Palestine, the antiwar movement,
and the quest for genuine unity

A response to Ted Glick

by Toufic Haddad; July 28, 2005

Ted Glick's article "Building Unity at a Time of Possibility" (Znet
July 20, 2005) provides a window into the thinking of the UFPJ
leadership and its vocal supporters regarding how best to build a
broad and effective anti-war movement capable of bringing about the
end of the brutal US occupation of Iraq. The thrust of the article
attempts to tackle the division within the US anti-war movement
organizers largely surrounding the question of Palestine, while
providing a rationalization for why the UFPJ leadership has chosen to
keep Palestine and particularly the question of the right of return
out of the agenda of the anti-war movement.

The basis for Glick and presumably the UFPJ leadership reaching this
conclusion rests upon his opening argument: "Narrow approaches are a
dead-end for our movement. . . What is needed is an approach that can
appeal to millions of people, that connects with and draws strength
from the deep-seated traditions of struggle for justice among the
peoples who make up this country."

He then argues that although he "personally understand[s] and support
[s] the right of Palestinian organizations to put this demand
forward" and importantly recognizes that "no one can legitimately
deny this just demand of the Palestinians", he nonetheless concludes
that "to put this particular demand forward rather than, say, a
demand to end U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, can only have
the effect of confusing, alienating or turning away potential
participants in and organizers of September 24th, and not just in the
white community."

He further argues that tactically "It is not a demand broadly
understood or supported within the United States, even within the
U.S. progressive movement", and that within "the context of the
movement to force the United States to pull its military troops and
military bases out of Iraq and end its neo-colonial plans to control
Iraqi oil, this is a demand that will weaken and narrow that movement."

Glick's concerns should not be taken lightly, or for that matter
immediately eschewed out of implicit purist idealism. Nonetheless, as
I will argue in this article, he is wrong both with regards to the
pre-assumptions to his argument, as well as with regards to the
conclusions he draws, which I believe can only lead the anti-war
movement down a dangerous path, built upon an untenable footing. This
is made all the more serious and damaging within the context of the
enormous human costs borne by the people of Iraq and Palestine, not
to mention the lives of US soldiers, and the draining financial costs
these policies are having domestically. I hereby put forth my
arguments within the spirit of constructive debate and the desire to
set the necessary political and methodological parameters for
actualizing the long deterred goals of our movements.

Why is Glick wrong?

First it is important to clarify the severity and hence urgency of
the political situation in Palestine, and the direct culpability of
the US government, historically and into the present, for bringing
this situation about. On this there should be no debate: US
government support for Israel (spanning both Democrat and Republican
legislators) in the form of virtually unlimited political, financial
and military aid, forms the basis for allowing Israel to do what it
does throughout Palestine. In its more 'favorable' interpretation
Israeli policies are leading to the erecting of a brutal form of
apartheid across historical Palestine, while in its more 'critical'
interpretation, these policies aim toward transferring the
Palestinians from their historical homeland be it in 'slow
motion' (through walls, settlements and the making of the most
elementary function of daily life intolerable), or in 'fast motion',
if sufficient historical conditions arise (such as regional war).

Without US governmental support for these policies, Israel truly
would be a pariah state. Here it is important to emphasize that the
extent of Israeli policies is not limited to the brutality of its
illegal 38 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, whose abuses
are so numerous it would be impossible to cover in an article of this
length. Rather, Israeli policies flow from its Apartheid-like
structure which defines itself as "the state of the Jews throughout
the world", and not as the state of its citizens. This definition
necessitates the structural discrimination of the Palestinian
citizens of Israel (who number more than one million people - one
fifth of the populace) and is incomparable to any other political
regime around the world. It should be categorically rejected by
progressives world wide, not only because it is fundamentally racist
against the indigenous Palestinian population, but also because the
way this ideology is activated on the ground both historically and in
the present necessitates the exclusion, and indeed transfer of
Palestinians to maintain a "Jewish majority".

If one fifth of the citizens of the United States were excluded on
religious bases from elementary rights such as access to land, (93%
of which in Israel cannot be sold to non-Jews), or the ability to
give their spouses citizenship (as is the case of Israeli citizens
who marry Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza), it would elicit
justified domestic and international opprobrium. Wasn't this similar
to the basis for the Civil Rights movement which fought against
racial discrimination and segregation in the from of Jim Crow Laws?
Wasn't this also the basis of the movement against apartheid South
Africa? It is the nature of the Israeli state, embodied in the
Zionist conception of an exclusive Jewish state which guides Israel's
policies in the 1967 occupied territories, against its Palestinian
citizenry, and which likewise prevents the legitimate return of
Palestinian refugees to their lands and homes - a right which
needless to say has been acknowledged in the UN General Assembly more
than 110 times.

Here lies the importance of the inclusion of the latter demand (the
right of return) within the agenda of the anti-war movement. Unlike
the demand to merely call for the end of the 1967 occupation, which
Glick seems more amenable to, the question of the right of return
goes to the heart of exposing the nature and extent of the issues
faced in the "Palestinian-Israeli conflict." The Palestinian people
categorically reject conceding their individual and collective right
to return to their land and homes as they justly should. After
bearing witness in recent years to the return of Afghan and Kosovar
refugees, and after it is acknowledged quite openly among Israeli
historians that Palestinians were intentionally driven off their land
in 1948 to create "the Jewish state" in the first place, support for
such a demand is an elementary human right which no reasonable person
committed to progressive values can deny. The right of return has the
tactical significance of being able to combine the pre-1967
historical oppression of Palestinians (yet to be recognized or
amended by Israel), and the current racist nature of the Israeli
state, which prevents their return because they are simply not Jews.

The point is that given the historical culpability of the US
government in supporting Israeli policies, the US anti-war movement
cannot pretend that it is blind to these abuses, nor that it does not
have a role to play in their resolution. That is why the inclusion of
a systematic and holistic critique of Israel, and more importantly
Zionism - embodied in the demand for the right of return - is so
important. Israel cannot remain Zionist and accept the right of
return. An entirely new arrangement would have to be brought about if
Palestinian refugees were accorded their long denied rights.
Furthermore, the right of return does not allow for the question of
Palestine to be reduced, as many have attempted, to the question of
the oppression and occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone.
Many have forgotten that the PLO was formed in 1964 - three years
before the 1967 occupation even began - and was founded as a movement
of return for the 800,000 Palestinian refugees who were driven from
their land, and the wholesale destruction of 532 of their towns and
villages. This issue is an open wound not just in Palestine but
across the Arab world, and has consistently been at the forefront of
Arabs and Muslims internationally, including within the US. Attempts
made at de-linking the right of return from the question of the 1967
occupation will end in failure as this right represents the heart and
soul of the Palestinian national movement, without which there is no
basis for a "solution" to the "Israeli Palestinian conflict" in the
first place - whoever may negotiate on the Palestinian side.

Unfortunately that is exactly what Glick suggests, when he says that
these issues "must be dealt with as part of the process of serious
negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli government
representatives, leading to an end to the Israeli occupation." Since
when is the anti-war movement limited in the setting of its agenda,
to the actions and policies of various elites, rather than setting
the principles for what must be the basis of human rights and
historical justice? By the same logic, the anti-war movement is in no
position to call for ending the occupation of Iraq and for "Troops
out Now", given that this is not something raised by the governments
of Iraq and the US. Abstaining from setting the principles for what
constitutes the basis for a genuine anti-occupation position based
upon respect for human rights, the end of an unjust and illegal war
and occupation, and the end to a dehumanizing and intolerable
dispossession of an entire nation, means abdicating the
responsibility of leadership to the agendas of organized power - the
very same powers which brought about the occupations of Iraq and
Palestine in the first place.

The anti-war movement must clarify whether it wishes to set
principles for what constitutes genuine anti-war, anti-occupation,
and anti-racist positions, or whether these are in fact negotiable
issues. If these principles are non-negotiable, then there should be
no reticence in including these demands as part of the anti-war
movement agenda. If they are in fact negotiable then the anti-war
movement is attempting to erect itself upon a footing which by
necessity concedes its principles and power to elites. There can be
no middle ground on these questions (though certainly tactical
considerations are another question, once this has been determined.)
This is also why Glick's implicit description of such demands as
"narrow approaches" that will "weaken" the movement is a
mischaracterization. On the contrary, failing to establish principles
of what constitutes the rights that we are fighting for is a recipe
for building a movement which does not truly know what it is fighting
for, resulting in an ambiguity which can only confuse the movement,
making it subject to disorientation by the spectacle of "Iraqi
elections", the "writing of the Iraqi constitution" or the next
"Palestinian-Israeli peace summit" etc. Over time this can only
result in the movement's ineffectuality, demoralization and the
depleting of its ranks.

Once this principled question is answered by the anti-war movement -
a question which is actually independent of the particular context of
Iraq or Palestine, but which is actualized through it - only then can
an effective movement be built. The lack of political clarity around
the reasons for this war; the feeling amongst many in the anti-war
movement that the UN could stop it; that the problem was the Bush
administration (and not US imperial policies in the region), and
hence the need to back a pro-war Democratic party candidate (who
could 'do the job better') are indeed the reasons for the splintered,
ineffectual state of the US anti-war movement today. The movement
simply cannot repeat these mistake again, or the consequences for
Iraq, Palestine, and the American people will be devastating.

Determining the need for erecting the anti-war movement upon a sound
political basis whose values it sets, is the best way to rebuild the
movement upon an effective footing. Doing so also necessitates that
the anti-war movement not be in the pocket of the Democratic party
which cynically takes its support for granted while functionally
supporting the war in Iraq, the "war against terror", the occupation
of Palestine, and the Zionist nature of Israel.

Only once this fundamental question is resolved can the question of
raising tactical considerations be addressed. Here, Glick indeed does
have a point that we must not be ashamed to concede. The question of
Palestine overall, the right of return, and all aspects surrounding
it, are indeed impeded by the fact that there is not sufficient
political clarity in the US in general, and within the anti-war
movement overall, regarding these issues. Additionally it should be
clearly noted that there is also a vocal minority within the anti-war
movement that is pro-Zionist and which strives to perennially scuttle
addressing the issue of Palestine in a just way as part of its agenda.

But if clarity around the need for a principled anti-war movement is
determined, the politics and orientation of the anti-war movement
will naturally flow. Rather than making attempts to force out
Palestine as an organic element of anti-war movement organizing, the
anti-war movement must move towards forcing out the Zionist elements
within it, as a corrupting and contradictory force which sews
ideological confusion within its ranks. Hereafter the anti-war
movement can begin to take up the issue of addressing the need for a
broad based educational campaign around the issue of Palestine, in
order to clarify the outstanding questions which remain and are in
need of clarification: the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-
Semitism; demythologizing the "peace process"; understanding the
exclusivist racist nature of Zionism etc.

The need for such a campaign will also have important theoretical
contributions to the movement for ending the occupation of Iraq and
for bringing the troops home. This is because the occupation of Iraq
is not an isolated byproduct of a deranged American president, but
the aggressive expansion of US imperial policies in the region -
policies it is worth pointing out which are supported by both
Democrats and Republicans in Congress and the Senate. US support for
Israel represents a core axis of US policies in the region, of which
the direct US occupation of Iraq is merely an extension. While Israel
has worked furiously since its inception defending the interests of
it imperial backers (including ensuring access through the Suez
canal, destroying pan-Arab nationalist regimes and leftist movements,
defending pro-American Arab dictatorships, ensuring that no counter-
hegemonic anti-US imperialist project emerges to 'threaten' access to
this crucial geo-strategic region etc.), the US now works to secure
control of the oil spigot itself, so as to be able to leverage
control over this crucial resource against its economic competitors,
particularly the EU, Japan and China. Iraq and Palestine thus
represents two wings of one US imperial strategy, and the sooner the
anti-war movement internalizes this, the sooner it can begin to
develop effect counter strategies and movements.

The de-linking of Iraq and Palestine within the US anti-war movement
is illogical when viewed in this light. Furthermore, the pre-
assumption that anti-war activists don't sufficiently understand the
question of Palestine and hence would leave its ranks if it were to
be included in its agenda, is also illogical. On the contrary,
including Palestine within the anti-war movement's agenda
necessitates having a holistic critique of the causes of this war (US
imperial ambitions, and US capitalist competition against its
competitors), and can only serve to galvanize, orient and engage anti-
war movement actors for the long haul. In this we must have no
pretensions: the occupation of Palestine has already lasted 57 years,
and despite the enormous human costs witnessed so far, the US
occupation of Iraq is merely in its infancy. If we look to the
historical experience of Vietnam, the US ruling classes showed that
they were willing to kill 2-3 million Vietnamese, Cambodians and
Laotians, and 60,000 US troops in its failed effort to ensure that
this region did not fall beyond its bounds of control. How then will
these same forces act to defend their interests when 60% of the world
oil reserves are at stake? The anti-war movement must soberly pose
the question of how many Iraqis, Palestinians and US soldiers the US
and Israel are willing to let die to ensure that the US maintains
control of Arab oil.

I believe all genuine anti-war forces in the US can achieve and
internalize this understanding, without serious dissention. The
problem with anti-war movement organizers is that both UFPJ and
ANSWER/ TONC do not trust their own constituencies - as though only
the leaders can understand these supposedly complex issues. Both
coalitions act as though their agendas, with or without the inclusion
of Palestine, is a fait accompli, without seeing the need to address
and dialogue with their constituencies about the need to set firm
principles upon which the anti-war movement is to be based, and then
to work to develop and educate the movement as a whole to address
their respective educational insufficiencies - be it regarding
Palestine or Iraq. Needless to say, let there be no illusions as to
the fact that plenty of educational work also needs to be taken up
around the issue of Iraq, given the gross misunderstandings and
indeed dehumanization that exist within the anti-war movement
surrounding issues like the right of Iraqis to resist, their right to
self-determination etc.

UFPJ drew the conclusion after the last US presidential campaign that
their movement needs "to reach potential new allies and expand our
base. . . An education working group will be created to develop the
long-term educational strategy to reach new constituencies." What new
constituencies is UFPJ talking about? The increasingly organized
Right-wing? As Glick himself acknowledges, the statistic polls
already show that the majority of Americans are against the war in
Iraq. This is the anti-war movement's constituency - a constituency
which proved its forces even before the war in Iraq began in the
largest demonstrations witnessed in the history of the planet. UFPJ's
strategy mirrors the policies of the Democratic party which believes
it must "reach out" to "red staters" - as though there is a middle
ground on issues like the war in Iraq, or a woman's right to an
abortion. The role of the Left must be to organize its real and
potential constituency around its principles, trusting that its
values and interpretation of reality are applicable and necessary for
the American people to live in freedom, equality and at peace with
other people around the world. It must not see its role as organizing
the Right. The problem with the anti-war movement was not that it
wasn't big enough, but that it was not organized around a set of
politics which could tackle the reasons for this war, and what it
would take to stop it.

Is it is any wonder then, that while UFPJ heads off in search of "new
constituencies", Arab and Muslims in America - representing a
constituency severely effected by the wars in Iraq and Palestine, the
bogus "war against terror", and domestically targeted and scapegoated
by everyone from "homeland security" to the Columbia University
administration - are distancing themselves as far as possible from
this wing of the anti-war movement? Is it any wonder that Arab and
Muslim representation at the UFPJ conference was virtually non-
existent, when beneath the banner of "inclusiveness" UFPJ bumps out
Palestine, so as not to alienate open Zionists? Is it any wonder why
Arab and Muslim organizations like the National Council of Arab
Americans and the Muslim American Society are calling the UFPJ
demonstration on September 24th "segregated", when advocates like
Glick characterize the inclusion of Palestine and the right of return
in the agenda for the anti war movement as "troubling"? Tragically I
am sure that the great majority of the UFPJ constituency would side
with Palestinian rights if given a fair chance to hear and learn
about the necessity to have Palestine within its agenda for the
health of the anti-war movement as a whole, and for its ability to
build an effective struggle. But when they are precisely prevented
from doing so by the leadership of UFPJ beneath the bogus concern
that it will "narrow and weaken" the anti-war movement, the result
can only be further splintering of anti-war movement ranks, and
deeper confusion over the anti-war movement's trajectory. All this
indeed during "a time of possibility" when the everyday scandals,
lies and incessant blood-letting of the war in Iraq provides the anti-
war movement with more than enough fodder to expose and demythologize
the US campaign in Iraq for the savagery and colonialism that it is.

As for ANSWER and TONC, both coalitions should indeed be credited for
their principled and courageous stand, and for seeing the political
and organizational importance of the inclusion of Palestine at the
forefront of the anti-war movement's agenda. Acknowledging this
however does not excuse their anti-democratic methods of organizing,
which have also tragically shown themselves to be incredibly
destructive for movement building as a whole. Each demonstration they
organize is like a carbon copy of those organized years ago, as
though history is static and new circumstances and questions have not
arisen that need to be addressed. Although in name ANSWER says it is
a coalition, in reality the decisions it makes are done behind closed
doors and are not accountable to needs and demands of what should be
anti-war movement priorities. I know this from experience, after
having attended one such meeting in which I attempted to raise a
political disagreement regarding the question of whether the anti-war
movement has achieved an anti-imperialist consciousness. The next day
I received word from one of ANSWER's main national organizers that
"The ANSWER meetings have brief political updates/orientations,
followed by short discussions on the various points, and then
breakdown into working groups. They are organizing meetings and are
not meant to be forums for carrying out political debates..."

If ANSWER is a genuine democratic coalition made of groups and
individuals committed to building an antiwar movement, why would it
eschew political debate? In fact without political debate, the
movement remains constipated and insular, unable to process and adapt
to the changing reality on the ground, thereby aborting its ability
to undertake the challenges a changing reality poses to movement
organizers in building effective struggle. If the methods of ANSWER
organizing are not seriously reformed they will over time (if they
haven't already) lead the movement and its constituency in ANSWER-
organized cities, into political obscurity.

Needless to say, as the anti-war movement experience throughout the
course of the past few years has shown, the process and methods of
organizing cannot be separated from the goals we are trying to
attain. Likewise the goals we strive for cannot be separated from
defining the movement's independent elementary principles and values,
which must uphold the categorical rejection of occupation,
colonialism, and racism while defending the right of self-
determination, the right to resist an illegal occupation and the need
for historical justice. Without having all these elements combined
within democratic structures that encourage political debate, the
unity we all strive for to once and for all put an end to the inhuman
occupation of Iraq and Palestine, will never materialize.

Needless to say the urgency of immediately and comprehensively
addressing these issues is made all the more stark in the context of
the destruction Israel is preparing to inflict upon the Gaza Strip as
part of its unilateral disengagement from Gaza - a plan which aims at
nothing less than permanently transforming Gaza into an open air
prison, expanding and annexing Israeli settlement blocs in the West
Bank, and dealing a crushing blow to the Palestinian national
movement in the process. As Israeli Gen. Eival Giladi recently
stated, "Israel will act in a very resolute manner in order to
prevent terror attacks and [militant] fire while the disengagement is
being implemented" and that "If pinpoint response proves
insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major
collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting
danger to surrounding people." It would be a genuine catastrophe for
the people of Palestine and for the US anti-war movement as a whole
if on September 24th, the anti-war movement cannot formulate a united
position on this impending blood bath. Worse yet, if UFPJ led
demonstrations entirely ignore the issue of Palestine like an ostrich
putting its head in the sand. Without a radical transformation of the
approaches and agendas of the anti-war movement, the blood flowing
from Iraqis, Palestinians, and US soldiers will be so plentiful and
mixed together that it threatens to soak into every hole, where every
ostrich burrows its head.

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