In the last two weeks, Occupy Wall Street tweeted about the most recent Gaza flotilla (#freedomwaves), deleted it, and subsequently issued a statement saying OWS took no stance on Israel-Palestine as the issue was outside the realm of the original messages relating to the American financial crisis and wealth inequality.
The twitterati whose raison d'être might be described as "justice in Palestine" were enraged, accusing OWS of human rights abuses, selling out, hypocrisy, and cowardice. They want OWS to take a side, and take the right side.
This question has yet to be resolved: Who's right, the twitterati or the movement? Should OWS take a side in Israel-Palestine debates, or are they justified in remaining neutral? Their neutrality is not only justified, but also necessary: Choosing sides is ideologically inconsistent with the movement and limits its potential success. By not taking a side, OWS remains universal, leaderless, and can more effectively grow into a movement for broad social change.
The Israel-Palestine conflict does not fit neatly inside the general message. Really, it has very little to do with Wall Street at all. Where it does fit in is in the discussion of military aid: A popular refrain at OWS is cutting such aid, much of which goes to Israel. Under the umbrella of military aid reform, bringing discussion of Israel-Palestine into OWS is logical. Military expenditures might be highly relevant to the financial crisis; Israel-Palestine less so.
Since OWS can discuss Israel in the context of military aid, the question of addressing Israel-Palestine at OWS becomes the uniqueness of this aid situation. American dollars via military aid support human rights violations and prop up plutocracies, autocracies, and non-democratic authoritarian regimes around the world. This aid subverts the well-being of humankind in places such as Burundi, Mubarak’s Egypt, Sudan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, China (treatment of Tibet should be reason enough), and more—not just Israel. Even proclaiming support of social justice or human rights, OWS can’t non-hypocritically take a position on military aid to Israel without addressing all other beneficiaries. This destroys any universality inherent in its message. It also limits the movement’s potential results. Assuming any U.S. policy changes stem from the movement, those changes would only impact the Israel-Palestine conflict, leaving hundreds of millions of military aid dollars unaccounted for.
Further, by taking a stance on “these kinds of international issues” (as they put it), OWS risks alienating potential supporters. Certainly there are Occupiers who are Palestine activists, just as there are Occupiers who want to end the Fed, elect Ron Paul, establish universal healthcare, and descend into anarchy. All these groups bring added perspective and depth, but they do not define the movement or dictate its goals. More importantly, these groups are not trying to force their cause célèbre on others through the official mouth of OWS.
OWS has consistently been very clear that it is not a political movement and has always been all-inclusive, but choosing sides in such debates would hinder this openness. If I don’t want to end the Fed or vote for Ron Paul, I can still participate in OWS. Similarly, if I don’t want to take a stance on Israel-Palestine, I can still participate in OWS. By choosing sides, OWS would dictate what I must believe in order to participate. As it stands, the only thing I need to believe to participate is that the system is broken. I’d like to keep it that way.
OWS should abstain from choosing sides in these debates in order to preserve its integrity as universal and leaderless, and to facilitate its organic growth as a movement for global, not single-issue, change.
Photo Credit: afarbs