Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sid Ryan: Parody of Antisemitism or Mossad Sleeper Agent?

Andrew Potter asks that question, tongue-in-cheek on a serious subject, but also a more serious question: "CUPE has never seen fit to demand that American academics denounce George W. Bush, or insist that Russian professors criticize Vladimir Putin, before they should be allowed to set foot on an Ontario campus. Could there be something more sinister at work than mere concern for the immediate plight of the Gazans?"

Yes, I reckon so. In any case, something sinister is going on, and Sid Ryan is an embarrassment to CUPE and to trade unionism, and Ryan's fans are quite right about one thing: a seriously-overcaffeinated anti-Zionism has indeed become "a central part of the left's political culture." I also agree that it is wholly foreign to the central traditions of the Canadian Left and its institutions.

Whatever name you want to give it, the conditions that anticipated this were quite clearly outlined by - guess who? - Andrew Potter, who co-authored an important little book with Joseph Heath a few years ago called The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed. Here's an important observation Potter and Heath made back then: "Unfortunately, the idea of counterculture has become so deeply embedded in our understanding of society that it influences every aspect of social and political life. Most importantly, it has become the conceptual template for all contemporary leftist politics. Counterculture has almost completely replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought. So if counterculture is a myth, then it is one that has misled an enormous number of people, with untold political consequences.”

It's not that hippie pieties, lurid Grateful Dead lyrics and a vast selection of Che t-shirts in your closet will necessarily land you in the muck that August Bebel called "the socialism of fools." But if that's what passes for your politics, chances are you won't even notice it when it happens.

Potter blogs here.

Meanwhile, since we're on the subject of the elevation of avante-garde solipsism to the place where serious political analysis used to be, why not Be Your Own Obama! It would have been so inauthentic of me to try and resist the temptation. And so I did not:

35 Comments:

Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Very interesting blog.

I'm not exactly sure where your post leads, but I'll throw out some response.

I know counter culture from the hippy days. It was to some extent an alternative day to day politics. Hippies called politicos "power freaks."

I'm not against "globalization." I'm against capitalism. World capitalism makes world socialism all the easier.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous modestproposal said...

Using this same method of argument, I imagine that both you and Mr Potter opposed boycotts against the regime in South Africa, as they too were "selective" and didn't aply to the US even as it's support for the Contras was condemned by the the World Court. The counterargument here is that in South Africa a broad range of civil society organisations called for the boycott, just as that call has been made by a huge group of plaestinian organisations in 2005. A boycott responds to those in the grassroots being stifled under a state sanctioned military occupation. It's a form of international solidarity.

As Naomi Klein mentions in her excellent article in favour of such an action, boycotts are a tactic they are not a dogma. In a country like Israel which is trade dependent it has a chance of working. That should be our guiding principle.

More to the point boycotts by unions, civil rights organisations and progressives act as a counterwieght to the blind support that the Israeli occupation gets from an entire political class in spite of longstabnding international law. Israel refuses to relinquish its hold on the territory, stealing Palestinian land even as it commits itself to the fraudulent peace process. It blocks non violent resoltuon to the conflict by duisregarding the unanimous ICJ decision declaring the illegality of the wall. It continues to control access of 40 of what is left of the 22 per cent of historic palestine, and along with the US it is one of the only countries on Earth to vote against UN resoltions caling for a two state settlement based on international law.

What is obvious is that this activity, which involves the degregation and brutalisation of Palestinian, the use of torture, political prisoners, illegal checkpoints and road blocks comes against no viable sanctions. This is the longest standing colonial regime. Israel acts in Gaza, killing over a thousand, including hundreds of children and a silent and inactive world watches and deems it acceptable because palestinian violencer is put on the same scale as the greater brutality of an occupying power. How then against all of this do we as a global communitty react against this longstanding rejectionism and ongoibng violations of international law.

I'd argue that we respond to the grassroot Palestinian groups, That we act as a counterwieght to cart blanche support that the Israeli project receives from our political leaders. Emplying your and Potters argument boycotts would never have occured agains the aparthied regime, and maybe nothing would have changed. We had a responsbility than and especially seeing the massacres taking place in the present, we have a reponsibility now. That what brother Sid gets and he should be commended

5:22 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Which "grassroots Palestinian groups" should we respond to? The ones that Hamas tolerates, or the ones whose members are slaughtered for not going along with Hamas? The ones that support a boycott, or the ones who believe in Palestinian-Israeli unity? Which boycott? A boycott of Israeli-made products from the West Bank, designed to stop the settlements, or a boycott designed to destroy Israel?

Israel is not South Africa. Brother Ryan is an embarrassment to trade unionism. He doesn't get it. Neither do you.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous modestproposal said...

I shouls say, too, that the academic boycott needs to seen within the context of the complete destruction of freedom of speech in Plaestinian educational infrustructure, to the point where creative dialogue across acadme is evasive.

It not only the physical attack and destruction of schools and universitiesin Gaza that we witnessed recetnly, but also the routine closures, and the inability for palestinians to move freely and access edducational resources as they are fenced in by road blacks, checkpoints, walls and settlements. How then can we change this situation where a one society is controlling os mnay aspects of another peoples life, Plestinians, who Primo Levi called the "new jews" or Israles jews.

What we are talking about here i a basic acknowledgement of injustice which itself can start a dalogue hopefully within Israel, drawing attention to the plight of Palestinians. There's a symbolic nature which is vitally improtant to remember in these discussions

6:06 PM  
Anonymous amodestproposal said...

To talk about "Palestinian/Israeli unity" without seriously engaging in a analysis of power and putting forward a peace based on mutuality, coexistence and justice which engages with the history of what caused so many Palestinains to be flee in the first palce, is to posit empty rhetoric in theory, and streghtne the hand of those who believe in undending war and domination. Peace can be made with equals predicated on respect fro internationaol law and the elementary ideals of universal justice. That's the point.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous amodestproposal said...

The good Naomi Klein gets at some of your queries

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/10/naomi-klein-boycott-israel

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post Terry. I hadn't looked at the bigger issue that way but now it seems so clear.

Hitchens wrote in a forward about Orwell that while the left has won culturally and lost politically, Orwell would have wanted it the other way.

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Parvus said...

Terry,

Excellent post. But you exaggerate when you write that the rabid anti-Zionism of today's left is, "wholly foreign to the central traditions of the Canadian Left and its institutions".

As someone who was active in the Trotskyist movement (Socialist Challenge) in Vancouver in the early 1990s, I can assure you that the far left of that period was intensely "anti-Zionist," i.e. called for the destruction of Israel and its replacement by either a "democratic secular Palestine" or some such variation.

In fact, I remember making that exact point in an interview on the "Voice of Palestine" radio show while representing our SFU front group, "Students for Socialist Action" during the Gulf War in 1991.

So, yes, today leftist hatred for Israel has reached new levels, but you give the left a pass by claiming that this is qualitatively new.

I would say that the far left was anti-Israel since 1967-68, and that today this trend has become widespread and indeed predominant on the left as a whole.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

modestproposal:

If you're just going to regurgitate the same high-sounding claptrap that has so infantilized the entire debate about big bad Israel I'll just delete your posts. If you make a point that's worthwhile I'll answer it.

On the matter of boycotts and divestment, no. For a host of reasons. But the specific reasons unintentionally raised by Klein illustrate my case in ways that expose the boycott side to ridicule as well as contempt.

Do pay attention. Klein herself isn't boycotting Israel. Did you notice? She claims to be boycotting the Israeli economy, but not Israelis, by changing from her corporate publisher in Israel to some radical-chic publishing house there. This is not boycotting the Israeli economy. This is trying to be cool. It's just sticking it to the man.

When she says "there are deeply distressing echoes of apartheid in the occupied territories," that's a fair point - it's different than the disgusting claim that Israel is "an apartheid state," but the point is still made in an unnecessarily inflammatory (but, as always with Klein, a fashionably transgressive) way.

To be even more fair, if there were a real boycott with a specific purpose, say, a boycott aimed at production from the West Bank that is directly attributable to illegal settlements, that would be eminently defensible. But there is one small problem.

The entire "boycott and divestment" movement is about smashing the Israeli state, and the entire effort has, to borrow Klein's words, "deeply distressing echoes" of the Arab League boycott, launched in 1948. It's old eliminationist wine in fernbar-boutique bottles. There is also about it what we might call echoes of even earlier boycotts that are even more "distressing" to consider.

A hip auxiliary to that effort is still merely auxiliary to that effort.

Klein is on absolutely solid ground when she calls for "the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa," but didn't you notice the way she phrases that? It's an amateurish elision. It reveals less than it obscures. What it obscures is that the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa would not be calling for a boycott of Israel, and it is not the kind of movement that we're dealing with today. The movement today is riven with left-fascist cultists and clerical fascists. Do pay attention to the detritus that has insinuated itself into the leadership of Canada's so-called anti-war protest movement. Then look to Britain, France, Belgium, and Tehran, and then have a look at all the Code Pink scabs, Sid Ryan hangers-on and 60s' era re-treads that serve as the movements bag-carriers.

"Not in my name" doesn't quite cut it somehow.

7:46 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

P.S.

Klein's reference to Afghanistan in her Guardian essay was fucking dsgraceful.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Parvus: You are quite right. My quibble with you is that I wouldn't call Socialist Challenge central to the Canadian left or the labour movement. You do make a very important point that too often gets lost, and that I have only rarely raised: 1967-68. Something changed.

By the way, we may know each other. I was active in the same Trotskyist circles as you, but maybe a few years earlier, when I was a kid.

Cheers, comrade.

TG

7:57 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

PPS modestproposal:

As for your insulting suggestion that I opposed the boycott of South Africa, just so you know, I stood with my union, the Newspaper Guild, and resigned from the Centre for Investigative Journalism organizing committee when the CIJ decided to host the South African ambassador at a national conference.

So watch your lip.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Parvus said...

Cheers to you as well, Terry. I'm a bit younger (I was doing my B.A. in the early 90s), but I do remember hearing once that you were around the movement in the RMG days... (I may be wrong on that!)

Our perspectives are close one again then. Like so many other refugees from the far left, it was 9/11 that served as the wake up call for me. Perhaps one difference would be that I no longer consider myself to be on the left at all, having taken the step that BHL refuses to take, so to speak!

At any rate, please keep up your spirited defense of democracy, internationalism, and liberal values and ideals--this is sorely needed in the "battle of ideas" here in Canada as much as anywhere else!

Look forward to commenting here every now and then!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

"I do remember hearing once that you were around the movement in the RMG days. . ."

To this I must confess as well. And that regardless of the step you've taken, we're still on the same side.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

I am fed up with the infantile arguments that Israel is committing genocide and such like. War crimes, yes, but that cuts both ways.

All of these cases (including India's partition and Northern Ireland, and most of Africa) date back before most of us were born and were fashioned out of demands from ethnic-religious groups to create new states out of the crumbling European empires of the day.

At first I tended to sympathize with the Catholics of N. Ireland because they were the underdogs who didn't get the good jobs (if any) and had to put up with the Orange men with their stupid insulting marches through their boroughs etc. And Bobby Sands was a martyr. Then it started to become apparent that many of the top dogs were nothing but drug-dealing thugs and thieves -- on both sides -- and the final nail in the casket as far as public sympathies went was the Enniskillen bombing. The provos went too far, and I fear that the Israelis may have have as well with the rout in Gaza.

Still, the only solution is to accept that there is room enough for all of us. The Irish did -- I just about fell over when I saw the photo of Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley sitting at the same table and smiling when they signed the accord.

The Indians and Pakistanis, the Israelis and Palestinians, and the many different African peoples have to come to the same realization.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous amodestproposal said...

The trouble that I have with your perspective is that it wants to imagine that the settlements in the West Bank reflect a small, isolated policy divorced from larger Israeli society. I'd argue instead that the occupation and disposession of Palestinian land, which started with the ethnic cleansing of 700 000 Palestinians in 1948 has been a state building project which implicates broad sections of Israeli society and has become central to the way that Israel imagines itself, and allows itself to be blinded by the violence it begets. The accounts of the so called new Israeli historians Tom Segev, Benny Morris and Pappe make this point quite clearly.

Take simply the issue of international law. For over forty years the international concensus, backed by UN resoltions has deemed that settlements are illegal. For all that time Israeli society elected leaders which have advocated rejectionism in the face of this concensus, including thumbing their nose at the unanimous decision of the ICJ ruling that the wall is illegal. Tends of thousands of Israelis have been drafted to serve in a occupying army which has maintained a system of marshall law over Palestinians they rule.

The occupation creates land policiues whereby settlers gain access to the most arable land. In the debate with BHL, Zizek mentions the bureacratci laws which at every steo entrech superior rights based on ethnicity to settlers, while discriminating against Plestinians. These colonial enclaves demand roads, checkpoints, ID cards for Palestinains and a larger structure of racism to ensure that brutality is seen to be justified. It seems to me clear that the complicity of larger Israeli society in the occupation is what the boycott aims to highlight.

A couple more points. The comparison between the treatment of South African blacks under apartheid and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza under Israel, is now widespread and can be heard in the editorial pages of Haaretz, the voices of Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils as well as even moderate liberals like Jimmy Carter. If Palestinians are in fact treated worse I'd look for a materialist answer. Post 1967 Palestinians were an important source of cheap labour in Israel and much Plaestinian resistance poetry fouces on this issue of class exploitation and work. Israel has long since replaced Palestinians with internationals thus allowing it to deploy a kind of brutality and cruelty not used against blacks in south african who made up the enterity of the working class under aparthied.

My point about the aparthied boycott was simple. In suppoirting that action you advocated for the kind of directed, targetted and selective action that Potter in principle is dissing

11:10 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

First of all, the so-called "ethnic cleansing" of Palestine 1948 is nowhere near being an established historical fact, and just because idelogical historians like Ilan Pappe calls it that certainly doesn't make it so.

Secondly, when you equate Israel's treatment of Palestinians with Apartheid South Africa's treatment of blacks, it's rather disingenous to omit the decades of vicious terror Israel has endured; south african blacks, by contrast were stoic and dignified in their opposition to apartheid, and carried out relatively few acts of terror, and those that were carried out were minor, esp. in comparison.

I'm with Terry. The leftie regurgitation is really boring.

On a related tangent, i can recall vicious anti-zionism on campus at McGill in 1973-1975. While some of it was led by Marxist-Leninist loonies (ironically led by an Israeli named Ze'ev Ionis, i believe), there was plenty to go around in the radical left including editors at the McGill Daily. So this is nothing new, but it is gathering steam.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

amodestproposal:

You have no idea what you're talking about. "The trouble that I have with your perspective is. . ." that you don't seem to have understood it, and you obviously don't get Potter's point, either. It's as though you didn't even read it.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous amodestproposal said...

My point was that using Potter's argument the boycott against South African was illegtimate as it didn't extend to other human rights offenders and it's not as if there weren't plenty at the time. The problem with this argument is that it reduces boycott's to dogma's, instead of seeing them as selective and targetted strategies. In this case the refusal of Israel to implement the mininal demands of international law, it's ability to frame brutal polcies of occupation, theft and dispossesion as "defensive" and "democratic" calls upon civil society to mobilse tools to act as a counterweight. Our solidarity demands that we respond to grassroots groups under occupation which are calling for such measures.

If Potter wants to be consistent he would have to argue that the aparthied sanctions, too, were illegetimate

9:24 AM  
Blogger ligneus said...

modestproposal - I don't know who you are of course, but taking a name like that is very immodest given the sorry state of your knowledge of the subject and your lack of reasoning power.

Why is it that the 700,000 who left Israel when it was about to be attacked by all the surrounding Arab countries portrayed as ethnic cleansing without a word on the context? Were they not instructed by the soon to be victorious Arab armies to get out of the way and return when the Jews had been either killed or driven out? As it turns out, it would have been better for Israel if they had indulged in e.c., the way the Arab countries did to their Jews who had far more legitimate claim to residency than did most of the 'Palestinians' in Israel.

In any case, it all comes down to the well known argument that if the Arabs laid down their arms and asked for peace with Israel, then peace there would be. If Israel tried the same thing, they would be wiped off the map. That simple statement trumps all the talk and arguments going on who's to blame and how do we get out of the mess.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous amodestproposal said...

We're now entering a territory where people tend to dogmatically cling to beliefs, in a kind of pathological way, instead of examining the facts. It usded to be the case that referring to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which happened in 1948 was to make a controversial case and go against established opinion. That is ismnply not true today. It's not only "ideological" intellectual like Pappe who have painfully reconstrcuted the motivation and implemtation of the Palestinian exodus from their land, but also committed Zionists like Benny Morris who have mobilised literally thousands of Israeli archives to make thier point.

What happened was that an entire peoples physical and cultural fabric was taken away from them and I'd argue it's that legecay and the inability to deal with this reality which obstructs a just and genuine peace from occuring today. The claim that Palestinians were told to "flee" through ArAb broadcasts has also been throughly demolished. The most stylish and complete demolition of this argument was done by Christopher Hitchens in brillaint article written in the 1990's.

The denial of the Nakba, the inability to confront the fact that Jewish and Palestinian history both share similar themes of exile, landlessness and persecution is at its base a kind of pathology which obstructs the prospects of peaceful and equal conexistence between Palestinians and Israelis

10:33 AM  
Anonymous amodestproposal said...

Good news. The great philosopher Zizek has lent his name to the boycott, divestment campaign. A fabulous write up in the Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/16/gaza-israel-petitions

9:04 PM  
Blogger vildechaye said...

More good news. Renowned anti-zionist moammar gadhafi, leader of libya, says this about the so-called "ethnic cleansing" of Palestine in an op-ed in Wednesday's new york times:

"It is a fact that Palestinians inhabited the land and owned farms and homes there until recently, fleeing in fear of violence at the hands of Jews after 1948 — violence that did not occur, but rumors of which led to a mass exodus. It is important to note that the Jews did not forcibly expel Palestinians. They were never “un-welcomed.”

But hey you go on believing Ilan Pappe's crap. It's also totally unfair and anti-intellectual to lump in Benny Morris with Ilan Pappe, and I suspect you haven't read Benny Morris. Maybe you should take your ideological blinkers off for a moment and you'll experience a moment of clarity like Gadhafi.

Over and above that, your smug superior tone -- with no grounds -- is simply irritating and wins you no friends. get lost.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

I'm with Vildechaye. This is getting like unintentional satire, and it's richer for the fact that the original "A Modest Proposal" was a satirical essay by the good Anglo-Irishman Jonathon Swift proposing that the remedy for the Irish famine was a scheme whereby Irish Catholic babies would be slaughtered and fed to the starving Irish, which, I'm beginning to think, is the only option amodestproposal would concede to Israel's Jews. That they should eat their own young.

Besides, this "good news" about Zizek is old news, and it was a boring and stupid petition even then.

This "amodestproposal" wanker should get lost.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Terry Glavin said...

Speaking of unintentional satire:

http://tinyurl.com/bd3nhl

11:50 PM  
Blogger The Contentious Centrist said...

"Syria congratulates Hamas on 'victory' "

______


"I've changed my mind about Hamas," Abu Abed says. "I can't support any party that wages a war that destroys our lives." He is particularly pained by the fact that Hamas is still selling the cease-fire as a victory.

"Who has won here?" he asks and points to the debris that was once his home. "


http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,603203,00.html#ref=rss

8:13 AM  
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Illiterate anonymous graffiti scrawlings automatically removed.

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