What's Wrong With American Liberals?
Hahahahahahaha. Where to start, right? No, but I want to talk about a specific issue, because it represents a glaring discontinuity in the values program of the 'decent' liberal left in America, and we need to be aware and be working on it. I'm talking, big surprise, about Palestine.
I belong to a handful of email listservs through the American Medical Students Association, all of which overlappingly discuss issues of health policy and global health. Not surprisingly, these discussions inevitably turn into highly polarized political debates, with a few diehard (and in some cases terrifyingly heartless) conservatives taking hard free-market, anti-immigrant type lines against the far more numerous proponents of liberal, broadly progressive programs. There is a tiny handful of radicals who participate, but for the most part the members of this 'community' are well-meaning, earnest, homework-doing and analysis-impoverished liberals.
The one debate we have over and over, like clockwork once a month, is on how to achieve Universal Health Care (UHC). I've posted a lengthy rant about this before, so I'll just summarize the scenario as follows: someone posts an article bearing on UHC, one of the conservative trolls pops up and hollers something truly horrid about how the poor shouldn't get a free ride on someone else's Hard-Earned Money, and a thousand earnest liberal voices are raised in outraged protest at the inhumanity. Repeat ad naus. They never give up, and they never tire of rehashing the exact same discussion with the same long, strenuously-argued missives.
These are decent people, for the most part, concerned about the AIDS crisis in Africa, domestic violence, gay rights, you name it. Post an attack on any of these fronts and the children come out fighting.
Contrast, then, a recent sequence of events on the global medicine list. Someone posted a piece by Juan Cole on the orange-shirt protests in Gaza. A (Jewish) medical student from Harvard responded with a post so packed with filthy, lying calumnies against the Palestinians and utterly mendacious justifications of Israeli war crimes that it made my head spin and my stomach heave. The email was long and dense with putrescent trash, but the kicker was in the first paragraph:
I assume this comment is in response to Israel's policy of attacking the homes of the families of terrorists. Israel is NOT indiscrimiately destroying Palestinian homes. It specifically targets homes of terrorists' families. Before doing so, Israel Defense Forces knock on the door to warn the family to give them time to evacuate. (Sadly, many times Palestinians chose to leave young children in the homes to serve as martyrs.)That last line literally made me sick with rage. That someone could feel safe in posting a statement so nakedly racist (and monstrously false) to a public discussion was beyond belief. It's exactly as if someone had posted the Jewish Blood Libel, for fuck's sake. I instantly fired off a screaming protest to the racist scum, and waited for the chorus of outrage to back me up.
Hey, guess what? Silence. One Arab student stepped up in agreement, and provided a detailed rebuttal of the lies retailed in the rest of the email. Several other people posted whingeing admonitions that this was a global health list, and we should stop discussing politics, and anyway the situation in Israel/Palestine is just so complicated and everyone's at fault so we should just stop talking about it.
But from the legions of indignant liberals who leap up monthly to defend the right of the American poor to receive health care? To call for action against domestic violence and for statewide smoking bans? Deafening fucking silence. Not a single one of those earnest, anguished children could be fucked to raised a typing finger to defend the Palestinians from the most overt racist slander, nor to protest the baldly stated assertion that they deserve the atrocities committed against them by Israel.
So back into the fray I go, and now the zionists are out in force, posting the best American zionism has to offer by way of twisted, truth-unencumbered propaganda articles (my favorite included the line 'Noam Chomsky is a known Communist!'), fighting dirty like only they can, and I'm alone, hissing and spitting.
Soon enough the President of AMSA chimes in with a post saying things have gotten out of hand and requesting that everyone just 'take a step back' and not post on this topic for a day or two 'to cool off'. (They're very frightened of heated debate, these children, as soon as things get emotional they start calling for 'civilized, respectful discussion' because 'no one side is right or wrong, we're all Entitled To Our Opinions'. Words can't express how incorrect that is.) She is ignored. I reply to her off-list to demand that the AMSA leadership make a statement in response to this blatant racism that was posted on the list; I am ignored. (Shame on them, fucking shame.) The argument continues to rage, with me on the one side, the psychotic zionists on the other, and one or two idiots in the middle still whining that it's all so complicated, and would everyone stop being so one-sided. Eventually the president emails me personally to request that I hold off, to which I agree on the condition that she is also requesting the same of the other side, and the unholy brouhaha fades and dies.
[An interesting sidebar on the no-holds-barred tactics of hard American zionism. A few days into the debate I got an automated confirmation email from the listserv manager, requesting that I confirm my request to unsubscribe from the list. Since I had done no such thing, I contacted the president and confirmed that the leadership had not, as I paranoiacally but frankly doubtfully feared, decided to ban me from the list for being confrontational. Which means that someone else on the list copied the unsubscribe link from the bottom of one of my posts, and sent a request in my name, to try and boot me off the list on the sly. These are the lengths to which these people will unblinkingly go to silence the opposition. A whole movement of baby Dershowitzes, willing literally to stop at nothing to propagate their lying, genocide-apologist narrative. It's quite chilling.]
My point in retailing this long tale is, I hope, clear. What is it that allows these caring, well-meaning young medical students, many of them activists in socially progressive causes, to let pass statements of such open racism without a murmur? If someone had posted the claim that 'Black people often choose to allow their children to be killed by police officers, as martyrs to police brutality', they'd have been shouted down for a racist within minutes. How badly distorted is the narrative we've been raised with, that so many will not only tolerate racism against Palestinians, but allow free rein to people who claim that they deserve to have their most basic human rights obliterated?
How can decent people, who passionately advocate for health care as a human right, ignore the desperate condition of an entire population who should only survive the tender mercies of the IDF and Gush Emunim long enough to seek the health care they will then be denied?
These are all of course rhetorical questions. I know perfectly well how. The zionist narrative has a grip on American consciousness, through the complex combined agency of government conditioning, media bias and organized Jewish lobbying (through AIPAC, the ADL, organizations like CampusWatch, &c.) that is as insidious and tenacious as it is pervasive. Americans don't even know to question the version of Middle East politics that's handed to them, let alone how to analyze what they might find if they went looking.
We have a lot of work to do, and we'd best get on it. Anguished left liberals like my AMSA-mates, while politically hopeless, are nonetheless our best hope for building critical grassroots mass for Palestinian justice. Unless we can achieve the level of popular sympathy and outrage that saw out apartheid, we're doomed to cry in the wilderness, and these well-meaning, badly-programmed young people are where we need to start.