Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

Occupy the Port: Demonstrators Confront Ship Carrying Walmart Goods

from In These Times

Hundreds of workers, activists and community members rallied yesterday at the Port of Newark, New Jersey to protest the arrival of a cargo ship carrying Walmart products manufactured in Bangladesh. The demonstrators were seeking to hold Walmart accountable for a factory fire in which 112 workers burned to death last month.

As they attempted to ‘Occupy the Port,’ protesters from Occupy Wall Street and workers’ center New Labor gathered at the entrance to Newark’s docks, chanting ‘Block the Boat! Shut It Down! Turn Walmart’s Smile Upside Down!’ Ultimately, Homeland Security and port police prevented the ralliers from entering the docks, and the cargo ship, the Maersk Carolina, arrived from Oman and unloaded its freight as scheduled. The action concluded without arrests.

On November 24, a devastating fire at the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in Bangladesh left 112 workers dead. Workers on the upper floors of the eight-story building found themselves trapped as managers prevented hundreds from leaving sewing machines even after the fire alarm sounded. Labor activists touring the burned-out building afterwards found shorts emblazoned with Walmart’s “Faded Glory” logo in the wreckage. In the ensuing weeks, it was confirmed that the factory, which had failed fire safety inspections earlier in the year, was indeed subcontracted to produce goods for suppliers of major American corporations like Sears and Walmart. Wal-Mart has maintained that one of its suppliers had subcontracted work at Tazreen Fashions “in direct violation of our policies.” But reports from Bloomberg and the New York Times revealed that Walmart, in an effort to keep costs low, had played a key role in blocking improvements to fire safety standards at factories like Tazreen.

By targeting the Port of Newark, protesters also sought to sway already tense negotiationsbetween port operators and workers of the International Longshoremen’s Association, who have threatened to walk off the job on December 29th if employers do not agree to a new contract guaranteeing increased compensation, job protections, and shift guarantees for loading and unloading crews. Though protesters hoped to inspire workers to refuse to report for work, Homeland Security and port police blockaded the entrance to the port.

In a statement written for the event, leaders from the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF) and the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) expressed solidarity with the port occupation. “We hope that this action will help paint a new picture and a new future, one where the deaths of mothers, husbands, brothers and sisters will not be quickly forgotten. This action proves that carelessness and death in the workplace have repercussions—especially to those companies that expect their goods to be moved as usual despite the deaths of their own workers.”

Though it could not be verified that the Maersk Carolina was carrying goods produced at the Tazreen factory, organizers of ‘Occupy The Port’ sought to draw attention to the interconnected nature of the global supply chain. The port occupation builds on a mounting wave of struggle against Walmart throughout its distribution network, from successful strikes at warehouses in California and Illinois this fall to the massive walk-outs of hundreds of retail workers at stores nationwide on Black Friday. These worker-led actions called attention to the unsafe conditions, unfair practices, illegal retaliation, and unsustainable employment that plagues workers throughout Walmart’s supply chain.

“I’m glad people came out to hold Walmart accountable,” Walmart warehouse worker Mike Compton, who went on strike with 30 other workers at a major Walmart distribution center in Illinois in September, told In These Times. “Whether it’s a factory fire in Bangladesh, or a low-wage temp job with no security or respect in America, this is what happens when major corporations like Walmart choose maximum profit over minimum levels of safety and dignity for their workers. Those products from Bangladesh that are coming off that ship today, and that will hit the shelves of America’s stores tomorrow, were made at a terrible price, and Walmart has the blood of Bangladeshi workers on its hands.”

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New Jewish Agenda(s): An Interview with Rabbi Arthur Waskow

(published in Tikkun Magazine’s ‘Tikkun Daily’ blog, http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/08/27/new-jewish-agendas-an-interview-with-rabbi-arthur-waskow/ )

 

When I sat down to speak with radical civil rights activist Rabbi Arthur Waskow at the Shalom Center in Philadelphia this July, I wanted to talk about the hopes and promises of twenty-first century Jewish activism, Occupy Judaism, and the American Jewish progressive movement. But most of all, I wanted to discuss Ezra Berkley Nepon’s recently published book ‘Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue: A History of New Jewish Agenda.’ This book represents the first serious attempt to comprehensively document the 1980s progressive organization New Jewish Agenda (NJA).

Book cover: Nepon, Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Book cover: Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Considering itself “a Jewish voice among progressives and a progressive voice among Jews,” NJA was a national, multi-issue membership organization that worked throughout the 1980s and early 1990s to advocate for Middle East peace, worldwide nuclear disarmament, rights for LGBTQ Jews, economic and social justice, peace in Latin America, Jewish feminism, and a variety of other issues in a climate of increasing Reagan-era neoliberalism and Cold War conservatism. Today, twenty years after the group’s dissolution, the book seeks to draw inspiration from NJA’s dedication “to participatory (grassroots) democracy and civil rights for all people, especially those marginalized within the mainstream Jewish community,” at a time when the progressive American Jewish movement is seeking a new voice.

As we reflected on the contemporary legacy of Jewish radicalism in America, we found that we could not talk about the New Jewish Agenda of the past without talking about the new(er) Jewish agenda(s) of the present. We could not talk about progressive Jewish identity and spirituality without also talking about “the heart of the matter- the prophetic vision embodied in Judaism, ancient and modern.” We could not talk about Occupy Wall Street without also talking about “the heart of the Freedom Seder…[the] debate between violence and non-violence.” We could not talk about the diversity of contemporary progressive Jewish activism without also talking about the issue of Zionism, an issue that “becomes legitimate when the society around it discovers it has to live with a spectrum of organizations, people, etc. raising the issue.” We found that to speak of a movement as multi-faceted as New Jewish Agenda, one must also give voice the complexities of the present moment.

We also discussed the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s recent conference, entitled ‘Jews and the Left.’ There, voices of lamentation repeated the well-worn mantra that, as Ezra Mendelsohn said, “the Left in general is in eclipse, and the Jewish left is dead in the U.S., an expired product of a past historical epoch … a good chapter in our history, but one which is gone.”

When I repeated this quote to Arthur Waskow, he interrupted me with a bemused look of incredulity…

 

New Jewish Agenda march: Jews for Peace

New Jewish Agenda: Jews for Peace march.

Arthur Waskow: Did they invite anybody who was a Jew on the left?

Ben Lorber: One of the criticisms voiced by many was that the conference was mainly an affair of historians and academics, devoid of past or present Jewish activists.

AW: Well, there’s Tikkun, there’s the Shalom Center, and a bunch of different organizations!

BL: Throughout ‘Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,’ Nepon celebrates that NJA upheld itself for over a decade as a multi-issue organization, tackling problems of sexism, racism, and classism both inside and outside the Jewish community, along with a critique of Israel, and presenting a united front of Jewish opposition to the mainstream. Today, progressive American Jewish organizations exist across the left spectrum as single-issue advocacy groups, often competing with one another for funds, attention and a seat at the table, and struggling to try to influence the mainstream. Do you see this multiplicity of organizations as a weakness of the contemporary Jewish American left?

AW: There are two images we use about ourselves: one is a tugboat that moves the big ocean liner. The big ocean liner can barely change direction, and to change direction at all it needs a tugboat that can change direction, nudging, nudging, pushing up against it. I think we accomplished that metaphor with the Reform movement during the Iraq war. The Iraq war was historically a total disaster, but it also took some nudging for people to get off their habit of total deference towards any President of the United States, and we did help the Reform movement do that. And the other metaphor we use is the seedbed. We can drop tiny seeds that are very small and don’t require much money, and some of them grow big. We see ourselves that way too.

BL: And in many ways NJA throughout the 1980s and early 1990s conceived of itself as a tugboat and a seedbed, steering the tone of mainstream American Jewish discourse towards the left and sowing seeds of dissent on many critical issues well ahead of their time. Today, the seeds that NJA helped plant–the movement of Jewish feminism, and the movement of Jewish-Palestinian solidarity, to name two examples–have blossomed into the decisive political debates of our community.

AW: The difference is that NJA wanted to be a mass organization. We tried, and we succeeded briefly. We were enormously helped by Ronald Reagan’s election. Our first convention was held in the fall after November 1980, after the election, which Reagan won, and thousands more people showed up then we expected. Part of the reason for that was that people were shocked and horrified by Reagan’s victory in the election.

BL: Has the progressive Jewish movement experienced a similar revitalization since the early 2000s, with the rise of Bush and the American neoconservative movement?

AW: Not the same way in the American Jewish community. I think maybe Occupy is the first stage of re-energizing the American and Jewish progressive movement.

BL: But today, two decades after the dissolution of NJA, do you see a hole or a void in the community of progressive Jewish organizations that NJA used to fill? Across the diverse spectrum of groups, is there a lack of a unifying thread, an absence of a ‘We?’

AW: There are some interesting things beginning to happen. There’s the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and Green Havurah. There’s a serious attempt to create the beginnings, but the one thing it ain’t is a mass movement. It deliberately is an amalgam of organizations, not of people, so that puts limits on it.

BL: An especially powerful legacy of NJA, to me, is its structural emphasis on democratic, horizontal, non-hierarchical decision-making, and organization. These dynamics, with all their pluses and minuses, have re-emerged today most vigorously in the Occupy movement. What does NJA have to teach the present-day Jewish American progressive community in this regard?

AW: I hope, but I’m not convinced, that the Green Havurah model is the most interesting model. It’s kind of a version of NJA’s decentralization, though NJA’s decentralization was geographic, and Green Havurah’s model isn’t geographic as much as it is functional. I don’t know if it makes vigorous action possible. But it is a different version to preserve a kind of united national body, and to encourage participation and debate.

BL: One of the inspiring things for me about the Jewish Occupy events, such as Occupy Kol Nidre, is this tradition of performing Jewish ritual in public as political action. NJA explored this too–as Nepon relates in ‘Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue,’ during Tisha B’av in 1981, which fell on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki by the U.S. during WWII, NJA held a public ceremony near the White House and the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., calling for nuclear disarmament.

AW: And we addressed universal issues, not only Jewish issues. Interestingly, two summers ago we did Tisha B’Av on the steps of the capital again, but this time it was to focus on the oil spill that had just happened in the Gulf. We asked, “What is the temple today?” Today the temple is the whole Earth. Every culture and every species has the sacred temple of Earth itself, and the Pharaohs of the human race, like the emperors who destroyed the First and Second Temples, are in the process of destroying our temple. And we did this with about 300 people, maybe half of them Jewish, a whole bunch of secular people, and some Christians and Muslims. It was amazing! We chanted, mainly in English, a new version of Lamentations to the melody of Eicha, of Lamentations.

There was a crucial discussion in Green Havurah a few days ago: what does it mean to take inspiration from theology and challenge people into acting? A bunch of us going off and making Shabbot by ourselves has no impact on society. What if we sat down on Shabbot and somehow interfered with work? I haven’t yet been struck with a spark of how to do that. Martin Buber said, “Life is not really in the I, life is not really in the Thou. Life is in the hyphen.’ Between me and Daniel Sieradski (American Jewish writer and activist), life was in the hyphen! I called him up and asked: “What do you think about doing Kol Nidre at Zuccotti Park?’ He said “Arthur, Kol Nidre! We did Erev Shabbot there last week! But Kol Nidre? I gotta think about it.” And he calls me up the next day and says, “Well, I put it on Twitter and there are 500 people that wanna come!” I couldn’t do it alone, and he couldn’t do it alone.

Occupy Kol Nidre protest, November 2011.

Occupy Kol Nidre, November 2011. Credit: Damon Dahlen/AOL.

BL: As NJA sought to be “a Jewish voice among progressives and a progressive voice among Jews,” Occupy Judaism’s motto today is “bringing the Jews to Occupy Wall Street and bringing Occupy Wall Street to the Jews.” What are the parallels between the two? Is it inspiring to you today that in the midst of the rising of a broad-based American social movement, this tradition of Jewish ritual as public protest has re-emerged?

AW: Absolutely inspiring to me, totally! NJA taught us that you can interweave prophetic religious folk and leftist secular folk. I try not to use the ‘left’ label for myself because it has come to mean almost entirely a secular, sometimes even anti-religious outlook on the world. So I use ‘prophetic’ because for me it embodies both a profound religious sense of contact with God–not at all necessarily according to the structures or the strictures of the prayer book,–and vigorous and radical political action.

During most of its history, NJA was able to weave those strands of thought and action together. I think one of the reasons it collapsed was that some mostly secularist folks thought they couldn’t bear working with people who used ‘God’ language. There was a lot of anger and contempt aimed at religious folk, which ended up in the dismantling of the office and the organization. This did not come from any grassroots decision-making; it was made by people in the steering committee. I think that if there had been a consultation of the national membership, people would’ve opposed abolishing the organization. I thought the closure was a serious ethical and political mistake- none of which I think is in the book.

BL: A few years after NJA was founded, Michael Lerner founded Tikkun, and there was a return to spirituality in the American Jewish progressive movement that was, in many ways, a continuation of the Fabrangen and radical Havurah movements begun a decade earlier. Do you think this schism between secular and spiritual currents within NJA reflected the larger tensions between a secular humanist Jewish movement and a Jewish renewal movement?

AW: Yes, I think that’s right. And both trends have survived. The heart of the matter for me is the prophetic vision embodied in Judaism, ancient and modern, all the way to Buber and Heschel and Judith Plaskow. So that strand for me is the point, and acting on that strand for me is not bringing Occupy Wall Street to the Jews, it is bringing Isaiah and Heschel and Lerner and Waskow to the Jews. Here’s an example of the problem and the gift. Occupy Wall Street breaks through in American consciousness to get the notion of the 99% and the 1% across. Brilliant! Terrific! Now, for twenty years the Shalom Center has been talking about the pharaohs of our generation, which I think is the 1% in Jewish clothes (and I don’t mean only governments, but corporations as well). So it’s true that Occupy broke through in a way that, inside the Jewish community, the Freedom Seder did break through- in an unexpected way. [The Freedom Seder] told everyone that we can all create our own liberating seders! And that changed the attitude of lots of Jews towards the existing liturgy.

BL: Reading the Freedom Seder today, I was drawn to the debate between violence and non-violence as a tactic for social change. Pacifist quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. are back-to-back with celebrations of the race riot, and quotes by Malcolm X advocating change ‘by any means necessary.’ This seems to be especially pertinent today, as popular unrest in America and worldwide straddles the border between non-violent and violent resistance.

AW: And when I said that the race riots were about the confrontation between the Israelites in the streets and Pharaoh in the army, sure! The heart of the Freedom Seder should be a debate between violence and non-violence. I have since become convinced that King-ian, Gandhian non-violence is far better. I’m not an absolute pacifist, but I think it’s far better except in a very few situations, where there is such a tyrannical thing that the only way to resist is physically. But at the time of the Freedom Seder I was saying: “Let’s have the argument, because we can only gain wisdom from the argument.”

BL: The issue of Zionism has obviously had a huge and polarizing influence of the progressive Jewish Left since the 1960s. How has the discourse on Palestine changed from the 1970s to today on the Jewish Left?

AW: There’s more of a spectrum now. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) can exist alongside J Street, and both of them can exist. I think there is a big majority for at the J Street outlook, but it’s interesting- organizations don’t like to confront even small minorities, especially organizations that are feeling that they are barely treated as legitimate anyway. There are two ways to behave if you think you are being treated by the big boys as barely legitimate. One is to say ‘fuck you!’ and do whatever really bold and trouble making stuff you wanna do. The other one is to be very careful not to annoy people. JVP has done the first, and I sort of feel attracted to its tone and method, but I see a problem with its unwillingness to affirm the right of the Israeli people to make their decision about having an Israeli state, and therefore to reaffirm that we can only go beyond a two-state solution if each of the two people says they’re ready to go beyond it. As of now, Israeli society is not willing to go beyond a two-state solution. For me, JVP doesn’t have to say: “We support a two state solution,” but it does have to say: “We support a solution in which the existing state of Israel and its people agree.” And they don’t quite do that. So that’s one of my problems with it, and I think it’s probably a problem with a lot of people who would otherwise feel attracted to JVP. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who do feel attracted to JVP, because they say ‘fuck you’ to the Federation world and all that.

So, the very fact of a more diverse spectrum means that the repression has not been able to succeed as much. In a way, an issue becomes legitimate when the society around it discovers it has to live with a spectrum of organizations, people, etc. raising the issue. It’s easy to polarize and expel, to excommunicate so long as there is a clear separation between viewpoints. But most Americans from Peace Now and J Street bridge the gap enough that it’s clearly impossible now to wipe out that kind of energy, and the greater spectrum means that there are enough Jews who are connected with official Judaism.

I’m not so happy with J Street either, by the way. J Street established this metaphor of itself that it was going to watch Obama’s back. And I ask, “What about his front? What about confronting him when he doesn’t do what makes sense?” Their whole description of their role was that whenever people were beating up on Obama for being too pro-peace or of Israel, J Street would hold his back and argue that he’s okay. But when he insisted on vetoing Abbas’ bid for recognition at the U.N., for instance, J Street was not prepared to say, “Oh, that was a bad mistake.” So I didn’t go to the last convention. If I could wave my wand and there would be an organization that carried out BDS on the products created in the West Bank, period, I would do it. Peter Beinart (an influential American Jewish journalist), Lerner and I are not just liberal Zionists; we’re something more than that. Lerner does try to organize around it and has done more to unite the two than most anybody, including the Shalom Center.

BL: In 2009, you cited five American ‘pro-Israel, pro-Peace’ Jewish organizations that were worth supporting in a context of increasing polarization within the American Jewish community: Meretz USA, Americans for Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, J Street, and Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (Brit Tzedek v’Shalom). Daniel Lang/Levitsky stated that since 2009, “U.S. Zionist ‘peace’-oriented groups like Brit Tzedek-v-Shalom, J Street, and the Tikkun Community have continued to decline in influence, visibility, and effectiveness, while non- and anti-Zionist projects from JVP to Jews Say No to the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAZN) have steadily grown in both size and strength.” Do you see this trend? Why?

AW: Yes, because people are getting more and more fed up with the ever more disgusting behavior of the Israeli government. The worse it gets, the more people that say I’m not even interested in J Street. So J Street tries to walk this very difficult line, but I don’t think the line has to be as wishy-washy as they make it.

BL: What, to sum up, can Jewish occupiers, and the entire Occupy movement, draw from prophetic Judaism? What can the prophetic Jewish heritage teach us about this imperative to resist, to speak the truth to power?

AW: I know I sort of got imprinted on the Pharaoh model by the Freedom Seder, and you might say I’ve just been reworking that metaphor for forty some years, and in some ways that’s true. And my most recent book with Phyllis Berman, my wife, is about the Exodus and the wilderness at a far deeper level than the Freedom Seder. But I think that’s the master Jewish story, whether its fiction or history. We begin that book, Freedom Journeys, with these three lines: “If the Pharaoh fell in the Red Sea and nobody told the story, did it happen? No. If no Pharaoh fell in the Red Sea but we told the story for three thousand years, did it happen? Yes. Is it still happening? Yes.”

BL: I love Sieradski’s quote, in an article for the Forward in November 2011, where he asserts the direct identity between the values of Judaism and those of Occupy- “In retelling our story (“We are the 99%”), recounting our values (“social and economic justice for all”) and carrying forth our tradition unto the four corners of the Earth (“Occupy Everywhere”) we are empowered to bring the spirit of the occupation into every facet of our lives.”

AW: Exactly!

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Flotilla controversy within Occupy Wall Street shows Palestine continues to be a fault line

copied from my MondoWeiss article here

 

At about midnight Palestinian time, all was quiet on the Mediterranean Sea. All reports coming from the Tahrir and Saoirse indicated that the two unidentified (possibly Israeli) ships and planes, which had been trailing the humanitarian vessels an hour before, had receded into the distance, and posed no immediate threat. The international activists aboard the Canadian and Irish vessels announced they were heading off to sleep, as journalist Hassan Ghani, aboard the Canadian Tahrir, tweeted that “I remember these feelings a year ago onboard the Mavi Marmara; the tension but also the hope of reaching Gaza the next morning”. Folks eyeing the Twitter-sphere found themselves “praying that this is not the calm before the storm”, and encouraging the 27 crew members to “stay steady in your tracks and strong in your minds”.

In the midst of this calm, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement posted a surprising and exhilarating tweet:

“We support and would like to express #solidarity to #FreedomWaves  #Palestine #ows”.

Moments later, the Twitter representative of the Canada Boat to Gaza posted an appreciative response, “We are thrilled to receive the support of  #OccupyWallStreet  Looks like only the 1% support the Israeli blockade of Gaza.” The Twitter-sphere flared up with expressions of praise and affirmation, proving that the 99% naturally link the struggle for the Occupation of Wall Street with the struggle against the Occupation of Palestine as two facets of a single universal liberation struggle.

Approximately four hours later, however, Occupy Wall Street’s tweet mysteriously disappeared from its home page on Twitter. The Twitter-sphere was instantly taken aback- “didn’t realize #OWS is non-political!!” remarked one tweeter, while another insisted that “If #OWS can not support #FreedomWaves and #Gaza then they should not compare themselves to #ArabSpring or #Tahrir.” The Canada Boat to Gaza, who earlier had nodded in satisfaction, now, shook its head in disappointment, offering, in the face of Occupy Wall Street’s fear of involving itself in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a few words by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Many tweeps asked “Why did @OccupyWallSt delete a tweet showing solidarity with #FreedomWaves?” or “@OccupyWallSt Did you seriously delete the tweet supporting #FreedomWaves WHY?” The closest official answer came from Daniel Sieradski, a new media activist who has been central to the OccupyJudaism activities. Sieradski explained, the “#FreedomWaves tweet was unauthorized, did not have reflect #OWS community consensus and was subsequently deleted.” He added, “#OWS does not have a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and “#OWS is a consensus based movement. The GA has never discussed the I/P issue & even if it did, it would never reach consensus.” Sieradski acknowledged he was not speaking as a spokesperson from Occupy Wall Street but he had “heard what happened from people close to it.” I was not able to receive an official explanation from the Occupy Wall Street movement about why the tweet was deleted.

As the controversy blazed across Twitter, it opened a space for the 99% to express the obvious connections between the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the global dominance of the 1%- “#OWS is inseparable from #Palestine. 1% funding Israeli settlements and extremist settlers? Priceless.”; “#OWS is inseparable from#Gaza. The 1% diverts resources from the 99% by Israel’s blockading and shelling 100% of Gaza”;  “The Tear Gas used in #Oakland is the same tear gas used in#Palestine, when protesters demonstrate non violently”, to cite a few among the myriad examples. Not everyone on twitter was upset however. The tweeter ‘Fatima600’, who had been using this racist name to fire verbal attacks at the flotilla throughout the night, responded, “They are tired of having their movement hijacked!!!!! I love you #OWS!!!!”

Hours later, @OccupyFortWorth expressed its support for Freedom Waves for Gaza- “Our support for #Gaza and #Freedomwaves is limitless. It emanates and echoes from the deepest purest regions of our heart. Love. Solidarity”, asserting, in contrast to #OccupyWallSt’s hesitancy, that “we don’t mind losing followers who are uncritical or unwilling to engage the issues (Or who are reflexively pro-Zionist.)”.

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Occupy Wall Street AND Free Palestine

As pro-Palestinian discourse begins to make its voice heard in the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement, right-wing organizations and individuals in the United States, including the Republican National Committee and the Emergency Committee for Israel, have denounced the protests as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

As the people-powered movement for social justice and democratic equality, which began in New York City in September, has spread to more than 900 cities in 82 countries worldwide, it has generated a global discourse critical of the economic and political powers and privileges of the world’s richest 1%, and has opened a space for the 99% of humanity to come together in solidarity, united by a common struggle for freedom. As it gains momentum, its message of protest has broadened to target injustices committed not merely on Wall Street but all over the world, including the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Among the myriad posters of protest can be seen messages like ‘End Military Aid to Israel’, ‘Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street’, and, from Palestine, ‘Occupy Wall St., Not Palestine- Freedom for Palestinian Political Prisoners!’ There have also been many organized events in support of Palestinian rights- to give just two of many examples, on Tuesday October 18, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine held an event in Boston entitled ‘Occupy Boston, not Palestine’; on October 8, at an anti-war rally at Occupy Chicago, speaker Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, discussed the links between Israeli occupation and American imperialism.

As the voice of Occupy Wall Street grows louder and more compelling, right-wing voices have, predictably, risen to attack the movement in any way they can. Pointing out, among the innumerable signs and posters of Occupy Wall Street, a few deplorable manifestations of anti-Semitism, and conflating these with many more genuine criticisms of the State of Israel, conservative Zionist organizations- such as the Emergency Committee for Israel, who released a video on the 13th insisting that ‘hate is not an American value’ (days before board member Rachel Abrams would use her blog, following the release of Gilad Shalit, to call Palestinians “death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages’, ‘devil’s spawn’, and ‘unmanned animals’)- have used the moment to kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, they can repeat their familiar mantra that ‘to question Israel is to persecute the Jewish people’, thereby shielding Israel, in the thick of this storm of popular revolt, from legitimate criticism; simultaneously, they can smear Occupy Wall Street as a hateful movement, defending their class interests as card-carrying members of the 1% by seeking to delegitimize a mass uprising which questions their power.

To be sure, Occupy Wall Street has shown the world a few instances of genuine anti-Semitism. When a protester insists that “the smallest group in America controls the money, media and all other things. The fingerprints belong to the Jewish bankers. I am against Jews who rob America. They are one percent who control America. President Obama is a Jewish puppet. The entire economy is Jewish. Every federal judge in the East Coast is Jewish”, we can discern an irreducibly anti-Semitic leap of logic that, by positing Judaism as the root cause of 21st century corporate and political dominance, blindly swipes at economic, judicial and ideological power structures, ignorantly and erroneously reducing their complexity to a single ethnic explanation- ‘it’s the Jews’. “From the 13th century expulsion of England’s Jews”, says Ryan Jones in Israel Today magazine on Sunday, October 16th, “to the 19th century Russian pogroms to the Nazi Holocaust, sour economic conditions have historically formed the backdrop of rising anti-Semitism”, and it is pitiful that, 100 years after ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, such superstitious belief still bubbles up, obscuring clear comprehension of the real enemies.

Yet many of those who have spoken out against anti-Semitism in Occupy Wall Street employ a no less nefarious method of ideological obscurity when, in the same breath, they attack those who speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Consider this paragraph from the Israeli news outlet Ynet– “Among the signs that could be seen in the protest were, ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ‘Hitler’s Bankers’, and a sign urging people to Google the following: Wall St. Jews, Jewish billionaires, Jews & Federal Reserve Bank. In addition, the anti-Israel group Code Pink: Women for Peace was spotted as well as other Arab groups.”

A statement like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’ is not an ignorant racist slur aimed at the Jewish people as an ethnic group, but a cogent political critique of the state of Israel as an occupying power. By claiming that this statement, or that the anti-war group CODEPINK, is anti-Semitic, pro-Israel forces are using a favorite time-tested tactic- shooting down legitimate political criticism of Israel the militarized nation-state, by falsely portraying such criticism as racism aimed at the Jewish people.

The day after the Emergency Committee for Israel published their political ad– which juxtaposed footage of Democrats Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi expressing support for Occupy Wall Street, footage of a few harsh-anti-Semitic outbursts that regrettably occurred on the streets, and photos of pro-Palestinian signs like ‘Gaza supports the occupation of Wall Street’, ending by reminding the viewing public that ‘hate is not an American value’- columnist MJ Rosenberg correctly identified in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera that “the Emergency Committee for Israel is not concerned about anti-Semitism or Israel. It is, rather, dedicated to defeating Democrats and promoting its billionaire donors’ economic interests…[using] Israel and Jews as devices to direct money and votes toward the Republicans.”

By super-imposing anti-Semitism upon Occupy Wall Street and the pro-Palestinian struggle, it seeks to stain the left and portray the right as the guardian both of Israel and ‘American’ values. The insistence of right-wing political groups to attack Occupy Wall Street and defend Israel shows to what extent the corporate interests of the American 1% desire a strong Israel to safeguard their imperial programme. By portraying Occupy Wall Street as both anti-Israel and anti-American, then, their actions reveal the very American-Israeli ideological, corporate and military power network they seek to obscure, and highlight, for those who can see past this smokescreen, the common struggle shared between those fighting the occupation of Palestine, and those supporting the occupation of Wall Street. Implying that a strong Israel wants a weak Occupy Wall Street, then, it pits the Occupy Wall Street 99% on the side of Palestinian freedom, and the 1% on the side of Israeli occupation, thereby revealing the contours of battle lines that have already been drawn.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are clearly realizing that there is a direct economic, political and ideological link between the corporate power they confront on Wall Street, and the Israeli occupation that the Palestinian people confront on a daily basis. As John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt said in their 2007 book ‘The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy’, “American taxpayers’ money has subsidized Israel’s economic development and rescued it during periods of financial crisis. American military assistance has strengthened Israel in wartime and helped preserve its military dominance in the Middle East…as of 2005, direct U.S. economic and military assistance to Israel amounted to nearly $154 billion (in 2005 dollars), the bulk of it comprising direct grants rather than loans…remarkably, Israel is the only recipient of U.S. economic aid that does not have to account for how it is spent. Aid to other countries is allocated for specific development projects…but Israel receives a direct lump-sum cash transfer…another form of U.S. support is loan guarantees that permit Israel to borrow from commercial banks at lower rates, thereby saving millions of dollars in interest payments.” (23-28)

Now more than ever, America pours economic and military support in Israel’s direction for political reasons. “The problems that the United States and Israel face in [the Middle East],” Mearsheimer and Walt remind us, “have not lessened….indeed, they may well have grown worse. Iraq is a fiasco, Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in conflict, Hamas and Fatah are battling for dominance within the Palestinian community, and Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon is deeply troubling. Iran is still seeking to acquire full control of the nuclear fuel cycle, groups like al Qaeda remain active and dangerous, and the industrial world is still dependent on Persian Gulf oil. These are all vexing problems, and the United States will not be able to address any or all of them effectively if Americans cannot have a civilized conversation about our interests in the region and the role of all the factors that shape U.S. foreign policy, including the Israel lobby.” (Preface, xi)

By beginning to link a critique of American corporate domination with a critique of American foreign policy in Israel, Occupy Wall Street seeks to initiate such a civilized conversation. The difficulty of speaking about Wall Street’s influence on the American-Israel relationship, however, lies between the signs ‘Zionists control Wall Street’ and ‘Google Wall St. Jews’-  both found at Occupy Wall Street- where a delicate and slippery slope separates a significant and objective factual trend (that the rise of neoconservative economic and political hegemony favors a strong Israel) from a dangerous anti-Semitic generalization (that ‘Jews control Wall Street’).

As Phillip Weiss correctly pointed out on October 21, “the neoconservatives who arose…to justify the military occupation of Palestine and American military support for it have helped to corrupt American politics. The neoconservative rise was aided…by the Israel lobby. I don’t think any analysis of our foreign policy can get anywhere without dealing with these facts.” Two equally dangerous Fascisms confront level-headed analysis of this neoconservative Zionism- the anti-Semitic Fascism of pointing the finger at an ethno-religious group rather than a concrete neoconservative interest group, and the pro-Israel Fascism of threatening anyone who dares point a finger at American-Israeli imperialism with charges of anti-Semitism.

The Arab Spring, where it sprung up, sought to throw off the yoke of dictatorship within a single country; Occupy Wall Street seeks to disentangle the American dream from a diffuse and all-pervasive system of economic, corporate, and ideological oppression; the Palestinian people seek to liberate themselves from a foreign occupier of their soil. What unites these diverse movements is the struggle for collective liberation. As the BDS movement said in their statement ‘Occupy Wall Street, not Palestine’, released October 13, the same day as the Emergency Committee for Israel’s video- “Our aspirations overlap; our struggles converge. Our oppressors, whether greedy corporations or military occupations, are united in profiting from wars, pillage, environmental destruction, repression and impoverishment. We must unite in our common quest for freedoms, equal rights, social and economic justice, environmental sanity, and world peace. We can no longer afford to be splintered and divided; we can no longer ignore our obligations to join hands in the struggle against wars and corporate exploitation and for a human-friendly world community not a profit-maximizing jungle.”

    The paranoid racism of the few Occupy Wall Street protesters who blame Jews for capitalist corporate domination is deplorable. No less deplorable, however, is the effort by right-wing Zionist power groups to use the specter of anti-Semitism to squash criticism of Israel as an oppressive occupying power. The sparks of pro-Palestinian solidarity that flare up at Occupy Wall Street should be fanned into a flame, as part of the struggle to secure ‘liberty and justice for all’ in the 21st century.

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