Thursday, January 15, 2009

I think this is what is meant by the term "own goal."

In an essay praising the Canadian Left for having lately achieved "a major step forward in opposition to Zionism," Yves Engler can barely contain his glee. There have been several anti-Israel demonstrations staged across the country, then there's Sid Ryan's histrionics, Naomi Klein's various complaints, CUPW's threats to refuse delivery of incoming Israeli mail or whatever that was, a rising chorus for anti-Israel boycotts, and so on.

"Palestinian activists, alongside non-Arab activists, have worked tirelessly to make opposition to Zionism a central part of the left's political culture," he writes.

A central part of the left's political culture.

I've noticed that, too, although I wouldn't be quite as quick to blame (or praise) Palestinian activists for this state of affairs. Nevertheless, it makes Engler happy. But: "Unfortunately this has not been the case." And this is the important part.

Engler provides several useful examples of just how "unfortunately" the Canadian labour movement and the main institutions of the Canadian Left have behaved with respect to Israel down through history. What his evidence clearly demonstrates is the breadth of the Canadian Left's historic commitment to Israel, and its fervent commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, from the very beginning.

In Engler's view, the NDP doesn't quite deserve full marks yet, owing to NDP MPs who occasionally visit Israel and the party's "distasteful" failure to emphatically and unambiguously collude with the antisemitic agenda underway in the "Durban" process. But what the hell. You can't get all you want, all at once.

And such progress! Nowadays, Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti can be counted on to scoff when the Taliban are called "brutal insurgents," preferring the ennobling term "Afghan resistance movement" instead. And only a few years ago, the CLC president was Dennis McDermott, who was unafraid to say this sort of thing:

I love the labour movement with a deep and abiding passion, so what I am about to say does not come easy. Anti-Semitism is a very latent disease. It can lie dormant and well concealed for long periods of time. Given a convenient pretext it can suddenly erupt, spewing its malicious pent-up venom in all directions.

The pretext now is the notion that Israel is the aggressor. So out come the poison pens of the resolution writers. Come down on Israel like a ton of bricks and, by association, Jewish people everywhere. Make ridiculous accusations and parallels, describe Israeli policies as being everything from genocide to apartheid. Then on the last line of the resolution, to justify your neutrality and lack of bias, put in a whimper like, 'please stop the suicide bombings.'

So yes, I agree with Engler. Something very important has happened.

Something has changed, and to further make his case Engler might have noted that even the Communist Party of Canada once regarded Israel with affection. Engler could have similarly rejoiced in the ubiquitous evidences that history's dustbin is also shaping up to be the destiny for the Left's historic demand for a just peace between the Jews and the Palestinians, in two states - the old dream of the Socialist League of Palestine for a classless society and a bi-national state for Jews and Arabs in a single federation.

If my meaning isn't obvious by now, let me be clear: What Engler's essay amply demonstrates with conclusive evidence is that this thing that has become a central part of the left's political culture in Canada is wholly antithetical to and outside the central traditions of the Canadian Left and its institutions.

Like I said: Nice boots.

4 Comments:

Blogger Margo & Dave said...

I went to school with Engler, and I certainly didn't allow him to define what a positive Middle East social movement could be then, as I certainly don't condone his actions now.

However, I'm somewhat dubious of what sounds like a romantic nostalgia for what the traditions of the Canadian Left used to be. Do you mean to say that, in the early to mid-twentieth century in Canada there wasn't any co-opting of Right-wing rhetoric that found its way into the voice of the Left?

What is your opinion respecting International law? If a state violates resolutions, is it not subject to economic boycott?

Obviously, the intellectual boycott of Israeli academics is about as conducive to dialogue as one can get, however can't Naomi Klein's call for boycotting supplies, such as those made in illegal settlements in the West Bank be a positive contribution by many Western civilians who feel that they are highly removed from the conflict, unsure of what they can do to help?

Lastly, I think there's a real double edge to defining what a Left movement is in a laundry-list fashion. Having recently returned from the West Bank, I found that many Palestinians have real identification problems with Gazans, some proposing a three-state solution, citing the differences between both occupied territories as being too divergent.
Fatah itself was extremely compliant with the 18 month siege on Gaza. Once you've labeled a movement as having to consist of a recipe in order to ensure Right-wing elements do not slip in, alternative possibilities for peace are hampered, while perpetuating a systemic limitation of possibilities already imposed by the Right.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Buber said...

There are still some leftists who call for a clasless, socialist fedearation of Israel/Palestine however much removed that position is from reality, as neo liberalism and depoliticisation occupy a hegemonic space. I should say that to even make this suggestion is to invite the charge that one is "anti semitic" or questions the legitamacy of Israel. That said if the Communist Party looked upon Israel fondly uponm its founding it's because Israel was imagined to be a progresive oasis, a socialist state amongt despotic Arab regimes which would forment class based struggle. That this view erased Palestinian presence is obvious and in this way it shares a the smae weaknessses Marx pocessed on the queston of colonislism. With the emergence of Israel particularly post 1967 as an agressive conquering force, allied to reactionary Arab regimes and reliant on imperial support brutally imposes its force on a native population, it seems to me that the old Communist Party idea of Israel it increasingly out of step with reality.

That said man6y things have indeed changed. Einstein for example identified himself as a Zionst, but in todays context would be more closely associated with the views of someone like Uri Avnery than Israel's current political leaders. his brand of Zionism
which was shared with such people like Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt,
and Hebrew University founder Judah Magnes embraced the
notion of a secular bi-national state in which Jews and
Arabs would be equals. Einstein feared that if Palestine
was partitioned (as the UN proposed in 1948 into separate
Jewish and Arab states) then the resulting Jewish state
would fall prey to a narrow chauvinist nationalism which
would betray fundamental Jewis ideals. I'd dare say
that history has vindicated Einstein on these points.

Now a days when someone like Noam Chomsky embraces
what was essentially the position of Einstein, Arendt, Buber etc.,
he gets slammed as an "anti-Semite" and a "self-hating Jew".

3:03 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Margo and Dave:

First, keep up the great work,and thankyou for doing it.

Second: I confess to some nostalgia, and also that I wasn't the greatest fan of McDermott back in the day, but this: "Do you mean to say that, in the early to mid-twentieth century in Canada there wasn't any co-opting of Right-wing rhetoric that found its way into the voice of the Left?"

Er, maybe. But what I meant to say was really no more than what I said: "What Engler's essay amply demonstrates with conclusive evidence is that this thing that has become a central part of the left's political culture in Canada is wholly antithetical to and outside the central traditions of the Canadian Left and its institutions."

"What is your opinion respecting international law? If a state violates resolutions, is it not subject to economic boycott?"

I think international law would be a very good idea (at the moment it's mainly just theory), but if violations of international law should subject violating states to boycotts, I would rather start these boycotts wtih China, the Russia and most of the Russian Federation, at least two-thirds of Africa, and almost all of the so-called "Muslim world.

Boycotting goods produced by illegal settlements in the West Bank would seem like a very good idea. I wouldn't be surprised to find that Israeli citizens would make up a significant portion of consumers who would participate in such a boycott.

I have no recipe list for proper leftish conduct, by the way.

8:17 PM  
Blogger SnoopyTheGoon said...

"Like I said: Nice boots."

It took me three attempts to read this correctly, Terry. Which means that we both are getting on in years: you in connecting the word "nice" with the word "boots" and me failing at least twice to understand it ;-)

Cheers.

5:35 AM  

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