Jeff Blankfort: Comments on Stephen Zunes

By Jeff Blankfort
Special to

Re: Stephen Zunes: Peace Movement Addresses Israel-Palestine (Finally)

"Because the mainstream peace movement has been so late in addressing Israel and Palestine as a peace issue, other groups that do not take a universal position on human rights and international law have often filled the vacuum. Such groups, often motivated by an ideological bias against Israel itself, have harmed the credibility of the movement to end the occupation as a whole….

"This is why it is so important for the peace movement to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not from a “pro-Palestinian” or “anti-Zionist” perspective but out of basic principles of justice that should apply to any nation or any conflict."

Zunes, again, presents some important background information about the failure of the US peace movement to take a position in support of justice for Palestine, but again he fails to explain why it has failed to do so and/or why politicians such as Tom Harkin, who was once on the board of the Palestinian Human Rights campaign, until receiving a visit from representatives of AIPAC and the ADL (blackmail, anyone?). The answer to both questions he has studiously avoided. The answer to the first is obvious. The peace and anti-war movements, like the Old pre-Israel Left, have from their beginning been largely led and dominated by progressive Jews who have been conditioned by family culture to see Jews as not only the "eternal victims," but never collectively culpable.

While Zunes does acknowledge the influence of what he describes as the "pro-occupation lobby," apparently not being able to bring himself to use the more common Israel Lobby, pro-Israel Lobby, Zionist Lobby, let alone Jewish lobby he continues his pattern of underestimating its influence and power or Capitol Hill and suggests that it could be overcome by more activity on the part of anti-occupation forces and donors as if a parity was possible. He should know better.

As I have mentioned before, Zunes has admitted being a Zionist and seeing Israel "as an example of global affirmative action" so his advice in the second quoted paragraph is consistent with that viewpoint. It also means that Zunes believes the expulsion of the 750,000 Palestinians and the destruction by Israel of close to 500 of their villages, while unfortunate, was justified which is consistent, again with his Zionist position.

"In June 1982, during the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon, there was absolutely no mention of the devastating war by any of the scores of speakers at the huge peace rally in New York’s Central Park. Even as hundreds of thousands of Israeli peace activists demonstrated in Tel Aviv against their government’s act of aggression, some leading American peace activists – such as Tom Hayden and his then-wife Jane Fonda – publicly praised the Israeli government’s massive air and ground assault, which led to the deaths of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.

By conflating the first event, an anti-nukes and not technically a "peace rally," which was organized by Leslie Kagan, the head and founder of  UFPJ (these people refuse to let new leadership replace them), with the rally in Tel Aviv, Zunes apparently would like his readers to think that they occurred simultaneously after the first week of the invasion and that the Israelis were somehow more progressive than their US counterparts . . The rally in Tel Aviv took place three months later, after the massacre in Sabra and Shatilla by Israel’s Lebanese allies. The number of Israelis opposing the invasion of Lebanon, and the killing of some 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians killed by their friends and family members in the first weeks of the war apparently troubled only a small handful, led by the organizers of Yesh G’vul, the reservists refusal movement. Peace Now sat on its hands for weeks until it thought it was safe to demonstrate.

While it is important that those of us who oppose Israel’s presence as a Jewish state in Palestine as well as those who would be happy to see simply Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders put as much pressure on the candidates at every level to take a stand against US support for Israel of any kind, it is of equal importance to let the public know why their politicians have been in thrall to Israel’s colonial desires and not pretend, as does Zunes, that their support has no rational explanation. Voters need to see that not only is Palestine occupied by Israel but that our political system has been long occupied by it and its supporters, as well. We cannot end the occupation of Palestine without ending the occupation of Washington. I hope it is not too late.

-Jeff Blankfort is a radio program producer with KPOO in San Francisco, KZYX in Mendocino and KPFT/Pacifica in Houston. He is a journalist and Jewish-American and has been a pro-Palestinian human rights activist since 1970. He was formerly the editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and co-founder of the Labor Committee of the Middle East. He was also a founding member of the Nov. 29 Coalition on Palestine.

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