'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Zionists Welcome at the US Social Forum (Part 2) 

UPDATE: A response from the Forum just posted on the Forum's Facebook page:

US Social Forum - Another World is Possible Hi Richard, sorry for the long delay. I'm pretty sure every member of the National Planning Committee can agree SWU's presence is absolutely not acceptable, and since they've managed to sneak into the process & disrupt the lives of those participating (this is their purpose right?) and the USSF process, how do we strategically handle this without simply reacting and playing into their hands. All 1,062 workshops submitted were accepted, and review of this happened in a 2 week frantic period- decision on workshop cancellations is just not cut & dry because USSF is not meant to be a gatekeeper and stands by principles of open space and horizontal & transparent facilitation of movement as well as anti-racism & anti-homophobia. The process for review & evaluation is and has always been public will of course be reassessed if there is ever another USSF.

World Social Forums absolutely have all kinds of protests within them and by all means, bring it to those who are against justice & liberation. We've been posting that the National Planning Committee representative groups to USSF especially take this concern very seriously and have been meeting over the phone and in person to discuss the really fragile nature of it for everyone involved and the process itself, despite criticism from our friends and bad press rolling in. And this in our most busy week where a solid 100 people are going without sleep. Much of our organizing has stopped during this very pressurized time for us because this is a priority- criticize as you may, but I hope folks can hold that and I'll say it now vulnerably because we know some out there support & believe in this process and they're owed a response as well. We've also suggested that our facebook isn't the best inlet for USSF communications, so it was suggested that folks with concerns get in contact with the co-signers of the original concern document and USSF organizers directly.

Though it may seem like a no brainer and simple step to do what folks are calling for and cancel the workshop, it's not an easy decision and we have to trust in the process of the National Planning Committee, which also involves directly affected communities. I hear IJAN & USPCN have drawn up a statement for the NPC and those who expressed direct concern, but it has not reached anyone from our facebook volunteer team. At this point, whatever decision is taken, USSF is going to get blasted for it. USSF organizers will of course take responsibility for the very slow response and mistakes we make. Thank you for speaking your truth.

I feel for the Forum's Facebook volunteer team. Someone or some people need to step up to the plate and get them out of the middle of this situation.

INITIAL POST: As described here on Thursday, the US Social Forum, a diverse domestic political and cultural gathering in emulation of the World Social Forum with the objective of developing alternatives to neoliberalism, scheduled a June 24th workshop on LGTBQI Liberation in the Middle East. But there was a problem. The workshop will be conducted by Stand With Us, an American Zionist organization known for its support of an attack upon Iran, the siege of Gaza and the harassment of anti-Zionist academics and activists. More practically, Stand With Us purports to speak for Arab and Muslim LGTBQI people for which it otherwise directs hatred and contempt.

On Wednesday, someone from the Forum posted a brief comment to the Forum's Facebook page to the effect that a statement would soon be issued, after the posting of the statement. It is now Saturday, three days before the start of the Forum, and no statement has yet been publicly released. Instead, the Forum has engaged in hedging by process, inquiring of people who have raised objections as to whether they have been in direct contact with ussf organizers or the co-signers of the original letter of concern from Helem, ASWAT, Palestinian Queers for BDS, and Al-Qaws. There has, however, been a lively discussion about the participation of Stand With Us, with numerous comments in opposition posted in the last few days.

Yesterday, Nada Elia, a person who has been quite persistent in expressing the opposition of Arab queers to the presence of Stand With Us, may have provided some insight into the opaque decisionmaking processes of the Forum in regard to this issue in following comment on the Arab Queers say NO to Pinkwashing at the US Social Forum Facebook page:

The USSF organizers explained that the SWU workshop was accepted by unfortunate mistake. It was worded fraudulently, and the proposal reviewers were clueless. So we educated them about the true nature of SWU, and now they know. What are they gonna do? Looks like they would rather offend us, than risk being accused of anti-Semitism.

In other words, more hedging, an attempt to protect the right of Stand with Us to speak for Arab and Muslim LGTBQI people at the Forum by means of a strategic apology. Yet again, in what I would have considered the most unlikely of places, we come face to face with the problematic relationship of the American left with Zionism. Consider, for example, my brief dialogue with Sam Molnar on the Forum's Facebook page:

Sam Molnar Dont you people see that zionism is a distraction? The true imperialists in the middle east are the Americans. The Israeli state was founded by the west so that the west could continue to scapegoat Jews for their own wrong doing in the world. The more we focus on zionism the less attention we pay to the true imperialist forces in the world. Focusing on Zionism as the cause of problems in the middle east is exactly what the imperialists want us to do. It is the United States that has invaded two sovreign nations.

Richard Estes With all due respect, Sam, this is a red herring. The question is whether a Zionist organization, "Stand with Us", should be allowed to conduct a workshop at the Forum and speak for those for which they direct hatred and contempt, Arab and Muslim LGBTQI people. "Stand with Us" is also an organization that supports the siege of Gaza and actively promotes an attack upon Iran. If it does, let me be among the first to say that the Forum will have done irreparable harm to itself.

But, as to your remarks, no, Zionism is not a "distraction", it is a central component of US domination of the Middle East. They are not mutually exclusive, they are complimentary. And, no, "the West" did not create Israel, Zionists did, in the face of quite a lot of opposition from "the West". Zionists are actively abusing and killing Palestinians every day, while dispossesing them, as they have done for decades, with US support. Perhaps, you have forgotten that Zionists have also launched extremely violent military operations in the West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza in the last 10 years, targeting civilians in large numbers. The US did not make them do that, even if it supported these actions after the fact, they did it independently. Focusing on Zionism is precisely what imperialists DON'T want us to do. If we prevail over Zionism, we also achieve a great victory over US imperialism as well.

If a significant number of US leftists and progressives think like Sam Molnar, it is no wonder that the American political scene lacks any vitality on the left:

Brandy Baker "It should have been excised as soon as people pointed it out to the organizers."

The United States Left is very, very squeamish in general, especially on matters like this (and in other ways, electorally, not breaking from the Democratic Party, but that is a whole other topic for another time). I have seen all kinds of nonsense take place in conferences and meetings because the organizers do not want to take a stand and tell anyone what to do, and they do not have the guts to call people out and throw those people out.

But the idea that a group like this would be allowed into the forum does strike me as outrageous, considering that the USSF is unapologetically Left-wing and does have at least one pro-Palestine group on its national planning committee.

The American anti-war Left (some) are quite squeamish about Palestine and on the idea of unapologetically defending Palestine and it is one of the factors that has hurt the movement and put it into such a torpid state. I hope that the USSF will not make the same mistakes and wind up alienating very good people and lose energy and focus as a result of not getting this group the hell off of the USSF agenda.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Forum is going to do precisely what Baker fears, and evolve into yet another aggregation of leftists and progressives that serves therapeutic purposes instead of political and social ones. With my family obligations, I have not been able to attend the Forum, but I did hope that it would play a significant role in organizing a left opposition in the US. But any organization that allows militant Zionists like Stand with Us to participate has no future other than as an organizer of activist vacations. Perhaps, the Forum can invite the Minutemen to conduct a workshop on the dangers faced by undocumented people in Arizona at its next event.

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