By Emma Rosenthal
An important discussion has inadvertently come to a head within the Palestine solidarity movement that focuses on the nature of solidarity, agendas within movements, white savior syndrome, the nonprofit industrial complex and alliance building and accountability. While the differences exposed by this discussion have been an issue within the movement for sometime, the discussion is long overdue.
This ongoing dialogue escalated when Alison Weir, founder of If Americans Knew, (IAK), and president of the Council for the National Interest, (CNI), responded publicly to the internal decisions, communicated to Weir in personal letters, of two other Palestine Solidarity organizations; Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) and The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USCEIO) that it was inconsistent with their anti-racist human rights agenda to work with Weir or her organizations. Weir and her supporters were outraged over the decision by these two groups to dis-associate from her.
What is curious is the response of Weir and her supporters here and here including assertions that this was: the act of zionist infiltrators, McCarthyism,and that Weir was being silenced, censored and attacked (“by zionists”). Most notable in the responses to these internal documents is that in calling out what both organizations believe to be in contradiction to their anti-racist principles, they were being “divisive” and “playing into the hands of the zionists.”
No one is silencing Weir. Not working with Weir isn’t silencing her. She is not entitled to every panel, conference and coalition. The definition of zionism* isn’t “disagreeing with Alison”.
With public recognition comes public scrutiny. At the very least, books get reviewed, and to disagree with a particular author or to choose not to create a forum with or for that author isn’t McCarthyism or a personal attack or censorship. Despite the protestations of her followers, no one is infringing on Weir’s employment, ability to travel outside the U.S., arresting her, blacklisting her, keeping her from other forums or from creating forums of her own. She is not at risk for imprisonment, deportation or execution. (THAT would be McCarthyism, a movement that singled out Jews and Blacks disproportionately.) In pointing that out, I would hope we could focus on fair and honest argumentation and avoid insults, ad hominem and strawmen. We should avoid terms that define a person in ways that they would not define themselves and instead identify ideas and actions that are racist, white supremacist and zionist and explore their impact and significance. In that context, a person who is truly anti-racist would want to check themselves out of concern that unintentionally they may have done harm. “I’m not racist but…” is not the response of accountability. Furthermore “Alison doesn’t have a racist bone in her body” obfuscates the issue and avoids actual accountability.
It was Weir that made this discussion public, but it is much bigger than her, or her organizations with implications for social justice activism and advocacy in general. I hope in this article to inform that discussion in a deeper way than has been offered up until now, and I expect in its wake will come even more discussion and understanding, as well as unfortunate insults, ad hominems, strawmen and abuse. I would hope those who believe in their positions would chose to articulate them in ways that add to our greater understanding and leave insults and derailing obfuscations to those whose positions have little substantiation beyond their own opportunism and bigotry. This article will not focus on Weir in particular, but rather on the key issues, ideologies and contradictions that fuel the differences of the current dialogue. Notably this discussion involves core assumptions and entitlements. Without the willingness to explore the root of these premises no one is qualified to then assert that racism isn’t an underlying factor, regardless of all good intentions and “better judgement.”
Divisiveness: or don’t talk about the elephant.
The assertion that those who raise the issue of racism (sexism, ableism etc) are divisive is a common defense against and a way of derailing any discussion of racism and oppression within social justice activism. But discussing already existing divisions doesn’t create them. Denial doesn’t make differences go away. A healthy movement should be able to air differences and account for them, determine which differences are deal breakers for forging alliances and which are healthy in that they allow for a diversity of opinions, experiences and voice.
Discussing Differences: Two Major Tendencies
There are two basic tendencies within what is broadly known as Palestine solidarity with implications in regard to U.S. global policy and social activism as well. One tendency, and the one that I identify with, comes from a tradition of anti-racist, anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist work, which often includes a critique of capitalism at its root. In no context does it see the U.S. as a neutral party, an agent of benevolence or the Great White Hope. It views Western support for Israel as an extension of and consistent with western imperialism, colonization and conquest. This tendency doesn’t deny the power of the zionist lobby (The Lobby), but sees that power not as an exception but rather as functioning well within the lobby system itself and the entire infrastructure of U.S. empire and capitalism. Many of the members of this tendency, myself included, have been attacked, surveilled and blacklisted by the The Lobby and the zionist establishment. The problem isn’t with The Lobby in particular, but rather with the political structures that allows for powerful corporate lobbies to exist at all and with how The Lobby exists to support those systems. This perspective asserts that The Lobby doesn’t just consist of Israel, its Jewish U.S. supporters or the self proclaimed “Jewish” organizations (the ADL, Stand with Us, AIPAC). It also includes the vast number of Christian zionists and the Christian fundamentalist churches, the oil industry, the construction industry, the security industry and by no short measure, the arms industry, all of which profit quite favorably from escalating Israeli militarism. (In the U.S., While there are less than 6 million Jews, zionist and anti-zionist, there are over 40 million Christian zionists.) Israeli brutality and militarism is consistent and in dialogue with, and developing alongside the growing militarization of police forces within U.S. cities, the prison industrial complex, and urban warfare as well as the militarization of the border with Mexico and U.S. empire.
Within this tendency though, and Weir points this out to JVP, is the tolerance by some of “soft zionism”. JVP should address internally as well as publicly its refusal to denounce zionism if it’s going to be consistent with its assertion that it does not work with racists. The attempt by “soft zionists” to present zionism as somehow consistent within a larger human rights narrative is impossible. In my opinion, Weir is quite correct in this assertion.
The other tendency’s ideology is based in white supremacist assertions and ideology. This tendency sees the problem as an ethnic/foreign one, with one outside agent (Israel) with its internal agents (usually diaspora Jews, with little or no discussion of the vast number of Christian zionists) having “undue influence” via The Lobby, on the U.S. government. This tendency breaks down into two groups: The first group espouses outright ideological white supremacy: KKK, Nazis, David Duke, Stormfront, Ron Paul, Paul Craig Roberts, David Icke, Gilad Atzmon, among others, who identify particular Jewish qualities as the core issue and envision themselves engaged in an existential struggle against “World Jewish Domination” and the rising numbers of people of color. Generally they openly fear the growing number of people who are not white, both within occupied Amerika and the world at large, and are overt in their concern for the “eventual extinction” of white people. They don’t actually care about Palestinians. They just hate Jews more and see Palestine as the front line of a global struggle against white annihilation. They use terms like Jewish power, Jewishness, ZOG (Zionist Occupied Government) and the Hollowcause; they doubt that there ever was a Holocaust but assert that if there were it was because the Jews brought it upon (them) (our) selves.
Then there are the neo-liberal/neo-colonialists, whose premise is also white supremacist, in that they support ruling class interests that favor and promote white power and privilege. They include Mearsheimer and Walt, Jimmy Carter, Kathleen and Bill Christison, Paul Findley, Anne Wright and Ray McGovern. Their concern is with particular market interests and U.S. foreign policy strategy. They frame their concern in terms that are white supremacist because they assume U.S. largess and exceptionalism, like “American interests”, “American core values, “American founding principles”, “America’s good name and good will” and the need to “appeal to middle (aka white) America”. While Weir and her supporters painted all those who call out this inherent racism, as zionists, interestingly, zionism is not so much of a problem for most of this group, but rather the extent of Israeli (perceived) power and disobedience as a client state. Many of the neo-liberals (including Paul Findley–who, as a U.S. congressman, never opposed South African apartheid, U.S. intervention in South and Central America or the Vietnam War) qualify their critique of Israel with support for a two state solution that would include a specifically Jewish state, run by and with particular advantage to Israeli Jews. (In case you missed that, it’s essentially zionist, unless by zionist, one mean “Jews”.) While The Lobby advocates a war economy, the neo-liberal objective is to create markets and promote industry and debt dependency, which is difficult under extreme military conflict. We could refer to this group and their two state solution as Maquiladora (sweatshop) labor and Halal McDonalds. However to expand markets the neo-libs need the absence of war. They need a passive population to serve the interests of multinational corporations.
The adherents to ideological white supremacy and neoliberalism focus on what they see as the undue influence of Israel on U.S. policy and in many cases present the U.S. as the victim, even the ultimate victim of zionist brutality and aggression. They are not, for example, offended or concerned that a U.S. spy ship (the U.S.S. Liberty) was in the Mediterranean spying on Israel and Egypt, because they recognize that as a significant right of “American” exceptionalism. They don’t concern themselves with the fact that this was a military target and as such, not innocent, in the way civilians are innocent. They are offended that the ally they gave “so much money to” (bought and paid for) would bomb “our” spy ship. They are not offended by settler colonialism, racism, apartheid, manifest destiny. The concern of this tendency isn’t with imperialist power, capitalism, hegemony or settler colonialism per se, but rather with what they see as the threat: Israel and by extension, the Jews. Those who harbor ideological white supremacy locate Jews and Jewishness, as the problem. The neo-liberals focus on Israel: a foreign power, that exercises these systems of oppression outside of what they identify as (their) U.S. interests.
This is to say these two tendencies represent very different ideologies, motivations and class interests. One is a movement against racism, imperialism, capitalism and empire. The other sees Israel as an obstacle to imperialism, capital and empire, and rejects any suggestion that this agenda might be fundamentally problematic, supremacist and unjust. This is the root of the objection to Weir, IAK and CNI. It isn’t personal, it isn’t McCarthyism (which requires the power of the state!). It’s simply a different and opposing politic.
White supremacist opportunism has colonized this movement, columbused* this movement, taken it on as its own, framing it in Amerikanisms, as if the Palestinians were superfluous to their own struggle. Senior Editor Gordon Duff of “Veterans Today”’ referred to Palestinian activists as “Supposed Palestinian Activists.” Greta Berlin referred to Ali Abunimah, as “Ali Ayatolah,” Atzmon referred to Palestinian activists en masse as demonstrating “intellectual intolerance” and to Ali Abunimah as a Sabbath Goy answerable to his Jewish masters. And many Gilad Atzmon and Greta Berlin supporters disregarded a widely diverse call from Palestinian activists and scholars, that racism, including antisemitism* has no place in the Palestinian movement here and here; as if Palestinians had no right to direct the message and the terms of their own struggle.
If Americans Knew, according to its own web page, states: “she (Weir) founded an organization to be directed by Americans without personal or family ties to the region who would research and actively disseminate accurate information to the American public.” This false and entitled “objectivity” disregards the politics of experience and pretends that only those not directly impacted negatively can be trusted to come to rational or objective conclusions and make legitimate assertions, or at the very least, to run and direct an organization intended to inform “Americans”. This is so essentially supremacist and in this regard, IAK provides the most ideological framework for stripping the Palestinian struggle of Palestinians and for disregarding the insights of Jewish anti-zionists when it comes to navigating the distinction between real anti-Jewish racism and false accusations of antisemitism against any and all critiques of Israel and zionism. One can scroll the pull down menu at the top of the IAK web page and barely find any mention of Palestinians at all. It’s truly striking and offensive – Palestinian struggle without Palestinians, where Palestinians, little more than statistics, with their “personal or family ties” aren’t to be trusted to direct the movement or present “objective” viewpoints. This is the job for the fair-haired Amerikan saviors. who “read dozens of books on the topic.”
In one recent statement Weir defends this segregated approach to organizing, citing the value of ethnic-specific organizations, though she doesn’t think anti-zionist Jews or Palestinians know what antisemitism is as she has yet to call out anything within the movement as antisemitic including Atzmon and a host of Holocaust deniers with whom she is closely affiliated and in Atzmon’s case, has publicly defended (against the better judgement of Palestinian activists). She claims that the ethnic makeup of her organization is important to reach a particular constituency. NO DOUBT! and that’s pretty much the point. Unless one is reaching out to white Amerika to confront their racist entitlement, from an anti-imperialist anti-racist perspective, one is just reinforcing their entrenched bigotry to the benefit of the ruling class, especially if one uses language that reinforces that hegemony.
Opportunistic white supremacy advances an agenda in which the Palestinians are superfluous to the struggle and the movement. It pretends that since zionist organizations assert that all and any critiques of Israel and zionism are antisemitic, then nothing is. It uses the Palestinian struggle and other popular concerns to normalize and advance a U.S. imperialist agenda that is racist to its core, and to normalize it, even on the left, significantly on the left. It is not only anti Jewish, it is anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-Native American, anti-Asian, anti-the global south, anti-Arab, anti- everyone the U.S. foreign and domestic policy has hurt, attacked, stolen from and killed, over the last hundreds of years. Hiding behind scapegoats and particularly Jewish stereotypes to perpetuate an exceptionalism it only opposes when those who embody it are Jewish or “foreign”. The problem with Israel in this context obviously isn’t settler colonialism, or racism, or imperialism, or genocide. It’s the understanding that it is carried out by and for Jews.
But it isn’t. It’s being carried out by U.S. empire– a reality which is easily eclipsed by focusing on Israel and the Jews, as if in the fight for human rights, U.S. interests were in any way noble. As if the U.S. had a good name to destroy, had core values that were virtuous, as if the U.S. ruling class had suddenly lost the ability or the will to advocate for itself. The appeal to middle (aka white) Amerika betrays and abandons every other movement for liberation and justice. And this is a key difference: One tendency joins the Palestinian struggle to global struggles for human rights and the other tendency, to white Amerikan entitlement and empire. This is not a minor difference and in recognizing these fundamental contradictions one is not divisive. The existing division is wide, deep and longstanding.
That members of this second tendency may be Jewish or Black or from a group targeted by white supremacy, doesn’t preclude them from espousing and advocating white supremacy. White supremacy is an ideology, and as such can be advanced by anyone. Jewish and Black white supremacists provided a greater illusion of objectivity to the racist assertions.
To be clear, I am not saying we must work on every issue and for every cause. I am not calling out specialization and specification. Yet surely in deciding to devote our attention to one particular cause, we must not sell out others or sell short the larger issues of social justice and we certainly should not colonize causes for what is basically an imperialist objective.
Those within the second tendency have colonized this movement for their own white supremacist agenda, with no concern for the consequences of their analysis and refusing to consider the racist implications of their assertions. White Amerikans will not bear the brunt of any association of Palestinian liberation with anti-Jewish stereotypes and ideology. Victims of U.S. empire will, targets of white supremacy will, Palestinians and Jews will. Palestinians most of all.
Zionism is racism not only because of the relationship it establishes regarding Jews and Palestinians, it is racist because it is a settler colonialist enterprise of U.S. and western empire.
Between ideological white supremacy and the neo-libs there is incredible overlap in both ideology and endorsement as well as in underlying core assumptions. That members of these two groups not only express their entitlement to the support of the anti-imperialist tendency, but that they rely on and align with each other is not insignificant.
And there are a few leftist cheerleaders, or those who would have us think they are leftists, for example, Counterpunch magazine, James Petras, Cynthia McKinney and Cindy Sheehan who either advocate a Lobby exclusivist perspective or promote those who do to the exclusion of other points of view. These leftists also tend to promulgate conspiracy theories, many of which are rooted in traditional antisemitism and distract activists from supporting human rights and opposing U.S. empire. The promotion of unsubstantiated conspiracies as fact, makes addressing documentable grievances more difficult, as they get caught in the cacophony of the unbelievable. Conspiracism as a ruling class tool, abandons documentation and material dialectics and replaces them with unsubstantiated accusations, magic secret societies and outright lies. When Sheehan granted Mckinney and Atzmon quarter on her soapbox she not only refused to allow any other voice to counter Atzmon and the racism that Palestinians have rejected, she blocked and unfriended those of us who attempted a dialogue and critique in the form of comments.
European Christian Origins of Zionist Ideology
In response to two organizations declining to work with Weir, several of her supporters signed a petition defending her. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1oyHWpfZtMvDez5XThztcbRMbgzQqMnCibkVk4Rjh3Hw/viewform Many of the leading names on the petition were predictable, and include many Holocaust deniers, former U.S. governmental officials and CIA and miltary operatives. If Weir doesn’t appreciate their support she needs to disassociate from them (and in some cases, endorsing them). Endorsement is more than “guilt by association” it is complicity by affiliation and alliance.
I was especially surprised to see Lawrence Davidson’s name among the signatories. Davidson has done deep and considerable work documenting the European Christian fundamentalist origins of zionist ideology. and He documents that European Christians envisioned a Jewish state in historic Palestine centuries before Hertzl’s first pen or the founding Zionist Congress and well before the Irgun or Stern Gang set off their first bombs. Davidson demonstrates how the European Christian interpretation of the Biblical texts has been used to justify western colonization and imperialism: manifest destiny, conquering the wilderness, Pilgrims, the promised land, a city on the hill.
It wasn’t Jews who named Zion National Park, who named Amerikan cities Hebron and Bethlehem. zionism is essentially a Christian ideology, not a Jewish one. it is settler colonialism, arising as political zionism in the context of 19th century nationalism and imperialism, then promoted decades later to a desperate people after a genocide of catastrophic proportions. Zionism is simply one element of Amerikan empire. Israel’s conquest and domination of Palestine is one more notch on the bedpost of U.S. enterprise.
Follow the money. Just follow the money. I know, I know, the whole rich Jew thing makes that sound silly, but put that stereotype aside and FOLLOW. THE. MONEY. While it is my considered belief that there is no form of political zionism that is not racist, the extreme example we have today is the zionism of empire (Western and Amerikan), bought and paid for. To assert anything else, is only believable because of stereotypes of the powerful Jew, Jewish dominance and Jewish money. To keep asserting these is to give cover to empire, which in turn gives cover to settler colonialism, capitalism, apartheid and racism on a global scale.
A Call for Accountability
Could the neo-liberals at least dis-associate from Ideological white supremacy and admit that there may be SOME sectors of the Amerikan ruling class that benefit from this arrangement and that at the very least campaign finance and the lobby system are systemically, and not specifically flawed? Could they argue their position vis a vis U.S. foreign and economic policy within the context of U.S. government? Fundamentally that’s rhetorical and unlikely, because their entire premise is one of exceptionalism, empire and obfuscation.
When Lobby exclusivists claim there are no U.S. interests they are hoping we don’t notice the blood money of criminal “justice” system, security, construction, oil and arms; (where 75% of the ‘aid’ money donated by empire to Israel must be spent on US defense products and the other 25% goes to Israeli companies which are floated on the NASDAQ).
“U.S. interests” is a corrupt and outrageous basis for human rights advocacy. If we are concerned for Palestinian human rights, it must be unconditional and not dependent on entitlements, not zionist entitlements, and not Amerikan entitlements. IAK and CNI should be honest that within the ruling class they represent a sector that may not benefit from (current levels of) U.S. support for Israel. But to deny any interest is just columbusing* the whole discussion; “We is smart, we is kind, we is important” and thus can retell and untell any story to make “us” look righteous. But it’s not righteousness. A society that is founded on empire and conquest is hardly the moral authority nor is its support for a smaller version of itself so surprising. U.S. support for Israel is totally consistent with U.S. policy in general: to support those regimes that support U.S. corporate interests. And this is the basis for those who make this challenge: IAK’s premise is racist on face, not just because of anti-Jewish rhetoric or stereotyping, though the whole assertion of its premise is believable because of anti-jewish stereotypes of Jewish power, money and control; it is racist because it ignores and denies the fundamental and racist similarities between these two settler colonialist societies, and abhors the smaller while vindicating the larger. It asserts in its very name that IF AMERIKANS KNEW they would do the right thing. But Amerikans do know. They know about slavery, Jim Crow, police brutality, racism reservations, immigration laws, and the growing prison system. They know about cuts to welfare, education and social services. They know about drone warfare and “honoring the troops”. A huge sign is visible from the 5 freeway in San Diego County at the Pendleton Marine Base that proudly states “No Beach Out of Reach.” Does that not offend most Amerikans driving by, or does it fill them with pride? Who could appreciate such an arrogant and murderous imperialist attitude toward all the beaches in the whole world? Do Amerikans not know that? At the very least, the powerful funders and founders of IAK and CNI know. The Christisons and Ray McGovern, CIA operatives for many years, have known. So on what basis do we believe that IF AMERIKANS KNEW about U.S. support for Israel, that (middle) Amerikans would do the right thing, would act any differently than they have on any other issue of Amerikan racist entitlement? Perhaps in pointing fingers and blaming a fifth column of (Jewish) outsiders, they assuage their guilt and reinforce their white savior syndrome. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/ When these organizations lead with “U.S. interests” how much confidence can we have in what “the right thing” might actually be? And if (middle) Amerikans really don’t know, how opportunistic is it to obscure U.S. historic and ongoing hegemony while calling on (middle) Amerikans to take on Israeli iniquity?
If settler colonialism is wrong, it is wrong. If stealing the best land, genocide, displacement, brutality, exploitation and militarism is wrong, if apartheid is wrong and Bantustans (modeled after Native American reservations) and extra-judicial executions, and false imprisonment, and lack of due process is wrong, if racism is wrong, if apartheid and border walls are wrong, then there is no anti-racist basis for holding up the U.S. as a beacon, an example of magnanimity, as a paragon of justice. A human rights agenda that begins with Amerikan interests and harkens to some mythological and historically dishonest Amerikan goodness is a racist agenda on a racist premise, in its entirety, from the initial conquest, to ongoing policies toward indigenous Native Americans, to the racist criminalization system, wherein more people are currently incarcerated (in what is considered by many to be the new slavery—the privatized prison system) than were ever enslaved under Amerikan chattel slavery. The focus on “the Jews” or on Israel, or The Lobby, separate from or in contradiction to its benefactor, serves to obscure and exonerate capitalism and imperial predation. The racist impact and significance is much deeper and broader than antisemitism.
If their appeal to “middle America” is strategic, then they are lying to the “American people”, and appealing to their racist and jingoistic assumptions. If the intention is truly to assert Amerikan exceptionalism, the basis is racist: It might be colonialist, it might be neocolonialist. Regardless of the motive, as long as the basis is western interests over regional self-determination then they are fighting racism with racism, and the result will always be racist.
If Weir and her supporters aren’t racist, then they as must we all, need to challenge entitlement, comfort, and the belief in their de facto goodness and rightness: as white people, as Amerikans. If they expect Israel to be held accountable for systemic racism, then so too must Amerika. For those who won’t, your double standards are showing, and yes, the words for that are entitlement, racism and supremacy.
*Amerikan: I use this spelling to distinguishes between the U.S. and the American continent which consist of several nations and peoples. The U.S. is a settler colonialist entity, founded on a religious based doctrine of conquest and manifest destiny, contingent on massive and ongoing genocide, slavery and exploitation.
*Columbusing: Staking claim to land and territory and then changing the narrative so that you’re a hero.
*Antisemitism: Racism against Jews, including Jewish magic, power, undue influence and wealth, Jews as outsiders, pariars. Antisemitism is an important (and ideologically central) aspect to ideological white supremacy and serves to distract the population at large from the problems of capitalism (wealth, undue influence, power) and blames those problems on the Jews. Joseph Massad explains in detail.
*Zionism: While the Second tendency (as described in this article) often define zionism along ethnic terms, or as anyone who calls out antisemitism, it actually refers to the belief in a specifically Jewish state, regardless of the ethnicity of the person who provides that support.