Oct 11 2010
May 20 2009
It’s difficult to track the crimes of the Israeli state and Zionism against the Palestinian people. I don’t mean hard to keep count of, true though that may be, but painful. It hurts to keep focusing on them, because they are so unrelenting–another olive grove bulldozed, another protester shot in the head with a tear gas canister, another bombing raid on Gaza, another house demolished.
Sometimes, though, a small outrage jumps out at me and I feel I have to do something, even if it’s just share my anger.
The trigger for this piece is a new policy initiated by Israel Railways. In March, 2009, management moved to lay off 150 Israeli Arabs who worked as guards, monitoring and maintaining railroad crossings. A new policy was put in place–only those with permits to carry weapons could hold the job.
And only veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces, in which few Arabs serve. get these permits. In fact, management stated explicitly that the program is designed to give employment to young veterans in Israel’s shaky economy. The workers have a case before the Labor Board there, but Israel Railways has already started hiring for their positions.
I realized immediately why I grew so angry. This is a direct parallel to what happened to Black railroad workers again and again in the years from the civil war to the victory of the modern civil rights movement.
The issue was the fireman’s job, the backbreaking and filthy job of shoveling coal into the engines of old steam locomotives. Think of Blind Willie McTell, “Statesboro Blues”:
Big Eighty left Savannah, Lord, and did not stop
You ought to saw that colored fireman when he got that boiler hot.
Or the old country tune “Wreck of the Old 97”:
So he turned and he said to his Black greasy fireman
“Shovel on a little more coal…”
But when the economy got real bad, suddenly the “Black man’s jobs” started looking pretty good to Southern whites. In 1911, for instance, 10 Black railroad workers were shot on the New Orleans & Texas Pacific line because the railroad gave them equal seniority with whites. Climbing on the locomotives to pull the spout down from the water tower and position it to refill the boiler, they were sitting ducks for snipers.
In the Great Depression of the ’30s, the same thing happened again. A deadly one-sided war took place, with the all-white unions of the Railroad Brotherhoods complicit in the terror when they weren’t actually organizing it. On the Mississippi division of the Illinois Central from 1932 to 1933, Frank Kincaid, Ed Cole, Aaron Williams, Wilburn Anderson, Frank Johnson and Will Harvey were shotgunned to death. Elsewhere, mob action by “concerned citizens” living along the railroad lines stopped trains and savaged Black firemen and the few white railroad workers who took their backs. The companies filled these sudden “vacancies” with white workers.
Israel’s crimes draw a lot of comparisons. We talk about the “apartheid wall.” David Rovics, in an essay reprinted at Fire on the Mountain, drew a very careful but pointed set of connections with the Nazi regime in Germany. Well, by me, these folks are today’s segregationists, white supremacists, KKK, and they should be understood and dealt with as such.
Reposted from Fire on the Mountain.
Feb 10 2009
Something very sad is happening today, and while this subject isn’t exactly welcome here, and I don’t have anything momentous to say about it, I wanted to say a few words. The sad thing that is happening is the elections in Israel.
Bibi Netanyahu is probably about to become the next Prime Minister of Israel, which brings me no joy. But the cause of the bulk of my sadness about this election, other than the fact that I will not be traveling to Israel to vote, is that if the polls are correct, Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitanu party will gain the third-highest vote total, giving him a significant increase in power, and making the Labour party the fourth-largest party in Israel for the first time in Israeli history.
I’m not going to recap for anyone why Leiberman’s ascent is a cause for sadness; if you don’t already know, so much the better for you, honestly. I’m not surprised in the least it makes me very sad. The idea of an Israel where that is possible is an Israel which is almost unrecognizable to me.
But I’m quite surprised by how surprised I am. After all, there is a rich legacy of politicians like Leiberman succeeding in parliamentary governments. Jeffrey Goldberg today calls Leiberman “the German word for Le Pen” – others have compared him to Pim Fortuyn. I suppose it is meant to comfort us to know that the Israelis are no more awful than the French, but of course that is no comfort at all.
But it makes me think, about how last week I saw one of my oldest, dearest friends. He and I went to Israel together over a decade ago; now, he is in seminary on his way to becoming a Rabbi. And somehow, our conversation turned to how utterly disturbed both of us were by the tenor of everyone we know’s Facebook status messages during the recent violence in Gaza. And from there, somehow, we ended up talking about how one of the great taboos is to talk about how the Shoah, and anti-Semitism in general, has traumatized all Jews everywhere. Not in the childish way that some suggest that Israelis, having been abused by the Nazis, have become the abuser. But in how this violation of Jews not that long ago remains a violation of Jews living today. You can’t say that. It sounds too much like there is something wrong with us, and you can’t say that.
But then today, as I sadly watch the returns from Israel, I think about how just in the last few weeks, there have been attacks on synagogues in Venezuela. How a British diplomat had to be arrested after going on an anti-Semitic tirade at the gym. How Israeli tourists are getting shot in malls in Denmark, and the reaction is for Danish schools to tell Jewish kids they shouldn’t enroll in school. Shit like this just doesn’t happen to other people. All over the world, there is a chance you might get killed any moment if someone knows you are a Jew. Not a very big chance, but there aren’t a lot of Jews. There are a dozen cities with more citizens than there are Jews in the world.
And I understand a bit better how so many people can say “Fuck y’all”, and vote for a Leiberman. It doesn’t make me any less sad, or even less confused. But I understand, more than I’d like to, how it happens.