Busting the ‘Adbusters’ OWS Story
Objectionable magazine is not the force behind the movement
The New Yorker has published as good a history of Occupy Wall Street as you’re liable to find at this moment. Particularly interesting is the reporter’s tracing of the movement’s adoption of horizontal, consensus-based governance, and the way in which even (or especially?) the movement’s closest thing to actual leaders are chafing at this tool of self-imposed impotence.
But in our little corner of the world, we want to know about Adbusters’ role. The anti-consumerist Canadian magazine, after all, is the group that initially called for something like Occupy Wall Street and indeed the group that named it that; to give you a sense of how crucial its role was early on, the occupation began on Sept. 17 because that is Adbusters founder and editor Kalle Lasn’s mother’s birthday. Meanwhile, soon after the occupation began, David Brooks initiated what has become a common refrain on the right when he pointed out that Adbusters had, in 2004, published an extremely objectionable, even anti-Semitic article called, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” that included a list of prominent Iraq War supporters with asterisks next to the Jews and argued that this tainted the entire project.
That article is indeed heinous (and inaccurate; Lasn misidentifies at least one person, Robert Zoellick, who is not Jewish). And, according to The New Yorker, “Lasn has long used the magazine as a platform for stridently criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.” (Lasn himself was born in Estonia to, it appears, non-Jews.) But this new report makes crystal-clear that Adbusters‘ link to OWS is purely historical and not at all substantial. It would be just as fair to say the movement is motivated by the LGBT agenda, since a group of transgender anarchists operated the OWS Website months before the actual occupation began. It would be just as fair to allege that the most prominent single figure in OWS is not Lasn but David Graeber, a University of London professor who early on assumed a leadership role and who, of course, was born to Kenneth Graeber, a radical who fought in the Spanish Civil War, and Ruth Rubinstein, who was active in the 1930s labor movement.
It remains to be seen where OWS will go from here, and whether it can, now or in the future, be deemed a success (all questions the New Yorker article addresses). I’d argue that in merely enlightening many Americans to the stark fact that 1 percent of their country controls 40 percent of its wealth, it has already scored a big win. But what can be put to rest is the disingenuous line that OWS is bad for the Jews.