Elements that claim to stand with Occupy Wall Street—and that Occupy Wall Street couldn’t disclaim even if it wanted to—are turning the movement toward adopting an anti-Israel cause for its own. For those of us, like me, who have been broadly sympathetic to the movement for months, and who have repeatedly defended it from ludicrous charges of anti-Semitism, it’s disheartening because it lessens how much we can support it, and because we know all the good that it stands for will, to many people, simply now be ignored, lost amid the symbolism of, say, the Boston occupation, which marched to the Israeli consulate last Friday in solidarity with the latest flotilla, or of blogs declaring that Oakland, whose occupation was the site of ghastly police repression last month, represents the same cause as Palestine.
Conservative writer Ira Stoll revised his unexpectedly lukewarm take on OWS following the Boston march. “The whole event illustrates the way the Occupy movement has become a forum for people to air whatever pre-existing grievance or agenda they have, even if it has nothing to do with Wall Street,” he argues. True. He adds: “And how readily a protest against bankers can elide into one against the Jewish state.” That’s nuts, and he knows it. He has just finished saying that OWS’ problem is that hangers-on can hijack it. He knows the movement is of the left, and specifically, to an extent, of the organized hard-left; he knows that the organized hard-left is staunchly pro-Palestinian; obviously, the organized hard-left is taking it in that direction because of its preconceived beliefs about the Mideast. To suggest the turn is connected to a protest against bankers—which is to say, to suggest that the turn is fundamentally anti-Semitic—is disingenous. As for Jonathan S. Tobin’s fearful panting that “Liberals who make common cause with OWS are making a deal with an anti-Semitic and radical devil,” if he ever looked at these people, he’d know how crazily hysterical he is being.
And yet can I say, as I could a month ago, that he is being not only hysterical but inaccurate? Yesterday, a “Jewish call to action” was released, to “occupy the occupiers” in the Jewish community, “the powerful institutions that support Israel’s corporate-backed military control of the Palestinian people.” Leaving aside that such a specific stand is against Occupy Wall Street’s “no-demands” mission—which I heard a member of the Demands Group staunchly defend at a panel on the movement last night in New York—who are these powerful institutions? They include “AIPAC, the Jewish Federations, Birthright, the Jewish National Fund, Hillel.” (Hilariously, it doesn’t include those anti-colonialists at J Street.) These groups “actively obstruct human rights for Palestinians”? Hillel? It was necessary to “occupy” a small Birthright event in New York last night? They think the Jewish 99 percent opposes Federation?
It’s not to say these institutions couldn’t be reformed; the case against Birthright, for example, is real, even if it’s far more complex than the “99 percent” rhetoric allows. But tethering this cause to OWS drowns out the economic message, significantly decreases the size of the OWS tent, and maybe most importantly of all discredits the entire movement in the minds not just of the right but of plenty ordinary decent folk—members of the actual 99 percent.