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Stray Flotilla Tweet Raises Questions About OWS

Is the movement becoming explicitly pro-Palestinian?

Marc Tracy
November 04, 2011
Occupy Wall Street on Halloween.(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
Occupy Wall Street on Halloween.(Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night, the following tweet went out from the Twitter feed of the independent affinity group that runs Occupy Wall Street’s Website (which is distinct from Occupy Wall Street itself): “We support and would like to express #solidarity to #FreedomWaves #Palestine #ows”—#FreedomWaves being the hashtag for the two Gaza-bound flotilla-like boats that, as of this writing, have already been boarded by Israeli soldiers, who will divert them to Ashdod, Israel. The tweet was quickly deleted, though not before it was acknowledged by the flotilla’s own feed: “We are thrilled to receive the support of #OccupyWallStreet Looks like only the 1% support the Israeli blockade of Gaza.” It was also picked up by the New York Times’ Lede blog.

Daniel Sieradski, the Jewish social media guru and activist with connections to Occupy Wall Street (among other things, he organized last month’s Kol Nidrei service across the street from Zuccotti Park), told me this morning that a single individual with access to the feed had made the tweet, and that then Sieradski and others “raised concerns to folks on the PR and media teams that there had been no consensus on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (opinions differ as to whether the topic is even germane), that it was not appropriate for this individual to make such a declaration on behalf of the movement, and that the ramifications would likely be severe.” He added, “Others in their affinity group concurred that it was inappropriate and the tweet was deleted.”

While it’s worth noting that the feed in question contains the disclaimer, “Opinions tweeted do not reflect the occupation as a whole,” this is not exactly going to be reassuring to those who worry about OWS’ direction, and already several right-wing blogs have seized on it as the damning evidence. (Let’s leave aside whether you support the blockade or not, the fact is that up until now the movement has strenuously avoided such stances; let’s also recall that in the past some flotilla activists have had ties to Hamas.) Meanwhile, for an outlet like Mondoweiss, which has equated OWS and the Palestinian struggle, this was like manna: “The Twitter-sphere flared up with expressions of praise and affirmation, proving that the 99 percent naturally link the struggle for the Occupation of Wall Street with the struggle against the Occupation of Palestine as two facets of a single universal liberation struggle.” (Cut to: Occupy Oakland’s Intifada Tent. Ugh.)

I think proving is a pretty strong verb choice there. And it is still thrillingly easy to argue that Occupy Wall Street is not anti-Semitic. At the same time—and in the absence of any ability for Occupy Wall Street to speak in one voice on this or any other issue—it is going to become more and more difficult to deny that there are pro-Palestinian, and if you like pro-Hamas, elements among the occupiers, at which point, for many people, the compelling economic message will be drowned out. As Sieradski (who, unlike the twitterer, made it clear that he was speaking only for himself) put it, “Once this movement becomes explicitly anti-Israel, you’ll have effectively alienated three times more people than you’ll attract.” To a single-issue place like Mondoweiss, that doesn’t matter. But one would hope that people on the left who care about several issues would see what the wise approach is.

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