Save the Left! (Idealism alert.)

I'd like to discuss a topic only tangentially related to immigration but lying forefront in my mind these days – the state of the leftist activist movement(s) of the world, a wide band of which came out to the rollicking Manu Chao concert in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, last night. (Manu's song "Clandestino" laments the plight of undocumented migrants to the USA, so there's my connection.) Manu Chao has developed himself into the soundtrack for the anti-globalization movement, the Zapatista movement and other darling causes of his following – among which I count myself, along with the hippies, punks, revolutionaries of many ilk and various other leftists. During the show both Manu and the crowd got behind sentiments like "stop White House terrorism", and Manu made an important point of the need to stop fighting violence with violence and combat it instead with education and dialogue. (But when the rockets are raining on you already, what do you do?)

I spotted a girl in the front row with a hand-made sign that read: "Lebanon: say something". She held up the sign for the entire several hours of the concert. The band never really said anything on the topic, though it did a quick shout-out to Palestinians.

This column from an Australian paper crystallizes the thoughts that went through my head last night – and that resurface whenever I find myself among this particular group with whom I agree on so many political issues. There's this sense that if you don't agree with the party line on everything, than you can't be part of the club – and you're the enemy. But isn't this the same sort of blind adherence to ideology that we on the left deride in our right-wing counterparts? And isn't such adherence dangerous and irresponsible? So when I hear people shout "No more war!" and "Fuera, fuera, Israel!" (Out, out, Israel!) but never condemn Hizbullah for admittedly starting the violent outbreak and for continuing to send missiles into civilian areas, indiscriminately killing people, I have to question the shouters' dedication to "No more war!" – and the justice of their movement as a whole.

Despite what one might believe about the extent of Israel's military retaliation -- or the Israeli government's general modus operandi -- why does the left often insist that Israeli civilian lives value less than those of various Arabs (while many others do the opposite)? How can one scream for peace and a cessation in the killing of civilians but on one side only? Why are Israeli citizens responsible for what the Israeli military does, when Lebanese citizens are faultless in their government's harboring of Hizbullah and doing little to stop the military aggression exploding from its neighborhoods and endangering its own citizens? If we are to condemn violence and demand justice, we must do so from everyone.

The "left" needs to remind itself that it can fall into the exact same pitfalls of hatred, hypocrisy, and irrationality as its opponents on the right. That's why this article in the Wall Street Journal not only frightens me as a Jew and someone who's not so into bigotry but insults and disappoints me as someone who generally would be considered way towards the left side of the political spectrum in this country, which forces me to align myself with the Democratic Party. In this piece, Lanny J. Davis, friend of and campaigner for Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), expresses his dismay with the hate he never expected to find on the left side of the aisle. Here are some of the examples Davis cites of internet statements about Lieberman:

"• On "Lieberman vs. Murtha": "as everybody knows, jews ONLY care about the welfare of other jews; thanks ever so much for reminding everyone of this most salient fact, so that we might better ignore all that jewish propaganda [by Lieberman] about participating in the civil rights movement of the 60s and so on" (by "tomjones," posted on Daily Kos, Dec. 7, 2005).

"• "Good men, Daniel Webster and Faust would attest, sell their souls to the Devil. Is selling your soul to a god any worse? Lieberman cannot escape the religious bond he represents. Hell, his wife's name is Haggadah or Muffeletta or Diaspora or something you eat at Passover" (by "gerrylong," posted on the Huffington Post, July 8, 2006)."

I'm no fan of most of Mr. Lieberman's politics. His obsequious imitations of Pres. Bush in matters of "faith-based" governance and his hawkishness have soured me on him as a leader. But the responses above are as sick as those of the anti-immigrant folks on the message boards of The Arizona Daily Star, whose enlightened declarations below came in response to this article about the crash of an SUV, carrying more than 20 people as it fled Border Patrol in Yuma, AZ. Nine people died and twelve were injured, including a pregnant woman. Read on:

"10. Comment by Rich O. (darkhorse) — August 8,2006 @ 7:17AM
Rating: 5 Thumbs Up

Boo Hoo! I never cry when criminals die. Just think how many more thousands of dollars would have been spent on these 9 people plus all of their families.

22. Comment by Steve S. (#6590) — August 8,2006 @ 9:53AM
Rating: 2 Thumbs Up

Freakin ****s! If they would just stay in Mexico, this would not happen. I knew right away they were ****s when I heard 22 people in a Suburban.

Do you know why they only used 10000 Mexicans at the Alamo??

They only had 1 truck!

26. Comment by Clifford P. (Patriot) — August 8,2006 @ 10:16AM
Rating: 0 Thumbs Up

NINE DOWN, MILLIONS TO GO. If the ILLEGAL ALIENS in this country want SYMPATHY they can find it in the dictionary, it's somewhere between

Would these folks still feel the same knowing how much money they would save in cases like this by loosening immigration laws, therefore not having the BP out chasing undocumented immigrants (at a cost of $1,700 per arrest), and therefore not having folks end up in the hospital? (See my last posting.)

Judging from their statements, I fear that they would. So, it's not an issue of politics, or even one of money. Deep-seated bigotry runs beneath the facades of political arguments, along the opposing banks of blind ideologies, before crashing into a sea of discord -- and more violence. At the font of the river then, Manu, lay down your education. And how does one combat the missiles, literal and figurative, flying many ways across the sky before we can shut off the font? That, I don't know. But that doesn't mean we stop pushing on any front. Como dice Manu, "Próxima estación -- esperanza. Hope -- always."

, , , , , .


Anonymous Mickey J. Ellis said...

Interesting blog today.

I look at people who throw insults and hate as easily as our government throws bombs and usually can shake it off.

The name throwers will tilt either way given the wind, their own environment or peer pressure. They merely serve to distract.

Of optimum importance is the power base. The problem is getting their attention and then getting them to pay attention to the problems they have caused. And then getting them to be willing to solve the problem.

Good Luck.

I don't get the logic of the violent Israel/Hezbollah war anymore than I do any of the modern wars.

Those who would destroy Israel see all citizens as soldiers, so they need no compassion.

Those who would destroy the terrorists in Lebanon kill civilians, not because they want to, but because they are in the line of fire of the actual target.

Oh well, the cost of war you know.

To me, its all bullshit. Fucking, incredible, heinous bullshit.

Killing is killing is killing is killing. The people who decide to do the killing are not, on the whole, the people being killed.

War and killing is now sport for the masses. Who can cry the loudest, who have lost the most, which wounded have been most wronged. Statistics for a game board of death in which it appears every world “leader” wants to play, and plans to win no matter what the cost. Because leaders who order the death and destruction have nothing to lose. Nothing. What will Bush lose? What will Blair lose? What will the leader of the Hezbollah lose, what will the prime minister of Israel lose. Nothing. Nothing Nothing.

If Bush and Blair had to face the enemy, there would be peace in Iraq today. If the head man of Hezbollah were to fight with Israel’s prime minister, they would have a cease fire immediately.

So what does it matter who is right, who is wrong, who started it and who is currently to blame. As long as the blood that is spilt does not come from the veins of those who lead, war will last forever.

4:27 PM, August 08, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer J. said...

I'm not sure I agree with your characterization of the Left. To be fair, the East Coast Left is likely another world from the West Coast Left, but my impression of the critique of Israel (which is nearly absent from mainstream discourse broadly speaking) is not that they are the only ones responsible for the violence here, but are only able to engage in this campaign because the US is backing them. As Leftist Americans, it falls on us to force a more serious and complex discussion on the decisions being made by the U.S. in relation to the Israeli government, and the entire Middle East region.
The problem is, attempting to force out terrorist organizations by bombing civilian regions (even in defense) is hardly strategic, nor designed to spare lives. Additionally, it reproduces the strategies of the U.S. use to fight the 'war on terrorism'. Unfortunately, the same things are happening there that are happening with the U.S. occupation- Hezbollah, like Al Qaeda and the sectarian armies in Iraq- are only getting stronger. Let's be real, if the U.S. says back off, Israel has no choice.

Then there is the carnage. 9 out 10 dead in the Israeli/Hezbolla conflict are Lebanese. 1000 dead in 4 weeks is considerable, and should be taken more seriously than it is, especially since the biggest backers of Hezbolla are Iran and Syria- not Lebanon. Lebanon is arguably too damaged for its government to function. Hezbolla, though a terrorist group has ingeniously provided much needed social services, essentially buying themselves a cover from people with little choice.
On Israel's part, their military strategy here is questionable at best. Too many innocent people were hurt immediately and the majority of the population in the affected region has been evacuated. Those that are left, including many who were previously unaligned, now are backing Hezbolla. It was too much force, too fast. Bombing UN sites was not a great call either. Lebanon, for all its faults, has offered to send troops to the south if Israel withdraws, and it would be a move in good faith to consider the offer. It doesnt seem to be up for discussion though.
In truth, the ball isn't really in Lebanon's court. What exactly can they do here? So yes, we should critique all that is going within Lebanon as well (and Syria, and Iran), but it almost seems besides the point in terms of action. I tend to side with my friends at http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/ on this one. There are no easy answers, but a critical stance, even if it means assigning responsibility unevenly, is a step in the right direction.

12:35 AM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Jeremy Goren said...

I appreciate Jennifer J.'s contribution to this discussion, though she has taken it more into a discussion of tactical faults than was my intention -- and I think she unintentionally helps to make my point. Frankly, my personal stance on the current fighting between Israel and Hizbullah is that the 1000 dead on the Lebanese side (though the continuing adjustments of death tolls and photographs makes dubious the counts coming out of both sides) is appaling. But equally appalling should be the deaths inside of Israel -- or wherever else they occur. And that was the central point of my -- admittedly broad -- criticism of the left. If you claim to stand for peace and justice, you have to do so for everyone and not along selective, political lines.

I actually align rather closely with the stance of Jewish Voice for Peace. I don't like the Israeli military response, and I wish the fighting would stop on both sides. But I don't think wanting peace means heaping pity on one side's dead and not the other's to make a political point. Again, we must be able to make a seperation in our minds between a culpable government and sympathy for the people who live under that government. Why blame the Lebanese people for being weak because their government can't do anything about the terrorists firing weapons from its cities?

Jennifer's analysis of the Lebanese government's abilities is well taken. Their split with Syria has left them seemingly ineffectual. But the idea that Israel has the sole responsibility to stop fighting because they can -- or because the USA would order them to -- is unrealistic without a better solution -- and because Hizbullah was attacking Israel before Israel moved into Lebanese territory and continues to do so. The fact that their attacks are, unintentionally, causing a lower death count should not exempt them from blame.

My question as to what to do when the rockets are already raining down into your cities was not a facetious one. I'm not a military strategist. I don't know what the best tactic would be to stop the Hizbullah attacks, and I don't like the actions the Israeli military has taken. So, I'd like to hear a better solution. But criticizing Israel for responding -- which is what saying "they could just stop fighting" is -- when under direct attack and, again, not condemning Hizbullah shows a bias some (like David Mamet in a recent column) would brand anti-Semitism and that I, optimistically, will call party-line bias on the left. (I'm leaving Europe mostly out of this discussion, thought they play a major part in the popular response.)

Looking beyond rags like The New York Daily News and The New York Post and the TV networks, which are always bad but unfortunately popular places to get the news, I've seen quite a large amount of criticism of Israel's current tactics. (The New York Times, The Economist, etc.) Regardless, the lack of criticism of Israel in much of the debate does not validate the production of propaganda. As Jennifer says, this is a complicated issue. But taking a simplistic stance -- on either side -- is not the answer. It's just the way to perpetuate the lack of understanding. As Manu Chao said on Monday, we have to stop fighting violence with violence and terrorism with more terrorism. That goes for the pen as well as the sword.

9:15 AM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Jeremy Goren said...

Here's the text of the Mamet article I referenced in my comment, from the Chicago Tribune. I'm not saying agree with him on all -- or even many -- counts. I think he's a bit too black-and-white. But it's an interesting piece. (And, yes, it's a piece from the mainstream press that defends Israeli military action to the core.)
Bigotry pins blame on Jews
What was Mel Gibson's catch-all solution to his woes? `Jews are bad.'

By David Mamet
Published August 6, 2006

This story contains corrected material, published Aug. 8, 2006.

Many Jews are upset with Mel Gibson because they believe in something called "the public relations war."

Israel, these co-religionists think, is endangered because the Arabs, sworn to the annihilation of the Jewish state, are, somehow, putting a better spin on their case.

Israel is a sovereign nation, founded under the United Nations charter in 1948. Since then, she has been chronically and acutely under attack. Since 1948, Israel has staved off those invaders dedicated to killing the Jews and each time, after each war, Israel has given back to those invaders the land acquired in Israel's defense.

Israel wants peace, the Arabs want Israel gone (in 2000 Yasser Arafat, on the eve of ending a territorial dispute that would have given him 98 percent of the land he desired, withdrew and went to war). Yet most of the Western press, European and American, picture Israel as, somehow, the aggressor, and the Israelis as somehow inhuman, and delighting in blood.

There is no "cycle of violence." Israel wants peace behind the 1949 armistice borders, with some relatively minor variation. There is no indictable "disparity of force." Israeli civilians are being bombed. Hezbollah knows where the Israeli military bases are, but chooses to bomb civilians. Hezbollah puts its armaments exclusively in the midst of civilians. The Israeli aim is not to invade Lebanon (Israel left Lebanon) but to force Hezbollah to stop killing the Jews.

That the Western press consistently characterizes the Israeli actions as immoral is anti-Semitism. What state does not have the right to defend itself--it is the central tenet of statehood.

The Jews are not the victims of bad PR. They are the victims of anti-Semitism.

Europe has always been devoted to the destruction of the Jews. At times it is acute; it is always chronic. The Inquisition, the Russian pogroms, the mass murders of Jews by crusaders "going to save Jerusalem," and the Shoah (the Hebrew term for the Holocaust) are only the more notable examples of a civilization happy to designate a different group the helpless-stateless "other," and rape, steal and murder them at will.

The supposed "cause" of this hatred changes. "Jews spread the plague, they kill Christian babies, they are money-grubbing, greasy, unpatriotic, as a state they are psychotic murderers, they are capitalist bankers, they are the Communists." In short, Jews are inhuman.

"The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a spurious 19th Century libel of the Jewish people. It purports to reveal that the Jews kill Christian children for their blood, which they use for ceremonial purposes. (The document is widely disseminated today in the Arab world.) A modern, Western person might read "Protocols" with wonder at the naivete of anyone who would credit it. But the current Western bias against Israel is the blood libel; it is, quite simply, the "Protocols," shifting shape.

No, we are told, it is not that Jews, somehow, need Christian blood for their nefarious ceremonies, they need Arab blood, and, for some reason, delight in murder. And much of the liberal West, thrilled to have a victim to worship, nods along.

To ask "must there not be a cause for this anti-Semitism?" is an outrage, similar to asking the rape victim "how short a skirt were you wearing?" The question cannot be posited without, at least, the implication of the victim "having, somehow, at least in part, `brought it on yourself.'"

The question cannot be asked of Jews, any more than a European-American could ask an African-American "Why did your people stay in slavery so long?" But one might ask the question of a non-Jew. And here is one answer:

Twelve hundred years of European anti-Semitism, murder, rape and theft, may be laid in large part, at the foot of the Gospel of John. ("He would not go about in the temple, because the Jews sought to kill him," John 7:1 "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires," John 8:44, etc., New Oxford Annotated Bible.)

Now, any and every religion has some portion of its foundation text that is morally and ethically repugnant: Jewish morning prayers, where the man "thanks God that he was not created a woman," (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) "the rebellious child must be taken outside the camp and stoned to death."

The gospels did not cause anti-Semitism, but they licensed it, to Christian Europe.

Beginning with Pope Paul VI in "Nostra Aetate" issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, down through Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the issue of Christian anti-Semitism has been addressed, and enlightened Christians around the world, many, people of good faith, having done so independently, are now facing and redressing the issue of anti-Semitism and the Gospels in an organized manner (this sentence as published has been corrected in this text).

But those things learned in childhood, before we recognize that we are learning them, persist. This is the operative notion of psychoanalysis--that in order to forget we must remember.

I was raised in a time of separate washrooms and water fountains for African-Americans. White Americans of my age and experience had and have to confront those racial prejudices imbibed as a matter of course, before we knew we were imbibing them. Mel Gibson was raised as a Catholic, and studied the Gospels. Indeed, he made a film of them (I haven't seen the film).

It is not impossible that Mr. Gibson, at a time of great stress, reverted to a catch-all solution learned as a child--that he, in effect, "regressed."

What was the catch-all solution? "Jews are bad."

This might seem to be a rather tenuous connection, "I was stopped for drunken driving--therefore the Jews are bad." But consider: This is exactly how the Western world acted in the 1930s--the Jews are bad, "they are bringing the world to the brink of war." Germany is going to imprison, deport, kill, in short, relieve you, Europe, of them.

Q. What is the cause of unrest in 1930s Europe?

A. The Jews.

Absurd, one might say, how did "the Jews" cause Hitler to kidnap Europe? But see the same mechanism today. Israel (read "the Jews") we are told, has somehow so inflamed the Arabs that they (Israel/the Jews) will bring the world to the brink of destruction. Arab jihadists bomb the West and the West blames "the Jews."

But Israel's Jews are no more the cause of Arab fundamentalist rage than they were the cause of European fascism. We, as always, are the miner's canary, singled out as--and the first victims of--national or global unrest.

What happened to Mel Gibson is the same thing that happened to the West faced with the specter of jihadist killers: He became frightened. He regressed and started speaking the absurd.

Mel Gibson was pulled over for drunken driving, and, perhaps, because he was frightened--as you or I might be in the same situation--he said something regrettable. Then he apologized. Good for him.


David Mamet is a playwright. His book, "The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-hatred and the Jews," will be published in October.

9:32 AM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Gutiersy said...

"Why are Israeli citizens responsible for what the Israeli military does, when Lebanese citizens are faultless in their government's harboring of Hizbullah and doing little to stop the ... aggression exploding from its neighborhoods and endangering its own citizens?" are the sentiments of the bush-administration supporters in my family. Would you have ever thought you'd echo their battle cry on the Iraqi war?

1:06 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Jeremy Goren said...

I think Ms. Gutierrez is drawing parallels between the USA's invasion of Iraq and Israel's military actions inside Lebanon. And this illustrates the importance of evaluating each issue as it comes and not blindly applying party lines. The difference here is that no one inside Iraq had attacked -- or had the potential ability to attack -- the USA when US troops went into Iraq. Also, my point in the sentence Ms. Gutierres cites is that none of the citizens on either side should be attacked because of what other powers associated with them have done.

2:46 PM, August 09, 2006  
Blogger Beth said...

Save the left, certainly. And while we're at it: let's save nuance. Nuance is rapidly dying, and it's painfully evident throughout this latest ongoing tragedy in the Middle East.

I have heard such polarized, simple, black-and-white analyses of the situations. I'm about to simplify and generalize too, but I'm doing it to make a point... so, that said, the two sides I'm hearing tend to sound something like this:

Jews, Southern Conservatives, etc (interesting bedfellows, but in this case, they're snuggling under the sheets): "Israel has a right to defend themselves! Those damn Arabs. Always making trouble."

"Liberals" and Most of the Media (no comment on those bedfellows): "Those bloodthirsty Jews/Israelis! Always fighting sticks with tanks! Always trampling the underdog! Poor Arabs."

I'm afraid it's not so simple. But we like sound bites, right? We like to take firm stances, and it's way more important to pick a side than to be able to articulate both perspectives ... right?

Sadly seems to be the case. The truth is, I do belive in Israel's right to exist. I also feel their response has been disproportionate and the deaths in Lebanon are a horrible tragedy. I think Hezbullah is in the wrong; I think the Lebanese people shouldn't pay the price for the sins of the radicals. But how do you tell Israel, stop protecting your citizens... and how do you tell Lebanon citizens, control a renegade group? ...And how do you tell either side... it's all going to be ok?

Somehow, I don't think clinging to your black or white security blanket is the best starting point.

8:04 PM, August 09, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer J. said...

I think I already took up more than enough space on this but I looked back at your original post again and was struck by the actual comments you responded to. A sign that said 'Lebanon: say something' and the article in the Australian Press.

If I read thse correctly on the second go, your concern is that Lebanon, and perhaps specifically Hezbolla is not being criticized equally, if at all for their role in the current violence.

To be honest, I don't think that is something that is all that important to be said repeatedly. What would be gained? I dont recall many efforts to "blame" Al Qaeda for their part in the War on Terror as a method to get a constructive dialogue going on peace. We tend not to consider terrorist groups as reasonable actors in such conflicts, generally speaking. We condemn the terrorists and plead and protest the governments that have rules and regulations. I might be wrong, but isn't a critique of terrorist groups more of a given? I don't think the concern of the Left is that Hezbolla foot soldiers will be killed- its an issue of civilian deaths on both sides. And while Israel is Israel, Hezbolla is not Lebanon.

The Human Rights Watch (hrw.org - a traditional lefty NGO)has issued several reports criticizing Israel for its failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians and violating UN human rights declarations that is has ratified and continues to damage institutions and block roadways to the point that it has warranted a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. Hezbolla has also been critized for targeting civilian areas. Both were critized for justifying their own misconduct with the misconduct of the other. What is most interesting to me however, is that Lebanon's military has been targeted by Israel, but Lebanon has not responded. Thus, its unclear, according to international law, whether this can even be considered an interstate conflict (determining whether the Geneva conventions apply). What do you do when Lebanon isn't technically involved?

As for the role of religion here, its a fascinating and, I think, obscuring conundrum. We often use race and religion to explain things that are far more complex. That may apply to both sides here, but reading Mamet (which I know you didnt agree with) who 'discovers' causal relationships between worldwide anti-semitism and a critical stance on Israel, feels like an insult to my intelligence. I find the WSJ article equally fishy- as a conservative paper, its a rather sensationalist tatic, and not very rigorous to look up anonymous blog posts. Lieberman is out because he lacks an anti-war stance, not because he is Jewish (although I don't doubt that some ignorant fools are glad to see him go for that reason). I'm sure I could find you thousands of pages of equally virulent racism against Obama, Richardson, or any other non-Protestant white male in the public eye. I don't think it would tell me much about ideologies and politics in the US today.

Mostly though, I want to underscore the role of the U.S. here in light of defending the critical Left. Today the NY Times reported that Israel just asked for, and received approval for a shipment of rockets and other arms from the US. And we also know that the Bush Administration is defending Israel on the grounds that this is part of the War on Terror. Isolationism is not the order of the day, and I don't think we can think sit back and relax knowing the nature of the Bush agenda, regardless of the very valid reasons Israel has for having entered such a conflict. I'm not convinced this is a matter of warring ideologies. It seems to me more an issue of a more prudent populace that is now skeptical that military action accomplishes anything (60% now against the war).

I actually think that most of us really think there is a (rare) time and a place for violence, but we are reluctant, given the current climate, to believe that this is it.

For more information, I recommend checking out democracynow.org

4:45 AM, August 11, 2006  

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