I just posted a piece on Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London at my blog. Here is a brief extract, looking at antisemitism in the American movement. Below is an extract from History is Made at Night, which mentions some manifestations in the UK.
I hadn’t realised there is a whole #OccupyJudaism thing going on at the margins of #OWS and other US occupations (here’s Occupy Judaism’s official blog, Facebook page and Twitter account). See, e.g. this broadcast on the very interesting radio613 of from the Yom Kippur Services that took place at #OccupyWallStreet and #OccupyPhilly, or this useful article in The Forward, or this round-up of items from Kung Fu Jew at Jewschool. (Comical tangent: Jewish occupiers put up a “Sukkah”; the NYPD appeared to have better halachic knowledge, noting that you couldn’t see the stars through it therefore not a proper Sukkah – although more halachically trained folks say the NYDPD got it wrong.)
In contrast, the right (at times hysterically) has put a lot of attention into hunting down examples (or at least “hints”) of antisemitism in the Occupy movement. (For one of the more articulate litanies against the antisemitism, read David Brooks on milquetoast radicals; for a good round-up of the evidence see PJ Tatler; for another video see BreitbartTV.) It is undeniable that there is antisemitism in the movement, and it has manifested itself in several of the events. (I haven’t seen examples from the UK yet, but won’t be surprised when I do.) It is incumbent on the movement, and on anti-capitalists in general, not to ritually denounce it, but to be honest and aware about it, and to understand where it comes from. Where it comes from, in my view, is: a limited anti-capitalism that focuses on finance capital rather than on capital in general which segues easily into a “socialism of the fools” antisemitism. This, I think, is not an indictment of some inherent antisemitism in the left, but rather a consequence of the failure of the left, a failure to coherently argue for, and win people over to, a thorough anti-capitalist politics. This failure has left a vacuum, which is filled with conspiracy theory, vulgar materialism of the blood-for-oil/blame-the-Fed variety, a populist discourse of patriotic defence of the national economy being looted by the banks, and other extra-left forms of politics.
It is also the case that the scattered instances of antisemitism in the protest are no more prevalent than the scattered instances of racism and antisemitism in the tea party movement, which the right (correctly) argued were epiphenomenal and not central to tea partyism. And these scattered instances, involving handfuls of oddballs at the margins of the occupations, must be balanced against the thousands of people in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC and elsewhere turning up to Kol Nidre prayers and sukkot. Highlighting a few incidents of antisemitism in a large, disparate, weeks-long movement and claiming that renders the whole thing is to play the antisemitism card. I particularly recommend A Jay Adler on The Putrid Cynicism of the Emergency Committee for Israel for a good rebuttal of one example of this, promoted at CIFWatch.
Matt at Ignoblus has a nice, short post written after his attendance at a Kol Nidre service at Occupy Wall Street. His concern is not with the antisemitism as such, but the way the lens of Zionism/anti-Zionism distorts the movement’s understanding of the world. The Tent City protests in Israel were a major episode in the so-called “movement of the squares”, the wave emanating out of the Jasmine Revolution via Tahrir Square which the Occupy protests want to surf. But they air-brush it out of the account because it was not against the other occupation, the Israeli one of Palestine. Ignore the fact that pro-Hamas Islamists and pro-Israeli Coptic Christians, for example, were part of the Tahrir moment: Arabs can be as politically correct as they like but Israelis had better denounce their state if they want to enter our big tent.
From History is Made At Night:
There are some odd alternative economy models around in the occupations, notions of capitalism without finance capital (the ‘real economy’), of monetary reform, of a resource-based economy that is beyond capitalism and communism (this is the line of the new-agey Zeitgeist Movement who had a banner on steps of St Pauls). It is not just that some of these ideas seem to have very little understanding of what capitalism actually is and misrepresent it as a conspiracy by a few rich bankers rather than a global mode of production and exchange. It’s far worse than that, because some of these ideas have very murky antecedents and indeed dubious present-day associations.
A lot of ‘monetary reform’ notions just read like recycled ‘Social Credit’ ideas, as developed before the Second World War by CH Douglas. As Derek Wall pointed out in his article Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools (Capitalism Nature Socialism, September 2003), Douglas was not only an extreme right wing racist, but his monetery ideas are saturated with an anti-semitic world view. Likewise, the Zeitgeist Movement basically rehash the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, simply subsituting the word ‘bankers’ for ‘jews’ (see Zeitgeist Exposed at the Third Estate).
At the Bristol occupation at the weekend this racist conspiracy theory view of capitalism was openly articulated by someobody telling the occupation that ‘Zionists want a new world order’. What was disgraceful about this episode was that people dutifully repeated this poison and cheered him rather than kicking the guy out. And that whoever was responsible for ‘Occupy Bristol update’ on youtube thought this was uncontroversial enough to give the guy a platform.
The ‘human microphone’ thing in the occupations is in danger of becoming an absurd fetish. In Wall Street people repeated the phrases of speakers to make sure that people further back could hear speeches when a microphone was banned. In most cases where there is no ban it would be surely be better – and very simple – just to set up a PA or use a megaphone, like people have been for years. By the looks of the Bristol occupation, there was no need for anything as the crowd seemed small enough for everybody to hear. It did look like a religious ‘call and response’ exercise, and involved people in the bad faith exericse of speaking nonsense which on reflection I would hope many would prefer not to utter.
I know that there are plenty of good sound people camping out at St Pauls now, and I think it is very important to get involved and challenge reactionary ideas. To just walk away holding our noses could allow some of these dangerous ideas to get a foothold in the very high profile occupation movement.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 at 4:34 pm and is filed under Capitalism/anti-Capitalism, U.K., U.S., neoliberal capitalism, social movements. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.