My enemy’s enemy sure as hell isn’t my comrade

August 29, 2006

The following article was written for a zine called Intifada, which should be out in a week or so :)
Since Israel’s latest brutal invasion of Lebanon, some leftist groups and individuals have seen fit to declare their support for Hezbollah. This support has manifested itself predominantly in writing on the Internet and on solidarity marches, protests and demonstrations. In this article, I hope to show that no leftist should support Hezbollah – a sexist, homophobic and anti-working class organisation.

The socialist left (and sadly, some anarchists), both in Aotearoa and globally, seem to formulate their support along one of two lines, described here by the UK Class War Federation in their statement delightfully titled “HezBollocks and IsRabies”:

Firstly, wholesale adoption of the Islamist agenda, cheerleading Hamas or Hezbollah without qualification or criticism. This ‘Idiot anti-imperialism’, the trademark of today’s SWP [The UK equivalent of Aotearoa's Socialist Worker], says my enemy’s enemy is my friend and any criticism of them, no matter how mild, is ‘racism, islamophobia, and Zionist pro American warmongering.’

The second approach is slightly more subtle – Hezbollah is fighting back, therefore we must support Hezbollah and the slogan ‘we are all Hezbollah’ is an act of basic solidarity with those who are fighting back against imperialism – the slogan is compared with the Parisian students who, when Danny Cohn-Bendit was attacked in the bourgeois press as a German Jew, marched through Paris chanting ‘nous sommes tout les jiufs allemands!’ (we are all German Jews).

This argument is crap – Hezbollah isn’t a nationality or a racial epithet, it is a political party/militia

My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Surely there are few justification for political support that are stupider! Zionists fight antisemitism, should we support them? Neo-Nazis oppose Israel, should we support them? The support for Hezbollah can only be explained on one of two grounds – complete ignorance of their beliefs, or the limiting of ones politics to hatred of Israel (and perhaps the USA) to the exclusion of the global working class, women, queers and revolution.

The majority of the civilians killed by Hezbollah were not the Israeli bourgeois, but rather the poorest sectors in society. The rich of the North moved South to stay with friends or family during the rocket attacks, or hired houses for a few weeks. The middle class had bomb shelters in their houses or apartment blocks. Meanwhile, the poorest sectors of Israeli society (predominantly Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews from Arab countries), not able to afford bomb shelters, were left to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, Hezbollah push a sexist and homophobic agenda, especially in the South where their power base lies.

Surely, as revolutionaries, we should be expressing our solidarity with the working class of Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, not with their reactionary oppressors. We should be supporting the work of Lebanese, Palestinian and Israeli leftists, anarchists and all those working for that old cliche, peace with justice and self-determination. For, to quote again from the Class War Federation:

Re-jigging the lines on a map will create new oppressions, new grievances and new horrors, and we as revolutionaries should have no part in assisting that.

How would this be manifested? To quote one example of a positive, liberatory force in Lebanon that wholeheartedly deserves our solidarity and support:

7 Lebanese youth working with the R.A.S.H., the antifascist Red Anarchist Skinhead collective in Europe decided to return to Lebanon to help with relief work as the death toll in their country mounted. Within a few days they were risking their lives walking through southern Lebanon with 80lbs of food and water on their backs to arrive at villages near the Israeli border that humanitarian organizations had deemed unreachable. With Israeli missiles falling all around them, they supplied food to starving people unable to evacuate their villages.

The left is often criticised by Zionists for being antisemitic. From what I have seen, read and experienced, this is not the case. There are few antisemitic incidents on the left, and I think most of them are probably unconscious. However, a community can be unwelcoming to Jews without being antisemitic. It seems to me that support for Hezbollah, while not antisemitic in or of itself, does tend to make a community extremely unwelcoming for Jewish leftists.

I can think of a number of Jews who waver from leftist Zionism to cultural Zionism to non-Zionism to anti-Zionism, and I know that for many, comments such as “we are all Hezbollah!” are likely to push them far away from both Jewish anti-Zionist voices and from the radical left in general and back into the mainstream Zionist fold. Is this what we want?

We need to be fostering and encouraging revolutionary currents, and not supporting reactionary religious fundamentalist organisations simply because they happen to be physically confronting imperialist forces at a given moment.

And if Hezbollah is victorious in their goals, then what? Does blind support for them swap into opposition? Good luck finding Lebanese leftists struggles to support then, because Hezbollah’s success will naturally mean the end of the secular left in Lebanon.

Seeing the world in only black and white is perhaps the most destructive force in existence for much of the left. Rather, we should recognise that the struggle against capitalism and imperialism does not simply come from one angle. Fascists struggle against modern capitalism (although they are also often used by modern capitalism against leftist anti-capitalists), and likewise, Islamists struggle against imperialism. The Three Way Fight weblog phrased it thus:

The idea that there are significant right-wing forces radically opposed to both the left and global capitalist elites doesn’t just come from encounters with neonazis. If the concept of right-wing anti-imperialism has relevance anywhere, it’s in the Middle East. The Iranian Revolution was a wake-up call for me because it showed how militant, mass-based hostility to U.S. hegemony could take a right-wing form — and because so much of the U.S. left failed to understand this. Three-way fight politics is an attempt to go beyond old leftist categories because the old categories don’t adequately describe political reality today — including political Islam.

A commenter on Three Way Fight proposes a way forward from here:

Rather than trying to figure out the right “anarchist” line on conflicts like in Lebanon, wouldn’t it be better to simply understand the underlying forces of the conflict, using the best tools of materialist analysis, as well as the connections to U.S. domestic politics (not just foreign policy)? This would enable us to concentrate on our real task: building a radical working class in this country. In other words, the problem for revolutionaries is not to lend abstract “critical support” to this or that struggle overseas but to build a movement here, one that renders the U.S. incapable of propping up apartheid states like Israel or right-wing fundies like the Mujahadeen.

I think this theory is perhaps the most practical solution I’ve heard yet. Creativity is needed if we’re ever going to create a better society, and this is as good a place as any to start. For, to quote one last time from Three Way Fight:

George Bush declared after September 11th: Either you are with us or against us. Surely we can do better than that.


Prayer in schools – A Jew’s story

August 28, 2006

With all the fuss lately regarding prayer in schools, I’ve been doing some thinking about what it was like for me back in my secondary school days.

I went to Wellington College, a decile 10 state-school that tried its hardest to pretend it was an expensive private school. To give an example of what I mean, we weren’t allowed mufti days because it would “ruin the school’s reputation”.

Twice a week, we would have assemblies. As the school hall wasn’t big enough for the whole school, one year level would have their own assembly in a separate hall, on rotation. The circumstances from full assemblies to year assemblies was slightly different, with regards to the level of Christianity that was pushed upon us, but both involved it.

In the school assemblies, the whole school was to stand and recite the Lord’s prayer. This was lead by the head prefect – at the time I thought it was just a quirk, but now it seems that it may have been to get around the laws regarding prayer in schools. Additionally, we would sing one or two hymns, always of a Christian nature. In the year level assemblies neither of these occurred, but once every term or two we would be addressed by a “guest speaker” – a Christian who would discuss Jesus with us, and hand out free copies of the Christian Bible at the end of the assembly.

In the school assemblies, the pressure on all the students to recite the Lord’s prayer was intense. If you stood silent, the teachers would stare intensely at you, making sure you knew they disapproved. On a couple of occasions, I was actually confronted by teachers demanding to know why I wasn’t reciting the prayer with the rest of the school! In addition, the intense peer pressure that always exists at high school from the other students was ever present in this case.

How did I react? For a time I remained silent, but stood. After a decent length of time at the school, however, the pressure got to me, and I felt forced to mouth along silently with the prayer simply so I wouldn’t be noticed. I can recall at least one other Jewish student and one Hindu student that dealt with the intense pressure the same way, and also mouthed along with this Christian prayer. I did the same with the hymns.

A short time later, I began instead reciting the Shema during assembly. The Shema is one of the most important prayers in Jewish liturgy, and could possibly be referred to as the Jewish version of the Lord’s prayer. Well, to be fair, it should be said that the Lord’s prayer is the Christian version of the Shema, as the Shema came far earlier. I did this despite already calling myself an atheist, with a strong non-belief in God, simply because the pressure was so great. I guess I figured if I was going to recite something I didn’t agree with, at least it should be from my own culture. Still, the though of an atheist proclaiming “Hear oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (translation of the first line of the Shema) is a little odd, to say the least.

Now that I’m a little more mature, and a lot more politically aware, the fact that I was coerced into that situation makes me really angry. Wellington College, a state run school, had no right to force one religion upon all its students to the exclusion of all others. As far as I know, they probably still do.


Close to home…but not too close!

August 20, 2006

A few days ago, I returned home after a short trip to Australia. The day started badly, and only got worse. Firstly, I arrived at the airport at 12:15pm for what I thought was a 2:15pm flight, only to find out that I’d got the time wrong and the plane didn’t leave til after 5pm! So, I had a long period sitting around at a highly boring airport, with next to nothing to do and next to nothing to eat. There was a couple of things there for a vegan to consume (mainly coffee and chippies/crisps), but by and large I remained hungry, knowing the flight itself wouldn’t be any better. Then, to make matters worse, my flight was delayed by just under an hour as the plane was late to arrive.

This was small fry stuff though, compared to what was to come. As I headed through passport control on my way to my gate, I was the only person to be trace-tested for explosives. Now, having dreads and generally not wearing the most professional looking clothes, I’m kinda used to getting extra attention, so this didn’t overly frustrate me in or of itself. What pissed me off, however, was the piece of paper they get you to read before they test you – essentially a consent form. The form was in a large number of different languages, the first of which, as one would expect, being English. In big bold lettering across the top, the words “random test”. I suppose thats meant to make the reciever feel a little better – like they aren’t being singled out simply for their skin colour, hairstyle or clothing. Of course, however, this is exactly what is happening. And guess what? Australian customs don’t even do a good job hiding it. The second language on the consent form for the “random” test? Arabic, of course. Because you just know there are enough arabic speakers heading through Sydney airport that enough are bound to get caught up in the “random” test to justify its second listing…yeah right! Arseholes. Either make it truly random, or stop pretending you aren’t racist, prejudiced fuckwits.

I then had a nice boring flight, and got home late at night. I knew my flatmates had come to pick me up, so I was looking forward to getting home again. New Zealand Customs, however, had a different idea.

While going through passport control, I was subject to significant questioning – about the countries I had visited on that passport (from memory, as they had already taken it from me!) and when/where/why I was there, about my dreads (how long I’ve had them) and my glasses (why wasn’t I wearing them? The answer being contact lenses). Still, after 15-20 minutes of that (as opposed to most people taking 15-20 seconds), I figured I was through and could go home. Once again, it was not going to be so easy…

I was the only person from my flight put into the hardcore customs line – everyone else was allowed to choose to declare or not declare as they saw fit, while I was ordered to go to the furtherst aisle where I would be subject to a more in depth check. I was there, all up, for approximately 2 hours! During my time, I saw 4-5 other flights go through, and not a single other person was sent to the in depth aisle.

So, while I was there, I had to unpack every single item from my big pack and my carry-on bag. Much of it was subject to x-ray to ensure there weren’t any drugs inside (items like my sleeping bag, cellphone, both bags..basically anything with an enclosed space), while a number of other items were swabbed and tested for drug traces. While this was happening, the Customs agent asked me questions which I had to answer, if I ever wanted to get to the other side and go home. Some predictable questions – Have you ever done drugs? Have you ever been convicted? What is your occupation? Some questions were a bit weirder, a lot more personal and quite invasive – in depth questioning on my political beliefs, questioning on why I was interested in radical Jewish theory, which moved on to questioning and him attempting to deny my Jewish identity because I am atheist…and then, my belongings…

Most of the questioning, and most of what he wrote down in his little notebook, was related to my belongings. Below I will reprint the items that he had an issue with – some are simply bizarre and quite pathetic. It’s quite disturbing to see what they are interested in…

Patches

“Chemicals make our lives better” – text with picture of 2 headed alien figure

“Good Night White Pride” – text with image of antifa kicking a falling fascist

“Consumption is a disease not a lifestyle” – text

“We all know it’s wrong but we don’t speak up. We don’t speak up. I’m unsur and I’m afraid and I don’t really know if this is the right thing to do. But I tell you this: The silence ends here and now” – text with image of young girl on highway pointing to a circle-a roadsign. And yes, he actually wrote down the whole text!

oceania.indymedia.org” – Text with Indymedia logo / skull and crossbones.

www.stopg20.org” – Text and logo for the Stop G20 crew.

And a patch with 4 little black block figures pointing at a map and scheming.

Books

Reinventing Anarchy – What anarchists are thinking these days – This book has about 2 dozen contributing authors, he wrote down 3 then gave up!

The Bookseller Of Kabul by Asne Seierstad – A book about a bookseller in Kabul that my Sister gave to me to read…not exactly politically revolutionary material!

East End Jewish Radicals 1875 – 1914 by William J. Fishman – It’s a fucking historical case study of Jews in London in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s for fucks sake. When he wrote this down, I was fucking fuming at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Other Stuff

Anarchism: What it is and what it isn’t by Chaz Bufe – A short pamphlet which I offered to leave with him to read. He said thanks but no thanks…

Trouble Makers: Anarchism and Syndicalism, The Early Years Of The Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa by Frank Prebble – Once again, Customs doesn’t like people learning about history from the early 1900’s…

Mutiny – A zine from a Sydney anarchist crew. Coming to Aotearoa infoshops soon, so keep your eye out!

A communique on tactics and organisation to the black bloc from within the black bloc – This pamphlet REALLY freaked him out, it was kinda funny to watch. Even funnier was when he kept looking for the author’s names and refused to understand the concepts of pseudonyms or anonymity.

And last but not least, an article that I’d cut out of the Dominion Post, headlined “Mosque suspect can’t be banned”. It was about a stupid kid who graffitid swastikas and other things on a Lower Hutt Mosque but can’t be banned because he’s too young. This was near the end of my wait, and I realised he’d just been writing basically from dictation rather than actually taking in anything I said when he asked: “So, are you for or against racism?”

And perhaps the most pathetic thing of all? Their excuse for why I got called into the in depth check was that the woman at passport control thought my hands were “too soft”! Too soft for what? Fucked if I know…

Arseholes, the lot of ‘em.


Aotearoa Jews For Justice launches

August 15, 2006

Recently, a group of Aotearoa (New Zealand) Jews joined together to form a group called Aotearoa Jews For Justice, in order to show quite clearly that not all Jews are Zionists, and that there are an ever increasing number of Jews all over the world standing in solidarity with the Palestinian and Lebanese people. The group currently has members in Wellington and Christchurch and already we have had expressions of interest from elsewhere in the country. To contact AJFJ, email jewsforjustice[at]gmail[dot]com (don’t forget to fix the address before hitting send!).

We are still working on getting our kaupapa sorted, but hopefully soon we should actually have the core beliefs of the group down on paper. When we do, I’ll be sure to post them here. We will also have a website up and running within the next few days.

Meanwhile, here is the flyer some of our Wellington members handed out on a recent Lebanon/Palestine solidarity march in Wellington, and a letter to the editor from AJFJ that was published in the Dominion Post.

Aotearoa Jews For Justice Speaks Out Against Israel

Aotearoa Jews For Justice stands in solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people suffering at the hands of the Israeli army. We also stand with those Israelis who are challenging the illegal and war-mongering actions of the Israeli state in Palestine and now in Lebanon.

We are part of a growing global movement of Jews who feel that it is our duty to oppose the atrocities being committed by the Israeli government in our name. Israel has never and will never represent us.

We draw from a long tradition of Jews who have campaigned for social justice and against racism and colonialism regardless of where it has occurred. To find out more or to join us, contact jewsforjustice[at]gmail[dot]com

For more information:

Israel Indymedia

International Middle East Media Centre

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Gush Shalom

Refuser Solidarity Network

B’Tselem

Ibdaa

To the editor,

As Israel continues brutalising Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and continues its expansion in the West Bank, we feel it is important that, as Jews, we stand up and make clear that Israel, despite its claims to the contrary, is not acting in our name.

Aotearoa Jews For Justice stands in solidarity with the Lebanese and Palestinian people suffering at the hands of the Israeli army. We also stand with those Israelis who are challenging the illegal and war-mongering actions of the Israeli state in Palestine and now in Lebanon.

In drawing from a long history of Jews who have worked for social justice all over the globe, we aim to continue the mission of those who have come before us for a just and peaceful world.

Israel has never and will never represent all Jews.

Yours,

Aotearoa Jews For Justice


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