Video

My latest video at the Nation.

This was my 3-minute response to the Nation’s videographer Karen Rybold-Chin about my thoughts regarding the connection between the expansion of LGBT rights and the struggle for queer liberation.

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Queer Liberation or LGBT Rights? Sexuality, Reform and Revolution

Video of my talk at Socialism 2013, June 29, 2013.

NYC Turkish Protests: Accidental Activists

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The crowd of 150 or more outside the Turkish consulate in midtown June 4 was not filled with seasoned activists. Mostly in their early twenties and studying in the New York area while working low-wage service jobs, if they can find any, these solidarity protesters appear to be like their Turkish peers back home who we’re watching on TV and YouTube. In fact, they are the brothers and sisters and friends of the Turks taking to the streets in dozens of cities.

Few of the students I talked to at the solidarity protest had considered themselves self-consciously political before the rebellion that started in Istanbul began to consume their every waking hour. They are mostly young, the children of Turkey’s middle class and they see themselves fighting for their futures and the direction of their country.

Fadime is a CUNY Grad student whose first words to me were, “We do not want US intervention. We want to be heard, we can take care of this ourselves.” It was a sentiment echoed by many concerned that the United States would try and manipulate this crisis for its own ends. They are right to be cautious about US intentions.

One of the few explicit demands of the crowd was for the US government to stop sending tear gas to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party. According to RT News, Turkey has imported  62 tons of “tear gas and pepper spray—mainly from US and Brazil—over the past 12 years.”

Every protester had stories of family and friends suffering terribly from the beatings and gas.

Destine Özuygur says according to friends’ texts and tweets, “There are far more than two people dead so far. I know two people myself who are dead from wounds and the gas. Police are attacking universities and hospitals,” she said. “One friend died from a gas canister tossed into a metro tunnel, people were trapped down there. Police are taping over their ID numbers so they can act anonymously.”

June 4 was Destine’s birthday and she awoke to birthday messages from friends back in Turkey saying they wanted to send her early wishes because they aren’t certain they’ll be safe or even alive by evening. The extreme brutality of the Erdogan regime is driving an intensity and political focus many here—and there, it appears—had never felt before.

What’s striking is how adamant these young Turkish women and men are about the need for winning a secular and democratic society back home. One where Kurds, Jews, Armenians, gays, everyone feels welcome, safe and respected. Over and over again, they repeated their desires for universalism and their hostility to Erdogan’s power grab and religious sectarianism.

One student who preferred to be identified simply by her initials, MK, insisted, “I am here for the women who have lost their lives.” She talked about the lack of punishment and public condemnation of honor killings and domestic violence generally.

Another student who works part time in a restaurant, Cagri Sayin, looked at me intently. “We support gay people. We don’t think anyone should live in shame.”

These protesters do not adhere, at least not yet, to any particular ideological program. They do not yet see a party or platform that they support in significant numbers. But they are intent on being heard and respected and winning, at the very least, public acknowledgment of their grievances.

It is the start of something for them, but it’s not yet clear what. When I told them of a mass trade union march in NYC on June 12 at City Hall, they were excited at the prospect of linking their struggle with ordinary US workers.

When I suggested they leaflet at this weekend’s Left Forum where at least 2,500 are expected at Pace University, they diligently wrote down the details. They are just now joining the global rebellion against the status quo. They’re hopeful and outraged.

The flyer being distributed at the daily protests is addressed “to the members of the press, international human rights organizations and the people of the United States of America.” It calls for support for the rights of protesters back home to peacefully assemble, demands an independent investigation of the violence and prosecution of law enforcement officials responsible for “arbitrary and abusive use of force.”

It ends with one single, and far from radical, demand: “We demand that Erdogan should publicly apologize to the people of Turkey.”

It’s signed #OccupyGeziNYC

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The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Here is the video of my talk at UC Berkeley, April 17, 2013, “Israel is an Apartheid State: The Case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.”

Later that evening, I had the enormous joy of attending part of the unprecedented 10-hour debate/vote on Berkeley’s divestment from apartheid Israel. Nearly 1,000 students packed that hall, speaker after speaker gave eloquent 2-minute appeals for why the university should stop funding apartheid. The student senate voted to divest at 5:30am the next morning. It was a tremendous step forward for the BDS movement.

My next talk on BDS: May 14, 2013, at the University of Chicago. Contact me if you’d like me to come speak for your organization or at your school.

NYC Dykes to Israel: Meh

Israel, I’ll be blunt, NYC dykes are just not that into you.

I’ve been on a bit of a dating whirlwind these last months, which basically means I’ve had an inordinate number of rendezvous in cafés and wine bars with women I met in cyber or real space. Obviously, this is a self-selecting group of women who are generally progressive and, presumably, find me easy enough on the eyes to want to sit across a table from me and talk over a libation.

So yes, this is entirely anecdotal and unscientific. Nonetheless, having been active since I am a teen in Palestine solidarity organizing, I am accustomed to Palestine being at the very least contentious and at most a relationship third rail among the left-of-center women I’ve dated over the years. No longer.

Though I’m Jewish myself, until lately I hadn’t dated a Jewish woman since my socialist girlfriend in college in the mid-80s—who through some accident of history actually lives up the block from me now (with her husband and kids). Go figure.

Since like everyone else I’m rather busy, I’ve adopted a full disclosure policy when it comes to dating women whom I know ahead of time are Jewish. I let them know of my pro-Palestine sympathies making it clear that if this is an issue for them we shouldn’t bother meeting up since we’d despise each other.

Of the nearly two dozen Jewish women with whom I’ve corresponded for dates, only one took offense. Every single other Jewish dyke either said she found Israel’s actions racist and confusing and was curious to know more or said she totally agreed and found herself siding with Palestinians more and more. Of the non-Jewish women, the curiosity for them was why any queer would ever support the oppression of Palestinians.

This conforms very much to the shifting winds of social consciousness in the US around the question of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine. Even the US-based Israel Project poll noted that in 2009, after the first massacre of Gaza and imposition of the siege, support for Israel among US voters plummeted from 69 to 49 percent. Their pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded, “The section of the American public where Israel is most rapidly losing support is among liberal Americans who align themselves with the Democratic Party.” Zogby and other polls since confirm this trajectory.

Next week, the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at CUNY is hosting a conference on Homonationalism and Pinkwashing that is largely the brainchild of Jewish lesbian novelist and Palestine solidarity activist Sarah Schulman. The conference has been sold out for months, not at all common for academic conferences, and certainly not ones exploring sexuality through the lens of imperialism, racism and internationalism, with several talks on the question of Israel/Palestine. It is a radical departure from the navel-gazing that too often consumes queer political discourse, in my opinion.

It seems that in addition to the easy accessibility of alternative news analysis on Israel/Palestine via the Internet, the efforts of the rising boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement are having a transformative impact, rendering Palestine solidarity mainstream. Disgust with Israel and US policies that are complicit in its crimes are on the rise and it’s beginning to reverberate throughout US society.

It’s even reached the dykes on OK Cupid.

Catch my talk Wednesday, April 3, at Pratt on sexual liberation :

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Obama: Shoulder to Shoulder with an Apartheid State

Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ari Zoldan)

Barack Obama with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ari Zoldan)

THE HEAD of the U.S. empire paid a three-day visit to the praetorian guard of the Middle East oil lake that concluded March 22. President Obama’s trip to Israel aimed to shore up anxious vassals and reassert U.S. political and military hegemony in a region in the midst of revolutionary turmoil and economic instability.

On both fronts, he appears to have succeeded, for now.

News of President Obama’s much-heralded visit has focused on two events: his speech in Jerusalem and the phone call he choreographed between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As is usually the case with acts of diplomacy, Obama’s speech and telephone rapprochement were filled with unctuous platitudes to mask the crude reality.

His Jerusalem speech intertwined the Zionist fable of a national liberation movement for Jews that never was with the African American civil rights struggle, using rhetorical flourishes best described as Obamaesque. He said:

As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed–”I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that…we, as a people, will get to the promised land…” And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea–to be a free people in your homeland.

Like every U.S. president since Truman, Obama depicts Israel as an expression of the democratic yearnings of an oppressed people, as opposed to being an imperial manipulation of historical crimes against the Jewish people to justify a colonial-settler state on Palestinian land. Israel is a nation that’s come to serve as an outpost for U.S. imperial interests in the region.

No doubt, Obama glimpsed the 25-foot-high, 450-mile-long apartheid wall that has been condemned as illegal in the International Court of Justice. He knows of the growing civil disobedience against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the broadening resistance to the indefinite detention of Palestinians such as Samer Issawi, now on hunger strike more than 245 days.

Even the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is getting greater coverage than ever in the U.S. media, making it almost impossible for Obama to remain unaware of the rising Palestinian civil rights movement that the New York Times’ Ben Ehrenreich suggests is a possible “third intifada.”

It’s quite likely Obama’s awareness of all these factors compelled him to reference Palestinian suffering and aspirations in his speech–if only to give a nod toward a crisis he has no intention of resolving. After all, if Obama were intent on actually doingsomething, then millions of American taxpayer dollars that help finance the expanding illegal Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank would dry up.

Weapons sales and high-tech deals between the U.S. and Israel would be placed on hold. Obama would demand an immediate end to Israel’s siege of Gaza, a blockade of goods enforced since 2009. Netanyahu’s new hard-right cabinet filled with open racists and opponents of any Palestinian state would have been challenged. Yet none of these actions were even considered.

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WHEN IT comes to Obama in Israel, as at home, it’s crucial to follow the money and the weapons, not the words.

Though in all truth, even the words betray a policy of continued full-throated support for Israel. When Obama insists “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state” as the starting point for negotiations, he is essentially demanding that Palestinians concede ongoing occupation by an ethnocracy and the implicit apartheid regime of laws that comes with it. As with past presidents, Obama calls for Palestinians to embrace their own dispossession as the entry point to “peace talks.”

The phone call Obama arranged between Netanyahu and Turkey’s Erdogan was an effort to confront the central geostrategic issues hanging over the entire visit. Containing Syria’s ongoing revolution and stanching Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons development were central to this diplomatic mission.

On the surface, the call was about Netanyahu apologizing to Erdogan for a raid by Israeli commandos on an unarmed Turkish humanitarian flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, that killed nine activists on board the ship in the middle of the night in the Mediterranean Sea in May 2010.

The three-way call established that Israel will pay reparations to the families of the dead and Turkey will cease legal actions against Israel for the cold-blooded murders of the nine.

As the Palestinian member of Israel’s Knesset, Hanin Zoabi, who was on the Mavi Marmara, countered: “The issue is not only Marmara; Marmara was the small crime. The big crime was the siege on Gaza.”

Whatever words were uttered about easing the years-long blockade of Gaza, little is likely to change on that front so long as Israel controls the flow of goods, resources and people in and out of Gaza. But the real point of the call was for Obama to formally reconcile two of his most important and comparatively stable allies in the region. Containing the two regional powers, Iran and Syria, is far more difficult without unity between Israel and Turkey.

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AND OBAMA needs a beefed-up guardian in the Middle East gateway to Asian expansion westward as part of his overarching mission to push back China, too.

It’s become clear to both the U.S. and Israeli administrations that their longtime ally in Syria, the dictator Bashar al-Assad, can no longer hang on to power in the face of a popular uprising, which began as a revolutionary upheaval and now appears to have become a civil war that’s killed at least 70,000.

Even before Obama landed in Tel Aviv, Israeli and U.S. warmongers were peddling unconfirmed reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria in order to pressure the Obama administration to approve direct U.S. military involvement there. Turkey, Israel and the U.S. had already been working behind the scenes to select a Syrian-born American, information technology executive Ghassan Hitto, to be the first “prime minister of an interim Syrian government” elected by the unrepresentative, Western-backed Syrian National Council.

As for Iran, Israel would prefer a direct hit against Tehran for its supposed development of nuclear weapons, but the U.S. imposition of deadly sanctions on that country will do for now. And diplomacy is quickly jettisoned when the U.S. and Israel collude in illegal targeted assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, as they did in early January 2013.

While some may see hope in Obama’s soothing words for Palestinians and others seeking justice in the region, such hopes in Obama are misplaced. The relationship between the U.S. and Israel must remain sacrosanct. They need each other desperately now, as even Muslim Brotherhood allies over the border in Egypt are facing broadening opposition from strikes and protests.

In a dangerous world with shifting alliances, military and economic competition and depression, the U.S. empire needs its loyal Israeli vassal more than ever.

Our Stockholm Syndrome

In the early 1970s there was a spate of kidnappings that received such widespread  attention that even my third-grade class played kidnapping at recess (when we took a break from playing Vietnam). Ah, the seventies.

The most famous, and bizarre, domestic kidnapping was that of Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress who was nabbed in 1974 by an urban guerrilla group with whom she was later videoed helping out in a bank robbery while wielding a semi-automatic weapon. Think of her as a béret-wearing Paris Hilton: vacuous, filthy rich and 19, but living in an era of vast social upheaval.

The fact that the granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (immortalized by Orson Wells in Citizen Kane) bonded with and defended her  Maoist captors came to be known as Stockholm Syndrome.

This capture-bonding phenomenon was named after the previous year’s kidnapping of several bank employees in that city.

Upon their release after six days in a vault, the bank hostages hugged their captors, defended them and refused government assistance. This “traumatic bonding” is defined by psychologists as “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” It’s not exclusively applied to hostages and in some ways it’s not too dissimilar from the dynamic in many domestic abuse cases where the victim defends her abuser.

This diagnosis seems to fit the current political stance of a huge swath of US progressives who are smart, politically engaged, well-informed and yet defend and even embrace the Obama administration’s actions in the midst of its role in dismantling the last shreds of our social welfare state.

In a sense, they are captives of a worldview that admits no alternative to a mild tweaking of the status quo.

It is irrefutable that Obama and the Democrats are playing a disastrous role in retaining our regressive tax structure and solidifying the falsehood that “entitlements” like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid must be cut. Even the New York Times, which daily repeats this mythology, was compelled to describe the latest “fiscal cliff” deal this way:

Just a few years ago, the tax deal pushed through Congress on Tuesday would have been a Republican fiscal fantasy, a sweeping bill that locks in virtually all of the Bush-era tax cuts, exempts almost all estates from taxation, and enshrines the former president’s credo that dividends and capital gains should be taxed equally and gently.

In an interview with Barbara Walters in early December, Obama openly discussed raising the Social Security eligibility age from 65 to 67, and he frequently references the “need for spending cuts” of nearly two trillion dollars. In a typical liberal defense of Obama, the Washington Post‘s Jamelle Bouie recently took on the Republicans’ attacks on Obama by insisting, quite truthfully, that “Obama has already agreed to big spending cuts.

There are already excellent news analysis pieces, such as Lance Selfa’s “Holding all the cards…and they still folded” about the New Year’s deal and the coming slash-and-burn attack on desperately needed social services, so I won’t bother repeating those arguments here.

But leftists do need to grasp what lies beneath our nation’s Stockholm Syndrome because otherwise we just become outraged at some of the very people, self-described liberals and progressives, who must be won over to breaking with the Dems if a broad and active left is to ever succeed in challenging the system.

In my experience, progressives are mostly not ignorant or indifferent to the plight of working class and poor people bearing the brunt of our Not-So-Great Depression. In fact, many are themselves spiraling downward and leading increasingly less financially secure lives. No, apathy and cluelessness are not sufficient explanations for the widespread defense of Obama and co. among contemporary progressives.

Naturally, there is the GOP itself, made up of the nastiest, most deranged piffleheads the American Empire has ever produced. They terrify all of us and embody late capitalism’s criminal incapacity for empathy. Nothing more need be said about them.

The weakness of the US left, only now becoming a bit more robust in the post-Occupy era, is a symptom not a cause.

At least one explanation comes back to me over and over again, as I spend a fair amount of both my personal life and speaking gigs among progressives who are not yet convinced that the system either can or must be dismantled. To most, the persistence of society based on class inequality appears as inevitable as morning follows night. And so the best progressives hope for, or at least believe is possible, are small changes.

This near-religious faith in the inevitability of inequality will be our doom.

That thought washes over me whenever I read historical accounts of tumultuous upheavals. The ongoing ones in the Middle East are still too close and unresolved  to afford the kind of perspective that allows many—though not all—to believe in the transformative potential of collective social action. Though a growing cadre of radicalized youth from Athens and Cairo to New York appears to have broken from capitalism’s dogma of social stagnation.

Spending Christmas break reading the fascinating biography of Karl and Jenny Marx, Love and Capital, forced me to think about this more deeply. Human society has existed for at least tens of thousands of years, class society for just a few thousand and capitalism itself less than 200 years.

In many ways, our society is unrecognizable from the one Marx was living in, yet like the trailer to a movie its basic features could be previewed through a mid-nineteenth century lens. And all throughout, every significant bit of progress from urban sanitation to basic human rights was established through mass risings.

What seemed normal in 1830, like emperors and kings, was rendered obsolete 40 years later. The same is true today.

I am as nauseated and frightened by the current state of our economy and politics as any progressive, but because progressives tend to defend a wing of the status quo they lack both hope and vision for a world free of racism, war and exploitation that socialists advocate.

There are whiffs of a shift from an acceptance of the current state of affairs in the Chicago teachers strike, the Wal-Mart and fast food workers’ stirrings and on a global level, Canada’s Maple Spring and the Indian rising against rape.

But to really break from capitalism’s ideology that tries to trap us in accepting and even defending our own immiseration, a knowledge of history and active participation in challenging the present seem fundamental.

Viewed this way, hope is not derived from froufrou idealism, it comes from a realistic assessment of human potential.

Sherry Wolf is a writer, public speaker and hopemonger. She’s available to speak on issues ranging from the new Middle East, sexuality and socialism and US politics today.