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Is Oakland Palestine?

The left sees Occupy Wall Street and the Palestinian cause as common

Marc Tracy
October 27, 2011
This is what Oakland, California, looked like Tuesday night.(Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images)
This is what Oakland, California, looked like Tuesday night.(Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images)

On the right, the Jewish-inflected discourse concerning Occupy Wall Street is mainly the ludicrous charge—pointedly denied by the Anti-Defamation League—that the movement is anti-Semitic or, at the least, criminally negligent in not denouncing the two or three anti-Semitic posters that may appear on any given day. On the left, there are two different ways in which Israel factors in. The simpler way is the argument that the cause of Palestine should be one of Occupy Wall Street’s causes. So, on Mondoweiss—as always, this blog’s handy stand-in for the Jewish anti-Zionist left entire (I’m joking, you guys!)—one author reports on various signs and statements that have included pro-Palestinian sentiments within the larger OWS rubric. The prominent use of the word “occupy” provides a ready-made connection, and indeed pro-Palestinian activists are not shy in declaring, “Occupy Wall Street, Not Palestine!” But the Palestinian cause does not enjoy any special glamour or prestige—it’s just one cause among the dozens and dozens that protesters may bear on any given day, right along with truly insidious pro-Chávez planks, say, or semi-crackpot ones advocating a return to the gold standard; certainly, under this reading, it has attained nowhere near the importance the “99 percent” message has.

But there is another way to connect the OWS and Palestinian causes, and here the latter becomes a much bigger deal. You can declare them, essentially, the same. Again, a relevant text is a Mondoweiss post. For Mondoweiss’ Adam Horowitz, the horror show Tuesday night at Occupy Wall Street’s Oakland branch—in which police set upon protesters with tear gas and ostensibly nonlethal projectiles, and several were reported wounded, including an Iraq War vet who as of last night was in critical condition—basically was the Palestinian struggle; to quote his post’s headline, it was “Palestine in Oakland.” He cites Max Blumenthal’s reporting that the weapons used in Oakland are not only the same as some of those used against West Bank protesters, but are indeed manufactured by the same company. Blumenthal concludes, “the issue is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid now that the protesters are confronted with the very same weapons Israel uses to crush unarmed Palestinian resistance.” Horowitz also quotes a poem that appeared on the Occupy Writers Website, in which the left-wing Jewish poet Amirah Mizrahi writes, “i was palestine in Oakland.”

Contra Blumenthal and Mizrahi, I find the issue pretty easily avoided. If Oakland was Palestine, well, that’s only because the police were only maiming protesters; if they had been killing them, then Oakland would have been Syria; as it is, Palestine is far from the only place Oakland could be. I don’t doubt Blumenthal’s reporting, and it is a chilling coincidence, but a coincidence isn’t an indictment. Unless you are a pacifist, you can believe rubber bullets can be used unjustly and that rubber bullets can also be used justly; and if there are two instances in which they are used unjustly, that does not automatically make the two instances equivalent, much less essentially a common struggle.

However, as a spectator and as someone sympathetic to the broad contours of OWS’ economic argument, I find it compelling and depressing that, in the minds of some, the injustice in the Bay Area is the injustice in the West Bank village; I think of our common humanity; and I also think of what Mondoweiss’ proprietor, Philip Weiss, told Tablet Magazine columnist Michelle Goldberg: “I am ethnocentric.”

Palestine in Oakland [Mondoweiss]
Related: Mondo Weiss [Tablet Magazine]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.