October 13, 2012

After the Greta Berlin scandal



The Greta Berlin scandal is painful, because yet again an activist project built with love, sweat and great personal cost is in serious risk of going to seeds because of the gullibility and egotism of some of its key persons, with the damage primarily affecting the people it is supposed to be in solidarity with. It is also saddening because nobody can doubt Berlin's dedication and contribution of many years, and the true love that drove it. It didn't have to come to that, and that is heart breaking. We've seen this happening before, although not with someone as prominent, for example with Deir Yassin Remembered, another Palestine Solidarity effort that was transformed into a front for bigotry, forcing its principled board members to abandon ship (the latest has been Susan Abulhawa--although don't expect to see it mentioned on their site. The Deir Yassin Remembered board is like Hotel California, you can check in any time you like, but you can never leave).
But It is also a moment marked by growth in both the clarity and the confidence of a movement that knows what it wants and won't allow itself to be hijacked and blackmailed into supporting ideas and tolerating behavior that undermine it. The response to the debacle has been swift and tenacious, beginning with Ali Abunimah's rejection of Berlin's obfuscatory explanations, and the clear statement of the former board members, followed with the amazing organized response of leading Palestinian activists, and the refreshingly unequivocal position taken by the editors of Mondoweiss. Critics have made every effort to invite Berlin to come clean and recognize and deal with what happened, which goes beyond the mistake of inadvertently associating solidarity with Gaza with a potty antisemite and the consequence of that for the movement as a whole. The problem is the pattern of associations, "openess" to and tolerance of bigoted cranks, as if racism and bigotry is just another opinion that one must respect, as if refusing it is too "divisive" or unecumenical, an attitude that progressively blurs the distinction between diversity of views and unhinged chauvinism, that made that kind of mistake inevitable. She did not, and then came the recurrent refrain that finding that unacceptable is in some way giving comfort to the enemy. The opposite is true. It is the renewed independence and autonomy of the movement that allow it to refuse to have its agenda set by those who attack it. We don't take our beat from Zionists and racists in either direction. We have our own drum, and it is the unequivocal and uncompromising drum of "freedom, justice, and equality...opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry." This renewed clarity will help us help each other so we have no more scandals such as this, and also no more moments of picking up the pieces afterwards.

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