Steve Rosenthal report on Apr. 20

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Apr 21 17:21:54 MDT 2002

(Rosenthal is a sociologist professor and an outspoken Marxist. This
appeared on the Progressive Sociologists Network mailing list.)

My wife Mimi and I returned late last night from two long inspiring
days in Washington, DC. We went with a group of progressive Muslims,
mostly students. On Friday we participated in the Teach-in on
Palestine at American University, and on Saturday we marched for four
hours with the Palestine Solidarity "feeder" march to the "ANSWER"
(ACT Now to Stop War and Racism) rally at the National Mall. The
Palestine Solidarity march turned out to by far the largest march of
the day, and the Washington Post estimated that at least 75,000
people rallied at the Mall.

On Friday I spoke at the teach-in, and afterwards Mimi and I
participated in four different workshops that dealt with Palestinian
history, contemporary eyewitness accounts from the West Bank,
organizing on college campuses and the community against U.S. aid to
Israel, and U..S. war crimes against Iraq. On Saturday with marched
at different times with a variety of Muslim, Jewish, and other

Here are a few observations.

1. We were very impressed with the young speakers and leaders of all
these activities. At the teach-in a young Jewish American woman just
back from the West Bank described her experiences there, and young
Palestinian women discussed the impact of the occupation and the
Israeli re-invasion on Palestinians in the West Bank and in the U.S.
Young women made up most of the leadership of the activities and

2. We were impressed by the diversity among the tens of thousands of
Muslims who participated in the events. We interacted with Muslims
whose ideology (and attire) spanned the entire range from Taliban to
secular Marxism. There are many new and growing progressive Muslim
groups, especially on college campuses.

3. We met a number of anti-Zionist Jewish groups who participated in
the Saturday Palestinian Solidarity march. Jews Against the
Occupation, Not In My Name, and other Jewish and Jewish/Palestinian
groups were well represented and integrated into the march.

4. There were no anti-Jewish signs or chants by any of the
Palestinian, Muslim, or Arab groups in the march. Even the
politically sharpest criticisms of Israel, Sharon, and Zionism were
clearly not directed indiscriminately at Jews or Judaism. The only
expression of anti-Jewish racism came from about two dozen
black-shirt members of the New Black Panther Party who charged into
the march on Pennsylvania Avenue with signs denouncing Jews and
Judaism and championing Saddam Hussein. These fascist provocateurs
were not welcomed by any participants in the march, and the hundreds
of African American participants in the march had nothing to do with
the New BPP.

5. Comparisons frequently made between South Africa and Palestine
yielded new insights for me. For some time I have tried to point out
to students and friends the similarities between apartheid and the
Israeli occupation of Palestine. The proposed Bantustans that Israel
and the U.S. want to impose on Palestinians surely resemble South
African apartheid. During the past two days, however, I have
concluded that Israeli treatment of Palestinians is actually worse
than South African apartheid. Although the South African government
often demolished squatter settlements, they did not reduce entire
black townships to rubble. Although they declared blacks to be
migrant workers in their own land, they did not attempt to import a
white population that would outnumber blacks. Although they defined
blacks as an inferior race, they did not refer to them as insects and
vermin to be exterminated or expelled. Although they had a fascistic
system of pass laws and labor laws, they were far too dependent on
black labor to lock down the entire black working class in Bantustan
prisons for weeks at a time. Although they deprived blacks of decent
health care, they did not commit the blatant war crime of shooting at
ambulance drivers and causing many injured people to bleed to death.
Finally, South African capitalist rulers worked out an arrangement to
preserve their class interests under "black majority rule." Can you
imagine Israeli rulers allowing Yasser Arafat to become the president
of a unified Palestine in which Jews make up a minority of the
overall population? I am sure that many people can point out some
ways in which apartheid was/is worse than Israeli rule in Palestine,
but a number of South Africans who have visited Palestine, including
recently Breyton Breytonbach, have argued that Israeli treatment of
Palestinians is worse than apartheid.

6. From the workshops I got a clearer analysis of what Sharon and the
U.S. have been up to in recent weeks. Here is my interpretation.
Israel and the US tried to build up the Palestinian Authority (PA) as
an indigenous force that would accept an agreement Bantustanizing
Palestinians and impose it on the Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza. The strategy came close to fruition, but the minimum that the
PA was willing to accept was more than the Israelis and the U.S. were
willing to give. After Sharon provoked the second Intifada, it became
clear that significant elements of the PA apparatus that the US and
Israel had built up were unreliable (to the US and the Israelis).
They had created another group (like the international Islamic
brigades and Saddam Hussein) that they could not fully control.
Therefore, they concluded that they had to destroy the PA by massive
terror throughout the West Bank (and perhaps now Gaza). They weren't
sure whether the road to Baghdad went through Ramallah, or the road
to Ramallah went through Baghdad, but their goals called for "regime
changes" in both places. Colin Powell went to the region to provide
political cover to the pro-U.S. governments of Egypt, Jordan, and
Saudi Arabia, to make sure that Syria and Lebanon did not get
involved, and to give the Israelis more time to murder Palestinians.
When the Israelis are done they will debate whether to try again to
build up an even weaker and more subservient "Quisling" regime or to
expel most Palestinians and annex as much of the West Bank as they
believe they need. There are members of both the Israeli and US
governments who favor each of these options. US backed Israeli policy
is a genocidal war crime, but there is an evil terrorist logic to it.

7. Most importantly, I urge you to get involved in the movement to
build solidarity with Palestinians against US sponsored Israeli
aggression. I met activists in the movement from all over the U.S.,
and they are very committed and learning quickly. All of the groups
welcome support, regardless of your nationality or religion or lack
thereof. For example, there is SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to
Israel Now), It is developing a
campaign on college campuses and communities, modeled on
anti-apartheid activism, to target corporations that contribute to
and profit from Israeli occupation of Palestine. For example,
Caterpillar makes the bulldozers Israel uses to demolish large
sections of Palestinian cities, towns, and refugee camps. They've
already done a lot of research, and you might be able to join a
chapter in your area. Those of us on PSN who are Jewish have a
special responsibility to show our solidarity with Palestinians, to
struggle to change the views of pro-Zionist Jews, especially the
students on our campuses. Recent Israeli atrocities may make many
Jews open to rethinking their position, even though Zionist
organizations are working hard to get Jews to be ever more blind to
the suffering being inflicted on Palestinians in their/our name.

I close with two short anecdotes. First, as we approached the
starting point of the Palestinian Solidarity Rally, wearing our
SUSTAIN "We are all Palestinians" tee shirts, I was accosted by a
hostile Jewish man who demanded to know if I condemned the suicide
bombings. Now I agree with what Dick Platkin and others have written
recently on PSN about the absolute necessity to reject a strategy
that targets innocent civilians and thus helps Sharon and Bush to get
people to "close ranks." But there is another aspect of the question
that was driven home to me by this little confrontation. Here was a
guy who supports Israeli terror against Palestinians, who supports
the U.S. terrorist war on terrorism, who has no interest in listening
to anything I have to say that might lead him to rethink his
position. In short, he is ideologically primed like a weapon, ready
to go off at any sign of criticism of Israel. He will take any
denunciation of suicide bombers I offer him as further proof of the
righteousness of his position, and he will take any reluctance on my
part to issue that denunciation as proof that I am a supporter of
terrorism who deserves the same fate as the Palestinians of Jenin. He
is like those racist Jews in recent years whose first question of
every black person was, "Do you repudiate Farrakhan's racist
diatribes against Jews?" I hope that we can find a way to reach
people such as these, but we should take care not to be defensive in
the face of the provocations of supporters of deadly racism and
imperialism. As many of us chanted at times yesterday, it's the
occupation, stupid!

Second, at the end of the day, while driving home we stopped for gas
between Richmond and Williamsburg. A white woman in a minivan noticed
our "We are all Palestinian" shirts as we walked by her vehicle. She
said that she liked what they said. We told her we had been in DC,
and she said that was great. The day may have begun with an instance
of hostility, but it ended with friendly encouragement in rural
Virginia. I apologize for the length of this message, but I met a lot
of wonderful people during the past two days, and I feel that I owe
it to them to share all this with whoever will take the time to read

Steve Rosenthal

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 04/21/2002

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