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(en) ONWARD vol. 3 iss. 1 OUT NOW! - Co-opting Solidarity: Privilege in the Palestine Solidarity Movement

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.onwardnewspaper.org/)
Date Wed, 9 Oct 2002 02:38:11 -0400 (EDT)


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ONWARD  turns two years old with our brand new issue, out
now! This issue brings you the latest news from
around the world, with a special focus on events in
Holland, Colombia, Venezuala, East Timor and
India. This issue also marks the fourth installment of
our COINTELPRO series and contains coverage of
MayDay protests, prison censorship, the Ontario
Coalition Against Poverty, and INS detentions.

The article, Co-opting Solidarity: Privilege in the
Palestine Solidarity Movement, comes from our
centerfold on Occupation, Intifada and
Understanding the Israel/Palestine Conflict. We
continue you to bring you the latest in anarchist and
radical theory, opinion and strategy. This issue takes
a look at reform and revolution, anarchists in the
anti-war movement, and there is also a special article
on a Democratic Socialist Appeal to Anarchists. All
this plus our regular in-depth coverage of political
prisoners and prison abolition, news, letters and
classifieds.

What's a birthday without birthday presents? Your
contribution of money and stamps enables us to send
ONWARD free to hundreds of prisoners. Donations
from the outside are important in building solidarity
with those who cannot afford to pay for subscriptions.
This is even more important as postage rates are
rising yet again, making our costs rise quite a bit.
Consider distributing the paper or throwing in a
couple extra bucks when you subscribe! Single copies
are available for $2 through mail. Subscriptions are
$7-10 in the U.S., $10-13 for outside the U.S. Check
our website for distribution rates! Checks/money
orders can be made out to ONWARD, or
well-concealed cash is fine.

We look forward to hearing from you.
ONWARD
PO Box 2671
Gainesville FL 32602-2671
info@onwardnewspaper.org

Co-opting Solidarity: Privilege in the Palestine
Solidarity Movement

By Nicole Solomon

The upsurge of support worldwide for Palestinians
facing increasingly right wing Israeli policy is a
crucial piece of movement toward global solidarity
with and among oppressed peoples. It is good and
fitting that, in the face of the Israeli government's
genocidal practices and the strategic backing of the
United States government, the numbers of
liberation-minded people in the U.S. opposing the
occupation and other horrendous actions is growing.
The Israeli occupation has become a central issue for
activists in the U.S. It is about time that many who
had previously dodged the issue - especially white
progressives and radicals - moved it to the forefront of
their agenda. The Palestinian solidarity movement
must grow. As we grow, we must remain - and
hopefully become increasingly - radical.

I write this article as someone committed to all
struggles against oppressive power, as a white queer
Jewish anarchist living under the United States' white
supremacy, engaged in anti-racist activism, theory,
praxis. My identity is of immediate relevance in
addressing Palestinian solidarity activism. The
identities of all activists involved are, as they inform
the privileges we hold and the vulnerabilities we have
in the context of our activism. The April 20 and 22
demonstrations in Washington D.C., landmark events
in the global Palestinian solidarity movement, also
represent a turning point in the movement against the
occupation. If we don't act in principled solidarity, we
face the risk of becoming a white co-optation
movement.

Many U.S. white goy (non-Jewish) activists have
little to no understanding of the histories of
anti-Jewish oppression, anti-Semitism (a term often
used in the U.S. interchangeably with "anti-Jewish,"
but actually refers to all "semites" - Arab as well as
Jewish people) or the vulnerabilities of Arabs,
Muslims, South Asians and anyone perceived as
such. They may feel a sincere affinity for Palestinians
and rage at the practices of the Israeli government,
but that doesn't mean they have an understanding of
what solidarity means. Solidarity involves acting
accountably with an understanding of the
participants' locations of power. Not every U.S.
activist involved in Palestinian solidarity efforts is
acting in ways accountable to Palestinians and others
involved in the movement. These activists often
occupy privileged locations of identity - whiteness
and, more often than not, WASPiness and class
privilege. Such activists may plan actions supposedly
on behalf of Palestinians yet structured around
agendas other than what might actually be useful to
Palestinian people. For example, activists may initiate
(or attempt to initiate, the more common occurrence
in April in DC) illegal, potentially high risk activities
that could endanger Muslims, Arabs and South
Asians in the area, generally at a much higher risk
than, for example, white goy anarchists. High risk
actions for Palestine are not acceptable when
privileged activists organize them without discussion
with Muslim and Arab groups, particularly when
there was no call for such activities from Muslim,
Arab and South Asian groups. Such situations
especially occur in contexts where majority white and
goy groups claiming to be pro-Palestinian liberation
activists have little to no relationship or
communication with South Asian, Arab and Muslim
communities in general. Many white goy activists
autonomously plan "pro-Palestinian" actions they
think sound cool, without any familiarity with the
work already done by Arab, Muslim and South Asian
activists groups or how they could usefully plug in.
Such activists act in ways unaccountable to the
people they are supposedly "in solidarity" with.
Non-Palestinians engaging in solidarity work must
support Palestinians, not use the Palestinian
solidarity movement as an opportunity to advance
their own (conscious or unconscious) agendas.

A dangerous trend emerging here, which has
emerged over and over in radical movement, is
activism as co-optation, not in solidarity. In the 60s
and early 70s the Black Panther Party was exoticized
by white U.S. activists who got pleasure from their
"edgy" identification with these "Others." Similar
dynamics can be seen today with white radicals in the
globalization movement fixing their colonial gaze
upon yet another oppressed and "bad-ass" group. In
the context of this history, what warning bells go off
when white U.S. black bloc anarchists "in solidarity"
mask up in red and black kaffiyas, a traditional
Palestinian head covering, seemingly oblivious to the
significance of such in Palestinian and broader
Muslim and Arab cultures. This is appropriation of
aspects of an oppressed people's culture by a
privileged class. While there may be times when it is
appropriate for non-Palestinians to wear kaffiyas,
direction for how to use cultural symbols must come
from those whose symbols are being used.

Radical theorist bell hooks discusses the pleasure
white people may find in racial transgressions that
exploit Otherness in her essay, "Eating the Other:
desire and resistance." She writes: "The
commodification of Otherness has been so successful
because it is offered as a new delight, more intense,
more satisfying than normal ways of doing and
feeling ... Certainly from the standpoint of white
supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the hope is that
desires for the 'primitive' or fantasies about the Other
can be continuously exploited, and that such
exploitation will occur in a manner that re-inscribes
and maintains the status quo." Underlying power
structures are not challenged when white people
fetishize people of color and seek connection with
them because they are desirably exotic.

White U.S. goyim in the Palestinian solidarity
movement can often be seen playing into this
dynamic, where the privileged radicals are offered up
a fresh way to assume a position outside of the
mainstream. They are offered ways different from
"normal" summit-hopping through which
marginalized peoples and their struggle can act as
another gateway to "new" forms of "edginess."
Within this framework, it is ultimately the white goy
whose desires and pleasures served through the
imperial transgression of the conquest of yet another
"outsider" frontier.

The slogan "we are all Palestinian" said in
conjunction with the wearing of kaffiyas, the flying of
the Palestinian flag and paired with activities
furthering white goy activists' own identity and
self-image, could be seen as "eating the other" within
activism. Identification with Palestinians - an "exotic"
and demonized group within racist U.S. discourse,
one of the most blatantly and frequently discussed as
such in this moment - is rather edgy. White U.S.
anarchists in full black bloc drag who don kaffiyas - in
misappropriated, anarchist-appropriate colors, no less
- manage to simultaneously play off of and into racist
constructions in the U.S. of the scary kaffiya-wearing
Arab. It is not the place of white U.S. anarchists to
play around with these visual semiotics when they are
not the ones injured by them. White U.S. anarchists
can always take off the kaffiya and blend back into
society as a "real" U.S. citizen, not a "potential
terrorist."

It also rather "spices" up bland white U.S. anarchism,
kicks your black bloc up a notch, to fly a Palestinian
flag. To what degree does the rebelliousness of the
act, perceived or actual, inform the decision to fly the
flag? Never mind the questions raised by anarchists
flying a state flag - in this case, for a state some are
fighting to establish. Not that it is wrong, but what is
the thought process in these instances? Why is it
acceptable now even among anti-statists? U.S. white
anarchist flag waving is not an example of principled
solidarity. In some cases it may be yet another
example of white political-symbol consumers trying
to absorb some of that spicy extreme outsider
Other-ness. It is necessary to end these patterns in
the interest of building sustainable movement for
global liberation, in which anti-racism must be
central.

White goy activists in the U.S. can float through
Palestinian solidarity activism with a casual freedom
and comparative ease South Asians, Arabs, Muslims
and Jews - even white Jews - cannot enjoy. As usual,
people of color in general and now Arabs, Muslim
and South Asians in particular are the targets of
police repression and media distortion. Counter
demonstrators also invariably target Palestinians and
other Muslims, Arabs and South Asian as the subject
of verbal - if not physical - assault of the most vitriolic
racist kind. If the counter demonstrators are Jewish
Zionists, they will also specifically target Jewish
demonstrators for verbal - if not physical - assault.
Zionists tend to feel deeply betrayed by pro-Palestine
Jews and act in intensely rageful, at times violent,
ways toward them. White Jews are in a much riskier
situation than white goyim when it comes to Zionists.

Jews opposing Israeli colonialism will continually be
attacked not only for their political position, but for
being Jews holding that position. White goyim need
to realize this, as they must realize the particular
targeting of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians, at risk
in ways white Jewish activists are not. Sept. 11
exacerbated an already hateful climate. Muslims,
Arabs and South Asians are even more vulnerable to
racist violent crimes, whether perpetuated by a private
citizen or direct agent of the state. All white activists
must also remember that non-Arab and/or Muslim
people of color continue to be targeted by police and
other "authorities," something sometimes forgotten
post 9/11.

All white demonstrators in the U.S. need to keep
these things in mind to be accountable when deciding
how to conduct themselves at pro-Palestinian events.
Differences in vulnerability among activists must be
understood so that we can watch each other's backs
at demos, actions and in daily life.

For instance, anti-Semitic propaganda by the "left"
creates an unsafe environment for Jewish radicals.
Where do white goy activists in the United States, at
a distinct racial/ethnic privilege over Jews and with
no understanding of the worldwide historical legacy
of anti-Jewish oppression, get off burning a star of
David, a traditional symbol of Judaism and Jewish
people, as occurred on April 22? What does that
mean to them? What does it mean to the media, the
cops, their fellow white goy protesters? Their fellow
Arab and Muslim protesters? Their fellow Jewish
protesters?

Anti-Semitism can and will be exploited by
pro-occupation forces. Anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish
statements play into the hands of Zionists, who rely
on keeping the lines between the state of Israel,
current Israeli policy, Judaism and Zionism as hazy
as possible. It is crucial for us to keep the distinctions
between them clear. A statement by Jews Against
The Occupation points out that "Judaism, a cultural
and religious identity, is not the same as Zionism, a
political movement. Criticisms of the state of Israel or
the idea of a Jewish state, whether put forth by Jews
or non-Jews, do not constitute anti-Semitism.
Equating Judaism and Zionism serves the Zionist
agenda by passing off all criticisms of the Israeli State
as anti-Jewish." White goyim who attempt to pass off
anti-Jewish statements as merely critiques of Israel
also contribute to this dynamic.

To perpetuate a racist image of Palestinians as
inherently anti-Jewish, the media will use white
goyish anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish sentiment
within the Palestinian solidarity movement.
Palestinians - and other Muslims, Arabs and South
Asians - will be conveniently scapegoated. It is not
only white goyim who express anti-Semitic
sentiments, yet theirs are most often obscured and
unchallenged. White Jews, in an unspoken alliance
with the interest of white goyim - and white
supremacy - have often racistly focused on the
anti-Semitism of people of color, helping to create a
false understanding of how power operates through
racial hierarchy. At demonstrations white goyim have
said, displayed, defended, not noticed or been
unconcerned by anti-Jewish sentiments. You can say
Ariel Sharon is a war criminal without playing off
anti-Semitic caricatures of his Jewish features, or
make signs with a Star of David equaling a Swastika
(while the Israeli flag has a star of David on it, this is
a symbol of Judaism in general, not Israel
specifically.) At the anti-American Israel Public
Affairs Committee rally in D.C., there was at least
one occurrence of a white, blond haired, blue-eyed
apparent goy coming to the aid of another
non-Jewish white demonstrator displaying swastikas
and spewing anti-Jewish rhetoric, when the latter was
challenged by other demonstrators. Said apparent goy
told the demonstrators concerned with anti-Semitism
to shut up in the name of the anti-Semite's "freedom
of speech." Such actions on the part of white goyim
are, in part, the product of simplistic, paternalistic,
binary thinking that does nothing to aid Palestinians
fighting for liberation and an end to the occupation.
The enemy is colonialism, not Jewish people.

In Barbara Smith's essay, "Between a rock and a hard
place: relationships between Black and Jewish
women," she discusses both the anti-Semitism that
weaves its way through radical movements and the
racism of many white Jewish radicals. Smith writes
this specifically to Black women within the context of
the complex histories of relationships between Black
and Jewish women, but her essay is useful to others
engaged in radical politics where racism and
anti-Semitism are present. She writes, "in the case of
racist Jewish people we have something to throw
back at them - anti-Semitism. Righteous as such
comebacks may seem, it does not serve us, as
feminists and political people, to ignore or excuse
what is reactionary in ourselves. Our anti-Semitic
attitudes are just that."

U.S. white goy activists who indulge in anti-Jewish
and/or anti-Semitic sentiment are acting out of
oppressive racism, even if supposedly, charitably, "on
behalf of" others. The solidarity movement to end the
occupation is of vital importance, and it is crucial that
we centralize a radical anti-oppressive politic. The
histories of solidarity movements, and the often
fragile alliances and coalitions that build them,
sometimes paint a grim picture of the ability of
dominating power to internally colonize attempts to
build movements of resistance to oppression. The
histories of these failures too often go unrecorded.
We must name these dynamics before and as they
occur, for it is the masking of these relationships,
sometimes hidden in the rhetoric of solidarity, that
allows them to hijack and destroy the radical
possibilities of our struggles. Through naming and
dismantling these techniques of dominating power,
we will overcome them. We must do this in order to
build anti-racist liberatory solidarity capable of
toppling colonial occupations and bringing the
possibilities of a new world to life.

Special thanks to Dan Berger, Eugene Koveos,
Louisa Solomon and Diane Welch for their help in
preparing this article.

Nicole Solomon is a writer and musician in New York
City and runs Fringe Element Records. She can be
contacted at ghost_vs_vampire@yahoo.com or
Fringe Element, PO Box 218, peter stuyvesant
station, New York NY 10009.


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