Kshama Sawant was on the radio the other evening arguing for her position on Israel/Palestine and the massacre in Gaza. Unfortunately, she allowed herself to be put on the defensive for most of the discussion, and her performance offers some valuable lessons for those who get into debates on the issue. Time and again, her interviewer raised the issue of Hamas – they are terrorists, they want to exterminate the Jews, they have been putting Israel under a “siege of rocket attacks.” Time and again, this was not answered adequately.
What is the answer to these arguments?
“Israel’s bombing of schools and hospitals is due to Hamas storing rockets right nearby,” was the interviewer’s first argument. Here is how we think she should have responded and how a subsequent debate might have gone:
ANSWER: “No, let’s get this straight,” should have been the answer. “Just one incident shows what the real intent is: That is the shelling of six little boys playing soccer on the beach in Gaza. The pictures show without a doubt that the Israeli soldiers were targeting those little boys, that they were after them, trying to kill them.”
“Israel is investigating that incident.”
ANSWER: “Investigating? What do you mean ‘investigating’? They are completely covering it up and haven’t said a word since nor will they say a word. In fact, that targeting of those little boys is completely in line with what is being said by prominent Israelis. The Chief Rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba called on the Israelis “to exterminate the enemy”, and bear in mind that “the enemy” is all “Arabs”. In fact, there have been marches after marches in Israel under the slogan “kill the Arabs.”
And it is a condemnation of the US corporate media that they completely fail to cover this sort of thing. Remember Sadam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’? Remember how the corporate politicians and the corporate media had the American public convinced of that? It’s the same thing now.
“Earlier this year, the Times of Israel actually published an article entitled ‘When Genocide is Permissible’. And Ayelet Shaked, the whip in the Knesset (parliament) for the Jewish Home Party, which is part of the ruling coalition, recently advocated for the killing of ‘the entire Palestinian people… including its elderly and its women… otherwise, more little snakes will be raised.’ And there was no outcry against that.”
“Well, every country has its extremists. You can’t blame all of Israel for the comments of just a few people.”
A: “Can you imagine what would be the reaction here if any elected official called for the extermination of an entire people and called their children ‘little snakes’? No, they are not just isolated extremists. Consider the funeral last October for Ovadia Yosef, the former Chief Rabbi for all of Israel. 800,000 people turned out to mourn his passing. 800,000! This was to honor the same individual who had said that Palestinians ‘should perish from the world’ and that ‘it is forbidden to be merciful to them.’ (You want to talk about fatwah’s, by the way. That was a fatwah.)”
“Okay, granted, there may be a lot of prejudice in Israel, but that’s because of what Hamas and other terrorist groups are doing. Do you deny that Hamas is a terrorist group? Doesn’t your position really mean defending that terrorist group?”
ANSWER: “Defending Hamas? You want to talk about defending Hamas? I never supported the pro-capitalist Hamas, which is more than can be said for the State of Israel. Just like the US helped finance and support al Qaeda in its early years, Israel supported and helped finance Hamas… But let’s go further. You want to talk about terrorism? What is it when you never know, from one moment to the next whether you will be snatched up by the Israeli military, beaten, abused, thrown in prison for months on end without any formal charges brought against you? Now, Palestinian people are at risk just walking down the street in many places under the threat of gangs of Israeli thugs.
“You want to talk about Hamas? How about the rise of the openly fascist gangs of youth in Israel? Gangs that use the same slogan that the neo-fascist gangs use in Europe – ‘good night, left sector.’ And this isn’t some idle slogan. They are assaulting not only Palestinians, but also Israeli leftists, peace marches, etc. And all without any police response. How about them?”
“Well, if it weren’t for the history of terrorism by Hamas and Fatah before them, this sort of thing wouldn’t have developed.”
ANSWER: “Oh, really? And what do Africans have to do with this, then? Do you know that there is a whole group of African asylum seekers in Israel and that 32% of Israelis support physical assaults on them and 80% support locking them up in concentration camps (their term)?”
“Sure, war is ugly, and it can bring out the worst in us, but you are still defending Hamas and their rocket attacks. You always try to get away from that. Israel has a right to defend itself. You cannot deny them that right.”
ANSWER: You talk about Israel having a right to defend itself; Israel is the aggressor. How about the Palestinians – do they have a right to defend themselves? How about that?
“Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist living in the occupied territories, explained the situation. Writing in the Israeil daily Ha’aretz, she explained: ‘Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS (boycott, divest, sanction). Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line (into the West Bank), expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?’
“And let’s look at how this present massacre (it’s hardly a war) developed: In 2012, Israel agreed to lessen the siege in exchange for Hamas ending its rocket fire. While Hamas did try to stop the rockets (and bear in mind, they aren’t in total control in Gaza; there are other groups there), Israel tightened the siege even more. They use live ammunition against Gaza fishermen who venture out just a few hundred yards beyond their own coast line, for instance. Then, on April 30, Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader in Gaza, even while the rocket firings continued to decrease. On June 11, a seven year old Palestinian boy was killed by Israel. This was followed by the kidnapping and murder of the three settler teenagers. And we should note that while Hamas was widely blamed for it, all the evidence is that they were not responsible, that it was some small, independent group.
“What happened next? First some 200 or more Hamas members in the West Bank were imprisoned. Then, coming from one of the marches which demanded “death to Arabs” a group of settler thugs kidnapped a Paletinian teen, forced gasoline down his throat and burned him alive from the inside. Can you imagine that? Sure, murder is wrong, and it was wrong to shoot those settler teens. But it’s one thing to shoot somebody and it’s something entirely different to burn them alive from the inside out. Can you imagine the sadistic sickness of those people who did that? And what was the response? Was there a general revulsion, a questioning inside Israeli society that they could produce such monsters? No, the first response was for the authorities to try to cover it up, then there was a little bit of tut-tutting, and then it was forgotten, while a ‘charitable’ tax deductible non-profit defends these accused monsters.”
“Well, sure, things are pretty ugly over there. But the Jews and the Arabs have been fighting for hundreds of years. It’s almost like it’s in their DNA, and the Jews need their own homeland. That’s what the Palestinians have to accept.”
“In the first place, it’s completely untrue that they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. In fact, before Britain went in there as a colonial power 100 years ago, the Jewish and Arab communities in Palestine lived together in relative peace and harmony. But as a colonial power, the British knew that they needed to find a base of support in Palestine, so they supported the then-tiny Zionist movement to bring Jews over there from Europe to form, as they called it, their ‘loyal little Jewish Ulster.’ Zionism was a reactionary movement from its inception that always depended on a larger, colonial power and never would have gotten any significant support from Europe’s Jews had it not been for the crisis of capitalism (Hitler) as well as the crimes of Stalinism. Isreal, itself, was founded on terrorism. Don’t forget the town of Dir Yassin, where in the war of 1948 Israeli forces went in and killed every Palestinian man, woman and child they could find and then bragged about it to help terrorize the rest of the Palestinian population and drive them out.
“And what has changed today? Do you know about the tweets from young Israelis supporting the killing of Palestinian children? Do you know about the Israeli sniper who has openly bragged about how many children in Gaza he’s killed? It’s that entire history which is why Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, has labeled Israel a terrorist state.
“I want to get back to my earlier point: You talk about Israel’s right to defend itself. I want an answer: Do the Palestinian have a right to defend themselves? Do they?”
The way you’re talking, there will be nothing but war and death forever. You have no answer, no solution.
ANSWER: “I notice that you avoid my question, but never mind. What I’m talking is fact, actual real-live events. You and the supporters of the terrorist state of Israel have no solution. The solution lies in what was started with the Arab Spring – a mass movement of workers and youth to overthrow all the rotten dictators and their capitalist class throughout the region. On that basis, the barriers between Palestinian and Israeli workers can be overcome, but only on that basis. In other words, a socialist federation of North Africa and Western Asia.”
Socialism failed. It failed in the Soviet Union and China is turning its back on it too. You are living in the past.
ANSWER: “Socialism failed? I haven’t noticed that capitalism is such a roaring success! It’s certainly not in that region nor is it even here in the US, where the majority of people think the country is headed in the wrong direction and a plurality of young adults think positively about socialism – more than do about capitalism. What is happening in Israel/Palestine – and what is happening in Iraq too, for that matter – that shows what capitalism has in store for us in the rest of the world.”
That is the sort of response we wish Kshama Sawant had taken. Instead, she based herself on what would bring Israel “peace and security.” One could pick out a few comments here and there where she more clearly condemned Israel, but overall she allowed herself to be put on the defensive. Can it be that she was simply uninformed, or that she was overconfident and didn’t prepare properly? Or is it that she didn’t want to alienate liberal Democratic city council member Nick Licata with whom she seems to be working closely?
Whatever the reason, we all make mistakes and we hope that she and Socialist Alternative have learned from this one and will take a more bold, aggressive approach in the future. Her introduction of the letter criticizing Israel in the Seattle city council has opened up an opportunity to more fully expose Israel and Zionism, but not if she allows herself to remain on the defensive.