Friday, 4 March 2011

What Western Protesters Can Learn from the People of the Middle East

So thanks for allowing me to not feel like a complete Pollyanna when I tentatively tell people here that many people in the United States do not support the policies of our government, and that we are learning from global examples how to resist.

--Rachel Corrie, email from Palestine, February 7, 2003

Levels of repression that probably, quite frankly, would have sent most Western protesters fleeing in horror, those struggling for change in the Middle East have, as we have seen, been able to face day in and day out for more than two months now. What gives the people of these Muslim countries the courage to stand firm in the face of government-unleashed mayhem and murder such as has been witnessed in, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and elsewhere? I would suggest there are two things in the main, two extremely important elements, which protesters in the Middle East have going for them and of which Western activists are substantially bereft:
1 ) an analysis of global Zionism and the destructive impact it has had on their lives, and
2 ) faith in God.

The first of these sharpens the picture, it brings the canvas and all of its painted images into focus; it enables people to connect dots. When a tear gas canister lands at their feet reading “Made in America,” the revolutionary leaders in Egypt know which people in America are behind it and what their agenda is. This is knowledge that Western protesters by and large are not cognizant of or clear on. The second of the two ingredients gives one the spiritual strength (which, yes, translates in turn into physical and psychological strength) for the struggle ahead. That God is inside us, that he has a clear purpose and objective, and that we are part of that plan, is an energizing thought, one capable of paying important psychological dividends when you find yourself outmatched by an extremely formidable opponent. These are two pieces of protective equipment the people of the Middle East have learned to make effective use of, and which protesters in places like Wisconsin would do well to try and adopt in some form.

But that won’t be easy. American leftists at present are as stubbornly committed to secularism as they are to avoiding any direct, head-on challenge of the Israel lobby’s control over their government.

Global Zionism and the Wisconsin protests

Last Saturday saw a flurry of “Save the American Dream” protests around the country in support of workers in Wisconsin who have maintained a vigil at the state capital in protest against an anti-union bill being pushed by the state’s governor. The spin-off solidarity protests, some of which drew several thousands of people, were held in all 50 states, in locales like Columbus, Ohio, Tallahassee, Florida, Lansing, Michigan, New York and Los Angeles. However, there appears to have been little if any talk or discussion—either at these smaller protests or the main event in Madison, Wisconsin, which drew an estimated 70,000-120,000 people—about the Zionist lobby or its adverse impact on daily life in the United States.

There are any number of reasons why average Americans, and especially members of public employee unions, might want to be concerned about this. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, and the trillions spent there, along with the billions given each year to Israel, inevitably mean less money for domestic needs such as public education. But even beyond monetary considerations is the corrupting and degenerative effect the Israel lobby has on American political life. With a long history, going back several decades, of pouring money into elections to defeat officials who advocated America adopt a more balanced position in its foreign policy, the Lobby has in effect coarsened and debased public affairs and government in America. When you eliminate from managing the nation people such as former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who might express support or sympathy for Palestinians, you are removing from leadership those most constitutionally predisposed toward social justice—the very officials most likely to support unions. Should such a policy be sustained for a matter of decades, the cumulative effect mounts up. After a while, the Cynthia McKinneys, we discover, are all gone, replaced by those inclined to view favorably a country that has what is arguably the most right-wing government in the world today. In the process, we find ourselves, as a people, burdened with a raft of politicians like Scott Walker, the current governor of Wisconsin.

Since workers began maintaining a vigil at the Wisconsin State Capital building on February 14, a great deal has emerged about Walker’s having gained office with the support and backing of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles G. and David H. Koch. The brothers head up Koch Industries and are ranked by Forbes Magazine as among the world’s richest people. Much has been said (here, here, and here for instance) about the brothers’ support for a number of right wing causes, most especially perhaps their backing of the Tea Party, and how that support synchs with what is now happening in Wisconsin. But in the context of all this, little ever seems to get said about the Kochs and Israel, or about the Tea Party’s backing of rabidly Islamophobic, and pro-Israel, political candidates such as Florida Congressman Allen West, who swept to victory in last November’s elections with Tea Party support.

The Koch brothers rose to national notoriety in large part due to an article in The New Yorker last August entitled “Covert Operations: the billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama,” by Jane Mayer. The article made mention of a Greenpeace report that referred to Koch Industries as a “kingpin of climate science denial,” while also elaborating at some length on the crucial role played by the brothers in fostering the Tea Party:

The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power. The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”

A Republican campaign consultant who has done research on behalf of Charles and David Koch said of the Tea Party, “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!”

One organization, or “chief,” involved in training the “Indians” is FreedomWorks, a right-wing advocacy group headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. “FreedomWorks recruits, educates, trains and mobilizes millions of volunteer activists to fight for less government, lower taxes, and more freedom,” says the organization’s website. This training program makes FreedomWorks a key player in the Tea Party movement, while Armey himself has authored a book entitled Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto. Freedom Works, it should also be mentioned, is an offshoot of Citizens for a Sound Economy, an organization founded by the Koch brothers in 1984. After his retirement from Congress in 2003, Armey became CSE chairman, but the following year the group split into two separate organizations—Freedom Works, headed by Armey, and Americans for Prosperity, chaired by David Koch. Wikipedia reports AFP as being “heavily involved in political activities aimed at reducing regulation of the oil and gas industry,” additionally quoting a New York magazine article describing David Koch as the “tea party’s wallet.”

As for Armey himself, the former congressman, according to SourceWatch, charges a speaker’s fee of $20,000-$25,000 and regularly gives talks on a number of topics including, “Why We Must Support Israel.” The depth of that support, we might observe, is radical and extreme, even by American standards. In a 2002 interview with Chris Matthews on “Hardball,” Armey advocated what essentially would amount to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israeli-occupied territories. (A complete transcript of that interview is available here.) Such comments would place Armey in the company of the most fanatical of Israeli settlers.

In The New Yorker piece, Mayer supplies the information that Koch Industries, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. We are also told that Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, was a founding member of the John Birch Society, and that the elder Koch died in 1967, but nowhere, in an article of more than 9,000 words, does Mayer make mention of Israel. In October of 2010, roughly two months after Mayer’s article appeared in The New Yorker, the portrait of the Kochs became somewhat clearer when Pam Martens published an article on Counterpunch reporting that a libertarian nonprofit group with ties to Charles Koch had financed a documentary entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a heavily propagandistic bit of filmmaking stuffed with chilling scenes, provocative rhetoric, and ominous background music. DVDs in slick packaging were inserted into the Sunday editions of numerous newspapers, including the New York Times, with altogether some 28 million discs flooding into American households, said Martens:

The movie content was slick as well. The first half is endless scenes of suicide bombers and human carnage; the second half of the film intersperses clips of Hitler, Hitler Youth, or Hitler analogies intermittently with Muslim crowds and young children with fists in the air calling for death to westerners.

Describing the video as a “sophisticated and expensive media campaign,” Martens zeroed in on the timing of its release—seven weeks before the presidential election of 2008—and seemed to interpret it all largely as a “fear mongering effort to throw the Presidential election to Senator John McCain in 2008.” Omitted is any analysis of how such a documentary would bolster support among Americans for Israel’s continued dispossession of the Palestinians. But this seems to be very much an underlying purpose or objective. At one point in the film (the second half where the scenes of Hitler are interjected) we hear from Walid Shoebat, who markets himself as a former Palestinian terrorist and has made something of a career out of speaking at conservative and Christian Zionist functions. Says Shoebat in this part of the film:

In the second World War the West was sleeping. The Munich accords came regarding to what we should do about this Adolf Hitler, who wants to take over Czechoslovakia. So what did the Parliament do in Great Britain? They got together and they said, ‘Well, we need to give Hitler land for peace.’

But this aspect of the film’s intended propaganda effect goes unmentioned in the Counterpunch article by Martens. In fact, as with the Mayer piece in The New Yorker, the word “Israel” does not appear anywhere in the article.

In a recent interview with Silvia Cattori, jazz musician and former-Israeli citizen Gilad Atzmon said Western leftists are essentially misleading themselves when they think in terms of Israel as a “colonialist” or settler state. Israel, he says, “is not at all entirely a colonial entity—as we historically understand that term—and it needs to be understood that its power and ties with the West are maintained by the strongest lobbies around the world.” Not only is it not a colonial state in the true sense, but it even exceeds the limits of Apartheid as was practiced by South Africa. The latter was brutal, but as Atzmon notes, “it stopped short of throwing white phosphorous on its indigenous population.” Israel, on the other hand, is “driven by a Talmudic racist ideology”—in other words, the driving force here is racism as a religious belief (which was not the case with Aapartheid South Africa). But the Left persists in looking at Israel through the prism of settler-colonialism, largely, Atzmon feels, because “it makes criticism of the Jewish state look legitimate” and because “it conveys the hope of a resolution” through such methods as boycott, divestment, and sanctions. Atzmon, however, is not optimistic about such strategies ultimately succeeding.

The ‘colonial paradigm’ is then invoked to also support the idea that Israel is an apartheid state, and pretty much like most other earlier colonial settings. My approach is totally different, because I would argue that Israel and Zionism is a unique project in history, and the relationship between Israel and the operation of the Jewish Lobbies in the West is also totally unique in history. I would even take it further, and say that whilst the Palestinians are indeed at the forefront of a battle for humanity, the fact is that we are all subject to Zionist global politics. According to my model, the credit crunch is in fact a Zionist ‘punch.’ The war in Iraq is a Zionist war. I would argue forcefully that Zionism has a long time ago moved from the ‘promised land’ narrative into the ‘promised planet’ nightmare. I also argue that it would be impossible to bring peace to the world unless we confront the true meaning of contemporary Jewish ideology…

…Also, I think that by the time people don’t have enough money to put petrol in the car let alone buy bread, they will start to look at who is to blame, and when that happens, the Israeli State and its relentless lobbies will emerge at the top of the list. I think that some people are starting to see it now, already. The change will be drastic…

America invests its tax payers’ money maintaining the Jewish State and it launched its people into a war to ‘save Israel.’ Consequently, we are all facing a financial disaster, and as we speak, the Arab masses are rising: they demand liberation, and they want an immediate end to the Zio-political grip. What you see now in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen is there to prepare us all, and we may well see the same thing unfolding soon in Berlin, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, and New York City, because we all face the same enemy.

What Atzmon seems to be saying essentially is that Americans could learn a lot from the people rising up across the Middle East. While Atzmon doesn’t make specific mention of “Obsession,” the documentary, he does inform us that “along the years the Jewish State has been utilizing some very powerful lobbies and think tanks in our Western capitals; and these bodies promote global Zionist interests such as endless confrontation with Islam and the Muslim world.” But awareness of this “global Zionism,” along with an analysis of its deleterious effects on American life, seems to be sadly missing just now in Wisconsin. Not only do protesters themselves seem barely conscious of it, but it doesn’t get much mention from alternative journalists covering events there either.

An article in the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, for example, observes that Walker “might not be where he is today without the Koch brothers,” but makes no mention of what we could perhaps call “the global Zionist factor” in the controversy. And here, we have a Democracy Now segment featuring hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interviewing Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, in a program that focuses entirely on the Wisconsin protests and the Koch brothers’ financial backing of the union-hostile Walker—but again, no mention of Israel. Graves and the Center for Media and Democracy, by the way, have been working to provide almost minute-by-minute coverage of the protests at the Wisconsin capitol building, this through the posting of live updates on their website, The updates include photos, videos, as well as an ongoing diary, or log, of events, with each log entry including the time of day as well as a summary—of varied length—of the episode, procedure, or event being described. The live reports can be found here, and are truly a phenomenal resource, but again Israel or the Zionist lobby’s stranglehold on Congress are mentioned rarely if ever.

Of course, the U.S. Congress is part of the federal government, and what’s going on in Wisconsin is a state matter, but the Koch brothers’ connections to the Tea Party, the Tea Party’s fervid support for Israel, and the tie-in with the film “Obsession” would suggest the connections to global Zionism are there. At very least, the matter deserves to be considered and talked about. However, the daily log for Saturday, February 26—the day of the massive protest when some 100,000 people or more converged upon the Wisconsin capitol building—includes no mention of Israel in the roundup of speeches and other events of that day. Nor is there any mention in the video below which features clips from some of the solidarity protests around the country:

Perhaps most striking of all is this interview with leftwing filmmaker Michael Moore with Grit TV host Laura Flanders. In this interview, Moore comments to Flanders, “1954, the year I was born, was the last year where we had the highest point of union membership, 35 or 36 percent. Where I grew up in Flint, Michigan, everybody belonged to the union, it didn’t matter what your job was, whether you worked in the auto factory, whether you were a bagger in the grocery store, whether you were a janitor in the school, everybody, no matter what your dad or mom did, you had a decent life, you had a roof over your head, you had food on the table, only one parent had to work. I at least got to live part of my life to see that that’s possible.” What Moore seems oblivious to, or reticent about, is that the years in which American workers lost all of these things he mentions coincided with the rise of the Israel Lobby in the United States.

Of course the protesters in Wisconsin are in a difficult position. Many people involved in the protests are Jewish. Start drawing connections to Israel and you risk having the entire coalition fall apart. This is not to say such connections aren’t being made in the wider American labor movement as a whole. They are. A January 10, 2010 story on the website includes a quote from Kentucky school teacher Sharon Wallace, who had just then returned from Egypt where she had participated in one of two convoys attempting to break the Gaza blockade. “Palestinians,” she says, “are being exploited by the same entities that are exploiting U.S. workers.” The story goes on to add of Wallace:

She and a small but growing band of U.S. unionists—some of whom are Jewish—are fighting to educate fellow members and mobilize their unions behind a global call to pressure Israel with a boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

They face substantial barriers to winning union support: Activists say leaders of U.S. unions still seem enamored with the myth that Israel is a pro-labor government. In an October speech at the Jewish Labor Committee, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka opposed international efforts to boycott Israel, suggesting that opposition to Israeli policy was anti-Semitism in disguise.

As would seem to be indicated by the example of Trumka—who has more recently made fiery speeches in Wisconsin—getting labor leaders to recognize the threat of global Zionism is going to be a sticky business. This is complicated even more by the fact that the U.S. labor movement and the Zionist state are intricately intertwined by means of investments unions have made in state of Israel bonds. According to, a total of 279 labor bodies in the U.S., including locals, labor councils, and the AFL-CIO itself, have purchased altogether some $5 billion worth of the Israeli bonds as part of their pension portfolios.

Coming up in part 2 of this series, “Lessons from the Light: Liberation and God.” Richard Edmondson is the author of The Memoirs of Saint John: No Greater Love.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

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