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The Real Agenda of the New Student Left By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, April 12, 2002


THE DEMONSTRATIONS THIS WEEK AT OUR NATION’S MAJOR CAMPUSES, described in The New York Times on April 8, mark the emergence of a new and dangerous student anti-war movement, one that seeks to confuse its audience by the rhetoric of peace and human rights, while in fact seeking to organize a new anti-capitalist and anti-Israel campus activism. It is truly a coalition of the leftover Left- a group seeking anxiously to create a new umbrella cause that they hope can be for their generation what Vietnam was for that of their parents.

It is clear that having had only limited success with organizing around domestic issues such as the movement for a "living wage," or calling for an end to "Third World sweatshops," the Israeli counteroffensive against terrorismwhich by necessity is based on a military response to the brutal killing of innocent civiliansserves just that purpose. And by resurrecting the old and discredited shibboleths that "Zionism is racism" and that Israel is the moral equivalent of the apartheid regime in the old South Africa, they have what they regard as the perfect mechanism for achieving their ends.

Echoing the tactics of their elders, the movement got off to a large start at a prominently covered demonstration held at the front gates of the University of California, Berkeley on the April 9. The NBC television news commentator reported, as we might expect, that it was "reminiscent of the ‘60s." What better place to begin than the site made famous by the old Free Speech Movement that began the decade of student protest? What better attention-getter than taking over a campus building? Old tactics, it seems, still get the media’s attention. The Berkeley based group actually had its first National Conference in February, when they announced that they were "taking on the role of spearheading the movement against Israeli apartheid today." It was at this event that they had workshops on organizing, direct action, divestment, media activism, the "Right of Return," and solidarity with revolutionary groups in "Kashmir, Vieques, East Timor and the Philippines." They also made clear, for anyone who might have thought that peace was their goal, that the truth would be revealed in a panel on "The Myth of the ‘Peace Process.’" And if one failed to see the connection to their revolutionary politics, they scheduled one session on "Imperialism-Capitalism-Colonialism" and another on "US Militarism in the Middle East."

The fruits of their February effort occurred this past week. April 9 was what the campus Left called the "National Campus Day of Action for Palestinian Rights," and the day in which they announced their demand that universities disinvest in any firms that do business in or with Israel. The tactic, of course, is meant to emulate the actions taken by their predecessors in the 1980s, when the campus Left had great success in mobilizing against the apartheid regime in South Africa. In addition, in their effort to paint Israel as an imperialist Nazi-like nation, the educational work of the group focused on what they call "the 1948 massacre in the Palestinian village of Deir Yassin," which they refer to as "one in a series of ethnic cleansing operations conducted by Zionist militia." One would not know that the attack on Deir Yassin was not conducted by the Haganah, the official Jewish army during the Israeli war of 1948, but by the extreme right-wing "Stern gang," part of the Irgun, and was condemned by the Jewish leadership at the time. It was, historian Matthew Hogan writes, "a wartime tragedy of complex causation…during which an inept booty and morale-building raid by irregular Jewish fighters became an episode of prolonged slaughter and wanton abuse of Arab civilians." Hogan concludes that, "the weight of the available evidence is that neither the attack nor massacre was initiated by official Labor Zionist leadership, local or central…the Jewish Agency in Tel Aviv was taken by surprise and ultimately issued a public condemnation." One cannot, of course, find a link to Hogan’s thoughtful and accurate assessment in any of the solidarity group’s websites. (Hogan’s article appears in The Historian.) Interestingly enough, a website called "Boycott Israel Campaign" listing the corporations they seek to boycott is accompanied by a list of products to purchase, including the "Islamic Though CD-ROM," "Art of the Islamic Revolution," "Gems From the Holy Quran," and an "Islamic Sites Screensaver." The products are obviously a paid advertisement, and its inclusion on the site gives us a good indication of what sources are backing their effort.

Their next big action is scheduled for April 20, and once again, it is a March on Washington, combined with teach-ins, concerts, a stop the war rally at the Washington Monument (shades of Vietnam Moratorium) and a March to the Capitol, ending with another rally on the national Mall. And the since the March coincides with the annual national meeting of AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), contingents will also march to the site of the AIPAC convention at the Washington, DC Hilton, where they will attempt to disrupt activities and draw the media’s attention to their protest against Israel and away from the sessions held by AIPAC.

The March’s key umbrella group, "Stop the War," is apparently a replica of the Vietnam era Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, or MOBE, as it was then called. Its orientation is opposition to the war on terrorism, and the organizing committee’s preamble claims that America’s "democratic rights are being further eroded, hundreds of people have been ‘disappeared’ into jails and prisons, and corporate interests are shamelessly trying to use this crisis to their advantage." They ask the people to "rise up" and demand things like "an end to racial profiling" and military recruitment of "youth of color and working class youth," as well as an end to "secret imprisonment of immigrants," nothing, of course, about the danger of terrorism and what it has done to our country. Scheduled speakers include Al Sharpton, the volatile black leader in New York who threatens to run for President in the Democratic primary, and whose actions have given him major influence in Democratic Party circles. Also included in the roster is the ‘60s radical counsel Michael Ratner, the Catholic ‘60s activist Daniel Berrigan and Hussein Ibish, communications director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Legal representation for those who expect to be arrested is to be handled by the old Communist front group, the National Lawyers Guild, and the DC Justice and Solidarity Collective, which they describe as a "radical legal team."

The participating anti-Israel coalition at the March is being organized by a group calling itself SUSTAINwhich stands for "Stop US Tax-funded Aid to Israel." Their activity begins with an "educational" meeting held at American University in Washington, DC, in which they will explain how "the Palestinian struggle for self determination" is "connected to the movements against capitalist globalization and the ‘war on terrorism.’" They are right. There is a connection. The same revolutionary militants who created the anti-globalism coalition are now turning their sights to condemnation of Israel, and are seeking to unite both forces in a new and more powerful movement. They also will have workshops on "National Liberation movements today," which singles out the nation of Colombia, where narco-terrorists operating under the guise of Marxism-Leninism are refusing to end one of the most vicious guerrilla movements. And the highlight of their event will be what they call "creative actions" against Ariel Sharon, who will be the featured speaker at the AIPAC conference. As they write: "Just when we thought there couldn’t possibly be any more reasons to take part in the …Washington, DC protests against the Warbe it the war on ‘terrorism’ in Afghanistan, the drug war in Colombia, or the war on the poor being waged by the IMF and World BankAIPAC gave us another reason: they invited the war criminal Ariel Sharon to town." In case we don’t get the point, they add: "AIPAC’s annual conference brings together all the main forces of reaction and war…To have so many war criminals together at one event is too good an opportunity to pass up." Let us hope that the Washington Hilton will have the tightest security possible. If you have any doubts about who makes up SUSTAIN, the member groups include "The Anti-Capitalist Convergence," the DC Green Party, the International Socialist Organization, Queers for Racial and Economic Justice, the Nicaragua Network and, sadly, the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. It seems that just as in the days of the Popular Front, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dean Hewlett Johnson (dubbed the "Red Dean") used the prestige of the Church to defend Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship, some prelates today insist on following the same path.

A few weeks ago, the political theorist Michael Walzer asked, in a much discussed essay appearing in the Spring issue of Dissent magazine, whether or not there could be a decent Left. He and his comrades in the social-democratic movement tried to argue that such a Left could be created, and that it had to begin again. On these pages, David Horowitz answered Walzer and argued that while Walzer was disgusted with the nihilism of the anti-American Left, he was still hopeful about success for the Left’s visionary goals. Walzer said, in fact, that the Left was correct about its "opposition to domestic and global inequalities." Now, the new student Left is using opposition to these inequalities as a pathway to joining in the new anti-American and anti-Israel offensive, which is quickly gaining ground. Their campaign indicates, in fact, that Walzer has been answeredand it is not the answer he hoped for. Those who personify the Left in America are in fact the descendants of the anti-American Left of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. They are singing the same song, using the same mobilizing tactics, and gathering strength on the nation’s campuses. The Left is still with us. It is not decent, and it must be stopped.


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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