In Defence of DiNovo, or why I’ve been looking for a new Socialist home (Updated)
Having followed the cannibalistic feeding frenzy by a small segment of fundamentalist Leftists on one of the its strongest advocates in public life has been nothing short of incredulous. On the whole, this could be just another day on the Left and could be dismissed as a rather benign episode of “pajama people”* and /or rabblerousers responding with unhinged disproportion at a perceived betrayal of their pure, fundamentalist politics. Such derangement, however, has been possible only on the back of a totally disingenuous interpretation of DiNovo’s actions and words, and has led to an unusual escalation culminating allegedly in threats of violence directed at DiNovo herself.
So what has DiNovo done that is so awful? To begin with, in babblean fundamentalist circles her first mistake was to treat a fellow MPP as a fellow parliamentarian and to show him anything other than contempt and disdain. DiNovo may have even used parliamentary and conciliatory language in dealing with Shurman. Shame indeed! In the rarefied world of pure antagonism of these fundamentalists, there is no nuance, there is no reverence, respect for alterity, and there is no forgiveness (a hospitable openness gifted in advance). In fact, in such a pure world, the enemy of one’s enemy becomes one’s friend, the friend of one’s enemy becomes one’s enemy, and ends justify means, regardless of how insidious those means.
Nonetheless, in order to entirely conflate DiNovo’s remarks and position on the IAW resolution with that of Peter Shurman’s requires nothing less than malicious and wilful misreading (something I used to call “pullin’ a Cherniak”, but now for nuance sake in Leftists circles I call it “pullin’ a Unionist”), as well as a flagrant decontextualization of the two speakers.
To begin, DiNovo clearly speaks from a radically different place than Shurman. She speaks as a woman, a feminist, a theologian, queer rights activist, and social justice activist (her track record of standing up for oppressed groups -Muslims, Tibetans, Ukrainians who suffered Holodomor etc… is unmistakable)** Next, although in her remarks, DiNovo, I believe rightly, agrees with Shurman on the need to call into question the term “apartheid”, she does so out of a desire for peace rather than a desire to absolve the State of Israel. And yes, peace means justice, and justice for everyone. Taking her cue from many Muslims themselves she spoke with, many of whom are not vested in the term apartheid, DiNovo pushes the need to talk about ending the occupation, to talk about the wall and for a two state solution. She in essence reiterates NDP federal policy, which even the National Post saw as her digression from Shurman’s resolution and the conservative position. And the National Post’s ability to deal with nuance is about as impaired as fundamentalist Leftists.
Then, there’s the issue of whether speaking in agreement to one part of a motion constitutes agreement with the entire resolution, and whether in fact the ONDP did give its voiced support for the resolution in the legislature.
All to say, Leftist derangement that led to its pillorying of DiNovo hinges on the preposterous establishment of equivalences between Shurman and DiNovo. Since the rabid Left exhibits the nuance of a two year old (I think here of the psychoanalytic term “ambivalence” that characterizes among other things excessive narcissism and I think “fundamentalism”) this led to deranged claptrap, assaults on her character, and, in my view, ultimately erodes the legitimacy of IAW.
When DiNovo’s egregious actions weren’t being met with derangement, they were met with a soft, “kind” patronizing admonishment that was in my view even more insulting. I’m thinking here of a letter circulated, by “academics”, I believe, in which they gave DiNovo an out by patting her on the head and saying “dear dear, you just don’t know all the facts, and just how bad it is over there. It’s not your fault you didn’t know how wrong you are.”
Give me a f*cking break. Given DiNovo’s education, her multi-faith background and her links to the Muslim community, not to mention to the Leftist/activist community, my sense is that she’s not in need of any lessons about the suffering and human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory, especially not when those lessons issue from overprivileged, overeducated white boys whose acquaintance with deprivation is running out of Chardonnay at the Conference reception. I only resort here to hyperbole, because predictably also heard around rabble were comments like DiNovo deserves to experience first hand the deprivation in Gaza and so what if she’s receiving death threats, her actions in the legislature help perpetuate bloodshed in Gaza.
And then, there were attempts to extract a retraction and an apology from DiNovo and demand that she throw herself at the mercy of good willed progressives. This coming from babble, the epicentre of derangement, and from “Unionist” no less!! Yes, the same “Unionist” who initiates a discussion to extort an apology from DiNovo, and subsequently in that thread writes “And by the way, Sineed, while it’s not my place to ask her to apologize (as I mentioned from the outset), I have every right to condemn the shameful words she pronounced in public.” Hello! If it’s not your place to ask her to apologize, why start of discussion topic on it? This also the same Unionist who in that same topic grudgingly acquiesces that sending DiNovo death threats might be a wee bit over the top, but not nearly as egregious as her not having called the police. I wonder if her being out of the country has something to do with it.
Now onto the other big issue: the assault on free speech. This incidentally was the tac taken by reasonable Leftists with legitimate disagreement, but also by Leftists and NDP’ers who wanted to attack DiNovo (i.e. appease the dozen rabid Leftists and the three intimidating Islamists who complained vociferously), but had the decency not to use “the friend of my enemy must be my enemy” argument outlined above. You see, since DiNovo did not actually deviate from NDP policy on the Middle East, she could not be condemned for that (I’ve never heard Jack Layton refer to “Israeli apartheid”, have you?) Nonetheless, it is claimed that in her denunciation of the term apartheid, she attacked free speech. My short reply is no! She exercised her right to free speech and denounced speech designed to foreclose free speech. She correctly, in my opinion, condemned needlessly inflammatory and incendiary language in order to keep speech open not to close it down.
I suspect critics who see this as an assault on academic freedom and/ or free speech see this as egregious owing to the fact that this was uttered from a place of power and privilege and “suasion”. I agree that the position from which discourse issues is highly relevant. I suspect too that these critics would not view a similar condemnation of the term apartheid issued, for instance in an email or on the radio, as other than an expression of disagreement. While I’m sympathetic to the need to be vigilantly protective of our right to speak freely and openly, and I am sympathetic to the slippery slope argument, I don’t believe the DiNovo’s condemnation was wrong, nor do I fear that it could lead to labelling the term “Israeli apartheid” as hate speech.
While the resolution passed in the Ontario legislature does emanate not from an ordinary place, but a place of power, we do need to be careful. However, the resolution has at best “moral” suasion, and has no legal and authoritative power. These resolutions are brought forward all the time (e.g. I don’t recall an outcry when parliament guided public opinion and resolved to commemorate Holodomor), so the issue obviously isn’t one of parliamentarians exercising moral suasion. It was a toothless motion and given the current levels of respect for our political leaders and representatives, I’m thinking this resolution has little moral suasion. To call this censorship and McCarthyism is virtually to water down these terms to meaning disagreement. And if you censor disagreement, how will you know when the “real” censorship arrives.
That IAW would proceed as planned was never in doubt. There was never a call to silence or shut down IAW, rather a calling into question the deployment of a term, which even if descriptively accurate, is itself designed to preempt fair and open dialogue, is needlessly incendiary, and ultimately not at all useful if the objective is peace and justice for all. I recall speaking with a woman who is with Students for a Free Tibet who was perplexed at the thought of achieving peace by first slapping your enemy in the face. Tibetans, she argued, wish to speak with the Chinese, not insult them. By the way, here already lies an early warning to Palestinians that IAW is not really about them. IAW is not about peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis, it is about a larger revolutionary project of resisting American power and dominance.
Nonetheless, I do agree that we must be careful each step of the way. I have no doubt that political groups will attempt to use this resolution to promote their political agendas.
With respect to this particular case, my problem with the deployment of the term “apartheid” in IAW is only as it pertains to the attempt to pass off IAW as an unbiased, free and open dialogue going on across university campuses. For in my view, and I have attended IAW events in the past, it is precisely on university campuses that this kind of monologic debate needs not to be shut down but at least and always challenged and called into question. “Israeli apartheid”, assuming apartheid is even an appropriate descriptor, does little other than to circumscribe the discussion within very narrow and highly volatile limits, to preempt disagreement, and to promote hostility, all of which in my view are anathema to university discourse.
As a rallying cry, as propaganda, as rhetoric for a social movement I have no objection to the deployment of the term Israeli apartheid. At least not in terms of its usefulness. It serves for the extreme Left a way to sharply demarcate its enemies and its allies. It serves to cleanly demarcate oppressors from victims. It serves to moralize the troops and fill them with information, as well as, far too often with hatred. While I believe in speaking truth to power, I believe the truth must be spoken out of love and forgiveness, not from a place of hate. And if the goal of this social movement is to broaden its base, I believe it needs to begin from a place of ethics, love, and justice, not antagonism and hatred.
This leads to a real objection I have with the term apartheid. There is a reason why the Left has prioritized the Palestinian struggle against its Israeli oppressors above many other geopolitical conflicts and injustices, and that’s because the Left sees this as a crucial battle in the war against neoliberal capitalist expansion and American hegemony. Fair enough, a noble war indeed! However, to the extent that capitalism is reducible to pure desire, as desire always for more, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality etc., I find it highly ironic then, that the Left would vest so much in a term which is so laden with ethnic/racial identification, when in fact it’s not all about the Palestinian people per se, its about the fact that they stand locked and opposed to Israel. I’m not saying that IAW is anti-semitic, I’m saying it is anti-Israel to the extent that Israel is strategically critical to US empire building.
At the same time, this also goes along way to understanding why the event can’t be called Palestinian Liberation Week or any such combination of terms which might glorify and empower Palestinians. I hope I’m wrong, and excuse me for being harsh, the way I see it, what is critical for the Left is not who the Palestinians are in themselves but their relational status to the State of Israel.
While I certainly agree that victims shouldn’t have to be perfect in order to earn our solidarity, I also don’t think victims should be exalted to a place of almost divine abjecthood, of sublime object cause of our ideology, and the Left has a strong track record of doing so, starting with that most glorious and morally untouchable object: the Proletariat. But here I get stuck, I don’t really know where to go next. Is it possible to simultaneously be in solidarity with and to call into question, a victim? I get economic forces of oppression, I get the need to resist blaming the victim, and I understand the need to adopt a culturally relative approach. But I’m still troubled by the often appalling treatment of women and the ghastly treatment of “queers”, not to mention our reluctance to speak up against those abuses because of a group’s victimhood. It seems the only way to justify not speaking up is either intimidation or by entirely blaming an oppressor and thereby denying agency. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
* a handful of overeducated, overprivileged mostly geeky white males who have nothing better to do than troll the web all day in their pajamas from their hovels in Parkdale, provided they’ve managed to move out of their parents’ basements.
** it would be interesting to compare the Palestinian struggle not only with South African liberation movement, but also with the Tibetan struggle to return home
I did forget to mention that Warren Kinsella needs to be graced with a Cherniak Award for his hypocrisy over this. A Cherniak award is given to a Liberal who displays exceptional degree of malicious misreading, of willful distortion, of wanton decontextualization, of utter disingenuousness, and/ or basic intellectual dishonesty. When Warren pounced all over DiNovo for “losing it”, I’m left to wonder why he found it so objectionable, understanding that for Kinsella flagrant hypocrisy doesn’t apply to people who have handed him his ass in an election.
Regardless what could have been so objectionable from Kinsella’s point of view?
1. That she was being labelled a Zionist (something Kinsella all too readily admits). 2. That she lashed out at someone insulting her online (Kinsella’s online behaviour has not exactly been exemplary; he not only retaliates, he’s been known to commission online “lynchings” and outings of people through his blog, he’s made numerous sexist and racist gaucherie in public)
I also would think that Kinsella might have shown a little more sensitivity for someone who’s been receiving violent threats, since I’m sure he’s not unfamiliar with that territory.
Needless to say, my comment was not approved, but other interesting comments were. And one, by the very same Cherniak for whom the award is named, who chimed in to pile on DiNovo only to be questioned why he would object to DiNovo’s “zionism”. After all, it doesn’t get more rabidly zionist than Cherniak. At the same time, it does seem that Kinsella has had a change of heart and that the State of Israel may not be beyond reproach after all, since he’s quite content to allow a comment arguing in favour of Israeli apartheid.