The Militant: boycott and divestment a cover for antisemitism

The Militant is a socialist periodical connected to the US SWP and based in New York. This week you can read a piece by Paul Pederson reflecting on the boycott campaigning around Israel Apartheid Week, and the sacking of Starbucks in London. Dreaming of Israel subsumed into a “democratic, secular Palestine in which both Palestinians and Jews can live without state-supported religious restrictions”, he rejects boycott and divestment outright because they empower Palestinian groups whose values are antithetical to those of socialism, and because they are welcomed by workers’ class enemies as a diversion:

“Starbucks, whose owner is Jewish, has become a target of this campaign internationally. On January 10 some 200 protesters looted a Starbucks coffee shop near the Israeli embassy in London and attacked a number of businesses in the area. One proud participant posted a video of the looting on YouTube under the header “How to really boycott Israeli products.”

Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism, a centuries old form of racism, has been used by ruling classes throughout history when their system faced a crisis. Modern anti-Semitism often comes draped in an anticapitalist and even socialist cloak. The real exploiters—the billionaire ruling families, whose great majority is non-Jewish—are replaced by a racist conspiracy that paints the Jews as the source of society’s problems.”

and

“Support for the anti-Israel boycott effort among radicals – like the members of the Workers World Party and the ISO – often goes along with increasingly open support for Hamas. As ISO leader D’Amelio said of Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political bureau leader in Damascus, “There is little in what he says that I disagree with.”

The Hamas covenant, written in 1988, outlines the aims of that organization.

Speaking of the Jewish people, the document states, “With their money, they took control of the world media… . [T]hey stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution… . With their money they formed secret societies… . They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources.”

Fatah likewise has renounced its former revolutionary democratic demand for a democratic, secular Palestine. Its leadership reflects the wealthy layer of Palestinians increasingly seeking an accommodation with imperialism and with Tel Aviv.

In the absence of any revolutionary perspective, campaigns such as the anti-Israel boycott can appear to be a radical substitute. But, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, the “anti-Israel” character of these campaigns is simply a modern form of Jew-hatred. All who genuinely support the battle for Palestinian national rights must oppose it.”

Pederson sets out solidly socialist reasons not to boycott Israel.

But for ISO leader Lichi D’Amelio, the piece is an affront. She responds in the Socialist Worker, casting aspersion on Pederson’s socialist credentials and asking “whose side is he on”. She refers to her movement in revealingly self-centred terms as “perhaps the most exciting and positive development pro-Palestine activists have seen in a long time”. She also correctly refers to support for the boycott as a “no-brainer”, justifying it only with reference to other boycott examples, spurious authority figures and their decades-old writing. She is tolerant of Hamas’ antisemitic Charter, as charged by Pederson. There is no political vision in her self-defence – or rather it is a vision for, as an end in itself, bonding the workers of the world with Israel as the pretext:

“a movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel can play such an important role. It can help to build international working class solidarity–which we caught a glimpse of, thanks to the brave dockworkers in Durban.

How’s that for “charting a revolutionary course forward”?”

In other words, uniting against a scapegoat. Pederson was right.

For most others, it’s clear that that BDS is part of a movement to force the dismantlement of the state of Israel through total isolation and exclusion and that (unless you favour simply swapping an occupation for an all-out conflict) this is a moribund strategy. It’s significant that the pro-SWP organ has given Pederson a voice – it suggests that the antisemitism of the Palestine solidarity campaign has reached levels impossible for the SWP to ignore, and that it continues to finds antisemitism unhelpful to its movement.

11 Responses to “The Militant: boycott and divestment a cover for antisemitism”

  1. Empress Trudy Says:

    Starbucks is a public company it has no “owner” of any kind. But if racists are worried about commingling funds with Jews they should probably avoid most publicly traded companies of all kinds.

  2. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    “It’s significant that the pro-SWP organ has given Pederson a voice – it suggests that the antisemitism of the Palestine solidarity campaign has reached levels impossible for the SWP to ignore, and that it continues to finds antisemitism unhelpful to its movement.”

    Actually, it’s significant that the _US_ arm of the SWP has given Pederson a voice to reiterate Bebel’s aphorism about
    antisemitism being the socialism of fools. I wouldn’t be too sure about the intentions of the UK arm of the SWP, assuming that they are really parts of the same body, and it isn’t just a coincidence of names.

  3. Richard Gold Says:

    The US SWP have no connection to the UK SWP.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      QED. Thus the comment in the article concerning “the SWP” is wrong in its implication that the (UK) SWP has woken up to the antisemitic nature of some criticisms of and actions against Israel.

  4. fred Says:

    I asked an US Trot I know to explain SWP-US, which I’ve never heard of before. I don’t see their paper ever being hawked at marches, etc. His reply:

    “Briefly: the Socialist Workers Party was the original, authentic, genuine American branch of the Trotskyist movement,
    headed by James Cannon and Max Shachtman. Serious revolutionists, on the subversive list, jailed during WW II
    for opposing the war.

    “There was one major split – Shachtman in about 1941 over the Finnish issue. He formed the Independent Socialist
    League, which gradually moved away from ‘orthodox’ Trotskyism and came into the Socialist Party in 1958, took control, took it to the far right and that is another and different history.

    “There was a second split, about 1950, led by Bert Cochran. An interesting and healthy development.

    “However, after playing a truly nasty role during the Vietnam War (they split the anti-war movement), building a powerful set of front groups, they disintegrated into a cult, expelling virtually all the original members. They are no longer of importance (I don’t say this because I disagree with them but because they have pretty much vanished – they have the paper, they have moved away from Trotsky toward being heavily pro-Cuban).

    “I was a bit surprised by this editorial of theirs, but the SWP in the US is a strange little tag-end of the old Trotskyist tradition.”

    & Richard Gold is right; the ISO, which Pederson is critiquing, in the US used to have a connection with the SWP-UK, splittling earlier in the decade. I’m not sure what the split was about, but I think it’s safe to say those two groups still have relatively similar politics. No relation between the two SWP’s, tho.

  5. Arieh Lebowitz Says:

    The entire universe of the U.S. hard left is certainly much smaller proportional to the general population than that in the U.K, and possibly smaller in total numbers as well, which says something, I guess.
    For those who are interested, the Wikipedia entries {of uncertain accuracy, but full of details for those who like such things of the SWPs of the U.S. and U.K can be found here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Workers_Party_(United_States)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_Workers_Party_(Britain)
    There are interesting threads, including that of what is now nown as the ISO, but … I leave that to others.

  6. Richard Gold Says:

    Around 1987 some Socialist Action members left SA and set up the Communist League which was the British section of the American SWP. They had a couple of Pathhfinder Press bookshops.

  7. fred Says:

    The Economist says Obama should consider reducing aid:

    http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13413984
    America cannot give unstinting support to an Israeli government that says it is resiling from the fundamental principle of two states and will continue to colonise the West Bank. If Mr Netanyahu does not change course, Mr Obama should reduce aid to Israel.

  8. Inna Says:

    fred–

    Israeli economists (who I believe are influential in the Netanyahu circle) have been arguing against US aid for years:

    “A small group of commentators is skeptical of aid, believing that it is not just useless but has a detrimental effect. They include Daniel Doron of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, Robert Loewenberg of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem, Steven Plaut of Haifa University, Alvin Rabushka of the Hoover Institution, and Tom Bethell of The American Spectator. Ezra Sohar, one of the earliest critics of U.S. aid to Israel and author of several books on the problems of Israel’s socioeconomic system, is the grandfather of this movement.7

    Arnon Gafny, who served as governor of the Bank of Israel in 1976-1981, points out that foreign aid has caused Israel to suffer from what economists call the “Dutch Disease,” a generous but temporary gift (such as oil or external aid) that brings short-term benefits but impairs a country’s long-term competitiveness.8″

    http://www.meforum.org/258/end-american-aid-to-israel-yes-it-does-harm

    I personally find these economists’ arguments convincing. However, that means I am not at all convinced that severing or cutting US aid is going to have ANY impact on a Netanyahu government.

    Regards,

    Inna

  9. Duncan Bryson Says:

    Really interesting link Inna, Thank you.

  10. entdinglichung Says:

    the “public reason” for the split between SWP (Britain) and ISO (USA) was mainly about different viewpoints about the anti-globalization movement and Seattle 1999 the ISO being more workerist and very critical on the new movement hailed by the SWP (UK) … there are also rumours about conflicts over money

    interesting, that the SWP (USA) took up this issue because generally, they were uncritically supporting every “liberation movement” (even the Iranian government around 1980) in the world (which was in fact one of the reasons of them breaking with the Fourth International in the 1980ies) … generally, it was my impression (especially after some trial subscriptions of their paper some years ago) that they were concentrating all their resources on Cuba solidarity work, grassroots work in the industry, selling their paper and other publications of Pathfinder Press and an election campaign every four years, they even showed some cultish behaviour some years ago (a copyright case against the Marxist Internet Archive or their weird campaign praising their leader’s (Jack Barnes) book “Capitalism’s World Disorder: Working-Class Politics at the Millennium” as the ultimate antidote to everything)


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