountable for its military occupation and violations of human rights. But she became mute when Israeli snipers killed children in Gaza while cheering whenever a child falls.
The singer Bono of the band U2 dedicated a song to the late Israeli President Shimon Peres, accused of numerous war crimes, but his voice seems to have grown hoarse as the Gaza boy, Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub, 15 was shot by an Israeli sniper while protesting peacefully at the border.
However, there is a lesson in all of this. The Palestinian people should have no expectations of those who have constantly failed them. Chastising Palestinians for failing at this or that is an old habit, meant to simply hold Palestinians responsible for their own suffering, and to absolve Israel from any wrongdoing. Not even Israel's 'incremental genocide' in Gaza will change that paradigm.
Instead, Palestinians must continue to count on themselves; to stay focused on formulating a proper strategy that will serve their own interests in the long run, the kind of strategy that transcends factionalism and offer all Palestinians a true roadmap to the coveted freedom.
The popular resistance in Gaza is just the beginning; it must serve as a foundation for a new outlook, a vision that will ensure that the blood of Mohammed Ibrahim Ayoub is not spilled in vain.

- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is 'The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story' (Pluto Press, London, 2018). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

Thursday, April 26, 2018

People Voted for Trump Because They Were Anxious, Not Poor

A new study finds that Trump voters weren’t losing income or jobs. Instead, they were concerned about their place in the world.

OLGA KHAZAN APR 23, 2018 The Atlantic

For the past 18 months, many political scientists have been seized by one question: Less-educated whites were President Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters. But why, exactly?

Was their vote some sort of cri de coeur about a changing economy that had left them behind? Or was the motivating sentiment something more complex and, frankly, something harder for policy makers to address?

After analyzing in-depth survey data from 2012 and 2016, the University of Pennsylvania political scientist Diana C. Mutz argues that it’s the latter. In a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she added her conclusion to the growing body of evidence that the 2016 election was not about economic hardship.

“Instead,” she writes, “it was about dominant groups that felt threatened by change and a candidate who took advantage of that trend.”

“For the first time since Europeans arrived in this country,” Mutz notes, “white Americans are being told that they will soon be a minority race.” When members of a historically dominant group feel threatened, she explains, they go through some interesting psychological twists and turns to make themselves feel okay again. First, they get nostalgic and try to protect the status quo however they can. They defend their own group (“all lives matter”), they start behaving in more traditional ways, and they start to feel more negatively toward other groups.

This could be why in one study, whites who were presented with evidence of racial progress experienced lower self-esteem afterward. In another study, reminding whites who were high in “ethnic identification” that nonwhite groups will soon outnumber them revved up their support for Trump, their desire for anti-immigrant policies, and their opposition to political correctness.

Mutz also found that “half of Americans view trade as something that benefits job availability in other countries at the expense of jobs for Americans.”

Granted, most people just voted for the same party in both 2012 and 2016. However, between the two years, people—especially Republicans—developed a much more negative view toward international trade. In 2012, the two parties seemed roughly similar on trade, but in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s views on trade and on “China as a threat” were much further away from the views of the average American than were Trump’s.

Mutz examined voters whose incomes declined, or didn’t increase much, or who lost their jobs, or who were concerned about expenses, or who thought they had been personally hurt by trade. None of those things motivated people to switch from voting for Obama in 2012 to supporting Trump in 2016. Indeed, manufacturing employment in the United States has actually increased somewhat since 2010. And as my colleague Adam Serwer has pointed out, “Clinton defeated Trump handily among Americans making less than $50,000 a year.”

Meanwhile, a few things did correlate with support for Trump: a voter’s desire for their group to be dominant, as well as how much they disagreed with Clinton’s views on trade and China. Trump supporters were also more likely than Clinton voters to feel that “the American way of life is threatened,” and that high-status groups, like men, Christians, and whites, are discriminated against.

The Nationalist's Delusion
The Precarious Masculinity of 2016 Voters
White Evangelicals Believe They Face More Discrimination Than Muslims
This unfounded sense of persecution is far from rare, and it seems to be heightened during moments of societal change. As my colleague Emma Green has written, white evangelicals see more discrimination against Christians than Muslims in the United States, and 79 percent of white working-class voters who had anxieties about the “American way of life” chose Trump over Clinton. As I pointed out in the fall of 2016, several surveys showed many men supported Trump because they felt their status in society was threatened, and that Trump would restore it. Even the education gap in support for Trump disappears, according to one analysis, if you account for the fact that non-college-educated whites are simply more likely to affirm racist views than those with college degrees. (At the most extreme end, white supremacists also use victimhood to further their cause.)

These why-did-people-vote-for-Trump studies are clarifying, but also a little bit unsatisfying, from the point of view of a politician. They dispel the fiction—to use another 2016 meme—that the majority of Trump supporters are disenfranchised victims of capitalism’s cruelties. At the same time, deep-seated psychological resentment is harder for policy makers to address than an overly meager disability check. You can teach out-of-work coal miners to code, but you may not be able to convince them to embrace changing racial and gender norms. You can offer universal basic incomes, but that won’t ameliorate resentment of demographic changes.

In other words, it’s now pretty clear that many Trump supporters feel threatened, frustrated, and marginalized—not on an economic, but on an existential level. Now what?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Cult of Violence Always Kills the Left

by Chris Hedges, from Truthdig

APR 16, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—The Weather Underground, a clandestine revolutionary organization that advocated violence, was seen by my father and other clergy members who were involved in Vietnam anti-war protests as one of the most self-destructive forces on the left. These members of the clergy, many of whom, including my father, were World War II veterans, had often became ministers because of their experiences in the war. They understood the poison of violence. One of the most prominent leaders of Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam (CALCAV), to which my father belonged, was the Catholic priest Philip Berrigan, who as an Army second lieutenant fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

The young radicals of the Vietnam era, including Mark Rudd—who in 1968 as a leader of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led the occupation of five buildings at Columbia University and later helped form the Weather Underground—did not turn to those on the religious left whose personal experiences with violence might have saved SDS, the Weather Underground and the student anti-war movement from self-immolation. Blinded by hubris and infected with moral purity, the members of the Weather Underground saw themselves as the only real revolutionaries. And they embarked, as have those in today’s black bloc and antifa, on a campaign that was counterproductive to the social justice goals they said they advocated.

Rudd, 50 years later, plays the role once played by the priests Phil and Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Heschel. His book “Underground: My Life With SDS and the Weathermen” is a brutally honest deconstruction of the dangerous myths that captivated him as a young man. I suspect that many of those in the black bloc and antifa will no more listen to his wisdom than did the young radicals five decades ago who dismissed the warnings from those on the religious left for whom violence was not an abstraction. Rudd sees his old self in the masked faces of the black bloc and antifa, groups that advocate violence and property destruction in the name of anti-fascism. These faces, he said, ignite his deep embers of “shame and guilt.”

“It’s word for word the same thing,” Rudd said of antifa and the black bloc when we spoke for several hours recently in Albuquerque. “You look on a YouTube channel like Acting Out. It’s identical. How can we as white people stand by while the nonwhite people of the world are suffering under imperialism? I think the shame of being white in this society is so great [that] people want to show that they’re aware of how terrible the disparities are, and how privilege and oppression distort everything. The urge to talk about violence and commit violence in response is a way of cleansing yourself of that privilege, of the guilt of privilege. It taps into this strain that I’ve identified as self-expression rather than strategy. That, to me, is the biggest problem.”


“The anarchist Andy Cornell makes a distinction between activism and organizing,” he said. “Activism is about self-expression. It often is a substitute for strategy. Strategic organizing is about results. These acts of self-expression, which is what antifa does and what we did in the Weather Underground, are exactly what the cops want.”

“The slogan ‘diversity of tactics’ used by the black bloc and antifa is ridiculous,” he said. “Even the term ‘tactic’ is ridiculous. What we need is a strategy. And let’s be clear, even when you adopt a nonviolent strategy it will be portrayed by the state as violent. This is what the Israelis are doing at the Gaza fence. I often tell the antifa kids here—there are about four antifa kids in Albuquerque and they hate my guts—this story. There was a spontaneous anti-war demonstration in 2003 by a thousand people in Albuquerque the night the [Iraq] war began. The cops, who support the military, were angry. They attacked the crowd with tear gas and clubs. There were a lot of arrests. The victims brought a civil suit against the police. It did not come to trial until 2011. The police and the city of Albuquerque were the defendants. They were charged with violating the rights of the protesters. It was a jury trial. The jury found for the cops. Why? It turned out the police attorneys brought in a photograph. There were about 200 or 300 people in the photograph. In the front were two people wearing bandannas [as masks]. Just wearing bandannas. They zoomed in on the people wearing the bandannas. They told the jury, ‘See these people wearing these bandannas? They’re wearing bandannas because they’re terrorists. And we knew they were about to attack us. So, we had to attack them.’ The jury went for it. We had not yet convinced our fellow citizens of the value of the right to protest. My conclusion: Don’t wear bandannas! Every time I see a kid wearing a bandanna, I say, ‘You’re so beautiful, why cover your face?’ They say, ‘Well, I have to, I’m a Zapatista.’ I say that’s nice but this is what happened in 2003 and 2011. It would probably be better for you to not wear the bandanna so they won’t think we’re violent. And they say, ‘You’re a stupid piece of shit’ or they walk away.”

Rudd said that the occupation of Columbia University in April 1968, an occupation that caused him to be expelled from the university, was an example of the kind of strategy that the left has to adopt. This strategy had its roots in the organizing techniques of the labor and civil rights movement.

“The means of transmission were red diaper babies,’ he said, referring to the sons and daughters of members of the United States Communist Party. “The red diaper babies at Columbia SDS kept saying, ‘Build the base. Build the base. Build the base.’ It became a mantra for years. It was all we could think about. This meant education, confrontation and talking, talking, talking. It meant building relationships and alliances. It meant don’t get too far out in front. In the spring of 1968 it all came to a head. It was the perfect storm. A few of us knew, now is the time to strike.”

“Columbia was a success,” he said. “The deed attracted attention. And because of the alliance with the black students, which has never gotten enough media attention in the story of Columbia, we closed down the university. We accomplished our strategic aim, which was to politicize more people and to build the movement. Our goal was not to end the university’s involvement with military research. That was a symbolic goal. The real goal was to build the movement. I got into a lot of trouble for saying the issue is not the issue.”

But Rudd and other radicals in the SDS soon became, he said, “enamored with the propaganda of the deed.” Self-expression replaced strategy. The organizing, which had made the occupation of the university successful, was replaced by revolutionary posturing. The radicals believed that more radical tactics, including violence, would accelerate political and social change. It did the opposite.

“After Columbia, it was failure after failure after failure in SDS for the next year and a half,” he said. “Then we doubled down on the failures.”

The SDS radicals came under the spell of revolutionary theories propagated by those supporting armed liberation movements in the developing world. They wanted to transplant Frantz Fanon’s call for revolutionary violence, Lin Biao’s idea of “people’s war” and Ernesto “Che” Guevara foco, or insurrectionary center, to the struggle in the United States. The radicals would go underground and carry out acts of violence that would ignite a national war of liberation. This call to arms was seductive and exhilarating, but it was based on a distorted and highly selective account of revolutionary struggle, especially in Cuba.

“Che put forward a phony analysis of how the Cuban revolution was won,” Rudd said. “According to him it was won solely by Fidel and Che going into the Sierra Maestra [mountain range]. Armed struggle was the only thing that was important to the Cuban revolution. All other aspects of the revolution, including 20,000 people who were murdered by [dictator Fulgencio] Batista in the cities, the national strikes by the unions, the street protests by women, university students and the Cuban Communist Party were wiped out of history. There was only one thing to do, pick up the gun.”

The cult of the gun was disastrous. It distorted reality. It elevated violence as the only real tool for revolution. Vijay Prashad in his book “The Darker Nations” spells out the incalculable damage caused by this cult, including the doomed attempt in 1967 by Che Guevara to form a foco in Bolivia, an effort that would cost him his life. The cult of the gun saw most third-world liberation movements, such as the National Liberation Front (FLN) in Algeria, devolve into squalid military dictatorships when they took power.

“My little segment of the left worshipped Che,” Rudd said. “We believed in the propaganda of the deed. We were so sure of our strategy, of leading the armed struggle, that we decided to destroy SDS and build the Weather Underground, a revolutionary fighting force. We decided on a tactic, which was to bring thousands of people to Chicago in 1969 for the conspiracy trial [of radicals such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden, charged with instigating riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention]. Very few people showed up. We got creamed with beatings, arrests, and even shootings by the cops.”

“After that we went from bad organizing to no organizing,” Rudd said. “It was purely about self-expression. That self-expression would take the form of bombs. The first thing we did was kill three of our own people.”

The premature explosion of a bomb in a New York City townhouse on March 6, 1970, that killed three of Rudd’s comrades sobered the radical group. The bomb was to have been placed at an officers’ dance at Fort Dix, in New Jersey. It surely would have killed and wounded dozens of people had it exploded at the Army base. The Weather Underground decided to bomb buildings that symbolized centers of power, including the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, the California attorney general’s office and a New York City police station, but to call in warnings beforehand so the buildings could be evacuated. The group was responsible for 25 bombings and in 1970 organized the prison escape of Timothy Leary, the famous advocate of psychedelic drugs, for which the group was paid $25,000 by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, a collection of drug dealers.

“A lot of Americans can accept their government’s violence, but they can’t conceive of political violence as anything other than criminal and mentally ill,” Rudd said. “And who has all the power, in terms of violence? Our means of violence is very little. The government’s means, the right wing’s means, are very great. So, we’ve got to adopt nonviolence. The research of Erica Chenoweth and others has shown that nonviolence is much more efficacious than violence. Gene Sharp approaches nonviolence from a practical rather than a moral point of view. It is the difference between moral pacifism and practical pacifism. The antifa kids are not moral pacifists. They believe in a cleansing moral violence. At its base is a desire to absolve themselves of white guilt.”

Rudd cautioned against the danger of intellectualizing the struggle against oppressive forces. He said all resistance had to remain rooted in practical realities and the hard, often anonymous and time-consuming work of organizing.

“As intellectuals, we can talk ourselves into anything,” Rudd said. “If we think it’s necessary we can probably figure out how to do it. David Gilbert is one of the gentlest people I have ever met. Yet he somehow talked himself into driving a getaway van with a bunch of black guys armed with automatic weapons. Gilbert left his kid at a daycare center, thinking he was going back at the end of the day to pick the kid up. Nobody picked up the kid. This is ludicrous. And that’s the point; you can talk yourself into anything. I have a bumper sticker on the back of my car that says don’t believe everything that you think.”

Rudd is acutely aware of the failure by most liberals to fight for the values they purport to defend. However, the repeated betrayal of the oppressed by the liberal class as it mouths the language of justice should not push radicals to acts of violence. Rather, radicals must make strategic alliances with liberals while being fully aware of their propensity to flee from struggle when it becomes difficult.

“The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] was a sister organization of SDS,” Rudd said. “They decided to go to the absolute worst place in the United States, Mississippi, to organize for voting rights. And they did. They lost a lot of people. A lot of people got arrested and beaten. A lot of stuff happened over a three-year period. But they won the right to vote. They organized a non-segregationist democratic delegation called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The real Democratic Party delegation was all-white. The Democratic Party worked out a deal with their allies in the North including the United Auto Workers and other liberals. They would seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic Party Convention. They would exclude the segregationists. Busloads of mostly black people went to Atlantic City [site of the convention]. Lyndon Johnson had a change of heart. He feared if he seated the black delegates he would lose re-election. They didn’t get seated. That was an ultimate betrayal. Out of this betrayal came the impetus for black power. Black power was supposedly a strategy. But it was no more a strategy than the Weather Underground. It was another form of self-expression.”

“I was 18,” Rudd said. “I saw heroic SNCC people advocating for black power. The liberals betrayed them. Which side would you be on? Black power rejected the nonviolence of Martin Luther King. It rejected integration. Malcolm X used the slogan ‘By any means necessary.’ This was seized upon to justify revolutionary violence. It was the same fantasy of revolution. Black power was no more embraced by the black masses than the violence and rhetoric of the Weather Underground were embraced by the white masses. In the end, the white left became the base of the Black Panther Party. The Panther 21 was set up on charges of a bombing in April 1969. SDS in New York, which I was a part of, protested to defend them. Our demonstrations became more and more white. The black base was not behind them. I thought the reason was our presence. I was so steeped in black power ideology I thought the mere presence of white people would keep black people away. That wasn’t it. Black power made no sense to most black people. It was suicidal. Huey P. Newton’s autobiography, “Revolutionary Suicide,” captured it. What kind of a strategy is that? The black power movement was a cultural uprising. But it was not strategic. We fell for this bullshit.”

“White radicals felt personally challenged by black power,” he said. “Would we be liberals or would we be radicals? Would we go to the base, to the origin of the problem, which is capitalism and imperialism? Would we embrace ‘by any means necessary’? Would we overthrow the system? Or would we be liberal reformists? When you’re 18 or 20 that’s not much of a question. This is why David Gilbert is in prison for the rest of his life.”

“What we did was a historical crime,” he said of the destruction of the SDS. “At the height of the war in 1969 we decided to close down the national and regional offices and the newspaper of the largest student radical organization in the country. SDS had chapters in 400 campuses. We probably had 100,000 active members. It was crazy. Three of our people died immediately. We inspired copycat actions. One of them happened in the University of Wisconsin in the summer of 1970. An anti-war graduate student died. Eventually, it led to the Brink’s robbery in 1981. The worst thing of all, of all the things we did, was we split the anti-war movement over the bogus issue of armed struggle, our right to an armed struggle. This is the same thing as the call by antifa for diversity of tactics, which is a code word for violence.”

“The thing about nonviolence is that it works,” he said. “But it only works if it’s total. The cops put the burden of violence on protesters. Our job is to do the opposite. Our job is to make it crystal clear it’s the government and the system that engages violence. We muddy the water when we use violence.”

“The left has not hit on a strategy analogous to the far-right strategy, which is to unite ideological conservatives with a base, especially the Christian fundamentalist base,” he said. “A base means people show up. They vote. They go where they’re told. That was the old union model for the Democratic Party. But with unions depleted we have no institutional or structural base. This is a huge problem. We have to rebuild structures. It’s going to take a long time, maybe 20 or 40 years. I’ll be 110.”

“Antifa claims to be anarchist,” he said. “But is not the same anarchism as, say, the Wobblies. Antifa’s version of anarchism is you can’t tell me what to do. It’s self-expression. I fell into the trap of self-expression. Self-expression is narcissistic. It’s saying my feelings are so important that I can do anything I want. It’s saying once other people see how important my feelings are they will join me. It never works. There’s only two kinds of people who advocate for violence—very stupid people, of which I was one, and cops. Which are you? Are you very stupid or are you a cop?”

“I can’t communicate with antifa because my own PTSD forbids me to say you are so morally right, so courageous and so morally pure,” Rudd said. “You understand how violent the system is. You understand what it’s like to be nonwhite. I understand your motives. I applaud you for it. This is the only thing they hear, words that feed their self-adulation.”

“I’m a veteran of all of this shit,” he lamented. “But that doesn’t count for anything. It’s all expired.”

Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, New York Times best selling author, former professor at Princeton University, activist and ordained Presbyterian minister. He has written 11 books,…
Chris Hedges
Mr. Fish
Mr. Fish, also known as Dwayne Booth, is a cartoonist who primarily creates for Truthdig.com and Harpers.com. Mr. Fish's work has also appeared nationally in The Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Vanity…
Mr. Fish

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

from Mondoweiss

Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss can’t wait to call you an anti-Semite in ‘The New York Times’
US Politics Philip Weiss on April 2,2018

One year ago, the New York Times opinion page hired two feverish Israel advocates, Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, as columnist and opinion editor/writer, in a shock to the left. The two are proving their value, smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semites. This is an important duty for Israel supporters because of the looming battle inside the Democratic Party over Israel, the same battle that has begun in earnest in Britain and France.

Last Wednesday in a book review, Bret Stephens slagged Israel critics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as bigots. In a throwaway line, Stephens wrote that Mearsheimer’s “2001 magnum opus, ‘The Tragedy of Great Power Politics,’ was later overshadowed by his tendentious and bigoted screed, ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,’ written with Stephen M. Walt.”

So– two realist scholars at the University of Chicago and Harvard who argued that support for Israel is not in our national interest, and that neoconservatives had pushed the Iraq war for the sake of Israel’s security — they are bigots. And the Times offered no comment section on the piece for readers to question this clinker of viciousness from Stephens, a writer who has diagnosed the “disease of the Arab mind.”

A day later, Bari Weiss wrote that the far left in France is as threatening to Jews as the far right. Addressing the murder of an 85-year-old Jewish woman in Paris, she said that in France’s political culture, “Jews are reviled on the far right and, increasingly, on the far left.”

What is Weiss’s evidence that the left is as anti-semitic as the nationalist right? An article in the Jewish Week saying French socialist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon is an anti-Semite because he: supports boycott of Israel, regards West Bank settlements as theft, condemned Israeli “war crimes” in the last Gaza massacre, and has attacked the French Israel lobby for rallying French citizens to serve a foreign flag.

Weiss– who got her career rolling by attacking any candidate for tenure at Columbia who supported Palestinian rights– says leftists are giving a pass to anti-Semitism: “attacks on Jews have been explained away as politically motivated by events in the Middle East.”

These were just two throwaway lines, tangential to the thrust of the articles. But Weiss and Stephens can’t help themselves, they’re raring to go.

Theirs is an important job because it is simply a matter of time before the battle that is roiling Britain over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn harboring anti-Israel voices is going to come here: The progressive base of the Democratic Party in the U.S. is going to demand stances against Israel from Democratic candidates. The glimmerings of this battle were evident at the AIPAC policy conference earlier this month, when one politician or influencer after another rose to assure the crowd that support for Israel must remain bipartisan; that Democrats will never abandon Israel. In turn, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer identified the defection of young progressives as an existential threat to Israel. He laid down the law, saying that the boycott movement is anti-Semitic. (But the young are not listening: even the Harvard Hillel is having an anti-occupation seder, with IfNotNow.)

Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens will be instrumental in this battle: they will derogate Israel’s critics as anti-Semites. And Jennifer Rubin will do the same thing at the Washington Post.

These writers are anti-Trump, making them “good” conservatives for liberals. Notice what a red carpet that liberal Democrats unroll for them. Mel Levine and MSNBC toast Rubin. Bill Maher fetes Weiss. Brian Lehrer of WNYC hosts Stephens (who explains that Pompeo and Bolton are a great foreign policy team, and Lehrer barely demurs). BTW, Stephens likens Trump to Mussolini even as he finds democracy alive and well in Israel.

It is tragic that the highest journalistic platform in the country has been turned into a pro-Israel inktank. But plainly that is the role that the New York Times editors understand that its opinion page must play; and no wonder, for it is a vital political function for Israel in the U.S.

Thanks to Donald Johnson.