The recent hijacking and destruction of the World Trade Center has exploded upon the political reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict with a violence that has eclipsed 10 years worth of Israeli targeted assassinations, Arab Palestinian roadside ambushes and suicide bombings on civilian targets. And right it should have, as the nearly 6,000 innocent lives lost on Sept. 11 are roughly equal to the number of Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews killed in the last 10 years of that conflict. (Juxtapose that number versus whatever your understanding is of the number killed in Rwanda and Burundi over the same period to gauge how important the Arab-Israeli conflict is to our world politics and media.)
The real explosion has been the emerging fact of the state of Palestine, as verbally envisioned by both the president of the United States and the prime minister of the United Kingdom. At no time since the U.N. partition of 1947 has the state of Palestine seemed such an imminent reality -- not after the Camp David accords of 1977, nor after Oslo, nor during Clinton's Camp David negotiations. I half expect the state to be declared, with global acceptance, before I am done writing this article.
The "whys" fall together with the domino-like clack of political expediency: a militant Islamic attack on the United States; the U.S.'s promised retaliation against it; the U.S.'s search for world support, especially from Arab nations; Israel's offer to help the U.S. fight terrorism (and the U.S.'s response that it must "sit this one out" and instead back out of the West Bank, while Arafat must crack down on militants in Palestinian-controlled areas). Amidst all this, the link the left has been drawing for years between U.S. support of Israel and Islamic hatred of the U.S. is given voice not only by Osama bin Laden via videotape but also by the UK's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw while speaking before the Iranian parliament. And American and British leaders continue to announce the necessity of creating a Palestinian state.
This is what has passed on the world scene in the past month. But is the left ready for a state of Palestine?
The left's current stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict seems, at best, to have been frozen in the post-Vietnam 1970's: that Israel is an illegitimate white imperialist settler state that has stolen indigenous Arab lands, killed and expelled thousands of Arabs, and maintains its existence through the oppression of the Arabs that remain, especially in the occupied territories of the west bank and Gaza strip. Indeed, the only changes to this dogmatic party line have been the additions of scorn for Nazi holocaust and slave labor reparations (mostly driven by the resentment of other historically oppressed but now politically represented ethnic groups), the amplified labels of 'racist', 'nazi-like' and 'genocidal' applied to the previous descriptions of Israel as a white imperialist settler state, and the seeping in of a suspicion of malevolent Jewish control of world institutions, beginning with the US congress and including the IMF, World Bank, etc.
These additions, which have been manifest separately in the underground left, the Islamic political world (both left and right) and white supremacist dogma for years, announced themselves loudly at the recent almost farcical UN summit on racism in South Africa, where Arab Lawyers protesting racist Israel handed out leaflets portraying Jews with fangs, sucking the blood of the world.
Ironically, as the left's anti-Israel dogma has become both fossilized and accreted to by dubious research such as the famous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" forgery, its' counterparts on the Jewish right - the revisionist "greater Israel" doctrine and the European Zionist "people without a land for a land without a people" - have both been completely discredited and refused by the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel. Indeed, a review of current post-Zionist scholarship reads surprisingly like the traditional post-Marxist dogma outlined above.
I don't mean to dismiss out of hand the conclusions drawn by the post-Marxist left (as I have characterized it) nor its' anger: Israel was created in the context of (and using the models of) white European nationalism in the wake of white European imperialism in the region. Many Arabs have been killed by Jews in the conflict since the early 1900's, many thousands were expelled or left during the major wars, especially in the War of Independence/ Al Naqba of 1948. We have all seen the modern david with a slingshot versus goliath with rubber bullets battles at demonstrations on CNN (or molotov versus M-16, kalashnikov versus tank, whichever permutation you choose) - and those of us who read have read of the oppressive maze of checkpoints and ID checks experienced daily by the Arab Palestinian rank and file, as well as the torture inflicted upon alleged militants. In addition, at least since 1967, Israel has been the US's main ally in the Middle East.
I'll just call those conclusions, at this point in time, incomplete at best, and generally suspect - call it Jew-dar, but my spider sense starts tingling whenever I see Jews depicted as sucking the blood of the world. For more context, my more reasonable nerves have been totally numbed in the face of the apparently willful ignorance of the following 'mitigating' facts: that Israeli Jews are in fact over 50% brown skinned Jews from Arab lands who suffered violence, theft of lands and property and expulsion from those Arab lands - including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco ; that a majority of the land settled by Israeli Jews was either reclaimed from uninhabited swamps and deserts, or legitimately bought and paid for from Arab owners (most of whom were traditionally absentee owners with huge holdings) ; that Israel accepted the 1947 UN partition of Palestine into two states with Jerusalem as an international city, which partition was rejected by the Arab Palestinians and the Arab world in favor of a war to 'drive the Jews into the sea'; and perhaps most important (and I would think self-evident), the historical reality of the history of Jewish people in the last 1000 years, a history that has found the Jews accused, beaten and burnt as often for allegedly sucking the blood of the world as for infecting in with their unclean blood.
With a working knowledge of all of the above (and additional complexities), I often feel very uncomfortable in the company of my fellows on the left - and often very confused. That having been said, I am totally prepared for the state of Palestine, whereas I feel few of my fellows are. Indeed, especially fellow Jews on the left often seem to bend over backwards to 'be down' with the struggle by expressing their hatred of racist Israel (in roughly the same contorted stances they assume trying to be down with African Americans and other traditionally oppressed minority groups in the US). Even Tim Wise, a Jew and one of the most lucid thinkers on the left I have read in the last ten years, recently wrote an article "Reflections on Zionism From a Dissident Jew" which not only included a number of half-truths about the Arab-Israeli conflict, but was full of half thought-through emotional conclusions, uncharacteristic of one of the clearest and most logical voices of antiracism active today, and the writer who has posited the best deconstructions of "whiteness" and "passing" I have read outside of the critical race theory taught at progressive law schools.
Is the left ready for the state of Palestine? After the kaffiyehs and congratulations, the stamps and handshakes from Nelson Mandela - is the left ready for the real on the ground reality of the state of Palestine?
The currency, as propped up by massive US 'aid' (as neighbors Egypt and Syria's are), and the fact that Arafat's circle look uncomfortably like Somoza or Mobutu in their Mercedes limos as they cruise past the dirt poor fellahin? The internal violence (count on it) between competing family clans or hamulas, between Christians and Muslims (as has erupted in the last two years in Nigeria, Tanzania, Indonesia - and nazareth), between the PA and Hamas and Islamic Jihad? How about Arafat and the PA beating poor Arabs over the head as the new tool of US/world capital oppression? Those looking deeper at recent news from the region noticed that as the Israeli soldiers pulled out, truncheons in hand, the PA police advanced, truncheons in hand, on the same Arab Palestinian demonstrators who used to turn out at anti-Israeli demonstrations and shoot-outs who are now demonstrating in support of Bin Laden. And apparently with rifles in hand as well, judging from the 2 people dead after the first day of PA control of pro-Bin Laden demonstrations. Ugly stuff, but I have come to believe that a government that does not rule by fear and violence is a rare exception on this beautiful green globe.
Further, the necessary corollary to the title of this article is: Is the left ready for a legitimate Israel? I often wondered, before the recent events transpired: will my fellows on the left who call for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories be satisfied if they do withdraw from the territories, and from the Gaza strip? If Jerusalem becomes the capital of the state of Palestine? How about If they allowed all refugees to return to the state of Palestine, and offered all the settlements deemed to have been built illegally in exchange for lands 'stolen' in 1948 and since? Without debating the balance of this particular deal, let's assume all the left's conditions are met. What then?
Are my fellows on the left aware that there are other people calling for every Jew to be expelled from every inch of the soil in 'greater Palestine'? A thought experiment: let's say that in 2011, ten years after the state of Israel does all of the above, that the state of Palestine is destabilized by an Iranian-backed militant who imports masses of weapons and rallies the fellahin to drive Israel into the sea and recapture Jaffa. Will the left be prepared to defend Israel, at least intellectually, in a defensive action against such an illegal invasion? If not, why not? I can say with the confidence of one who both knows that the charge of 'anti-semitism' has been used to silence legitimate criticism of Israel and who argues strongly that Jewish identity should not be based on victimhood and response to real or perceived anti-semitism that in a situation such as the one I imagined above, many people, and not just my fellows on the left, would argue that the Jews must have gotten a better deal in the previous negotiation, look how successful they are compared to the state of Palestine next door...
Is the left ready for the state of Palestine, for a legitimate State of Israel? Who will take Israel's place as global whipping boy, or Palestine's as the site of glorious revolutionary struggle? The US and WTO can probably take up the slack as global whipping boy for the western left - even though I am aware of how lucky I am to live in the US, and thus be able to write this article fairly freely, I'd say the US deserves it just for lying to us all so goddamn much for so long. Note I would never say a damn fool thing like "the US deserved the WTC attacks for its' policies", as some of my fellows on the left have said recently - I said the US deserves to be whipped publicly, politically - not that innocent individuals need to be murdered.
Will Mumia Abu-Jamal's case take front stage as the new revolutionary struggle? I'll just note that while many younger activists cry 'free Mumia!', most older members of the left I have heard are clarifying that they have called for a new trial, not for Mumia's immediate release. The Zapatistas? I myself can't understand how this could be a more compelling cause, but maybe the fact that Ortega is challenging for the Nicaragua Presidency and that Fox has engaged the rebels in talks has cooled the left's enthusiasm? Anti-WTO/Globalization organizing? I'd say this was the best bet - and unfortunately my spider sense is tingling again imagining the angry allegations about financial oppression and global conspiracies...
In conclusion, I believe that Israel has the right to exist, at the very least within the lines of the 1947 UN partition plan, and I am not afraid of the challenges of being a Jew and a member of the left. I call upon my fellows on the left to join me in new dialogues with new visions for the future as the only way to combat the coming intolerance from the right and from the left.
Rob Gyemant is an Oakland-based teacher and writer.