Israel’s war on Gaza has stirred anger and outrage around the world, including in the U.S., where the political establishment is unanimously supportive of Israel.
On January 10, some 20,000 people gathered in Washington for an emergency national mobilization. Large demonstrations — bigger by far than any pro-Palestinian rights demonstration for many years — have taken place in cities around the country.
Arab Americans and Muslims have been the mainstays at these protests, but many activists involved for the last several years in antiwar movement organizing instinctively responded to the call to take a stand against Israel’s terror.
But this raises a question that has divided the antiwar movement before: What attitude should activists take to Israel’s war on the Palestinian people, given the close connections between Israel and the war-makers in the U.S.? Should the movement point out the connections to the two U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan? Or do activists risk alienating those who would oppose the U.S. war on Iraq by bringing in the issue of Israel’s war on Palestinians?
Many liberal voices in the antiwar movement have sided with not taking up the issue of Palestine — including leaders of the main national antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). UFPJ’s response to Israel’s latest onslaught shows the problems with this approach.
UFPJ has issued statements deploring the humanitarian crisis in Gaza today, but it has stopped short of demanding an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. On its Web page, it instead calls for “an immediate cease-fire,” and explicitly supports UN Security Council Resolution 1680, passed on January 8, by a 14-0 margin, with the U.S. abstaining.
The resolution “condemns all acts of violence and terror directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism.”
In addition, it “calls upon member states to intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable cease-fire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening of the crossing points on the basis of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and in this regard, welcomes the Egyptian initiative, and other regional and international efforts that are underway.”
The Egyptian initiative referred to in the resolution is the plan of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, supported also by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as well as the Israelis, for a cease-fire, an end to Hamas rocket attacks, internationally supervised border “security” to prevent arms from reaching Gaza, the opening of the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah to relief supplies, and new talks aimed at compelling Hamas to agree to let the Palestinian Authority back into Gaza.
In short, Egypt’s “peace” proposal reflects Israel’s war aims.
UFPJ claims that the U.S. decision to abstain, rather than veto the resolution, indicates that “our collective pressure is being heeded, and we are forcing a change in U.S. policy.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
First of all, the Security Council plan comes 13 days after the start of Israel’s attack, after hundreds of people have already been slaughtered. It is not so much a plan to stop Israel’s attack, but to let Israel finish its work and for the UN to step in at the right moment to broker peace terms favorable to Israel.
The abstention by the U.S. is an indication that it supports Israel’s continued assault, and it is not yet ready to step in and wind it down. The idea that a change in policy is being “forced” on the U.S. is at best naïve, and at worst deliberately deceptive. The unanimous resolutions passed in both houses of Congress in support of Israel should be proof enough that U.S. policy is not changing.
Second, the UN resolution, as one analyst supportive of the attack on Gaza wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, “does not dictate halting the Israeli operation nor does it demand the immediate pullout of Israel Defense Forces troops.” It merely calls for a cease-fire.
Worse, while the resolution fails to call for any disarming of Israel — the fourth-largest military in the world and the biggest recipient of U.S. military aid — it does call for stopping arms from reaching Hamas.
Can we really call this a plan for a “cease-fire”? A proposal demanding that an oppressed people — enduring squalid conditions as a result of the Israeli blockade, unable to come or go without Israel’s okay, subject to daily violence by the Israelis — be deprived of any means of resisting the military onslaught?
If so, then it is the victor’s peace, creating a wasteland, to paraphrase Tacitus, and calling it peace.
Also, the resolution, rather than condemning Israel’s relentless pounding of Gaza, condemns violence and “terrorism” against all civilians — a formulation designed to refer to Israelis who might be affected by rockets fired by Palestinians. As if an attack on a defenseless, blockaded and occupied refugee population by the world’s fourth most powerful army is equivalent to the firing of ineffectual rockets by forces resisting that occupation.
The resolution presents the wildly disproportionate violence as if there were a struggle between relatively equal forces. Thus, one UN Security Council press release, for example, writes of “two weeks of escalating violence and suffering in Gaza and southern Israel.”
The UN resolution is geared to the interests of the aggressors in this conflict — designed to disarm the Palestinian people who are legitimately resisting Israel’s aggression. As such, it is a shameful document that no serious antiwar forces can support.
That UFPJ nevertheless supports this resolution is not surprising. In deference to the Democratic Party, which took control of Congress in 2006, and to President-elect Obama, it has not called a national demonstration against the Iraq war in close to two years.
Moreover, because of UFPJ’s close association with liberal supporters of Israel, it has been loath to include the issue of Palestine in organizing efforts. In the past, it has claimed to exclude demands relating to Palestine on the grounds that this would make it “possible for the largest and widest array of people to come together in opposition to the war.”
As Lance Selfa wrote some years ago in Socialist Worker, “What UFPJ doesn’t say is that the people it is more worried about alienating are Zionists in their ranks and Democratic Party politicians, whose support for Israel is a given. UFPJ’s leaders would rather sideline thousands of Arabs and Muslims who have been the targets of state repression than a handful of Democrats and their liberal supporters.”
If the argument to limit the movement’s demands was spurious when UFPJ made it in 2005, it is even more so now, when tens of thousands of people are in the streets protesting Israel’s genocide against Gaza.
Now, the issue of Israel and its assault on Palestinians is at center stage, and it is high time that the antiwar movement move decisively to take up the cause of Palestinian liberation.
“Palestine not an abstract question peripheral to the war in Iraq,” Selfa wrote. “In fact, as this newspaper has demonstrated in numerous articles, U.S. support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine can’t be separated from the Iraq occupation. Not only do they flow from the same plan of U.S.-Israeli domination of the Middle East, but Israel has actually advised the U.S. on every aspect of the occupation of Iraq, from training Kurdish militias to the torturers in Abu Ghraib.”
The link between these wars — meticulously denied by liberal antiwar forces — is openly proclaimed in the U.S. press. Israel is seen as a strategic partner in U.S. efforts to reshape the Middle East, an effort that includes occupying Iraq, going after Syria and Iran, and smashing Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.
The antiwar movement must link these issues together — Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine — and acknowledge that we cannot build a united antiwar movement that fails to take on anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism or the issue of Palestine.