At first I thought this issue was much ado about very little, but the various ways in which Dan Sieradski, co-founder of Occupy Judaism, has attempted to deflate or deflect the controversy he started, and the disingenuousness of the arguments he’s used to defend his actions, have made it a very important one. As the Gaza flotilla boats were steaming toward Palestine, someone tweeted on the @OWS Twitter feed:
According to Sieradski, he then either tweeted or asked a member of the OWS General Assembly to look into the tweet. Though he protests loudly that the subsequent deletion of the tweet was not his doing, he clearly disagreed with the tweet and believed it would be harmful to OWS, as his subsequent statements have confirmed. Methinks he doth protest too much.
The one thing I detest more than anything else in progressive politics is litmus tests. The Jewish community has litmus tests coming out the yazoo. Reference Jonathan Tobin’s smug comment at a GA panel dealing ironically with the subject of “civility in Israel discourse” in the community, that “everyone” agrees that Jewish Voice for Peace is not a legitimate part of the debate.
What Sieradski has done to the Occupy Wall Street movement is introduce a litmus test regarding Israel-Palestine designed to pre-empt criticism of the protest by the mainstream Jewish community. In tweet after tweet and in interviews he’s repeatedly said that the Gaza flotilla was a dangerous issue for OWS and that embracing it would leave the latter open to attack by the Jewish right. Sieradski’s presumption is that OWS must do everything in its power to avoid criticism by the Jewish right-wing even if that means stifling political speech. Here he speaks to Mondoweiss about the controversy:
The ramifications I imagine begin with a mountain of press attacking OWS as being anti-Israel and pro-terrorism. Whereas beating back false charges of antisemitism was easy because the movement is not antisemitic, were the movement to embrace an explicitly pro-Palestinian agenda, it would be impossible to counter charges that the movement is anti-Israel.
Why is support for the Gaza flotilla “pro-Palestinian,” but not “pro-Israel?” And what does it say about Sieradski’s approach that Israeli Palestinians have joined such flotillas? Are they anti-Israel for doing so? And if they are, how does he justify claiming he supports equal rights for Israeli Palestinians? Hey, if someone wants to call Occupy Wall Street “anti-Israel” for supporting the flotilla that’s a fight I’m glad to join. Those are terms worth fighting for.
He further argues:
No matter how much we as individuals may reject such a framing, supporting the breaking of the Gaza blockade will surely be labeled as enabling the flow of arms into Gaza…
Well, sure it will be “labeled” as such by Commentary and the RJC, but isn’t that a fight we should be prepared for? Why should we be afraid of this? If the Jewish far right wants to argue that breaking an illegal siege against the 1.5 million civilians of Gaza equals promoting terrorism, I’ll take those odds and join the fray.
Objectively, there are scores of ways to ensure no weapons or arms enter Gaza, that could be used to promote terror against Israel. Besides, currently WITH the siege Gaza militants get all the weapons they need to attack Israel. How does the Gaza siege have any impact against terror? It doesn’t.
This statement by Sieradski really gets me hot under the collar:
…We all know that mainstream media does not handle nuance well when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So because it may be hard for OWS to explain to obtuse media reporters why it published a single tweet supporting the Flotilla, that means it should avoid the issue like the plague? What is the purpose of our political activism? Is it to take the easy, safe way to advance our goals or take the just and right way, even if it makes our lives a bit more difficult?
He claims that Occupy Boston’s march on the Israeli consulate has “even” made it into the Israeli press. What is wrong with that? And even if the Israeli press is attuned only to claims of anti-Semitism within the movement and misunderstands the motives, isn’t that grounds for intensifying our own pressure and outreach on the Israeli media to get the story right? Hell, that’s what I do every day in this blog and in my research for the posts I write. I yell and scream whenever Israeli reporters get issues wrong. A lot of them don’t like me for it. But I’ve got their grudging, if not respect, then at least attention. That’s how the OWS movement needs to approach this issue. We’ve got to fight for our values, not calibrate how we can avoid criticism or controversy. Sieradski has this all wrong.
Sieradski proceeds to claim that the OWS tweet in effect forced the movement to “pick sides.” I presume the sides he’s talking about are Israel and Palestine. But how in God’s name does a tweet supporting Freedom Waves indicate you’ve taken a position against Israel? I support Israel AND the Gaza flotilla. I dare anyone to argue that doing the latter causes you reject Israel (as opposed to Israeli policy)? You can see how Sieradski has quickly ditched his progressive values and gotten himself stuck in a thorn-bush from which it’s very hard to extricate oneself.
If Andrew Breitbart, the Republican Jewish Coalition, Commentary and others would attempt to make hay out of this–gei gesunt. They’re welcome. Aren’t we big boys and girls enough to respond in kind and defend ourselves? Sieradski even argues we should back off the issue because these extremists will “make hay” out of the fact that OWS “supports terror.” Hey that’s what these people DO. It doesn’t mean you back off your values because you’re going to have to get into the ring with a bunch of bullies and fight back against a little pummeling from them. I’m willing to take my stand on an issue like this. And a principled one it would be. Supporting the Gaza flotilla should in no way harm OWS. It is in no way anti-Israel or anti-Zionist.
Sieradski has even called those supporting Freedom Waves “fringe extremists” trying to “take over an economic movement.” This despite the fact that he claims to oppose the Gaza siege. It makes absolutely no sense. So either Sieradski is a liberal Zionist schizophrenic or there’s some sort of personal animus between him and those supporting the Flotilla that explains his inexplicable hostility to a tweet that seems politically kosher to me.
Speaking of schizophrenia, try to parse the contradictions in this statement:
I personally am very troubled by efforts to focus this movement on opposing the Israeli occupation.
Which is not to say that I support the Israeli occupation or the violation of Palestinian rights, or that I believe Palestinians and their issues should be excluded from this movement.
On the one hand he says he’s troubled by a tweet that focuses OWS on opposing the Israeli Occupation. On the other hand he says Palestinians and “their issues” (aren’t their issues also Israeli issues?) shouldn’t be excluded from OWS. I can’t think of a more disjointed, confused statement than that.
In another passage from his Mondoweiss interview he, in a typically disjointed way, ends up supporting U.S. military aid to Israel because it provides jobs to American workers:
U.S. military aid to Israel…supports the defense manufacturing sector, putting money in the pockets of working class Americans that, in turn, re-enters our economy.
When he gets himself into such hot water I almost feel sorry for him. He’s clearly in over his head when he both opposes and supports the military aid in the same sentence. But again, if you don’t have well-thought out, consistent views on a subject, then don’t take it on as your major issue and make yourself look foolish.
Sieradski even gets a dig in against Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the most courageous of American Jewish peace groups on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He sniffs at the attempt to equate the “occupy” in OWS with the Occupation:
I fear JVP’s recent call to “Occupy the Occupiers” is just one such example of this moving in a direction that could have negative consequences for the Jewish community and its involvement in OWS.
I’m sorry Dan, but if OWS has to tiptoe around issues because YOU say it’s bad to take a stand on them, then what good is the overall movement it represents? I’m personally sick and tired of the Shah Shtill types who hold their finger to their lips as if you’ll wake the baby if you talk about Israel-Palestine. We’re all grown ups here. This isn’t going to cause an apocalypse that will wipe out the world as we know it. It’s just an issue of elementary justice of interest to many American progressives.
In a bid for complete disclosure, I’m not a fan of Sieradski nor he of me. In fact, he recently weighed in support of the pro-Israel hasbarist Adam Holland, by calling me a “douchebag.” And yes, you tend not to forget such dyspeptic comments. So some may take my criticism as personally motivated. But it’s not. As I wrote above, I intended NOT to write about this until I saw the disingenuous explanations he began offering for his actions. That’s what motivated me to speak out.
There’s a strange thing that happens with some Jews, even those like Sieradski who call themselves “progressive.” They’re rad when it comes to any other issue but Israel. But the latter gives them conniptions. What’s strange about Sieradski is that he does hold progressive views even on issues related to the Occupation and Palestinian rights. But the make or break issue for him is Nakba and Right of Return.
He holds the odd belief that if Israel accepts ROR it will mean the destruction of Israel. He even tweeted that it would mean “creating 7 million new [Israeli] refugees.” I’ve got news for Dan. You can have the “right” views on every issue, but if you don’t understand the implication of rejecting ROR for your progressive value system, then you’re headed into trouble. Your values are at war and you have further contemplation in order to bring them into alignment. Until then, you’re being false to yourself, to Israel and especially to Palestinians.
Sieradski would protest that he is progressive in every way. He supports equal rights for Israeli Palestinians in Israel. He opposes the Occupation, the Wall, the Gaza siege. But still there’s that remaining thorny issue of Nakba. The Original Sin of Israel. You can’t hope to be a truly consistent progressive when you’re AWOL on Nakba and ROR.
What’s deeply ironic about all of this is that if Sieradski in his pro-Israel paranoia hadn’t stuck his nose into this, there would’ve been a single tweet supporting Freedom Waves and that would’ve been the end of it. No pro-Palestinian activist would’ve attempted to hijack the movement, as Sieradski fears. Everyone would’ve gone on their way supporting their various political causes whether they be OWS or Palestinian rights. But as a result of his foolishness HE has made this issue the sine qua non of OWS. HE has made it a defining moment by which Jews must choose to defend a deracinated OWS or reject it because it has rendered the Palestinians as superfluous to their really important goals.
In truth, what Dan Sieradski is doing is intensifying friction and tension among the various political constituencies within OWS. It’s his kind of litmus-test politics that strains such coalitions to the breaking point. I know because I’ve participated in Jewish political groups (among them New Jewish Agenda) riven by such factionalism around the issue of Israel and Zionism. Though he may not have intended it, Sieradski has made OWS less pliable, less flexible, less open, and less tolerant. And that bodes ill for it in the long-term.
Another irony characterising Sieradski’s Jewish activism is that he applied for and received a grant from the Schusterman Foundation, which wholly funds Aipac’s campus Israel advocacy program. The Foundation also funds former Aipac stooge, Mitchell Bard’s American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) . It brings Israeli scholars to U.S. campuses to teach Israel Studies courses often from a decidedly pro-Israel vantage. One of the faculty it funded was deemed so partisan in her George Washington University classroom presentations that her own students criticized her and she turned tail and left the school.
To be clear, I’m happy for Sieradski to receive funding from the Jewish community for his projects. But Schusterman? Why? Sorry, but this is hypocrisy. It allows the Foundation to point at the Jewish media guru as its token liberal Jewish grantee, a form of Zio-washing. Not to mention that taking money from a foundation providing huge levels of funding to Aipac should be a red-flag for any prospective grant recipient who professes progressive values.
Contrary to what Dan Sieradski may believe, his work and his views are not so significant that they need to be held up to a mirror and parsed for meanings and contradictions. The reason I’ve written this post is because the contradictions inherent in his Israel-Zionist world-view afflict so many American Jews and Israelis and cripple them in addressing these issues as forthrightly as they should.
A final word: I’m not criticizing Sieradski because he’s a Zionist or because he supports Israel, because I do as well. I’m criticizing him because his views are so contradictory that he does a deep disservice to truly progressive values on these issues.