Saturday, May 14, 2005

What, if anything, should anti-Zionists say about the suicide bombings?

This is a recent email exchange between me and Mark about what we anti-Zionists should say, if anything, about the Palestinian suicide bombings. I believe our answer to this question can make or break us. Also, I believe that the reason this question is so controversial within the anti-Zionist movement is because there are two quite different ways of understanding what our anti-Zionist movement's fundamental outlook is, most importantly the basis on which we appeal to the public for support; these two different outlooks imply two very different answers to this question about suicide bombers. What follows is a very serious yet friendly discussion which sheds light on the two different positions Mark and I hold. Everything is in chronological order from first (top) to last (bottom), so it's really easy to read. Feel free to share this with others.

--John
===========================================

Hi Mark,

Recently I started working with a local anti-Zionist organization for two reasons: 1) they oppose apartheid Israel, not just the occupation; and 2) they do direct door-to-door type work in their largely working class community.

The key question this group faces (and which I think the genuinely anti-Zionist movement in general faces, once it handles the left-zionists) is whether it will base itself on 1) the idea of international working class solidarity and equality, or on 2) the essentially capitalist idea that society consists of competing groups (races, nations, ethnic groups, religious groups, individuals, etc.) and that one must choose which group to support and which to oppose (in our case it would be "Palestinians" vs. "Israelis" [or "Jews" or "Israeli Jews"]).

In the first view, conflicts between groups of people are fomented by elites for the purpose of maintaining elite social control (and the solution is a fundamental social revolution for real democracy.) In the second view, these conflicts arise out of innate differences in the values of, and contradictory "interests" of, competing groups (and the solution is for one group to win the war against the other.)

The significance of our stance on suicide bombings is that the first approach is incompatible with the idea that random Israeli Jews are legitimate targets to kill, whereas the second approach implies a positive (or non-critical) view of suicide bombings.

When the Zionists accuse us anti-Zionist people of being in support of the suicide bombings (which they do all the time in local letters to the editor, and the general U.S. mass media frames the question this way as the choice for Americans being either support for Israel or for its enemies who are suicide bombers), we need to respond in a way that resonates with the positive moral values that most people share -- we need to say that killing innocent people is wrong, but the fact that some Palestinians do this is no excuse for supporting the far greater wrong of apartheid Israel, just as it would have been wrong in 1831 to use Nat Turner's slave rebellion's killing of white children as an excuse to support slavery. My experience is that this line of reasoning is extremely compelling to most people.

In contrast, those who adhere to the second approach (choose your favorite group and kill people in the opposing group) realize that their views cannot be stated publicly because the public would reject them (rightly, in my opinion.) So they argue that "we have no right to criticize anything any Palestinian does." And this response obviously just confirms the Zionist accusations to be true, since the public would think, "They must support the suicide bombings because otherwise they would just come right out and say they don't."

This is why I posted my recent debate between me and "Mr. X" on this question.

--John
=========================================

Hi John,

I still feel that we are giving in to the Zionists when we attack suicide bombing. It's best to throw it back at them..what about Masada? the Warsaw uprising?

Weren't those suicidal actions defensible?

Once we start giving in to their criticisms of Palestinians, they will just bring up other issues, like the corruption in the PA (which they, the snakes, actually support)....

I think it is best not to respond to their bullying on this issue and simply state that the suicide bombings have nothing to do with divestment, which they don't..

It's best to state the truth, that the Zionists are bringing this up just to confuse the issue.

I would just say that those who drive the Palestinians to desperation have no right to complain about desperate tactics..and leave it at that, go back to Israeli war crimes, Nazi policies (I always bring up German words at every opportunity) and our responsibilities as funders of the whole enterprise.

Otherwise, we are on the defensive.

Mark
============================================

Hi Mark,

Thanks for stating your opinion on the sucide bombing question so clearly. Let me try to respond to some of the points you raise.

> suicide bombing. It's best to throw it back at them..what about Masada?
> the Warsaw uprising?
>
> Weren't those suicidal actions defensible?

Yes, but the suicidal aspect is not the controversial one. The controversy is about the target of the violence, not the means -- whether the target is innocent people or guilty people. In the case of the Warsaw uprising and Masada (presumably, my history knowledge there is very weak) the violence was directed against people who were violently attacking the Jews, and most people (myself included) would say that a violent response by the Jews was justified -- this is the tit-for-tat principle I defend in my previous post (the exchange with "Mr. X".)

> I think it is best not to respond to their bullying on this issue and
> simply state that the suicide bombings have nothing to do with
> divestment, which they don't..

Yes, the suicide bombings have nothing to do with the rightness of divestment. This is the point I make when I make the comparison to slavery and the Nat Turner revolt killing innocent white children, that the latter was no excuse for supporting the former.

But, for this argument to be taken seriously by most people requires our acknowledgment that we agree with them that killing innocent people is wrong. Until we establish that we are on the same moral plane as the people we are conversing with (whom we are trying to persuade) they will not respect us, nevermind be persuaded by us.

Calling the Zionist arguments "bullying" is inaccurate. Bullying would be the right term if the Zionists said, "Stop opposing Israel or we'll break your kneecaps." The Zionist arguments are, on the contrary, meant to influence the general public, not to scare us. Their arguments are skillful attempts to portray anti-Zionists as nothing more than bigoted, immoral anti-Semites. If we don't establish the fact that we share the basic moral values of the people we are trying to influence, and if we thereby allow the Zionists to convince the public that they -- the Zionists -- are the ones who share the public's moral values, then we are lost.

I hate seeing the anti-Zionists get clobbered all the time because they are ideologically incapable (either because of guilt tripping by the Mr. X's or agreement with the Mr. X's) of speaking forthrightly about suicide bombings.

> It's best to state the truth, that the Zionists are bringing this up
> just to confuse the issue.

Yes, and they succeed because we let them. We play right into their hands when we fail to be critical of suicide bombings.

> I would just say that those who drive the Palestinians to desperation
> have no right to complain about desperate tactics..and leave it at that,
> go back to Israeli war crimes, Nazi policies (I always bring up German
> words at every opportunity) and our responsibilities as funders of the
> whole enterprise.
>
> Otherwise, we are on the defensive.

Yes, those who drive the Palestinians to desperation have no right to complain about desperate tactics. I could not agree more.

But those who are engaged in trying to fight those who drive the Palestinians to desperation need to build a mass opposition to apartheid Israel and THIS DOES require being critical of some things that some Palestinians do. Our silence only helps the Zionists stay on top. Think about it. If you were in charge of Zionist propaganda in the U.S., which would you rather see: the anti-Zionists remain silent about the suicide bombings, or the anti-Zionists saying they are wrong, but apartheid Israel needs to be defeated anyway? I think it would be naive to guess the latter.

--John
==========================================

Hi John,
I still think it is bullying for the Zionist to try and change the subject from divestment to suicide bombings,and we should not let them.

As far as 'innocent' people go, point out that the Israelis routinely kill small children, deny access to hospitals, etc.

In other words, throw it back on them. Always maintain the offensive, and don't let them change the subject.
Mark
===============================================

Hi Mark,

My comments are below in CAPS.

--John

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark"
To: "John Spritzler" <spritzler@comcast.net>
Sent: Saturday, May 14, 2005 2:04 PM

> I still think it is bullying for the Zionist to try and change the
> subject from divestment to suicide bombings,and we should not let them.
>
THEY ONLY SUCCEED IN CHANGING THE SUBJECT TO SUICIDE BOMBINGS BECAUSE, BY OUR SILENCE, WE ALLOW THE PUBLIC TO THINK IT IS TRULY A KEY ISSUE ON WHICH PRO-ISRAEL AND ANTI-ISRAEL FORCES DISAGREE. ONCE THE PUBLIC SEES THAT THE ANTI-ISRAEL FORCES DON'T SUPPORT THE SUICIDE BOMBINGS EITHER, THEN SUICIDE BOMBINGS BECOME A NON-ISSUE. UNTIL THEN, THE ZIONISTS COME OUT SMELLING LIKE ROSES.

> As far as 'innocent' people go, point out that the Israelis routinely
> kill small children, deny access to hospitals, etc.
>
THE MESSAGE THIS WOULD SEND TO THE PUBLIC IS THAT BOTH THE PRO- AND ANTI-ISRAEL FORCES ARE EVIL. PEOPLE WOULD NATURALLY RESPOND WITH "A POX ON THEM BOTH" WHICH, OF COURSE, HANDS THE GAME OVER TO THE PEOPLE WHO BENEFIT FROM THE STATUS QUO -- THE PRO-ZIONISTS.

> In other words, throw it back on them. Always maintain the offensive,
> and don't let them change the subject.
>
AS I SAID ABOVE, OUR SILENCE ABOUT SUICIDE BOMBINGS IN NO WAY PREVENTS THE ZIONISTS FROM MAKING THAT THE SUBJECT. THIS IS NOT A "IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO" SITUATION. THE ONLY WAY TO PREVENT THEM FROM MAKING SUICIDE BOMBINGS THE SUBJECT IS TO MAKE THE PUBLIC UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS NOT A SUBJECT OVER WHICH PRO- AND ANTI-ZIONISTS DISAGREE, IE THAT IT IS STRICTLY A RED HERRING TO DEFLECT ATTENTION FROM THE REAL DISAGREEMENT, WHICH IS APARTHEID ISRAEL.

YES -- TAKE THE OFFENSIVE. BUT TAKING THE OFFENSIVE IN THIS CASE MEANS ARTICULATING A VISION OF EQUALITY AND SOLIDARITY IN CONTRAST TO APARTHEID AND ETHNIC WAR. FAILING TO REFUTE THE ENEMY'S ACCUSATIONS (WHEN THEY ENJOY THE PREPONDERANCE OF MEDIA ACCESS) IS NOT "TAKING THE OFFENSIVE"; IT IS JUST LOSING.
========================================

Hi John,

Finally, to a US audience, I would also just say, " We don't control what happens in Palestine, but we do control our investments..."

And then go back to Israeli Nazi policies, war crimes, Rachel Corrie,....

And everything else they would rather not talk about..
Mark
========================================

Hi Mark,

OK, I guess we've beaten this dog to death. If it turns into a particularly relevant issue in your work, keep this discussion in mind and maybe it will be worth re-visiting it.

All the best.

--John
=========================================

Hi John,

See my last message. I think engaging in an extensive exchange with Zionist time-wasters on an issue that we here in the United States, regardless of our position, CANNOT HAVE ANY REAL IMPACT ON...

just plays into their hands, by letting the Zionists change the subject.

A brief comment on it, and then go back to attacking Zionist policies, which objectively are far worse than any suicide bombing.

Debating with the Zionists about ANYTHING is almost always a waste of time.

FInally I don't believe that most people expect us to have an answer to suicide bonbing.

Give people credit, they know we can't control that, and they also know that Israeli policies are largely to blame for it.

Mark
=========================================

Hi Mark,

I agree, a brief comment to the public (not to the Zionists) about the suicide bombings is all that we need to make. Two sentences would suffice. Something like: "We think it is wrong to kill innocent people for the crimes of their government, and we therefore regret the suicide bombings in Israel. It is also wrong, however, to use the suicide bombings as an excuse for supporting the even greater crime of apartheid Israel, just as it would have been wrong for people in 1831 to have used the killing of innocent white children by Nat Turner's slave rebellion as an excuse for supporting slavery."

The lengthy debates on this topic, however, have not been between us and the Zionists (which would indeed be a complete waste of our time), but within our own camp, for the purpose of deciding what two simple sentences we should use to respond to the questions and accusations we receive on this subject.

As you say, people know we can't control the suicide bombings. But they also know (or should know, because we should be saying this if we aren't already) that we are trying to build a popular mass movement to challenge (even overthrow) the ruling elite in the U.S. because we think the values and objectives and policies of our ruling elite are wrong in many ways, of which their support for Israel is only one of the most egregious examples, and it will take such a movement to really stop U.S. support for Israel (among other things.) What people want to know about this movement we are trying to build, before they decide to support or join it, is what we're all about -- what is our basic morality: if we succeed in gaining power will we make things better or just replace one evil with another (as the Communist experience has made people suspect.) Therefore, we need people to know if we're a movement that believes in attacking ordinary people because of the crimes of their government, or not. People, to their everlasting credit, care about such things.

--John
=====================================

Hi John,

Well, yes, people will want to know our basic morality.

For me, our basic morality is opposing imperial policies.

Therefore, we don't criticize outside of our own circles what people do to resist imperialism. We didn't start the violence, Israeli policies kill many more innocent people than all sucide bombings that will ever occur combined...

My two sentences would be this: Israeli violence, both military and settler, kills many more innocent people than all the suicide bobings that will ever occur there. And how innocent are armed racist settlers and their families? How innocent was Baruch Goldstein?

OK, three sentences....

We won't build a movement by addressing any Zionists or their dupes. People on our side are not going to be that obsessed with a few suicide bombings.

Mark



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