Monthly Archives: February 2009

Humboldt State Students Confront Anti-Muslim Bigotry by Jesse Thomson-Burns

Militant chants silence pro-Zionist meeting

On Feb. 18, a group of Humboldt State University organizers and activists occupied a building on the Arcata, Calif., campus where right-wing Christian evangelist Walid Shoebat gave a speech on the “evils” of what he calls the “satanic cult” of Islam. Shoebat, a Zionist, claims he was once a Palestine Liberation Organization fighter. He was hosted by the Campus Conservatives.

Humboldt State University protest against Walid Shoebat 02-18-09
Humboldt State University students protest against
Zionist speaker Walid Shoebat, Feb. 18.

It is unlikely that Shoebat was ever a member of the PLO. Bank Leumi in Bethlehem, which Shoebat claims to have bombed, has stated that it has no record of such an attack ever taking place. When asked by the Jerusalem Post whether word of the bombing made the news at the time, he said, “I don’t know. I didn’t read the papers because I was in hiding for the next three days.” In 2004, he contradicted himself, telling The Sunday Telegraph, “I was terribly relieved when I heard on the news later that evening that no one had been hurt or killed by my bomb.”

The night of the protest in Humboldt started out tense. The chair of the right-wing meeting announced that there were video cameras recording the event and security guards waiting to remove people if necessary. From the beginning of the talk, there were vocal disputes with the speaker and a small scuffle when a right-winger tried to physically remove a demonstrator.

But people’s anger boiled over as the speaker continued to express Zionist bigotry and reiterate blatantly racist generalizations. The demonstrators all got up at once with banners reading, “Stop Islamophobia,” “Free Gaza” and other slogans.

They took over the sides of the auditorium. The talk went on, but every racist attack from Shoebat was met with rebuttals from the demonstrators and members of the audience.

After the speech, there was time for questions and answers. All the questions asked were questioning Shoebat’s credentials as a former PLO member and the basis for the sweeping generalizations he made about Islam. Rather than answering the questions, Shoebat resorted to hurling insults against the questioners.

After the talk, a demonstration of more than 100 people gathered outside the building. The participants expressed disbelief that HSU would allow such a bigot to come speak on campus. Others feared that Shoebat’s talk would help spread hate and bigotry throughout the university and the community.

Humboldt State students have made it clear that they will not allow anti-Muslim bigots like Shoebat to come to their campus and leave in peace. Students have also expressed their solidarity with the people of Palestine and support for the continued struggle by the heroic men, women and children for their homeland. Long Live Palestine!


European Toxic Waste Dumped in Africa

Originally from the Party for Socialism and Liberation

Imperialists turn oppressed countries into dumpster

In one of capitalism’s latest crimes against the people of Africa, dealers from Europe and the United States have been discovered dumping toxic waste from computers in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. The revelation follows an investigation by Greenpeace, Sky News and The Independent.


Imperialist countries have turned African countries into dumping grounds for their toxic waste.

Imperialist countries have turned African countries into dumping grounds for their toxic waste.

Once the computers and television sets end up in the African dumps, people break apart the equipment in search of raw materials like copper that can be sold for cash. In this process, African people are being exposed to extremely toxic chemicals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, as well as phthalates, plastic softeners and dioxins that are known to promote cancer.

“Chemicals like lead are very dangerous, especially for children. They affect the brain when it is developing and therefore cause a lower IQ when they grow up,” Greenpeace’s Kim Schoppink says.

According to the United Nations, between 20 and 50 million tons of e-waste are generated around the world each year. Under international law, these computers must be dismantled or safely recycled, not dumped. However, hundreds of thousands of broken or outdated computers and television sets are labeled as “usable second hand” products and sold to dealers.

“We basically managed to track a TV going from the UK allegedly as second-hand equipment to Nigeria,” Iza Kruszewskahe from Greenpeace told the BBC’s Focus on Africa program. Kruszewskahe explained that they put a tracking device in the television to follow it through the recycler and to Nigeria.

One of the places that this toxic “e-waste” ends up is at the Agbobloshie dumpsite in Accra, Ghana, where the chemicals contaminate ground water, surface water, rivers and streams.

Many of the scavengers in the Agbobloshie dump are children and teens. Ibrahim Adams, age 15, was interviewed during the BBC program. He explained that he was looking for copper, which he could sell to raise money for his school fees.

Dumping obsolete computers in Africa instead of recycling them provides a snapshot picture of what is wrong with the capitalist system. In order to increase profit, consumers are urged to constantly update computers and TVs. In addition, products are intentionally designed to break down or become obsolete after a few years, requiring consumers to by new ones.

Manufacturers cut corners by using toxic materials in the manufacturing process. Later, to save more money, the products are dumped in Africa instead of being properly recycled. Meanwhile, the poorest people in Africa—people who must scavenge at a dump to survive—are paying the price through toxic exposure. Why are people so poor in Africa? It is not because continent lacks natural resources; rather, the widespread poverty is a product of centuries of colonialist and imperialist exploitation of the continent.

Exposés such as this one, conducted by Greenpeace, are very useful. E-waste recycling laws came about through the insistence of the environmental movement, not because capitalist governments care.

The cause of this outrage is the capitalist system. The only real solution to the crisis of toxic dumping is economic planning for people’s needs and safety, not for profit. Under socialist planning, we could guarantee that computers and TVs are designed to last a long time. We could address the problems posed by toxic materialsand strictly enforce laws requiring that e-waste be recycled. With the profit motive gone, we could create relationships among nations that are based on solidarity, not exploitation.


Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism!

Here in Canada we are gearing up at most universities for a week long series of events known as Israeli Apartheid Week, and already the Zionists are, as can be expected, are crawling out of the wood work to try and defend their racist European colony in the Middle East. The more banal, but still aggravating, attacks have come the various branches of Israel on Campus, who at my university have launched a complaint against Students for Palestinian Rights’ use of the term “apartheid” with regards to the Israeli state’s policies. However, perhaps the most serious attack on the events and the associated student groups has come in the form of a newspaper article from the National Post, in which the author has laid out the classic accusation that anti-Zionism is the same thing as antisemiticism. This is probably one the more common obfuscating tactics of pro-Zionist forces in North America, as immediately any mention of antisemiticism immedielty conjours up certain images in the minds of most people. In this way the Israelis and their allies are able to distract people from the real issues around the violent Israeli colonial-settler occupation of Palestine by simply dismissing all dissent and criticism as antisemeticism. But it is not just the student groups associated with IAW that have had this accusation leveled at them, as Sid Ryan, the head of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), which has just endorsed a boycott of Israel, has also been accused of antisemiticism and an enabler.

So long as it is the case that any critique of Israel is accused of being tainted with antisemiticism no real criticism of the Israeli will be able to survive long enough to reach a critical mass of people. To help in my own little way towards this end, I have gone back and dug up with article that I wrote over a year ago, back when me and this blog were just starting out.

Before we can even begin discussing why anti-Zionism and antisemiticism are not the same thing we must begin with admitting that, yes, the two have often had a history of co-mingling with each other. Indeed before the 1960s, much of Western anti-Zionism was an extension of pre-existing antisemitism in Western Christian society. While the two positions need not be shared, there is a strong tendency label all anti-Zionists as antisemitic by groups such as the ADL and B’nai B’rith. Because of this, a large amount of debate revolves around the relationship between the two positions. The issue is also certainly not helped by the fact that many who are self-identiefied as antisemites are also stated anti-Zionists (it would be hard to imagine a pro-Israel neo-Nazi)

Some, such as the already mentioned ADL and B’nai B’rith, make the claim that criticism of Israel and Zionism are often disproportionate in degree and unique in kind, and they attribute this to antisemitic positions and feelings inherant in the critics. Critics of Zionism, such as me, however tend to hold the view that associating anti-Zionism with antisemitism is intended to stifle debate, deflect attention from valid criticisms, and taint anyone opposed to Israeli actions and policies. I can attest to this myself, as I have been accused more than a few times as being antisemitic because of my anti-Zionist positions, and the conversation always ends there. All one has to do is go to facebook and look up anti-Zionism in the groups and you will find about ten “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism” groups and about a thousand groups with names like “anti-Zionism is antisemitism!!!!!!”

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times once wrote that “[c]riticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction—out of proportion to any other party in the Middle East—is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”

As a revolutionary socialist I am opposed to both Zionism in theory (being an extension of European imperialism in the Middle East), and also to the actual policies on the ground of the State of Israel. First, I agree with the position that Judaism is not an ethnic group. This commonly heald notion is rather flimsy and can be defeated by simply looking at the fact that we have Jews from all over Europe: Slavic ones, Germanic ones, and those from Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, and Italy). People of the Jewish religion are also found in Ethiopia (where they have a long and ancient history) and the rest of Africa, other parts of the Middle East, the Caucuses and as far east as eastern India and Bangladesh. In effect Judaism is actually a multi-ethnic religious group, and to this day still accepts converts regardless of ethnic background. They may share a common culture and language in some cases, but this is far from a universal truth. Internally Judaism and Jewish culture are just as varied as its sister religions of Christianity and Islam, and so in the opinion of many, claiming that somehow Judaism is an ethnic group, and hence deserves some sort of ethnic or national homeland is just as absurd as claiming that Christianity, Islam or indeed any other religion is an ethnic group. The ADL states that Zionism is the national expression of the Jewish people, but as with before, this is just as crazy as saying that something called “Christianism” is the national expression of the Christian people. So now that we can dismiss Judaism-as-ethnicity claims, we can move onto the matter of Zionism in theory, and that is that is in practice a form of imperialism, as opposed to the often said claim of Zionists that it is the national self-determination of the Jews. If we look at the creation of Israel we can see eerie parallels between it and the foundation of other imperialist colonial-settler states such the United States and Canada. The goal of Zionism was and still is the creation of a so-called Jewish state out of the land already occupied by the Palestinian people. Yes there were Jews on the land, but they were from a majority, and they lived in relatively peaceful co-existence with their Arab neighbours. Some of the most vocal critics of Zionism have tended to be Palestinians and other Arabs, whom view Israel as wrongfully occupying what they view as the land of the Palestinians. Such critics generally opposed Israel’s creation in 1948, and continue to criticize the Zionist movement which underlies it. These critics view the changes in demographic balance which accompanied the creation of Israel, including the displacement of some 700,000 Arab refugees, and the accompanying violence, as negative but inevitable consequences of Zionism and the concept of a Jewish State. I also agree with some critics of Zionism, in asserting that Zionism is a form of exclusivism, both in its support of Israel as a “Jewish” state, and in its continuing policies such as the Law of Return.

Now as to the policies of Israel, like the above they generally fall into two categories: its’ treatment of the remaining Palestinian people, and its’ exclusivist policies such as the right of return. As to the first, the crimes committed by Israel against Palestinians are many fold, one only to look at the creation of the wall around the Gaza Strip to see what I mean. The excuse for such measures is often the national security of Israel, however such policies are too broad in their application and to brutal in their results. They seek to punish the entirety of the Palestinians, when on the whole they are not terrorists or Islamic extremists. This would be like the United States bombing the entire Arab world for the crimes of Al Qaeda. To the second I will focus one primary example, the so-called Law of Return.

Originating in 1950, when the memory of World War II and the Holocaust were still fresh, it gives Jews, being those with a Jewish mother or grandmother (for those familiar with Jewish law, if a person’s mother is Jewish, they are considered to be born a Jew, regardless of how they are raised or what religion or lack of religion they hold), or a spouse of such a Jew, or a convert to Judaism (Orthodox, Reformed, or Conservative – not secular or so called Messianic or Christian Jews- though Reform and Conservative conversions must take place outside the state, similar to civil marriages) the right to migrate to and settle in Israel and gain citizenship.

Those who are eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return are immediately granted citizenship. Controversy has arisen as to whether all those claiming citizenship rights under the Law of Return should be registered as “Jewish” citizens for census purposes. Jewish status is traditionally granted according to the halakhic definition of being Jewish– if your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish as well or if you convert to Judaism (though conversions to Reform and Conservative Judaism streams are generally not recognized by many people in Israel). However, any Jew regardless of affiliation may return and claim citizenship in Israel.

Originally, the Law of Return was restricted to Jews only. A 1970 amendment, however, stated that, “The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an oleh under the Nationality Law…are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew” (Law of Return).

Of course this policy does actually have the effect (likely intended) of offsetting the Jewish-Arab demographics even more than they already were after the initial war of “independence”.

The Law of Return is part of a larger system of discrimination whereby Israeli Jews are given superior civil and social rights over Israeli Arabs. I will further claim the Law of Return runs counter to the claims of Israel being a democratic state and that Israeli support for the Law of Return for the Jews, excuses and maintains the act of ethnic cleansing that dispossessed the Palestinian refugees more than half a century ago.

So in the end, these four reasons come together to form my anti-Zionist position. I actually used to be an extremely vocal proponent of Zionism back when I was a Christian, but since that time I have slowly backed down from the position and began to reassess my views, and also did some wider reading on the issue. I am not antisemitic in anyway, I do not hate the Jewish people, I am opposed to a strand of thought and to the policies of a state, and as I said before, the accusation that holding such positions is equivalent to harbouring a hatred for a people is obscene and would look like merely being a tactic to distract serious critical discussion about Israeli policies. To me, to make such claims has about the same validity as saying “I am opposed to the policies of the United States, therefor I must hate the American people”, it stupefying at best.