Solidarity with Gaza, continued!

The ATC Editors

Posted June 18, 2024

Student encampments sprung up on campuses across the country in opposition to genocide in Gaza.

WHILE THE GENOCIDAL Israeli-United States war on Gaza and Palestine continues — amidst all kinds of diplomatic posturing and UN resolution-splicing — the one really hopeful development is the outpouring of activism in many U.S. communities, most visibly the magnificent movement on college campuses organized in encampments demanding an immediate permanent ceasefire, and divestment from corporations tied to Israel’s machinery of massacre and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

Because of this movement’s moral authority and power in the face of a monstrous slaughter funded by U.S. tax dollars, it’s not surprising that it has come under attack from multiple directions — including reprisals by campus administration and violent police action against students and sympathetic faculty members.

Other arenas of struggle include efforts in hundreds of communities for cease-fire resolutions in city councils and union locals. In view of “Genocide Joe” Biden administration’s criminal complicity and cynical duplicity — calling for Israeli “restraint” while pouring in the ammunition and bombs that incinerate Gaza’s displaced and starving population — the grassroots movement has also opened up critical space for some U.S. Congresspeople and Senators to speak out against the slaughter.

The Israeli army’s June 8 rescue of four civilian captives, killing over 240 Gazans, symbolizes these eight months of insanity. Seven hostages in total have now been rescued by military action, three shot and killed “by mistake” earlier in the war, while over 100 were released in the first prisoner exchange; 120 remain in Gaza, of whom a third are believed to have died, some undoubtedly under Israel’s bombs.

Hamas claims that three more captives were killed in the June 8 raid, which there is no way to immediately check. Palestinian deaths in Gaza, including unrecovered bodies and the growing toll from disease and famine, must now be close to 50,000. These figures say something about the murderous rampage of the past eight months. While this is a brutal war that Gaza and Palestine cannot militarily “win,” it’s increasingly evident that Israel is not “winning” either.

Acts of sadistic savagery by Israeli troops are already feeding back into the country’s re-emerging political rupture. And statements by Netanyahu’s national security advisor that the war will “continue through the rest of 2024” signal expanding horror with no “day after.”

That prospect also ensures that the struggle will continue for a ceasefire, for boycott/divestment/sanctions (BDS) against corporate and military enablers of Israeli apartheid, and for Palestinian freedom. That requires thinking about the strategic potential and challenges facing the movement as it goes forward. For one contribution to the discussion, see Ivan Drury Zarin’s article in this issue (and the longer and footnoted version).

Encampments and Repression

College encampments resonated powerfully with the images of nearly two million now displaced and homeless people in Gaza. That’s partly why they spread so rapidly from a few initial sites, like Columbia University, to dozens if not hundreds of others both nationally and globally.

After initial bewilderment, a few campus administrators turned to their standard efforts of cooptation (“take down the tents and then we’ll talk to you”) — and when those failed, to police repression on spurious grounds of “community safety.”

Particularly egregious cases include the violent police assault on the encampment at UCLA — after standing back doing nothing to protect real campus safety the previous day, April 30, as a mob of both Zionist and neo-Nazi thugs attacked the encampment. Outraged unionized graduate students and faculty in the University of California system responded with Unfair Labor Practice strike action over the issue of campus workplace safety. The strike ended after the administration procured a dubious restraining order by a rightwing judge.

At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 21, a 6:00am violent raid by campus and city police on the completely nonviolent encampment included pepper spraying students in the face. (See “University of Michigan President Ono and the Pepper-Spray Gang” by Alan Wald.) This attack coincided neatly with the University’s inauguration its 2024-25 “Year of Democracy and Civil Engagement” program.

At Wayne State University in Detroit, where a week-long campus mall encampment neither blocked nor barricaded anything, the administration closed down all activities for three days on an absurd “safety and health danger” pretext, then called on campus and city police to raid and dismantle the camp early in the morning of May 30. Indiana University administration also invited the State Police onto the Bloomington campus, where they positioned snipers on the roof of the Student Union.

At Harvard and the University of Chicago, graduating student activists have been denied their degrees. These are only a few examples of the crackdown against a movement protesting the genocidal responsibility of our own government.

Undoubtedly the movement will persist — as the crisis in Palestine and the global outcry escalate — and resume with redoubled effort when schools resume after the summer. While the forms of struggle are hard to predict, it seems unlikely that the encampment tactic will be easily replicated, particularly as administrators and police apparatuses won’t be caught off guard as they were in the spring.

What does seem clear is that well-organized divestment campaigns will be taking off as part of the broadening BDS effort. Dr. Mustapha Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, in a powerful address by Zoom from Ramallah to the May 24-26 “Peoples Conference for Palestine” in Detroit, emphasized the importance of BDS in supporting the Palestinian people’s resistance and struggle for their rights.

Arms manufacturers, Chevron, and the Maersk shipping company which transports weaponry to Israel’s war machine, will be among the primary targets.

Exactly how the continuing war and antiwar resistance might impact the U.S. election is also an open question. What does seem likely is pressure from the wretched Democratic party establishment for the movement to hold back on mass actions that might embarrass the administration and harm its election prospects.

The answer to this, at least, must be clear: no letup in the struggle to stop the genocide, independent of cynical electoral considerations! Supporters of Palestinian freedom, together with activists for reproductive, civil, voting and workers’ rights, will be in the streets outside both capitalist parties’ conventions. That’s as it should be — no back seat for Palestine in 2024 or any other time.

“Antisemitism” Smear Weaponized

We also need to focus on a specific smear against the movement: that it is “antisemitic” or advocates “genocide of the Jewish people.” This lie is endlessly cycled through much of the media, in the spectacle of Congressional hearings and now legislation mandating “antisemitism watch” offices at universities, and of course through the “pro-Israel” lobby groups spearheaded by AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Much of the hysteria in Congress and media is propelled by the same far-right MAGA elements who had little to say about the torch-carrying “Jews will not replace us” white-supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.  It’s a wedge in a broader Republican offensive to discredit and ultimately crush any progressive expressions in college education, especially liberal arts.

The “antisemitism” smear against Palestine solidarity makes a convenient opportunist addition to existing targets such as Diversity-Equity-Inclusion programs, Critical Race Theory, gender studies, anything “woke” and other perceived threats to what the right wing regards as western civilization. Not coincidentally, it’s also a pretext to slash huge holes in protections of free speech and to purge academic institutions.

This includes a drive to literally criminalize slogans of “Free, free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” (No one proposes to outlaw the statement from Israel’s ruling Likud party and prime minister Netanyahu, “from the river to the sea, total Israeli sovereignty.”)

Whatever these phrases might mean to different people in different places, there can be no excuse for banning them as so-called hate speech or “genocide of the Jewish people.” The U.S. Congress’s enshrinement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, to include “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor,” is both absurd and a blatant violation of the First Amendment.

In this climate it’s necessary both to defend Palestine solidarity activism and to state clearly what antisemitism is — and isn’t. Antisemitism is an ideology of hatred and contempt for Jews, as a people and as individuals. While it has centuries-old roots in religious bigotry, for the past 150 or so years, beginning in Europe, antisemitism has taken the form of pseudo-scientific racial theory. Like all forms of racism it is irrational, and in the specific case of antisemitism it ascribes to Jews schemes to control finance, politics, and the media.

In its most extreme forms, antisemitic ideology and myth fueled the Nazi extermination machinery that almost wiped out Jewish life in much of Europe. At less visible levels it persists and tends to arise at moments when racism in general raises its ugly head — as for example in the United States in the anti-Black backlash following the election of president Obama and the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

Antisemitism as a set of racial anti-Jewish stereotypes is not to be confused with critical analysis of the Israeli state. Israel’s “crimes of apartheid and persecution” (as called by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) against the Palestinian people are no more immune from scrutiny than those of the United States in Vietnam and Iraq, Russia in Ukraine or China against the Uyghur people, the Indian government’s Hindutva campaign against Muslims, etc.

Israel’s ideological claim to act as the “nation-state of the Jewish people” falsely — and dangerously — seeks to make all Jews responsible for its criminal acts. Palestinians become guilty of “antisemitism” by virtue of their very existence.

Under these conditions, and with live-streamed genocidal atrocities in Gaza growing by the day, it may be surprising and encouraging that relatively few actual antisemitic incidents have occurred. More of these have occurred off campus than on, such as the Proud Boys gathering near Columbia or one hate-speech ranter outside the gate. (One campus protest organizer musing about “killing Zionists” was immediately repudiated.)

In the notorious case of Northeastern University in Boston, administration called police onto campus after “Kill the Jews” chanting was reported — which video footage showed coming from an apparent counter-demonstrator carrying an Israeli flag.

There have been many more physical attacks and threats against Palestinian, Arab and Muslim than against Jewish students. All of these are vicious and absolutely unacceptable on campus or anywhere else. Attacks on Jewish students are both morally repugnant, and damaging to the Palestine solidarity movement.

It’s important however to emphasize a point made by Columbia and Barnard professor Nadia Abu el-Haj, who herself has been a target of Zionist smear campaigns during her academic career. Everyone on campus, she states, has an absolute right to be safe. That doesn’t mean a right to shut down speech or protest just because they don’t feel safe.

In fact, part of the purpose of the rightwing attack — joined deplorably by much of the center-liberal establishment  — on the pro-Palestine campus struggle is aimed to make Jews feel unsafe. Weaponizing Jewish insecurity in this way, as a tool against an anti-genocide struggle, can be seen itself as a manipulation of antisemitism. That’s one reason why the prominent presence of Jewish students and faculty supporters in the encampments and divestment fights is of great political as well as ethical importance.

Is real antisemitism increasing in the United States today? Almost surely so (although unfortunately the statistics compiled by the ADL are entirely unreliable since it now acts as a propaganda and intelligence outpost of the Israeli state). Antisemitism needs to be resolutely fought, along with all other expressions of racism. It is not to be confused with denunciation of what we insist, again, is the joint Israeli-U.S. genocide in Palestine.

There can be no rest in the struggle to halt that genocide and the slide to Palestinian, Israeli, Middle East and global catastrophe.

July-August 2024, ATC 231


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