Time to Respond to War

News & Politics

As Red Crescent medics began retrieving dead bodies from the devastated Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin, as many as 100,000 pro-Israel demonstrators massed at the Capitol in D.C.

The demonstration brought together conservative Jews and radical right-wing Christians, conservative Republicans and Democrats. Among the speakers were Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, and Gary Bauer, the Christian Right's latest Republican presidential candidate. Israel's former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, New York's former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, holocaust writer Elie Wiesel, House Majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and House Minority leader, Richard A. Gephardt, (D-Missouri) were also on hand.

What brought them together was a war on terrorism, two wars, in fact -- George W. Bush's and Ariel Sharon's. Speaker after speaker drew the parallels between the attacks of September 11 and the suicide bomber-attacks in Israel. "Americans know that Arafat is nothing more than Osama bin Laden with good P.R.," said Netanyahu, who knows how to whip up an American crowd for a Middle East war, as he did almost nightly during the Gulf War.

Observers from the left responded with vehemence. "A Jewish Nuremberg rally," professor Norman Finkelstein called it on Pacifica's Democracy Now. Does the metaphor fit? You'll have to take that up with Finkelstein. Does such vilifying language about everyone who chose to show up at Monday's rally help grow a peace and justice movement? No, I suggest not.

Concerned progressives have been rightly raging for weeks over the Israeli assault on Palestine. Collective punishment, extra-judicial execution, lack of food and water, denial of access to humanitarian and medical assistance -- the stories from the re-occupied West Bank horrify and outrage.

The problem, some observers would like to suggest, is the Jews. "At the heart of it, isn't the idea of a "chosen people," what makes all this possible?" one anxious New Yorker -- a Jewish woman -- asked on Working Assets Radio a few weeks ago. You know what? Americans act like chosen people too.

Americans, all of us, appear to believe we're entitled -- to consume two thirds of the world's resources, for one thing, (though we comprise only one 20th of the population) and to live off land that became "ours" through a genocide.

Every year, the majority of our elected representatives roundly reject the suggestion that today's taxpayers should reimburse from our collective coffers those whose stolen labor and land made possible our national wealth. By segregation, Jim Crow, racist immigration policies and denial of the vote, the United States, over hundreds of years, passed laws to keep those who weren't "special" (which is to say, land-owning, white and male) in their "place."

We Americans know about supremacist thinking, therefore. We know about vilifying the "other" -- the slave, the criminal, the terrorist, the queer, the kook. Belief that we are somehow "special" or better or more deserving, or more hard-working or more godly, makes it easier not to worry about the humanity of those "others." And our government, like the government of the Israelis, does whatever it takes -- up to and including mass slaughter -- to "punish" those who would have it otherwise, and to keep the good things of life for itself.

There is good news. Conservatives are at each other's throats over Israel. When White House hawk, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz deigned to mention the suffering of Palestinians and the "future of Palestine's children," at this week's Israel rally, he was aggressively booed down by the crowd.

William Bennett, who just last month launched a whole organization to pursue disloyal Americans who "fail to support or understand" Bush's stand against terror at home and abroad, told the New York Times, that by sending Colin Powell to negotiate with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, Bush was angering "his entire political base."

While conservatives fight, it's time for progressives to come together, Jew and Gentile, patriots, anti-patriots, believers, devoted agnostics, leftists, liberals, the worried, the angry and the terrified. To varying degrees but without exception, we have a duty to be humble. Outrageous crimes have been and continue to be committed in each one of our names. The fingers we point at our neighbors we would do just as well to direct at ourselves.

On Saturday, April 20, progressive Americans will mass in Washington and around the country to oppose both Bush's and Sharon's wars and call for an end to racism. The April 20th rally won't attract the same support from powerful politicians and media magnates that the rally that claimed to be "for Israel" received (what's good for Ariel Sharon is not necessarily good for Israelis or their state.) But by rights the anti-war, anti-racism rally will attract equal if not greater numbers. In a time of war, people who prioritize peace and justice are special -- and we bear a special responsibility to join together across our differences to make a different world.

Journalist Laura Flanders is the host of Working Assets Radio and author of "Real Majority, Media Minority: The Cost of Sidelining Women in Reporting."

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