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Unity on what basis?

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    Antiwar movement debate over Palestine: Unity on what basis? LANCE SELFA August 5, 2005 | Page 11
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 3 7:23 PM
      Antiwar movement debate over Palestine:
      Unity on what basis?
      August 5, 2005 | Page 11

      LANCE SELFA is a columnist for Socialist Worker and editor of The
      Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays published by Haymarket
      Books. Here, he looks at an important debate in the antiwar movement.

      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      AS GEORGE W. Bush left Washington for his annual month-long vacation
      in Texas, public approval for his administration hit the lowest level
      ever. The Gallup survey taken in late July put his job approval rating
      at 44 percent--a new low. A Quinnipiac University poll had Bush at 41

      It's clear that the main issue sapping Bush's support is the war in
      Iraq. Having once provided him with the aura of "commander in chief,"
      which he brandished to silence all critics, the war is now proving to
      be a weight around his neck. The same Gallup survey showed that only
      36 percent--most of that the Republican Party's "base"--supported
      Bush's Iraq policy.

      The reasons for the decline in Bush's support are simple. First, he
      sold the war on a number of pretences that have been proven to be
      lies. Second, he has proclaimed several "turning points"--from the
      capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 to the Iraqi elections held
      in January 2005--which, he said, augured better days ahead. Instead,
      an increase in Iraqi resistance activity has wiped out each of these
      false dawns.

      Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn described the real situation
      in Iraq today: "For future historians, Iraq will probably replace
      Vietnam as the stock example of the truth of Wellington's dictum about
      small wars escalating into big ones. Ironically, the U.S. and Britain
      pretended in 2003 that Saddam ruled a powerful state capable of
      menacing his neighbors. Secretly, they believed this was untrue and
      expected an easy victory. Now, in 2005, they find to their horror that
      there are people in Iraq more truly dangerous than Saddam, and they
      are mired in an unwinnable conflict."

      These factors have produced a crisis of credibility for Bush, which
      finds its echoes in many arenas: from declining military recruitment
      to the investigation of White House aides for blowing the cover of a
      CIA operative.

      Things have gone so badly for Bush that his spin masters are actually
      trying to re-brand his signature foreign policy rhetoric. Out is the
      "the war on terrorism" and in is "the war against extremism." Perhaps
      in the wake of the bombings in London, Madrid and elsewhere, the "war
      on terrorism" appears to be another war that Bush is losing.

      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      THIS DENTING of Bush's armor has helped breathe new life into
      opposition to the war. One historic marker of this was the nearly
      unanimous approval of an AFL-CIO resolution calling for Bush to remove
      U.S. troops from Iraq "rapidly." This was the first time in the
      50-year history of the labor federation that it had ever passed a
      resolution opposing a U.S. war during wartime.

      Another indication of the growing opposition is the willingness of
      some Democrats--and even some Republicans--in Congress to put forward
      resolutions calling for various plans for troop withdrawals.

      But the most hopeful sign of spreading antiwar sentiment are the
      planned national demonstrations against the war called for the weekend
      of September 24-25 in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other
      cities. The September 24 protests represent a real opportunity to
      regain antiwar momentum after more than a year in which the public
      presence of the antiwar movement was sidelined into electioneering for
      the pro-war Democrat John Kerry.

      However, as activists prepare for this show of opposition, a problem
      has arisen in the ranks of the antiwar movement. The specter of two
      separate demonstrations in Washington--rather than one, united show of
      force--hangs over the weekend. Already, much energy has been spent on
      debates, discussions and "unity" meetings attempting to head this off.

      Unfortunately, this isn't a new problem. As far back as the 1991
      national demonstrations against Bush Sr.'s war on Iraq, two national
      coalitions, unable to agree on a common platform, held national
      antiwar demonstrations in Washington on successive weekends in January.

      Echoes of the 1991 split can be found today in the fact that many of
      the same leaders and political issues have resurfaced in the current
      division between the liberal United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and
      the more radical International ANSWER-led National Coalition.

      It's tempting to write off the squabbling between the two national
      coalitions as a case of sectarian turf battles and personality
      conflicts. For many antiwar activists, the chief goal is to forge
      unity between the two marches and leave the disputes between them to
      another time.

      However, another element--the crystalization of political differences
      on the crucial question of Palestine--has been added into the debate.
      This makes it imperative to confront this question--and to make
      attempts at forging genuine unity on the basis of incorporating
      demands about Palestine in one united march.

      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
      PALESTINE IS not an abstract question peripheral to the war in Iraq.
      In fact, as this newspaper has demonstrated in numerous articles, U.S.
      support for Israel's occupation of Palestine can't be separated from
      the Iraq occupation. Not only do they flow from the same plan of
      U.S.-Israeli domination of the Middle East, but Israel has actually
      advised the U.S. on every aspect of the occupation of Iraq, from
      training Kurdish militias to the torturers in Abu Ghraib.

      What's more, leading Arab and Muslim activists have demanded that the
      antiwar movement take up the issue of Palestine, including endorsing
      the demand for the United Nations-recognized right of Palestinians to
      return to their homes in what is now Israel.

      In a July 22 statement, titled "Where the Arab and Muslim Community
      Will Stand on September 24," eight Arab and Muslim organizations and a
      representative of another wrote: "In its behavior, the leadership of
      UFPJ is fanning the flames of separation and is unnecessarily pitting
      trusting movement activists against our community and people. Last
      year, hundreds of organizations and thousands upon thousands of
      activists took a clear stand against the marginalization of the Arab
      and Muslim community, and in favor of a principled political position.
      Yet here we are again, facing the same attempts of separation by the
      same leadership of UFPJ."

      For its part, UFPJ argued, in a May 23 letter to its supporters, that
      it limited march demands to make it "possible for the largest and
      widest array of people to come together in opposition to the war,
      including military families, Iraq war veterans and other veterans, and
      the labor movement."

      But opinion polls show consistent support among Americans for
      Palestinian rights, which makes it very likely that military families,
      veterans and rank-and-file members of the labor movement either
      already support Palestinian rights in some form, or could be convinced
      to do so if the antiwar movement gave a lead on the question.

      What UFPJ doesn't say is that the people it is more worried about
      alienating are Zionists in their ranks and Democratic Party
      politicians, whose support for Israel is a given. UFPJ's leaders would
      rather sideline thousands of Arabs and Muslims who have been the
      targets of state repression than a handful of Democrats and their
      liberal supporters. For a movement that chides itself about the need
      to attract more people of color into its ranks, this is a curious
      position to hold.

      A "unity" that leaves Arabs and Muslims on the sidelines is no unity
      at all. It is reminiscent of the 1964 Democratic Party convention,
      when leading liberals sold out the Mississippi Freedom Democratic
      Party--in order to maintain party unity with the Mississippi
      segregationists who ran the state party. Or of the Northern
      politicians who told Black civil rights activists that they had to
      "wait" until there was more popular support for them. The letter from
      the nine Arab and Muslim organizations makes this connection, quoting
      Martin Luther King's Why We Can't Wait in support of their position.

      The only unity worth fighting for is one that incorporates the
      legitimate demands of Arabs and Muslims fully into the protest.

      A July statement from the Campus Antiwar Network, one of the
      organizations spearheading the growing movement to get military
      recruiters out of universities and high schools, gets this right: "As
      a new counter-recruitment movement is exploding across the country, it
      is vital for students, teachers, parents, and others who wish to
      reclaim our schools from recruitment for a war most Americans oppose
      to be able to march alongside one another. This unity is threatened by
      the specter of two separate protests in D.C. Therefore, in the
      interests of building the strongest movement possible to end
      occupation, we call on United for Peace and Justice to drop its
      opposition to demands in support of Palestine and civil liberties, so
      that all of us--including broad segments of the populations most
      affected by the war at home--can come together as one united protest
      in Washington."
      Socialist Worker stands in solidarity with Arab and Muslim activists
      in calling on the antiwar movement to take up the issue of Palestine
      and oppose Israel's occupation.

      LANCE SELFA is a columnist for Socialist Worker and editor of The
      Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays published by Haymarket
      Books. Here, he looks at an important debate in the antiwar movement.



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