Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Death of Aziz Choudry

There are a lot of people around the world grieving right now for a lot of reasons.  Some of them, in many different countries, were friends, colleagues, or students of McGill University professor, Aziz Choudry.  Other people who knew, knew of, read the works of, or worked with Aziz in various capacities, as writers, organizers, educators, musicians, and in myriad other ways, are grieving, too.  I look forward to hearing from many of them as they eventually share their thoughts, as other people come to terms with Aziz's death.  I thought I'd share some of mine.

Aziz Choudry was a brilliant thinker, a social movement intellectual whose work around popular education and organizing involved the constant blurring of the lines that often exist between those who are considered the intellectuals, and those who we may characterize as the grassroots of a movement.  In his capacity as a university professor, a writer, an editor, a traveler, a speaker, and an organizer, Aziz's mission in life was about building a movement today, remembering movements of the recent and less recent past, and learning from them.

Everything that Aziz did as an intellect and activist basically summed up the motivations of what became known as the global justice movement, which rose to prominence on every continent by the late 1990's.  Whatever we called this movement, then or today, however we characterize it in terms of what it is and what it is not, for people like Aziz and many others, it was about understanding and overcoming the divisions between segments of society both within the Global North and the Global South, as well as between the imperialist countries and those the empires invade and colonize through means both military and economic.  Examining the many intersections and contradictions around nations, classes, marginalized groups, social movements, the importance of these intersections, the ways they can be understood in order to bridge divides, or used to create division.  Analyzing the ways the forces of the state like to use different forms of intimidation, and exploit the various fault lines in society to create more divisions, through so many different methods Aziz helped document, and experienced personally.

There are many people, I hope, who knew Aziz far better than I did.  There are certainly many who attended far more lectures, and have read more of his writings.  But there are a few salient moments in his life, and in the recent history of this world, that I want to share.

By the late 90's, the global justice movement had gone from the Lacondan Jungle to the presidential palace in Caracas to the streets of Seattle.  Whatever it was, it was global.  Social movements around the world were fighting against the same secretive, ultra-corporate free trade agreements, and people fighting back against deforestation and those organizing for a living wage in the steel mills were realizing they were dealing with the same corporations, and fighting against the same international negotiations that were constantly going on.

When and where the movement was too influential to ignore, provocateurs of many kinds, and state repression, is never far away, in the most supposedly open and democratic of countries.  Aziz's home was raided by authorities in 1996, introducing him first-hand to various forces of state repression, and to state disinformation campaigns.

There are certain people who are able to participate in the global justice movement in a more sort of global sense than others.  Fundamentally, of course, like with any movement, most things of importance are happening locally, on the ground in particular places and times.  But with campaigns around transnational corporations and transnational trade deals, there are a lot of protests outside of international negotiations, and conferences at universities and other places, that involve some people more than others.  This phenomenon of people who are in this sort of position and become viewed as leaders of a movement, with all that that entails, is also something that Aziz wrote about a lot.

In any case, he was often involved with conferences that were happening at the same time as protests that were all associated with the same global trade negotiations somewhere or other, and largely as a result, our paths crossed often over the past two decades or so.  Looking at the dozens of email threads that began when I got my Gmail account a long time ago, they're usually related to an upcoming conference or protest that we're both involved with, or some other situation where we both realized we're going to be in the same place at the same time, whether it's Quebec, Ontario, England, or elsewhere.  Our conversations around the espresso drinks often revolved around mutual friends, and places we had both recently traveled to.  It can be a very special thing to talk with someone who is not only a like-minded radical, and a brilliant and compassionate one, but one who knows so many of the same places and people.

In a recent book Aziz wrote in and edited about state surveillance and repression around the world and how to try to understand it and deal with it now and historically, the various authors from different countries were often people he and I both knew personally, from our travels.  In my case, they were sometimes gig organizers, in different countries.  Aziz wrote about how brave these people often were, those who had faced these tactics from the state, such as many different cases of police agents becoming lovers with activists in different countries, later to be exposed.

But of course, as Aziz knew as well, so many people who face such tactics, though brave, don't just become stronger as a result of the struggle.  Some of them couldn't bear to read the book, let alone contribute to it, or attend a panel discussion about it.  I know because these are my friends.

The last time I saw Aziz in person was the last time I was in Montreal, in late spring, 2019.  There are so many people I used to see around more often, who I largely lost touch with, partly because I never make it to wherever they live these days.  But Montreal is one of those cities I'm usually able to visit at least annually, pre-pandemic.  We met for coffee in the glass-and-steel city center, in a noisy cafe that smelled like bleach.  I suspect he chose it because it was in the neighborhood and it wasn't Starbucks, although a Starbucks was across the street.

I was glad to hear that Aziz had finally managed to get all the paperwork lined up so he could go to South Africa and teach there.  I knew he was looking forward to that.  But I had been very worried about him, as I'm sure many other friends of his were.

Aziz was found dead in his apartment in Johannesburg on May 26th.  They say there was no evidence of foul play, though as far as any reports I have seen, the cause of death is unknown and if there are any autopsy results, I have not yet seen them.  The obvious possibilities are homicide, suicide either intentional or accidental, or natural causes.  Especially given the subject material of so much of Aziz's work -- which very much includes all sorts of underhanded methods of killing people to make their deaths look like something other than homicide -- I'm sure his colleagues in South Africa will take his death as seriously as possible in terms of any efforts to figure out exactly what happened.

I have no idea how often Aziz spoke of his emotions to other people.  Poking around on the web, it doesn't look like he wrote about that sort of thing much, at least not publicly.  I doubt I'm sharing anything particularly revelatory here, for people who knew him.  But we talked about how we were really doing when we met up.  Aziz was emotionally completely devastated by events of March 15th, 2019, and he was very open with me at that cafe in Montreal that he was not doing well.

I got the impression from our last series of emails, in the summer of 2020, that dealing with all the travel restrictions and other aspects of the pandemic were also challenging.  As a fellow longstanding supporter of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign against Israel, I can imagine how Aziz felt, as he watched from afar as Gaza was destroyed once again.

There is trauma after trauma for so many people in this world.  I can wish now that my visits with Aziz had been more frequent, or that I had succeeded in convincing him to go out with me at night more often, rather than just to meet me for coffee during the day.  I can wish for a lot of things, and I'm sure many others out there who knew Aziz are thinking the same kinds of thoughts right now.  But sometimes the traumas add up and become unbearable.

I may be wrong, and I don't want to make dramatic statements just for the sake of the drama, at all.  But as we ponder the death of my friend Aziz Choudry at the age of 54, I think it is very likely the case that the most relevant thing right now that any of us need to know about him is that he was from Christchurch.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Third Intifada Backgrounder

Watching the news from Gaza with great alarm, got some gaps in your knowledge of the back story, and trying to understand what's going on?  Here you go.

In much of what remains of the left in places like the US and the UK people busily form Circular Firing Squads for the purposes of eliminating microaggressions and any vestigial traces of antisemitism that might be found under old rocks.  Meanwhile in the Middle East, the US client state that rules over Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia, is in the process of totally destroying the country of Yemen, where there is a catastrophic famine going on right now.  Nearby, the US client state of Israel is doing the same thing to the people of Gaza, all the while claiming to do this for self-protection and for the love of the Jewish people, who they claim to represent, as the world's only self-proclaimed Jewish State.

The US government is wading in human blood all over the world, involved with so many wars, and making them so much deadlier than they might otherwise be, if they would have happened at all.  The US is the world's biggest arms exporter, with the world's biggest military budget -- by far -- and of course by far the biggest supporter of Israel, constantly funneling US tax dollars to the country through military aid, which are not loans, but are the world's most advanced fighter jets, helicopter gunships, supposedly illegal chemical weapons, and so on.

There are a lot of other horrible wars, famines, environmental wastelands, and other extreme regional and global tragedies that the US government and US corporations are directly responsible for, right now, involving daily, ongoing crimes against humanity.  But what's dominated the news lately -- and lives of so many millions of suffering people -- is events around Israel, Palestine, and in particular, Gaza.  The amount of disinformation coming across the airwaves in the English-language press is staggering to anyone who knows what kinds of intellectual hoops these pundits are jumping through, and all the word games they have to play every other second as they speak, in order to avoid telling the awful truth, such as Ambassador Dennis Ross on NPR this morning.

So here's a little dose of reality in the form of a Q&A, to help vaccinate you from the tsunami of disinformation you are currently facing, if you are a news-reading English-speaker like me.

But isn't it all too difficult to understand?

No.  If you get into the weeds of anything, there's lots of complexity.  But when you back up, things are often pretty simple.  While we can all endlessly work out the details in terms of how people can all get along better with concern to religion, race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, linguistic grouping, sexual orientation, and so on, the fundamental situation here has nothing to do with any of that.

The Palestinians are the indigenous people in Palestine.  Palestinian people come from a variety of religious backgrounds, whether they are practicing or not.  These include Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and others.  A tiny fraction of the citizens of the Jewish State today are Jewish Palestinians, but the overwhelming majority of the Jewish Israelis are colonists or the children or grandchildren of colonists, who came from Europe, North America, or elsewhere.

But aren't Jews originally from what is now Israel?

All of us are originally from Africa, so if we go back far enough, a fine claim can be made on a patch of African land, don't you think?  

Christians were also persecuted by the Romans.  Christians could -- and have -- made the same case for colonizing other parts of the world.  It's fundamentally nothing more than a mythological justification for the seizure of another people's land.  If you look at creation myths for colonizers around the world, you'll find the same kind of nonsense, including in New Zealand (some people love to exempt New Zealand from the club of kleptocratic settler-colonial countries -- it's not exempt, and it has the prison population to prove it).

You say the Jews who settled Palestine and declared the state of Israel were colonists?  But they were oppressed immigrants and refugees, weren't they?

Yup.  This is true of colonists around the world, throughout the history of colonization.  Colonists are rarely the "cream of the crop."  Those who are rich and comfortable don't tend to leave home.  It's the desperate who leave.  That's who came to the US, mostly.  Contrary to all the mythology you grew up with about pioneers and adventurers, most of the Europeans who came to the US -- that is, the white immigrants who were allowed to come here -- were refugees, in fact.  German-speakers escaping wars between France and Prussia, eastern Europeans fleeing wars and indefinite conscription, Jews fleeing the additional horrors on top of all that of pogroms and other forms of antisemitism (both institutional and on the streets), Irish fleeing their colonial oppressors and famine, and so on.

The Europeans who colonized the US largely did so by means of a process involving carrots and sticks.  White people could emigrate, but they had to carry guns, join the militia, and be ready to kill Indians and round up enslaved Africans who escaped their captors.  White people could own land, but only if they took their guns west, stole it from indigenous people, and defended it from them afterwards.

In Israel, it's the same, just replace "white" for "Jewish" and "Indian" for "Palestinian."  The mostly white European Jewish colonizers were most definitely refugees as well as immigrants.  They were fleeing the aforementioned pogroms in the earlier period of the Zionist movement, which began in earnest in the 1890's, and then in the wake of World War II, they were fleeing what was clearly a very dangerous continent, where a fascist regime had just ruled most of for years, killing tens of millions of people, including millions of Jewish-descended Europeans, solely because they were of Jewish extraction.  The Jewish European colonizers, in short, were fleeing what was -- and what remains up til this day -- the most horrific mass slaughter of human beings the world has ever seen (Nazi-ruled Europe).

Why didn't all those Jewish refugees go somewhere else, where they might be more welcome?

Unlike today, back in the 1940's and for centuries prior to that, antisemitism was a very real and deadly phenomenon.  The worst of it, up until the 1930's, wasn't even in Germany, but that sure changed after Hitler came to power.  So basically nobody wanted the Jews.  Jews were trying to get out of the most dangerous places, like Germany or countries that looked likely to soon be ruled by Germany, back in the 1930's, but they -- my relatives, in some cases -- were kept out of places like the US, Canada, and Cuba by laws that were made specially to discriminate against Jews and other eastern Europeans.

Eastern and southern Europeans were facing massive official discrimination in the US.  Popular wisdom had it that most of the trouble-makers (mainly anarchists and socialists) were from that part of Europe, not like the well-mannered, obedient immigrants from the north and west of Europe.  As a result of these discriminatory laws -- which were not rescinded until 1944 -- the Jews trying to get out of Europe could not come to Britain or North America, so many of them fled to the countries that would take them, such as Palestine.

Palestine?  Was that a country?

Yes and no.  What we call countries in the era of nation-states is a bit different than the way these things were understood before.  Palestine was and is a region and a people with distinct cultural traditions, existing within a region with still more common traditions.  When we use the term "country" these days, we're talking about governance, mainly.  So in that sense, Palestine was sovereign to varying degrees, depending on the period, whether Jerusalem was basically a city-state, or under Roman, Ottoman, Crusader, or British control.

After the Ottoman Empire's defeat in World War I, much of the world was divided up among the victorious European powers, which were all empires themselves.  The war, in fact, was a war for empire.  Palestine was under British control.  The British were the occupying power that encouraged, along with other European powers, including, for a time, Nazi Germany, Jewish emigration to Palestine.

What this emigration meant at the time was you could move to Palestine and live under British rule, along with a combination of local indigenous people and people who the British brought in, just like in any other British colony.  The Palestine Tourism Board put out posters in English, Arabic and Hebrew back then.

So then how did Israel become a country?

In the news they talked about how the different people there couldn't get along, and they talked about intercommunal conflict and intercommunal clashes, much like they do when referring to what's going on on the streets of so many Israeli cities in the past couple weeks.  But then as now, one side was the one with the power and all the European connections, support, and funding.

In any case, what happened was Jewish militants committed a number of massacres of Palestinian civilians and otherwise engaged in a very intentional campaign of terror, which had its intended consequences.  Around 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes in fear.  The overwhelming majority of them were never allowed to return to their homes, and this continues to this day with their descendants.  Jews moved into their homes and stole them outright, with the encouragement of the new state they were declaring on the ashes of what was once Palestine, in the literal homes of those they had just displaced by force of arms or by threat of massacre.  In the many cases where Palestinian homes were destroyed in the course of these events, new houses were built upon the ruins.  In all of these ways, this settler-colonial Zionist movement was behaving just like settler-colonialism in other instances, where Europeans took over in North America, Australia, parts of Africa, etc.

What happened next?

Armies from several other Arab countries -- mostly newly-created, recently-defeated, and badly-equipped -- were sent in to try to help the Palestinians.  These largely demoralized armies were defeated once again by a better-equipped, largely European (though this time entirely Jewish) enemy, and one highly motivated by recent history in their European homelands, the Nazi genocide.  Which had nothing to do with the Palestinians, but for which they have been forever paying the price, the victims of the victims, refugees fleeing refugees.

So this is where revisionist, pro-apartheid historians like to start the narrative.  "Six Arab armies attacked the fledgling state of Israel, which valiantly defended itself, against all odds."  The problem with starting history there is that doing so shows a complete and utter contempt for anything resembling truth in advertising.  It's telling the story of what was clearly a people attempting to defend their lands from invaders engaged in massacres and ethnic cleansing, and making it seem like the story began with this attempted retaliation at invasion and occupation.

And then, what happened in the last half of the 20th century?

After establishing an explicitly Jewish state, democratic in name only, that never allowed anything resembling full participation in state or economic affairs, to say nothing of the military, what evolved was a country very much resembling the United States under Jim Crow, or South Africa under Apartheid, which has been freely compared with these examples by people who were subject to US and South African forms of institutional racism, such as Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and many others.

The new Israeli state engaged in active campaigns of myth-building/nation-building that involved long-term efforts to convince Palestinians inside Israel that they weren't Palestinian, they were Israeli Arabs, much like those categorized in South Africa as Colored, while those Palestinians in the West Bank were another kind of Arab, more or less Jordanians of a sort newly invented for the Israeli schoolbooks.  In South African parlance, they were the Blacks in this equation of apartheid.  And then there were the growing millions in the Palestinian diaspora, in the refugee camps and around the world.

Throughout the first fifty years of Israeli statehood, Palestinian disenfranchisement and resistance was a constant, and it took many forms.  As with their indigenous counterparts in other colonized countries, the Palestinians remaining within the boundaries of what was once Palestine were living on less and less land, as it was being taken piece by piece by Israel, one way or another.  

In 1967 and again in 1973, there were major military efforts on the part of Arab countries under new, more popular leadership to try to reverse the tide of Israeli expansion and Palestinian loss, but with a blank check and a constant flow of fighter jets from the United States, the highly-motivated, extremely well-funded and well-equipped Israeli military won, and with each war, Israel got bigger and territory nominally under Palestinian control shrank precipitously, to the point where by the time of the Oslo negotiations in the 1990's, the notion of a two-state solution was increasingly becoming a total fantasy, only realistic in the minds of academics.

How many massacres of Palestinian civilians have there been?

Palestinian efforts to resist nonviolently have regularly been met with massacres.  In 1976, Palestinians protesting against more theft of Palestinian land were massacred by Israeli troops.  This became known as Land Day -- one of many days in any Palestinian calendar marked by a massacre.  On the anniversary of Land Day in 2018, Palestinians again came out en masse to protest against the same ongoing confiscations of their land and futures, and once again they were met with massacres, every Friday, for over a year.

In 1982, Israeli-backed Lebanese forces, under active Israeli protection and otherwise working with the Israeli occupation forces in Lebanon at the time, killed over three thousand Palestinians, mostly women and children, over the course of several days, raping and mutilating many of them in the process of the slaughter.  They did this after Israel had negotiated for most of the adult men from the camp to leave the country, in order to avoid being killed instead.  So then they facilitated the slaughter of the remaining women and children, many of whom valiantly resisted the invading mostly Christian Maronite forces anyway, to no avail.

On the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, in September, 2000, the man who was well-known as the Israeli general in charge in Lebanon at the time of the 1982 massacres went to visit the holiest site in the Muslim religion that exists in the Holy City of Jerusalem, the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  Ariel Sharon provoked Palestinians at the mosque to the point where some stones were thrown, at which point his troops opened fire.  This new massacre set off what became known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, or the Second Intifada.

There have been so many other massacres of Palestinian civilians, I wouldn't even know where to start listing them.  In 2002, the Israeli military bulldozed refugee camps all over the West Bank with tanks, killing hundreds of people and destroying huge parts of many cities.  The Israeli Air Force bombed all ten of the soap-making factories in the biggest West Bank city, Nablus, that year.  The Israeli Air Force has systematically bombed and bulldozed hospitals, the homes of doctors, and lots and lots of journalists and offices of the press, among many other targets.

Do the Israelis imprison and torture children on a systematic basis?

Yes.  It's well-known by many that the draconian policy known as indefinite detention without trial tends to give rise to a lot of resentment and opposition among the targeted population.  That's certainly what happened when the British tried it in Northern Ireland in the early 1970's.  It works that way on Palestinians, too.  Except unlike in Northern Ireland, where the occupiers abandoned this extreme policy after a few years, it has been the normal way of doing business for Israel for decades, nonstop.

Palestinians in the West Bank live under direct Israeli military rule, they're not subject to civilian courts if they're kidnapped by the Israeli military, which any of them are subject to at any time, for any reason, without cause or justification.  If thus abducted by soldiers at gunpoint, a judge only needs renew their detention every six months, as long as the judge wants to.  While detained, being tortured through the use of solitary confinement, stress positions, and other forms of physical and psychological torture is completely normal.

But didn't Israel pull out of Gaza?

Sort of, but not really at all.  Gaza was, and is, one of the most densely-populated places on Earth.  There were enough Jewish Israeli settlers in Gaza to populate a small town, taking up a third of the space.  It wasn't tenable.  As with other non-tenable settler outposts on occasion, it was abandoned, with much fanfare, and the settlers were relocated to other settlements, which are all incidentally illegal settlements under international law, not that most governments are paying attention.

What's the deal with the wall?

The Apartheid Wall, as it's popularly known around the world, was another initiative of the early 21st century, along with the relocation of some settlers from Gaza to the West Bank.  Sold to the global public by the Israeli regime as a wall to divide what they refer to as Jewish and Arab neighborhoods, as a sort of aid to the peace process, in fact the wall was a massive process of more land theft, surrounding Palestinian town centers and villages, cutting them off from farmland or any other means of survival, basically surrounding occupied ghettoes with walls, to describe perfectly accurately.  They turned the West Bank into an outdoor prison, with a pretend, not at all sovereign government to run small parts of the inmate population.

For the first half century or so of the existence of the state of Israel, the Jewish State could never get enough Jews to move there the way they wanted them to.  Most Jews preferred to stay somewhere with less conflict, like post-war Europe or North America.  So the labor shortage was generally solved with Palestinian workers.  

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the sudden impoverishment of a hundred million Russians, people all over the former USSR were looking for a way out of this country that was in such a destabilized state.  People emigrated to where they could.  Once again, the US and Britain were often preferred destinations.  Many Russians have relatives here, just like everyone else in Europe does.  But there were quotas, and so lots of the ended up emigrating to Israel, if they were Jewish enough to be allowed to do so, which of course millions of Russians were, and are.  

Labor shortage solved, it was time to step up the apartheid and the ethnic cleansing campaign, which is what has been going on for the past two decades or so.

If the Israelis left Gaza, why is it so poor?

Because it is prevented by Israel from accessing international waters.  Although Gaza is right there on the Mediterranean Sea, a straight shot from Cyprus, there is no ferry.  There is no airport.  Nothing.  They can't even visit their relatives in the West Bank or Israel or Lebanon or anywhere else.  No one is allowed in or out, and the amount of anything else that's allowed in or out is very tightly controlled by Israel, or by Egypt, to the southwest, which is the country that receives the most US military aid in the world after than Israel, last I checked.

In addition to the land, air and water siege, fighter jets break the sound barrier over Gaza every hour of the day and night, preventing anyone from ever sleeping well.  Just like the sadistic prison guards systematically do to torture prisoners in Alabama, New York, Illinois, and elsewhere.

But what should Israel do about the rockets?

For the vast majority of the history of the state of Israel, Palestinian resistance has been overwhelmingly nonviolent, or has involved the kind of symbolic violence that is widely understood to be represented by the child throwing a rock at a tank.  The home-made rockets launched from Gaza are not much better, as can be seen from the fact that if they do serious damage or cause injury or death, it is only when they land directly on top of a structure.  Throwing a grenade can kill people, for sure, but these rockets are more like long-range grenades than anything we would normally call a "rocket."

Nonetheless, what is more surprising to most people around the world is how little violent resistance there has been, given how violent the occupation of Palestine has been and continues to be.  As with any other situation where there is such oppression and such extreme inequity, resistance of all kinds is inevitable, and the only way out of this cycle is to stop the oppression.

But don't they want to drive the Jews into the sea?

The campaign of terror against Palestinian civilians that gave birth to the state of Israel in 1947-48 was a very real and successful effort to drive 700,000 people from their homes.  Israel has been driving Palestinians from their homes in so many different ways ever since, by annexing Palestinian land, destroying Palestinian homes with armored bulldozers, tanks, and fighter jets, uprooting olive groves, beating, killing, arresting, harassing, kidnapping, and otherwise making life unbearable for Palestinians, who die of heart attacks as a result of the stress being a Palestinian in Palestine at a disproportionate rate.

As a result of living under such horrific conditions, being so regularly massacred, bombed, and so on, there is a wide variety of opinion on the ground and among political parties about how to resolve the situation.  This definitely includes those who advocate expelling or killing or otherwise dealing with entire populations, but the loudest and most powerful forces with this orientation are in power within the Israeli government, and increasingly dominant on the streets of Israel in the form of anti-Palestinian mobs.

But isn't Hamas a terrorist organization?

Palestinian society, as with most societies, is split politically in many different ways.  At the same time, it's broadly united around certain principles, as well.  All the political factions, and easily the vast majority of Palestinians on the ground, believe that responding to violent repression with violent resistance is completely justified.  

But when there isn't a crisis going on where everyone is talking about their unified opposition to the Israeli bombing in Gaza and support for retaliation against it, Hamas and Fatah are vying for control of Palestinian hearts and minds, as well as city councils.  Hamas was democratically elected throughout the West Bank and Gaza as a political party, but has only been able to exercise that power in Gaza and certain other localities, because of this ongoing conflict.  Israel and the United States don't tend to recognize Hamas as a political party, but only as what they call a terrorist organization that dares to resist the destruction of their people and their homes, and the theft of their land, such as those in East Jerusalem, which is key to the current iteration of the struggle for Palestine.  So when hospitals or other buildings that contain any government offices are bombed, the Israelis say they were destroying terrorist infrastructure.

If I speak out against Israeli apartheid, does that make me an antisemite?

No.  But it is a minefield out there.  The fact that Israel is a self-proclaimed Jewish state where there are regularly mobs of Jews marching through the streets chanting "kill the Arabs," where the far right government is actively bombing the homes of doctors and press agencies, where walls surround ghettoes, staffed by soldiers with heavy weapons in guard towers, where any Palestinian can be detained indefinitely without trial at any moment or killed for existing, these things tend to invite comparisons with even less savory far right regimes than this one, such as Nazi Germany.  Despite the many aforementioned parallels that do exist, other important parallels do not, such as gas chambers that can incinerate thousands of people per day, and so if you do engage in such inaccurate statements such as "it's the same as," you probably won't be serving the Palestinian cause very well, and you may face all sorts of accusations as well.  You may face them without making any such statements, in fact.

But fundamentally, my own personal observation of Israel and Israeli Jews, from my time growing up in the New York area and from my time in Israel itself, engaging a lot of people in very uncomfortable conversations during my visits, is in the wake of the Nazi holocaust that killed so many of my family members in Europe and so many others, when my parents were children, people growing up in the shadow of that indescribably horrific event that wanted to be known as the Third Reich, is most of them went in one of three directions, both personally and politically:

Many of them doubled down on generations of efforts to assimilate, change their names, and otherwise just be part of different societies as best they could, trying to hide the fear in their eyes, that slowly dissipated over the decades in most of the world, along with antisemitism itself.

Many others said "never again" applies not just to Jews, but to everyone.  They joined what was already a thriving tradition among Jews in so many countries, which got them in trouble, individually and as a group, with the authorities in the US and elsewhere during the waves of mass European migration to North America in the 19th and early 20th centuries -- they joined the left-liberal political spectrum that identified with the broader community of people.  Jews are the only white ethnic group in the US that consistently votes Democrat.  Jews are disproportionately to be found leading left groups, disproportionately making up the ranks of leading left intellectuals and activists.

Still others seem to have decided that "never again" only applied to them and their fellow Jews.  I am personally just as familiar with this group as I am with the aforementioned other two groups.  I have lots of immediate as well as extended family members in each group.  The "never again only applies to us" group has been dominant in Israel since the formation of the state of Israel, and is more dominant now than ever before.  And it's terrifying.

What is to be done?

As long as the US, Europe, China, etc., trades with Israel and otherwise supports Israel politically and economically, particularly with the US military aid, many people would say there is no hope for any resolution of the ongoing horrors there.  Not a solution that can be found from within, with the "two parties negotiating."  There are no two parties -- it's occupier and occupied.  No real negotiation is possible under such circumstances.  Anyone who calls this kind of thing a negotiation is engaging in gaslighting, or is completely ignorant.

I don't know what can be accomplished until we stop enabling the abuser here.  But we can certainly start with understanding the relationship as such, and proclaiming this loudly and clearly, with no fear of being labeled antisemitic as a result of pointing out that Jews are also capable of running apartheid states, along with other people.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cancel Culture Conundrums

Or, what it's like to be a "known holocaust-denying anti-Semite who is known to harass the homeless community"
Cancel culture is at a crossroads, seems to me.  And I might as well be at the center of it.  If I wasn't before, I appear to be now.

But what is cancel culture?  Isn't that a rightwing term used to excuse bigoted behavior and avoid accountability for said behavior?  Yes, that's how the right uses the concept -- as a weapon against the rest of society.

And that's all I'll say about that.  Now to the left.  Cancel culture on the left also exists.  The people claiming otherwise are part of the left's version of cancel culture.  (Note to anarchists:  when I use the term "left," this includes you, too.  We can argue about the semantics of that later.)

Who are these people?  

Cancel culture on the left is not easily described or easily dismissed.  It takes on many forms, and of course my use of the term "cancel culture of the left" is intentionally provocative.  There are many different reasons why people gravitate towards simplistic solutions to complex problems, but I'll keep using the term anyway, because, at the same time as it may provoke, the term is perfectly appropriate to use to describe a significant element of the left -- whose significance is often wildly amplified by the algorithms and other properties of social media, and by the fear or acquiescence of the rest of us.

Left cancel culture is be a complex phenomenon with origins in all kinds of different forms of discrimination and trauma.  The basic impulse is one of self-protection and protection of one's community.  The desire to create a safe space, a safe world, where people can grow up without being attacked for their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., and even without having to endure the sorts of microaggressions that are part of daily life for so many of us humans, whether or not we're subject to harsher forms of aggression.  It's a great basic impulse, and one that any of us raising children think about all the time.

HOWEVER, it's a really shit basis for a political culture.  

By definition, politics and political activism of any kind is going to be a messy business.  Everyone deserves to be safe from major aggressions or microaggressions, and neither of these things should be discounted in their impact on individuals, communities, and societies.  

But if, for example, you're trying to help build a grassroots movement for housing justice, but some people think whatever you do is illegitimate and somehow wrong because they disagree with your position on the role of Jewish culture and historical discourse in the formation of the state of Israel, that's not how you're going to build a successful movement.

What are my opinions on Jewish culture and historical discourse in the formation of the state of Israel, you wonder?  If you're really interested, I would recommend my friend Gilad Atzmon's excellent book, The Wandering Who.  It's available as an ebook on Amazon.  I won't waste any more of this article on my opinions on Jewish culture and historical discourse in the formation or maintenance of the state of Israel.  I've written lots of other essays on that sort of thing, along with dozens of related songs.

Suffice it to say, regardless of whether some people have a different opinion than mine on the motivations and political philosophy of David Ben-Gurion, I am neither an anti-Semite nor a holocaust-denier, nor any of the other things of which I am repeatedly accused, mainly for transgressions of association, in the form of interviewing or doing gigs with the wrong people.

The point is not that I'm not a fascist, however.  That's obvious to anyone with a brain.  The point is, who are these people who say that I am one, and why are there so many other people who are either scared they might be right, or, if they think they're wrong, are scared to say so publicly?

That's the left's cancel culture, right there.  The people who are spreading the lies are part of it, of course, but so are the people who are afraid to call the lies out.  Not that I blame anyone for being afraid, but when you know something is bullshit and you don't say so -- when you're close enough to it to see what's going on and you stay silent -- you're making a decision, you're participating by not participating, even if the reasons for your silence are perfectly easy to understand.  No one wants to deal with being publicly denounced.

The flyer that was put on car windshields all over my neighborhood on the morning of May 2nd reads:

Let him know anti semites are not wanted!
EMail the piece of shit: or
Give the turd a call or two, or three!  (503) 863-1177
David Rovics is known to harass the homeless community.

A bad photocopy of a picture from the Contact page of my website appears in the middle of the flyer, which was obviously made without the use of a graphic artist.

I'm not personally too concerned with being "doxxed," because my address and phone number are publicly available anyway, as I am what we call a Public Figure, constantly advertising my whereabouts, like any working performer must do regularly, among other reasons.  The allegations (all completely false) are concerning, however.  

And it is concerning is that anyone would think it's remotely acceptable to engage in this extremely escalatory practice with someone who is otherwise clearly in your camp politically.  It's nothing short of extremely sectarian behavior, of the sort that can -- and regularly does -- lead to very dangerous places.

As soon as I posted the flyer on social media, I got a call from a friend from Belfast, who has a lot of experience with people who post fliers like these.  He was concerned about what might happen next, and wanted to give me a whole bunch of really good advice on how to try to take security precautions.

Another thing that happened soon after I posted that flyer was someone with a local Twitter account that monitors far right activity in the area retweeted my post denouncing these flyers, and chimed in with their own, confirming that I was not, in fact, any of the things being alleged.  When I saw the post and was going to respond to it with a "thank you," I couldn't, because it had been taken down by the Twitter account that posted it.

Why do some antifascists in Portland not feel comfortable denouncing someone who would call me any of these outrageous things?  What the hell is going on here?

What it is, when it comes to the left's version of cancel culture, is an almost unbelievable degree of acquiescence to the "safe space" concept, to the extent where anyone who has a viewpoint that doesn't align with what is considered to be the right line is to be canceled.  (Although of course the "right line" doesn't exist, any more than cancel culture or political correctness exists, as these are all figments of the far right's imagination, according to some deluded members of the left.)

The local antifascist with the Twitter account who can't bother defending me against these accusations is not alone.  This is just the one I saw myself.  Who knows how many others are out there.  I can only guess, but it's certainly just the tip of the iceberg.  

The band that didn't want to share a bill with me recently here in Portland, specifically because of these sorts of false allegations floating around me everywhere -- it was very good of them to let me know that this was why they didn't want to share the bill, and they're not the ones spreading the rumors, but they're participating in the charade, whether they want to or not, along with all the other protest organizers or festival organizers who I don't know about, who never asked me to play at their events, because I have become too controversial a figure on the left, evidently.  (Note:  if you thought being popular enough to draw a crowd was what got you hired at festivals, think again.  There are definitely lots of other factors.)

But what is the actual source of the controversy?  

Nobody knows, it seems.  Or if anyone does, they won't come out and have a public conversation on the subject, under their real name.

And what is the goal of the person or people engaging in this campaign against me online and on the car windshields in my neighborhood?  What is the goal of left cancel culture?  

This is also unclear.  Generally, the people engaging in left cancel culture have no legal case or anything (like accusing me of things they have no case for accusing me of, like hate speech), and if they did, they wouldn't want to go to the authorities anyway.  They also generally don't want to go to prison, so for that and perhaps other reasons, they might or might not engage in actions like bodily assault.  

The goal, to the extent that there is one, seems to be to ostracize certain individuals from the left.  It has worked this way in many cases.  What is much, much more worrying to me, though, is not how many lives are ruined by this sort of campaign, but how many people don't become involved with the left in the first place because of the widespread existence of left cancel culture.

The left, in short, is an alienating environment for a lot of people to even consider being involved with, let alone to stay involved with.  The burnout rate is tremendously high, and if you talk with people who have been involved with activism for a long time, figuring out how to deal with all the back-stabbing and cancel culture bullshit was essential to having any kind of longevity in the movement.  And many people will attest that they lost far more comrades to back-stabbing than to police batons or attacks from the far right.

Of course, it is the role of police provocateurs -- of which there are undoubtedly as many now as there were when Cointelpro was exposed, when I was a child -- to do all of the things these left cancel culture people do.  It is also the job of the provocateurs to smash the independent businesses, when the real members of the black bloc are focusing on the upscale corporate chains.

But the question is not whether the police and other provocateurs are involved with these campaigns -- they most definitely are, whether or not they're involved with this particular one against me.  

The question is how will the rest of the left respond?  When will we start to truly call out this shit?

Here's a suggestion on where we can start:  if it wasn't a cop who put up these flyers, and it was, as I suspect, someone associated with local Portland anarchists, then some of you reading this right now know who did it.  Tell me who they are, and let's have a public conversation, using our real names.

Your security isn't working.  It's backfiring.  Get off of Twitter, and go outside.  But not to do that.

Linda Wiener's Echo

When people die, they leave behind many different kinds of echoes. There were a lot of people back in the 1960's like Ken Kesey who, for...