Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Israeli Apartheid, Gay Pride & Craven Journalism

There's no doubt that Palestinians have gotten the shaft the entire world over. Their suffering at the hands of Israeli colonialism and its knock-on effects has been ignored, denied, facilitated and funded to the tune of billions of dollars.
In the immediate aftermath of the Nakba ("the Disaster"), as the founding of Israel is called by Palestinians, nobody was interested in how the Palestinians were made to suffer. To utter this truth in 1948, with the Holocaust so close at hand, was politically impossible in the West. The West, after all, had to take collective responsibility for the suffering and horror faced by Jews in Nazi Germany. They closed their doors to them. They closed their eyes to it. They refused to take action to stop the systematic slaughter. There was no moral authority amongst European and North American governments to say anything because it would expose their own hypocrisy.
But more than that. As far back as Lord Balfour in Britain it was recognized that a European Jewish colony in the Middle East could play an important Spartan role as a client state. As Balfour described it, a Zionist state would be a loyal "Jewish Ulster" in reference to the similar role played historically by Protestants in Northern Ireland.
So the Palestinians were sacrificed in the interests of a multi-layered realpolitik in which they were merely obstacles to larger strategic and political goals.
Not much has changed really - except for the rather important sea change in popular consciousness. The Holocaust, horror that it was, is now mostly a historic memory and is less and less a lived one. The daily misery that is the plight of Palestinians is here and now. The reference to a directly remembered event as justification for every crime and atrocity committed no longer functions in the same way that it once did for Israel's leaders. Even at the level of the elites ruling class commentators like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have expressed dissatisfaction with the policies of Israel. To be clear, they aren't so much concerned about the plight of the Palestinians as they are at the perception that with the rise of modern Arab regimes, the Israeli watchdog is becoming a liability to American interests in the region.
However, it is also clear that this is a contradictory and fraught process. More and more people may be skeptical of Israel's right to commit genocide and nearly countless war crimes in the name of past oppression. But the media and most of the establishment are still largely and fulsomely supportive of whatever the Israeli state does. And they condemn as beyond the pale, anti-Semitic, etc. anyone who questions this. And, of course, backing them up are the large institutions that politically dominate the Jewish community, collectively known as the Jewish Lobby. Their power to determine policy has been over-state for certain - Israel is supported because Israel is useful to western interests full-stop - but it would be wrong to think that they don't have sway.
All this was a rather long way of saying that our side - the side of Palestinian liberation - is gaining ground in a difficult but inexorable way. Every time Israel commits another war crime it is exposed. Every time Israel grants a concession it is also exposed for the repressive and genocidal apparatus that it still maintains. That's why the massacre on the Mavi Marmara of Turkish nationals participating in a humanitarian mission exploded in Israel's face the way that it did. The groundwork had already been laid by years of dedicated campaigning. And it's also why the petty concessions that Israel is offering up viz the siege of Gaza - without actually lifting a siege widely recognized as illegal - is also generating condemnation. Like the South African Apartheid regime, Israel is in a losing game against the forces of historical progress. The ethno-religious fundamentalism that underpins its raison d'etre are an anachronism that lacks any moral foundation.
The question then, to my mind, is not whether Israeli Apartheid is finished - I believe that we are seeing the beginning of the beginning of the end. It is a question of what methods will be used to sustain the unsustainable. They are, of course, different in different places but here in Toronto we have recently seen a battle fought and won by the pro-Palestinian side.
Recently the Pride Committee of Toronto, dominated by conservative, gay, white men (including the loathsome Kyle Rae), came under pressure from the even more loathsome Harper Tories and then Toronto City Council to exclude from the Pride Parade the group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. The Committee also voted to exclude the use of the term "Israeli Apartheid" on the march.
Fortunately, the gay and lesbian activists and supporters behind QuAIA were persistent and mobilized a multiplatform campaign that ultimately forced Toronto Pride to rescind its ban (including its attempt to force all placards to be pre-vetted by an "ethics committee" - ugh). This happened on June 28 and QuAIA marched on Pride weekend. Yay for QuAIA!
Enter the craven and disposable Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn with his piece on this victory in today's Toronto Star, "Not All Apartheid Is Created Equal". He uses the usual Israeli hasbara method of the red herring. Why are QuAIA talking about Palestinian oppression under Israel and not about Palestinian oppression under Lebanese rule? he asks, suggesting that this is typical hypocrisy. After all, Arabs are given full rights in Israel but other Arab countries don't give Palestinians - their Arab brothers and sisters, no less - the same equal treatment. What's more, gays and lesbians are free in Israel whereas they are oppressed under Muslim/Arab regimes. Then he goes on to suggest that it would be only reasonable for QuAIA to march in the Santa Clause parade, St. Patrick's Day, etc.
Now, this is all utterly, utterly dishonest or the product of a profoundly stupid man. I'm sure Mr. Cohn would rather be dishonest than an imbecile, so we shall grant him intelligence. In which case he would know that the reason there are 600,000 Palestinians in Lebanon is because they were expelled from Israel either in 1948 or in 1967. And nobody has justified the treatment of Palestinians at the hands of Lebanon - or Egypt or Jordan for that matter. But as regards Lebanon, let's show some further honesty. There was a civil war in Lebanon back in the late 1970s in which Palestinians and the Lebanese left were on the brink of victory - which would have dismantled "Lebanese Apartheid" as he calls it.
What happened to that victory? Israel illegally invaded Lebanon, bombed civilian areas, slaughtered Palestinians - remember Sabra and Shatilla? - and occupied the country for 20 years to ensure that such a situation never re-emerged. How did Israel during that occupation bring equality to the Palestinians of Lebanon? The answer: they didn't. In fact, so horrible was the Israeli occupation, so racist against the Lebanese, that the Shi'ites of southern Lebanon who had originally supported Israel against the Sunni Palestinians (and largely Sunni Lebanese left) formed Hizbullah, which drove the Israelis out of their country. And Hizbullah is a vocal ally of the Palestinian struggle and an inspiration to the Muslim world, including Sunnis.
As for Israeli "liberalism" towards gays and lesbians, it has to be said that this is much overblown given the significant and growing power of Jewish fundamentalism in Israel. This year's Pride Parade in Jerusalem was denied a permit for their planned route because it passed by a Yeshiva - a religious school. It was to end at parliament to commemorate and protest the anniversary of the shooting death of two youth at an LGBT event. What's more, the relatively liberal attitudes amongst a majority of the Israeli public are negated by the fact that close to a majority of the population under Israeli rule - which, after 43 years, must be said to include the Occupied Territories - are denied basic civil rights not to mention equal rights more generally. As QuAIA notes:
"Queer struggles against homophobia in Palestine will never flourish as long as Palestinians live under the intolerable conditions of occupation, violence, and Israeli state terror that disrupt and regulate their daily existence. Supporting queer rights in Palestine means fighting the apartheid system that denies self-determination to all Palestinians."
All this is to say that Martin Regg Cohn is exactly what he accuses others to be: a hypocrite. As the Chief of the Toronto Star's Middle East and Asia bureaus he certainly knows this history and the reality of the situation on the ground. He would know that the present Israeli Foreign Minister is an avid and outspoken supporter of ethnically cleansing Arabs from Israel and banning Arab political parties unless they support Israel's right to be an ethnically exclusive state (duh, that's what it means to call Israel "the Jewish State"). And he would know that such ethnic cleansing policies are being carried out both openly and by stealth in parts of the West Bank and, in particular, in Jerusalem as part of a program to "Judaize" the "eternal capital." The fact that he knows all this and can still find the stomach to write such a cringing, schoolyard article thumbing his nose at QuAIA's victory demonstrates two things: 1. Mr. Cohn is pathetic and 2. we are winning. As Ghandi once said: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."
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