During the latest onslaught by israel against the besieged people of Gaza, most of the online pro-justice community was focussing on spreading information about the death, injury and destruction brought by israel on the tiny strip of land, as well as showing solidarity and organising local protests & actions. However, unlike the onslaught in 2008/2009 there is a strange oppressive atmosphere around the pro-justice community this time around. It has been there for a while, but I felt it most acutely during this past week. I am not interested in pointing fingers, or calling out particular people, because that would only contribute to that atmosphere.
No what is more important, in my opinion, is to talk about it and try to figure out a way out of it. I understand where the motivation to be careful and to be suspicious of those who come to the pro-justice movement originates. We have been stung before. Some very unsavoury characters tried to associate themselves with the Palestinian cause, some people used Palestine as a career opportunity and then left never to mention it again. I get it. I think that there is nothing wrong with being careful and being vigilant. However, we must be careful not to let that become our default setting. We must not let the movement cannibalise itself.
I have been speaking to many people in the twitter community about this for the past few days. Many feel the same way. They do not all feel like they can say anything openly, and that’s very problematic. We cannot have people in our movement feeling like they cannot express themselves freely because of an atmosphere that makes them feel they will be chastised and ostracised if they do. That is something, I think, we can all agree on. I am not trying to speak for them, but I’m hoping that by writing this we can all have an open and honest discussion of what has been a set of worrying trends.
There has been an upsurge of snark and ad hominem attacks on some people who seem genuine and who are doing a great job reporting the facts from Gaza, I am thinking of Harry Fear in particular here. I enjoy snark as much as the next person, however, when it is used to undermine allies it becomes problematic. Particularly when there doesn’t seem to be any reason for that attack. All it does is that it makes those who initiate the attack seem bitter and jealous.
I do not want to be seen as a fan boy or someone who wants to stick his flag on the Harry Fear ship and go down with it. If there are clear, reasonable, and cogent arguments that show him not to be a genuine ally, then I would be the first to criticise him and call him out. However, I haven’t seen any. All I’ve seen are ad hominems calling him a white saviour, an oppression tourist, a white messiah, and chastising him for appearing on media outlets.
The first three attacks are completely and utterly unsubstantiated. Harry has been very careful not to make any white savioury comments. He has been an activist for Palestine for a while, as attested by the many Palestinians who know him. He has also done a very good job spreading information and amplifying the voices of Palestinians during the onslaught. More importantly, many Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom are ones we have all been getting information from, trust him & share their information with him. It seems to me that if he is good enough for Palestinians in Gaza being bombed he should be good enough for us.
On the third point, about him appearing on media outlets and seeming to be constructing a career out of this. I do not get that criticism at all. I repeat he seems genuine and a good ally. What is the problem with him, remember he wants to be a journalist, having a career thanks to his great reporting. If we are to go down that route then many of the great allies we have who aren’t Palestinians must be chastised in the same way. For this criticism to have any consistency then every non-Palestinian journalist, or activist, who gets work talking about Palestine must be chastised, and that would be ridiculous. Otherwise, that argument doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Let us remember that the BDS call explicitly calls for coalition building. This means that we cannot retreat within ideological rigidity. Everyone won’t agree with everyone within the movement about everything. However, we can all agree on the three central demands voiced by the BDS call.
We must have red lines. Any form of bigotry must be rejected without any qualms. Just because someone calls themselves an ally of the Palestinian people does not mean they have carte blanche to say or do anything. However, we must be careful not to draw red lines beyond that. People are coming to this movement with years of propaganda talking points intrenched within them. We must help them overcome this. Not through snark or rejection. But through understanding, open discussion, and education. The facts are on our side, rationality is on our side, if this is not enough to get through to them, then by all means snark away.
We must be an open movement that welcomes allies no matter where they come from. There are many people who come to the pro-justice movement with great enthusiasm and filled with honest genuine passion but who might not be up to date on all the subtleties of the arguments and different views that have been built up over the past six decades. I am not trying to rework the zionist “it’s complicated” argument here. I’m just pointing out that there is a plurality of voices within the pro-justice for Palestine movement and not everyone knows them all and the different arguments they advance.
Talking to some of my friends about this atmosphere we remarked on the fact that it must be very difficult for people who are just coming into the movement, unlike how it was when many of my friends came into it. It must be very hard for them to know what they can and can’t do. What they can and can’t say. What their role should be. Or even what they must read to learn more about a given issue. We need to be there to help them. We need to respond to, educate, and welcome them. I’m not saying that we need to become Kumbaya singing hippies, but we must make sure that our movement doesn’t become an exclusive club. Those who are appalled by the crimes of israel but aren’t educated well enough must feel like they can express those feelings and find a community that supports and educates them.
The final point I want to make is about how many people who have been fighting for justice in Palestine for years, if not decades, feel like they are sidelined and feel like they cannot trust those who they are fighting with to bring justice in Palestine. This feeling is particularly true of non-Palestinians who have consistently stood in solidarity with Palestinians. Some of them at great cost to their personal life, losing family, friends, & loved ones in their pursuit of justice. They were ready to give up those relationships because of their principled stance with the Palestinian cause. They should have found a new family, new friends, and new loved ones within the movement. Instead many feel like they are not welcomed anymore.
I had a private conversation with a friend about this very subject, I will try to protect this person’s anonymity in my writing. That friend’s words were the catalyst that pushed me to write this post. If that person cannot feel safe within our movement then we are definitely doing something very wrong. That person started by asking me whether the “language of justice” within our movement is “towards a goal, or the goal itself?” In other words, are people truly fighting for justice or just for their family/dignity/people/country/sect. My answer was clear, we’re fighting for justice. There can be no dignity for a people or a country if justice isn’t the end goal.
The person then explained that they had given up their country/family/people/even dignity in their fight for justice, but that they feel like many in what should be their new family are busy backstabbing each other and would not hesitate to backstab them. This particular comment felt very painful, but I unfortunately had to agree. There has been a move towards ideological purity, which means that a small disagreement can lead to very damaging and personal attacks.
The most important point made by my friend about the subject is that the family of choice, which we need to be towards each other, seems to have been undermined by ideological rigidity and purity. The words that hurt the most, but that I think we all need to hear were: “My zionist parents are more likely to stand by me than some ideological purists who I think of as comrades. And with whom *I* will stand nonetheless, because I know what loss of either type of family is like.”
This is an important issue for our movement and its future. We shouldn’t dismiss the feelings of the members of that movement who feel like they have become potential targets because they do not fit a rigid ideological mold. Our tent must be a broad tent. It must accommodate those who seek justice, even if we do not agree on the finer points of a given issue. We must rebuild the solidarity within our movement and strengthen our ranks, otherwise we will find that people will start leaving the movement because of the psychological strain they feel.
We should not dismiss the concerns of those in our movement who feel like they are being edged out because they happen to be privileged in one way or another. It has been my experience that the vast majority of them are actively fighting against their privilege in order to achieve justice. Many are doing everything they can so that their privilege is dissolved and that those who do not enjoy their privilege can in fact live in a just society.I am not saying that they need to be mollycoddled, but they shouldn’t feel like they are not welcome either. They are trying to show solidarity with us, we must not reject them, we must not let our movement become exclusive, and we must not allow those who want to voice their disagreement on certain issues feel like they cannot.
I hope this post is taken in the spirit it was written in. I am trying to open a dialogue. I am not interested in shaming anyone, or silencing anyone. I am in fact trying to show that there has been a lot of silencing happening. Many people feel like their voices are not being heard. Many feel like they cannot be open about their feelings. This needs to be addressed. Thank you for reading.