Revolution Online, January 15, 2009
Speech by Alan Goodman at Emergency Town Hall Meeting, New York City, January 13, 2009
The following is the text of a speech given by Alan Goodman, correspondent for Revolution newspaper, at the Emergency Town Hall Meeting in New York City on January 13, 2009. The theme of the town hall meeting was: A Call To Act: Stop The Israeli Massacre in Gaza. We Condemn the U.S. Role in this War Crime.
A couple weeks ago, I toured the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan. One of the displays that jolted me was the exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto. In Warsaw, Poland, by 1940, over 400,000 Jews—nearly 40% of the population—were literally walled into an area less than 5% of Warsaw. The Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were systematically starved—they received only about a quarter of the amount of food of the Polish population in Warsaw, and less than a tenth of food rations provided for Germans. They had to smuggle in food and fuel, and smuggle out products from their illegal workshops to survive. Within the ghetto, they organized cultural activities, schools, and social services, most of which were linked to organizations banned by the Nazis. By late 1942, hundreds of thousands of Jews had died of starvation in the Warsaw ghetto, or been sent off to Nazi death camps. When Jews rebelled in the famous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, they were brutally slaughtered, and accused of starting the violence. As a matter of fact, they did "start it" in terms of the uprising itself, but who, today, would say that the Nazis were justified in suppressing it?
The parallels between the Warsaw Ghetto, then, and Gaza now, are stark and sobering.
A million and a half people are crammed into the walled-off, impoverished, tiny strip of land that is Gaza. When Israel ended occupation and direct military rule over Gaza in 2005, it kept complete control of the land, sea and air borders. Israel sent armored bulldozers to destroy Gaza’s fruit orchards, blockaded the fishing port, cut off supplies to factories and other businesses. Most Gaza residents are denied the right to work elsewhere or even to leave. At the time of the current Israeli invasion, a million people in Gaza were dependent on UN food distribution, along with food and supplies smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt. A partially leaked but still-secret report by the International Red Cross reported in 2007 that a "dramatic fall in living standards has triggered a shift in diet that will damage the long-term health of those living in Gaza."
This leads me to the theme I want to focus on here. Last Sunday, myself and another person stood outside the Holocaust Museum with a banner that read, "After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel." As some of you know, we were issued citations from the New York City Parks police for—and I quote—"displaying a banner criticizing Israel," and for over two hours, we were surrounded by as many as 28 NYPD and Parks Dept squad cars with their lights flashing.
The message on that banner was a quote from Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. It is counter-intuitive, to say the least. The state of Israel has clearly been the worst thing that has happened to Palestinian people. But this quote is saying that after the holocaust, the state of Israel was the worst thing that happened to Jewish people.
To help get at this, let me share an experience I had back in Hebrew school that I have written about in Revolution. This took place back in the mid 1960s, when there was protest and rebellion in the air. This was also a time when the connection between the United States and Israel was emerging as the strategic relationship that it is today, and this was all reflected in things going on at our Hebrew school.
We had a teacher, who was very popular, who was an overall enlightened guy, who supported the Civil Rights movement as many Jewish people at the time did. One day, the issue of Israel’s alliance with South Africa came up. To me, at that time, Israel’s support for South Africa seemed to be a gross betrayal of the ideals that I had been taught Israel stood for—that it was an outpost of freedom, and symbol of the struggle against discrimination not just for Jews, but as an example for the world. We continued to discuss and debate Israel’s support for South Africa for a couple of weeks, until at one point, the teacher’s demeanor changed, and he spoke to us in a very serious tone of someone letting young people in on a "fact of life." And what he explained was that the South African regime was not only racist, but that the South African rulers were ideologically close to, and had been politically aligned with the Nazis in World War 2. He further explained that South Africa had a whole structured caste system, where not only were black, African people kept at the bottom of society with no rights at all, but that mixed-race people, Indians and others who were classified as "Colored," occupied lower positions in society than whites—sort of in-between whites and blacks. And, our teacher explained that if Israel didn’t maintain its relationship with the apartheid regime, then the South African government would likely reclassify Jews from the whites category, to the colored category.
I was really stunned and taken aback by this explanation. And I remember blurting out something along the lines of "why would we want to be white?!" This was a heavy moment for me personally that had something to do with where I ended up politically, but more to the point, there was something about this experience that is very revealing about the role of Israel, and the kind of moral tradeoff involved in the alignment of Jewish people with the state of Israel.
Jews were viciously persecuted in Europe even before the Nazis. Jews, especially in Eastern Europe and pre-revolutionary Russia, were targets of violent pogroms—pogroms ended in Russia after the socialist revolution there. But these pogroms were not dissimilar from the kind of terror Black people faced in the rural, post-Slavery South. But among Jews in Europe, and around the world, there were essentially two trends with two different views on how to respond to anti-Semitism. Many Jews were aligned with radical, socialist, anarchist, and communist movements, and saw their oppression in light of, and as a component of the struggle against all exploitation and oppression. At the same time, the other main trend among Jews viewed the solution to the oppression of Jewish people in establishing a Jewish state in what was, after World War 1, British-occupied Palestine. Explicit in the Zionist outlook and agenda was that this Jewish state would serve the interests of the colonial powers. Zionist leader Theodore Herzl put it this way: "England with her possessions in Asia should be most interested in Zionism…. I believe in England that the idea of Zionism, which is a colonial idea, should easily be understood."
After World War 2, the British sponsored the Zionist project on a large scale, and enabled Jewish migration to Palestine, while turning their backs on massacres carried out by Zionist gangs like the Irgun to establish Israel on the basis of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. The packet of reprints from Revolution that is available here includes articles that document this process—based on Israeli sources.
By the late 1960s, the U.S. replaced Britain as the main financial, political, and military sponsor of Israel. What did that relationship bring to the world? Throughout the "cold war," Israel was the U.S. bulwark in America’s contention with the Soviet Union in the Middle East. During that period, Israel provided large scale, strategic military assistance to U.S. allies—I mentioned South Africa earlier. But this aid went to U.S. allies and puppet dictators around the world, including training the notorious Iranian secret police, the SAVAK, who enforced the brutal rule of the Shah of Iran. Israel provided arms and helped form the government death squads of the Christian-fundamentalist Rios Montt regime that systematically killed off entire villages of indigenous peasants in Guatemala. And Israel provided assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras, who carried out attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure to overthrow the elected government of Nicaragua.
The establishment of Israel has been a disaster for the Palestinian people, and beyond that, a key prop in the world of pain and poverty that we live in today. But it also came at a terrible moral cost for Jewish people who—forgive the Biblical reference—accepted a mess of pottage in exchange for their souls and consciences. And as part of what we are doing, we need to challenge that very sharply, in the spirit of the quote from Avakian. Let’s tell it like it is: Jewish people were enlisted to set up an illegitimate settler outpost in the service of imperialism, and their persecution in Europe is used, without any moral or logical justification, to legitimize that.
Finally, I want to very briefly identify and speak to one other factor that keeps people from protesting the current massacre in Gaza with the kind of passion and commitment that is really demanded. And that is the fact that people raise that Hamas, and Islamic fundamentalism more generally, is not an enlightened progressive force. And that the conflict with Hamas involves a proxy war against Iran, which itself is a reactionary Islamic theocracy. This is true, and a topic explored in articles in Revolution newspaper. But two things must be said here: First, between the two reactionary forces, it is the United States that has brought far, far more suffering to the people of the world. And, second, these Islamic fundamentalist forces would be largely dormant if it were not for the whole so-called war on terror, which is in reality aimed at tearing up the fabric of the Middle East and radically restructuring it in the interests of U.S. empire.
But if YOU do not want to see the choices of the people of the world confined to picking between U.S. imperialism on the one hand, or Islamic fundamentalism on the other hand, then YOU have to—right here and now in the United States—oppose "your own" side of this deadly equation. The more we do so, the more the people of the world see that there are people in this country who are not going along with the crimes of "our government" as it sponsors Israel’s massacre in Gaza, the more basis there is for the people of the world to see the potential for another way—a really liberating, radical, revolutionary way to get beyond a world divided into oppressed and oppressors, with all that goes with that.
There is a challenge to everyone in this country to be part of the struggle to bring forward another way, a force in the world—including in this country—that does not look at the world from the perspective of "Americans," but instead starts from, and struggles for the interests of humanity. Enough already with the outlook of "me and my people" first, above everybody else—especially when that outlook is being invoked to align people with terrible crimes. Right now, and right here, what is required from all of us is passionate and committed struggle against Israel’s massacre in Gaza, and condemnation of the U.S. role in this war crime.
And, there is a challenge to not just act, but to follow the logic of your convictions. To struggle to understand the root causes behind Israel’s massacre in Gaza, and the U.S. role in this. And there is a challenge to learn more, and to go where what you learn takes you, including grappling seriously with what it is really going to take to get to a whole better world.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.