Here’s a good piece by Michelle Goldberg on the relentless attempt by the right wing hate machine to smear Occupy Wall Street as “antisemitic:” Occupy Wall Street Isn’t Anti-Semitic, But It’s Too Leaderless.
One of the curses of left-wing politics is the perennial presence of International ANSWER, a front group for the Stalinist Workers World Party, a tiny political sect with a perverse attraction to the world’s worst people. The party formed in the 1950s, after splitting off from the Socialist Workers Party over a disagreement about the Soviet invasion of Hungary, which the Workers World supported. Since then, the Workers World Party has thrown itself behind Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong-il; it backed the Chinese crackdown on the “counter-revolutionary rebellion” in Tiananmen Square. The Workers World Party is not just pro-Palestinian; it is pro-Hamas and pro-Hezbollah, devoted to the destruction of Israel. It’s fringe views would hardly be worth noticing if not for its members’ organizing skills. For example, by securing protest permits on significant dates far in advance, it was able to take a leading role in the early marches against the Iraq war, even though many progressives were mortified by its involvement. It has often made things uncomfortable for Jews, even those deeply opposed to the Israeli occupation.
“Clearly there’s been tension for the last couple of decades between Jews who identify as supporters of Israel and the radical left that views Zionism as an extension of American imperialism,” said Sieradski. But groups like ANSWER aren’t running things at Occupy Wall Street—no one is. For progressive Jews, that’s opened up new room for involvement. Thus Sieradski, who has been alienated from much of Jewish communal life, suddenly feels “on fire again” about the possibility of specifically Jewish activism. “After the service, I had a line of 100 people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you, that was the most meaningful Jewish experience of my entire life,’ ” he said.
The conservative Jewish magazine Commentary has noticed the ecstatic Jewish involvement in Occupy Wall Street. “The turnout the event generated, as well as the discussion it has so far provoked, are deeply troubling trends that all who care about the Jewish future would do well to take seriously,” Matthew Ackerman wrote on the magazine’s blog. Rarely, he wrote, “has a movement so radical in its aims been tied so explicitly to a religious tradition as was the case with this past Friday’s service.”
In some ways, it’s contradictory for Commentary to bemoan enthusiastic Jewish participation in the protests one moment and accuse them of anti-Semitism the next. But it’s also true that the extreme openness that allowed Sieradski to organize his Kol Nidre service is not always benign. Occupy Wall Street lacks tools for enforcing any sort of discipline, or ostracizing troublemakers. When someone at a Tea Party rally holds a particularly offensive sign, as many have, the movement can denounce them. But there is no one at Occupy Wall Street to do the denouncing.
At this point, I just have to note that in all the Tea Party demonstrations we’ve covered at LGF, I’ve never seen anyone in the movement denounce anything about them. The opposite is true; Tea Party leaders simply deny that there are racists or extremists involved, even when the evidence is right out in the open. In fact, the leaders of the Tea Party are often the worst offenders.
The occasional appearance of anti-Semites is probably the biggest sign of this problem so far, though it’s not the only one. There are small but telling tensions and conflicts around the edges of the encampment. The constant pounding of a drum circle, for example, located near the sleeping area, is driving both protesters and people in the neighborhood crazy, but efforts to quiet them even occasionally have had mixed results. The drummers have agreed to stop playing during the nightly general assembly meeting, but Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s attempt to get them to limit their drumming to two hours a day have gone nowhere. Last Friday morning, the de facto leader of the drummers, a man with greasy gray hair starting to dread and a wild look in his eyes, reacted with fury to suggestions that some people would appreciate a respite from all the banging. “This is a revolution!” he shouted. “It’s not about working with the same community we are protesting against.” When other protesters tried to argue, the drummers played harder to drown them out.
This inability to enforce some kind of order, or to even recognize a mechanism for doing so, could cause problems for Occupy Wall Street. Such issues have bedeviled left-wing movements before. In the early 1970s, Jo Freeman wrote an important essay about the self-sabotaging distrust of organization in the women’s movement, titled “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” “Unstructured groups may be very effective in getting women to talk about their lives; they aren’t very good for getting things done,” she wrote. “It is when people get tired of ‘just talking’ and want to do something more that the groups flounder, unless they change the nature of their operation.” Such movements, she argued, awaken people’s energy without channeling it. “Some women just ‘do their own thing.’ This can lead to a great deal of individual creativity, much of which is useful for the movement, but it is not a viable alternative for most women and certainly does not foster a spirit of cooperative group effort.”
There are lessons here for Occupy Wall Street. The movement has been enormously successful at capturing people’s imaginations and giving them a place to gather, air deep and legitimate grievances, and be invigorated by the power of group solidarity. But coming together and creating a counterculture is ultimately not enough to effect real and lasting change. For that, leadership and structure are ultimately needed. Occupy Wall Street is not anti-Semitic, and the presence of a few odd Jew-haters is not the movement’s fault. Its inability to quickly shut them up, though, may augur problems for its future.