A march of several thousand young people caught me by surprise, and I abandoned my drink on the bar and ran out to the street to see the goings-on, which turned out to be block after block of young, noisy demonstrators chanting, “No justice! No peace!” and “Whose street? Our street?” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”
But, because I have lately lapsed into a clinically confirmed paranoia, instantly I wanted to know if the parading demonstrators wanted to attack Jews.
So, I watched. Sure enough, along came a chubby and disagreeable-looking young man holding a hand-made placard that said, “Ferguson = Gaza = Wounded Knee,” which I took to be an endorsement of the goals proclaimed by Hamas, the renowned anti-civil rights organization. And I continued to watch. But the young man appeared to be alone. A sea of placards denounced the “Racist Cops,” the “Killer Cops,” and the New York Police Department, which made sense because the march was taking place in Manhattan. And Zionism and the Jews appeared to be on no one else’s mind.
Isn’t it pathetic—my reaction, I mean? I responded in the same pitiable fashion to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations a couple of years ago. The principles of the Occupy movement seemed to me excellent, and my sympathies led me to linger solidaristically in Zucotti Park. I marched as a militant of the anti-plutocratic cause down lower Broadway. But I was all the while a little worried about what I might discover among my fellow levellers. In truth, I discovered nothing even slightly worrisome, apart from the Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who are not my cup of tea. I was suspicious, though. I kept waiting for the anti-Zionist eruption that never occurred.
And I waited similarly just now, watching the Ferguson solidarity marchers advance down Sixth Avenue. This time, too, I approved the march.
I consider that, if the accused policeman in Ferguson is ever convincingly shown to be innocent, I will be happy for him, and for America. Meanwhile I share the protesters’ opinion that America has a problem, which is the multiplicational sum reached by combining the ancient and miserable heritage of American racism with the modern and lunatic mania for guns and live bullets. To see masses of demonstrators endorse the idea of “No justice! No peace!” therefore fills me with admiration. I consider that, for a few yards along Sixth Avenue, I participated in yesterday’s march, and I regret not having participated more—which I attribute to my having run out of the bar without paying my bill.
But I never got over my worry. The professors who want to boycott Israel have evidently spooked me. I think of those professors as people who have allowed themselves to be drawn into a murderous mob, which is frightening because respectable and well-educated people are supposed to know how to avoid joining murderous mobs. The Students for Justice in Palestine frighten me entirely, though naturally I am in favor of justice in Palestine, which perhaps I picture in a more tolerant and democratic manner than do the Students for Justice in Palestine. It is never possible to pin down an anxiety, but I suppose that, in my case, I worry that someday a perfectly legitimate respectable and admirable social-justice protest will be taken over by the Students for Justice in Palestine and by their timid followers among the professors; and the protesters will, in fact, end up chanting, “Death to the Jews!”
I have been spooked by the demonstrations in France this past summer—this must be the explanation.
In France, certain of the demonstrations a few months ago were sponsored by the New Anticapitalist Party and other fringe Marxists, sometimes with Trotskyist backgrounds. You might feel this way or that way about Trotskyists and their political and economic analyses, but you have to grant to them a certain high-minded political culture, which is committed to anti-racist values and a disdain for ugly appeals to superstitious hatreds. And yet, something happened this past summer. Maybe the Trotskyist marshals (in France, demonstrations have marshals) lost control of their own demonstrations. And a good number of demonstrators did end up chanting, “Death to the Jews!”—the cry of the French anti-Dreyfus extreme and royalist rightwing of the 1890s: not an Arab immigrant cry, after all, but, by origin, a French cry. This sort of degeneration into the swamplands of the extreme right is not supposed to take place at left-wing demonstrations in the ancestral home of left-wing demonstrations, which is France.
Still, it took place. And in America just now? Hardly anything of the sort. I love America.
So my fears have limits. The Wall Street Occupiers two years ago were a good lot, and the people just now with placards saying, all too correctly, “Black Lives Matter,” are an equally good lot, and the wholesomeness of American civilization depends on their success. I march in their parades—even if, in the privacy of my thoughts, I drink the sour wine that comes from reflecting that “It’s hard to be a Jew” is not just the title of a Yiddish play from long ago.
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