September 03, 2011

Blumenthal's defense

Max Blumenthal "answered" my criticism. More accurately, he claimed that I didn't say anything other than what he and Dana already said and what other people said. This is a time tested technique. When faced with two critiques, one that can be easily answered and one that cannot, conflate them and then answer the one that's easy to answer. this technique is taught, I believe, in the second year in most journalism and media schools, in the course "advanced deflection techniques, 201." But please, let Blumenthal provide the quotes of the other people who criticized him for ignoring the Levinski camp in Tel Aviv, or for selecting all his quotes of Israeli Jews from the social group most likely to confirm his thesis that J14 is a revival of labor Zionism and ignore voices that would have provided alternative interpretations. I also note that, however few or many made these points, he hasn't answered either.

Max Ajl has reproduced a few posts about the tent protest in the Palestinian sector, organized by all those Palestinians who didn't get Dana and Blumenthal's memo that they'd better not take part in such a collective delusion. I will return to the question of accurate reporting of the Jewish-Israeli part of #J14.

Shula Keshet, from the founders of the Levinsky camp, told a Haaretz reporter:
Here we put a spotlight on the backyard of Israel. That isn't just South Tel Aviv but everything that is considered as periphery, as margins, which is itself a scandal: development towns, Arab villages, slums. Most of the people are the lower class, and in that the women are the poorest." (Haaretz)
In the same interview Keshet rejects the "we are all together approach" of the Rothschild leadership:
I told them, don't push us back 50 years. There was a feminist struggle. There was a Mizrahi struggle. There was a Palestinian struggle. We are not the same. We can unite. Some of our goals are shared. But there are also the goals of those belonging to an oppressed class, that suffered more.
She goes on to criticize the Rothschild leadership over their refusal to create internal democracy in the protest:
"The revolution reproduces within it the same hegemony of the upper middle Ashkenazi class, that makes equal representation impossible. My fear is that in the end we will wake up in the morning after and find out that we were left behind: the elderly women, the Mizrahi women, the single mothers, the Palestinian women, that we were the hewers of wood and drawers of water for this revolution. The middle class refuses to give up power. Their arguments recall those of the founders of the state: "we built, we created, we founded. You can at best join." (Haaretz)
One can take issue with how well the platform Keshet defines passes the progressive test in relation to colonization. But she sure doesn't seem to like the idea of returning to the good old Zionism of 1948. Yet For Dana and Blumenthal, the fact that she is the founder of a tent camp doesn't make Keshet an important enough leader to interview about the meaning #J14. The problem is not that they don't interview her. Nor is the problem that they interview Labor Party cadre Kushelevich (although they should have identified her as such). The problem is that they build a picture of the protest from which people like Keshet have been blotted out, and they present Kushelevich as an authoritative voice whose opinion represent Keshet, when in fact Keshet most likely rejects her leadership. Why? Is it because Keshet's hair is not blond?

Here are two more videos from the invisible part of the "urban, middle class" and Ashkenazi revolution that Dana and Blumenthal had troubles seeing:

I wouldn't want to suggest that Dana and Blumenthal should take a five hour trip to Beit Shean (where the tent protest started a year before #J14 ) or Kyrian Shmone to check how many of the tent protesters there have a MA in philosophy and if indeed they accept the leadership of Hadas Kushelevich, or if their dream is indeed a revival of pre-1967 Zionism or they might consider other options. After all, that could consume precious time better spent giving media interviews. So I spent some of my own time finding easier assignments for them. Here is a video interview with Itzik Amsalem from Hatikva, South Tel Aviv, who's house was demolished by the government. It is a $6 cab drive from Rothschild, so I'm sure they can squeeze him between talking to Aljazeera and RNN.

"I started in Rothschild. I was with the first twenty tents... I felt that Rothschild doesn't represent me... So I went to my own place. I think the way the struggle is carried out over there is childish, false. and I think that the face of the struggle needs to change. This is not the struggle of those with [hand motions] and [hand motions]. The struggle is serious, the struggle is...I want to say to the middle class that if they got to be middle class we the poor of three generations we got where? If they got squeezed out of the middle class that they used to have a little money and now they don't have a dime, what are we, who never had a dime? Channel 10 and Channel 2 refuse to come here. They have a policy that Hatikva shouldn't speak up, because here the hardship is real. There they know that it's only a game, Ms. Dafne and Ms. Cinema, the second one, Regev. Here the state and the capital owners know that the crying out is real. Here there is a real hardship that goes back three generations. Here people are saying "enough." (beginning at 2:47)
Notice that in none of these clips do people mention Palestinians and the interviewers don't ask. Is that a problem? Of course. Does it reflect the settler colonial structure of Israel? Of course. Is it a debilitating weakness for a radical political movement in Israel? Of course it is. There is not going to be a successful progressive transformation in Israel without Palestinians in the lead. Not understanding that, which is common in Israel even on the left, is not just missing the elephant in the room, it is missing the fact that the car is sitting on cinder blocks.

But what about the people in the clips? What do they think? Since it isn't asked, I don't know. [added later: of course, these lower class protests are fertile ground for the far right, yet] there have been, already for years, joint organizing over housing between people from Hatikva and Palestinians from Jaffa. These efforts are small and hardly straightforward. Neverheless, they do make generalizations less easy to make. As Sergio Yani from the AIC points out in discussing #J14:
In relation to the Palestinian subject, it was rather in the protest tents where the weaker sectors of Israeli society worked side by side with the most radical activists, in Beersheva, in Jaffa, and in Jerusalem, that there is greater readiness for joint Jewish-Arab struggle. But this question is still unsettled. (AIC )
Dana and Blumenthal can go and ask that legitimate question (although who asks and how it is asked makes a difference.) They are also right to make the obvious point that without acknowledging the rights of Palestinians, there is never going to be much international sympathy for these struggles. Instead, however, Dana and Blumenthal go out of their way to make these people invisible by insisting that Rothschild is the face of the protest and that it is effectively represented by Labor Zionist party hacks (which they don't even bother identifying as such). Why?

It started with Dana and Blumenthal criticizing "the radical left." Considering the absence of any substantial engagement with actual left organizing, it is more accurate to describe the spat as Dana and Blumenthal criticizing a half competing half collaborating media franchise, 972 mag, which publishes some progressive articles but also stuff that is unmistakably labor Zionist or right wing. I don't have a dog in that particular fight, as in my opinion 972.mag coverage of J14 partially shares Dana and Blumenthal's biases. An exception is Matan Kaminer. But if they do consider going beyond the food fight, here are a few questions that they could ask activists instead:

Does it serve a purpose to connect the dots and draw out the existence of potential common interests between different victims of the Israeli regime (even though, of course, victims are not on the same level)? Is it a proper role of radical activists? Why? Why not? What are the prospects for connecting the dots, and what are the obstacles? How do recent changes in the global arena affect those prospects? How would potential changes in the global arena affect these prospects? Is there a danger than instead of working on connecting struggles, radical activists who devote energy to internal issues will be pulled into separating them? If the struggles are connected, can they still be connected in reactionary ways, for example in ways that silence or dominate Palestinians within the struggle? If so, what kind of strategies and organizing modes would be most useful to providing safeguards? What strategies are not useful? What kind of international and cross movement accountability can help radical leftists in Israel increase the integrity of their work and what could undermine it? I think these are worthy questions. But one answer that is clearly unhelpful is haughty babysitting and finger nagging based on misrepresentations.

I leave readers to figure out why Blumenthal answered with such churlishness, even insinuating that I no longer believe Tel Aviv is a colonial city. Yes, Max, it is. Tel Aviv is a colonial city. It always was. And some day it will cease to be. Which is why reproducing wholesale the perspective of the Ashkenazi colonizing elite and not seeing other perspectives is a form of collusion with the colonizer, even when it comes in the name of supporting Palestinian rights. Here is Sergio Yani from the AIC:
While media activists are camped out in the Rothschild Boulevard, this does not mean that other protesters are being represented by them. The media focus is here not only because the first group of protesters sent up camp on Rothschild Boulevard, but also as Israel’s mainstream media and politicians prefer to understand the protest movement as that of the middle class, even though most protesters are public housing tenants, single mothers, Jewish immigrants from Asia and Africa and migrant workers. ( )
The question is, why do Dana and Blumenthal go out of their way to represent the protests in the same way as "Israel’s mainstream media and politicians"? What, according to Dana and Blumenthal, is the common interest shared by Palestinians and "Israel’s mainstream media and politicians?"

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