Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Ben Atar eviction: a cosmopolitan response

In November 2007, the Ben Atar squat in Tel Aviv was evicted by police. According to Indymedia Israel, the squat was located in Florentin, ‘a lower class neighborhood in south Tel Aviv that is going through a process of gentrification’. The building had been empty for many years when ‘Around 3 years ago, a group of young Anarchists and Punks, many of them homeless, decided to move into the building, live in it and start a social center for the activists scene and the neighborhood. During the three years of existence the squat hosted many events, film screening, shows, exhibitions, parties and many more. It also was a center for many political groups, artists and musicians, and a place for people who were looking for a warm place to stay in. It also became a home for the small but very active anarchist community in Israel, for the Anarchists Against the Wall group, for the animal rights activists, for ecological feminists and radical queers’.

In other words it was the kind of autonomous social space found all over the world, and as with many other such spaces it ended up facing eviction. As in most cases, news of this was posted at Indymedia UK, to be greeted in some cases by a very strange response. Prompted by a claim that this was Israel’s only squat, one person posted the following comment: “The whole ‘country’ is squatted. Only squat? NOT. Evict Israel. Evict the lot” (24.11.07).

Now amongst the self-defined radicals who post and comment at Indymedia we might expect to see a range of positions on Israel and Palestine: ‘Two State Solution, ‘One Secular Democratic (and/or Socialist) State for Jews and Palestinians’ or some kind of anarchist variant of a stateless society where Jews and Arabs live in harmony.

A statement like ‘Evict the Lot’ is saying something else again. It implies that the millions of Jewish people living in that part of the world should be somehow swept away. ‘Evict the Lot’ is as clear a racist statement as you could hope not to find, since by ‘the Lot’ can only be understood the people defined as being Jewish who are to be distinguished by cultural, religious or pseudo-racial characteristics from the people allowed to remain. Of course that is exactly the view of Bin Laden who states that ‘We will not recognize even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine’ from the ‘river to the sea’.

It may be true that the state of Israel, like most states, was born in violence and dispossession, and that the state continues repressive measures is unarguable. Of course exactly the same could be said about the USA and Australia, where unlike in Israel whole populations were exterminated as their lands were seized. Whatever radical measures are proposed to ensure social justice for the remaining indigenous peoples in the US and Australia nobody would suggest that all the descendants of settlers could or should be expelled. It would be a human catastrophe to even attempt it, just as it would in Israel.

For some interesting reflections on this issue I would recommend a recent discussion paper by David Hirsh, Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism – Cosmopolitan Reflections. Aside from the specific points Hirsh makes about the use of antisemitic tropes by parts of the left, I was struck by his call for a cosmopolitan critique that ‘disrupts a methodological tendency to view the division of the world into nations as being more fixed than it is’ (e.g. the notion of Israel or Palestine as homogeneous entities) and focuses instead on the idea that, in the words of Robert Fine ‘human beings can belong anywhere, humanity has shared predicaments and… we find out community with others in exploring how these predicaments can be faced in common’.

Part of the interest at this site in music/dance scenes is precisely this cosmopolitan aspect – how common human experiences of rhythm, sound and movement can undermine fixed certainties of social categories and point towards alternative ways of being. We can see this in Israel not just in places like the Ben Atar squat and the small anarcho-punk scene, but in the popularity of dance cultures with an implicit critique of military values (and sometimes an explicit one – see the Rave Against the Occupation parties). We might also consider the way that in Israel, as in many other countries, dance scenes have been a means for the assertion of a confident queer culture in the face of intense conservative/religious fundamentalist opposition – no mean feat in a region of the world where gay men can still face execution in some countries.

It is in spaces like this, and their even more precarious counterparts in Arab countries, that the possibilities of breaking out of the cycle of nationalism and war can be posed in various ways. Limited as they may be, they deserve our solidarity, not only against the usual police and corporate interests that tend to squeeze them out but against those who want to bomb them out of existence and drive their denizens into the sea.

About Indymedia: the comment criticised above was the view of one person and all kinds of idiots leave random posts in reply to Indymedia articles. I am not therefore claiming, for instance, that Indymedia is antisemitic – only pointing out how racist comments can slip into some 'anti-Zionist' discourse in all kinds of places.


Anonymous said...

Indymedia is an anti-Semitic website. It certainly did not start that way but since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 the Indymedia sites have regularly published anti-Semitic articles. It goes far beyond the comments to the articles.

bob said...

Far beyond the comments? Well, some antisemitic items are published there, by crackpots, along with other crackpot material (conspiracy theory, support for "anti-imperialist" despots, etc), but that is hardly the editorial policy or intrinsic to the project. I think it is unfair to call it "an anti-Semitic site".

bob said...

This is what Noga (from Contentious Centrist) said in the comments thread on my blog:

[QUOTE STARTS:]".. some antisemitic items are published there, by crackpots, along with other crackpot material"

A distinction without a difference. The final outcome is the same. A media outlet is not obligated to make its pages available to antisemitic ravings. When it does, I have to ask, why? Would it also make available space for KKK tales?

I hardly ever visit Indymedia but I went to check after reading NC's comment. It is definitely anti Zionist. When I stumbled across an article about Gilad Atzmon, illustrated by the cartoonist
Ben Heine (who participates in the 2006 Teheran Holocaust cartoon contest) it became clear that its editorial policies transcend mere antiZionism into far more, der Sturmer-type ravings.

Here is an example of Heine's work:


I'm afraid as far as the proliferation of antisemitism is concerned the time for nuanced distinctions is more or less over. The loathing, hatred, defamation of Israel expressed in classic anti-Jewish villification can no longer be shielded by the claim of "legitimate criticism". If you advocate for Atzmon's views or publish Heine's cartoons then you share in their glory.[QUOTE ENDS]

Anonymous said...

If it was simply nutjobs leaving offensive comments, that would one thing. However, as CC points out, the Indymedia project as a whole seems to have bought into the:

Israeli = Zionist = colonist paradigm.

I realize there is some editorial diversity from IMC to IMC but, generally speaking, the entire project is hostile to expressions of Jewish identity and supportive of attacks against "Zionists" i.e. Jews.

I write these comments with some remorse as friends of mine were affiliated with the Indymedia project from the very start. I know for certain they did not set out to create an anti-Jewish site but, sadly, that's what it has become.

Transpontine said...

I think it's difficult to be precise about what Indymedia is or isn't since the model is of a more or less open access news publishing project serving an assumed movement. In this sense it functions as a mirror of that 'movement' reflecting all its contradictions and weaknesses -and perhaps showing that a movement that is based on a loosely defined opposition to the status quo without much critical analysis will attract some very dubious people and ideas. Someone once said of anarchists (was it Debord?) that since they tolerate each other they will tolerate anything - in this case including conspiracy nonsense and the barely disguised antisemitic baggage that invariably follows in its wake.