April 16, 2010

Samson der Nebechdicker does Berkeley

The BDS divestment campaign in Berkeley suffered a setback. Here's a summary of the main events:
A vote early Thursday by the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority to overturn a veto of the bill by students' association President WIll Smelko, though the bill could be reconsidered as early as next week...Following a lengthy discussion that began Wednesday night and concluded in the early hours of Thursday, the Associated Students Senate voted 12-7, with one abstention, to uphold Smelko's veto.

The veto was upheld despite high-profile support for the bill from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Noam Chomsky. In the wake of the initial 16-4 adoption of the bill in March, Jewish campus groups mobilized to engineer its defeat.

Hundreds attended the Wednesday-night session, including Israel's consul general in San Francisco, Akiva Tor...Following the vote, a procedural motion resulted in two more hours of discussion. The Senate then moved to table the bill. (Jerusalem Post)
The setback is temporary. The dramatic vote divided the Berkeley student community on predictable lines. On the one side, organized Jewish power, with its lines of support in the local Jewish community but even more so in Israel and Washington. On the other side, pretty much everyone else who is politically aware and active. What appears as a deep fissure in the student body is therefore in fact an overwhelming unity in support of Palestinian rights. This unity is more important than the actual vote, and the voting process, culminating in an all night session yesterday, helped its emergence and its self-conscious articulation. The Berkeley senate's inability to uphold the resolution despite their own majority view as represented in the original vote should be understood primarily as another case of the failure of representative politics, which works in a place like Berkeley better than at the national level, but not better enough. Senators voted their understanding of their political future in US machine politics, a future beholden to serving and maintaining privilege, not challenging it.

It was also an appalling reminder to what today most commonly hides behind the adjective 'Jewish'. First, it is worth noting that the resolution that targeted two US companies directly benefiting from the occupation, not Israel, not even Israeli companies, was not merely opposed by, but a mobilizing flash point for, the whole of mainstream organized Jewish bodies, including J-Street. Namely, when push come to shove, the occupation itself, not just Israel, has the full support of organized US Jews. The slightest attempt to confront the occupation is beyond the pale; mainstream Jewish organizations, whatever horse manure they may propose as "criticism" of the occupation, mobilize to defend the continuation of the policy of settlements and ethnic cleansing. That helps understand the real import of the false distinction between the occupation and "Israel proper." The settlers' slogan "Judea and Samaria is here (i.e. in Tel Aviv)" is not only true, but understood as such by the US Jewish mainstream, from AIPAC to J-Street and Hillel. These soft Zionist groups talk about two states for two people but mobilize to shield the one apartheid state of Israel from the river to the sea. They use "two states" as a cover up for support of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

The talking points the organized Jewish machine distributed to its student cadres in Berkeley were leaked. It is an interesting document. First, the talking points urge supporters to avoid debating the issue. That's an admission of sort. There is no real argument in defense of Israel, only rhetorical noise, and even that isn't very effective.

Second, apparenlty learning from mistakes, the talking points urge
DON'T mention that Israel is being singled out (don't mention crimes committed by other countries). Don't suggest divesting from other countries. It is a weak argument and implies that Israel has committed
war crimes.
A retreating army, apartheid apologists leave behind them positions that they can no longer defend. Do not expect them to admit that they used these fake arguments effectively for years to defend of indefensible. May someone informs, for example, Stephen Walt, that this particular argument has been officially declared exhausted?

The most important point is however the following, which is repeated in a number of variants:
The message: The bill is an attack on our Jewish community. It silences our voices....

The Bill is out of context and based on questionable sources (no need to go into detail). Thus, the bill is in fact an attack on the JEWISH COMML]NITY.

An unjustified attack on Israel is an attack on my Jewish identity. It is attacking ME. (Indybay)
Two important observations need to be made about this strategy. First, Jewish organizations are borrowing the language of marginalization and victimization in the name of the most affluent U.S. identity. Silencing Jews? You gotta be kidding? With leading op-ed writers in practically every newspaper, presenters, editors, anchors and writers in every TV station, over-representation in Congress, a whole cast of members of every US administration in the last few decades, and a slew of top positions in the Forbes list of richest individuals, who can even think of "silencing the voices of Jews"? This not just wrong and silly on the facts, but also an absolutely offensive and disgusting appropriation of the language of empowerment, taking for a ride the real victims of the persistent racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance that runs deep in US society. That Jewish student organizations can afford spitting in the face of Black, Latino, Queer, Muslim and other students who really belong to groups that are regularly and systematically silenced is a measure of the power they yield. They can talk about racism until the cows come out, but in their actions they put Jews on the side of the perpetrators of racism, not on the side of victims.

Second, the attack on the divestment resolution continues to establish a series of equivalences that testify to deep Jewish folly: US corporations equal the occupation equal Israel equal the Jewish community of Berkeley. No antisemitic demagogue has made this equivalence so convincingly. The equation between capitalism and Jews was (and still is) a figment of the antisemitic imagination. The equation between world Jews and the actions of the state of Israel is universally recognized as racist, and is even part of wretched EUMC "working definition of antisemitism", which lists as an example of antisemitism, "holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel". But thanks to AIPAC, J-Street and Hillel, putting pressure on General Electric because it profits from the occupation of the West Bank is now claimed as "an attack on the Jewish community". Jewish organizations could not better promote an antisemitic understanding of the world if they went and painted Swastikas on the doors of their offices themselves.

To be clear, the claims of the anti-divestment organizers are also false. The Berkeley divestment declaration was supported by many Jews in the student body, as well as emphatically defended by two of the most prominent Jewish professors at UCB, Daniel Boyarin and Judith Butler. What isn't false is the clear line that divide US Jews today, a dominant establishment that supports racism, promotes antisemitism and benefits from both, and an opposition that supports Palestinian liberation and rejects racism in all its forms, including antisemitism.

UPDATE PS. Magnes Zionist responds to the events in Berkely by explaining why even liberal Zionists should support BDS. But even he admits not talking to the organizations that effectively mobilized in defense of the occupation. That only strengthens the point above: the Jewish establishment is not salvagable.

Also, on the impact of the effort that is already a victory, see more by Cecilie Surasky:

...the feeling on campus and in the room was electric. We filled an enormous room that fits 900. Most stayed through the entire night. If you can imagine, the evening started with remarkable statements by divestment supporters Judith Butler, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, Richard Falk, Hatem Bazian and George Bisharat. And then the extraordinary parade of students and community members who spoke on both sides of the issue until it was past sunrise.

And though the final vote still hangs in the balance, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Senate voted to divest. The bill garnered the support of some of the most famous moral voices in the world, a good chunk of the Israeli left (9 groups and counting), nearly 40 campus groups (almost all student of color groups and one queer organization) plus another 40 US off-campus groups.

In addition, the room was filled with Jewish divestment supporters of every age including grandmothers and aunts and uncles and students. Our staff, activist members, and Advisory Board members like Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Daniel Boyarin, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Noam Chomsky each played critical roles in the effort. And of course, all of you who generated over 5,000 letters of support. (MondoWeiss)

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