Tuesday, November 20, 2012

OWS's Misreading of Gandhi in Gaza

A communiqué posted on OccupyWallStreet.org website titled Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine: OWS Says No To War, appears deliberately aimed at drawing a moral equivalence between Hamas and the Israeli government. But, upon careful reading, it is not difficult to see how one of the many public faces of OWS is actually leaning, ever so slightly, on the side of the aggressor, the IDF. This is a very disturbing development for OWS given its supposed stance as a champion of oppressed people everywhere. Yet, when it comes to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, OWS seems content to spread the blame of the Israeli assault onto its victims. This, in a way, shows a certain lack of coherent political vision within the Occupy movement which may also explain its apparent evanescence. In addition, this not-so-veiled exercise in political correctness by OccupyWallStreet.org is a sign of how far has American culture veered out of the global political mainstream vis a vis the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.


The "blame Hamas first" posture is widespread within the US corporate establishment media (from the New York Times downward) and it has existed for quite some time. One only needs to look at every major newspaper to see how the US government’s line of blaming the Palestinians for their own predicament is passed down to the American populace without a glitch. The framing of the issue in favor of Israel by arbitrarily choosing the starting point of hostilities ­– in this case, the rockets which killed three Israeli citizens even though they were clearly in response to the extra-judicial assassination of Ahmed Jabari – or ignoring the causes altogether is also a favored propagandistic tactic of the American intelligentsia. In this regard, it was for example amusing to see Rachel Maddow, a journalist and a liberal one at that, state on Friday that “we don’t know what started this round of hostilities” (I am paraphrasing). In this regard, it is worth reading Greg Mitchell's piece in The Nation today titled MSNBC's Disgrace: In Five Hours of Prime Time, Fifteen Minutes on Israel-Gaza. Given such climate in the US media it is thus not surprising that a majority of Americans sided with Israel in a recent poll taken on the Gaza assault.

It is perhaps for this reason that OccupyWallStreet.org decided to give the impression of not clearly taking sides in this situation. Yet, upon careful reading, it is also not difficult to detect a pro-Israeli slant at least as far as the overall narrative is concerned. This can be seen in the very first paragraph of the statement where, in the second sentence, it reads: “We completely condemn the Hamas rocket attacks on civilians, but we also know that retaliation will only beget further violence.” Here, without stating it directly, OWS is regurgitating the narrative of the US and Israeli governments according to which the rockets were the first salvo in the current conflagration. In addition, as a confirmation of this reading, the Israeli response is also carefully characterized as “retaliation.”

The attempt at balancing things out comes further down the paragraph where it says that “it is possible to support those in Israel [link via Occupy Judaism] without supporting the injustices perpetuated by the Israeli state.” Yet, there is no mention of what the Israeli injustices are. Could they perhaps be the murdering of over two dozens Palestinian children? We are not entitled to know.

The second paragraph is also interesting because, once again, it tries to convey criticism of Israel’s actions without actually saying so directly. Here, it is mentioned that “some Occupiers” have expressed solidarity with the people of Gaza and that “supporters of the #J14 social justice movement and many others have also demonstrated against the military actions of Israel.” This third person indirect criticism of Israel’s actions is then justified by clarifying that “OWS has always been a nonviolent movement,” as if to say that, because of its historical legacy, the movement has no choice but to criticize the armed assault. Such passive stance is confirmed in the third paragraph where it clarifies that “collectively punishing an entire population for the actions of a few is not justice,” thus reiterating the narrative according to which the Palestinians should blame Hamas for the current Israeli assault.

It is only in the fourth paragraph that we get a more accurate framing of the conflict:

Make no mistake: While we must stand against violence in all forms, this "war" is a one-sided conflict between a military which is one of the largest and best-equipped in the world, the Israeli Defense Forces, who enjoy widespread support from the U.S. military industrial complex, and a people whose lands have been steadily dwindling for decades.

Yet, to the question of why are the Palestinian lands dwindling, we get no answer. To underscore the lack of clarity of this passage it is also worth noting that the word “occupation” is perhaps the most conspicuous omission of the entire communiqué. In fact, it is conveniently delegated to piece that follows OccupyWallStreet.org's statement, the Gazan Youth’s Manifesto for Change; sadly, one of the most nihilistic and disempowering statements or resistance I’ve read in a while.

But the icing on the cake (or should I say, political sausage?) can be found toward the end of the statement: “The bombs over Gaza and Tel Aviv are merely the most dramatic example of a global system that seeks to rob us all of our right to live peacefully.” For the sake of clarity, let’s take Gaza out of the picture for a moment: the bombs over Tel Aviv are merely the most dramatic example of a global system that seeks to rob us all of our right to live peacefully. Really OWS? Can we really take away the right to self-defense of the Palestinian people by explaining their understandable response, even though vain and perhaps counterproductive, in terms of the global military-industrial complex? Would OWS draw the same moral equivalence had the American people being subjected to even a sliver of the humiliation endured by the Palestinians in the past five decades? Did OWS equate the resistance of the Egyptian people in Tahrir square which, I am afraid to say, involved acts of violence as self-defense to the acts of the Egyptian military?

In order to strike a balance between Hamas and the IDF OccupyWallStreet.org is invoking a notion of pacifism which is quite callous and unrealistic to say the least. While Gandhi was a pacifist, he did not try to take away the right to self-defense of the Indian people. In fact, he clearly understood the difference between aggression and self-defense. Something that OWS seems unable to do, at least when it comes to the Palestinians. In What Gandhi Says, a book incidentally dedicated to Occupy, Norman Finkelstein writes:

Gandhi has been reduced to a mantra equating his name with nonviolence. But his thought and practice are much more complex, and contradictory, than this formula suggests…. The real Gandhi did loathe violence but he loathed cowardice more than violence. If his constituents could not find the inner wherewithal to resist nonviolently, then he exhorted them to find the courage to hit back those who assaulted or demeaned them.” (11-12)

Yet, OWS, a movement which claims to be inspired by Gandhian principles, doesn’t seem to get what Gandhi says, at least when it comes to OccupyWallStreet.org, one of its most prominent virtual incarnations. In fact, nowhere in the entire statement do the words "condemn" and "Israel" appear in the same sentence. Apparently, the best they could do was to use the generic “we condemn violence from all sides” formula. This is quite unfortunate because in order to accommodate the extremely distorted political landscape in the United States vis a vis the Palestinian issue OWS risks to lose its credibility as a global champion of the 99%.

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