For many Jewish activists the main problem with the coalition Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or Answer, is the organization's fiercely anti-Israel stance. But for some observers and activists, there is a more fundamental question: whether the decision of liberal groups to work with Answer — an organization that represents the most extreme-left elements remaining in America — will stifle the anti-war cause's efforts to transform itself into a mass movement.This is, unfortunately, fairly typical of the Jewish Left. As though wanting to annihilate Israel were not enough, they feel the need to treat us to a wholly ridiculous treatise on why an openly anti-semitic, anti-democratic, and anti-American organization may be slightly problematic for the anti-war movement as whole. Being existentially bad for the Jewish people is apparently of little consequence.
It's a question that clearly has troubled the left. Leaders of United for Peace and Justice, a more moderate coalition that has been focusing narrowly on the issue of the Iraq war, have taken part in demonstrations with Answer before. But they agonized for months about whether to join Answer for the September 24 rally and march. And, in recent months, they have criticized Answer's tactics.Only the Forward could describe UFPJ and its necro-communist leader as "moderate". I suppose in the circles the Forward's writers travel they might be. In relation to the the American mainstream the anti-war movement apparently wants to attract UFPJ is as far out as ANSWER is, and no less odiously treasonous. Albeit inadvertantly, this may point to the real problem. Namely, that the anti-war movement is not merely plagued by a single out of the mainstream oraganization, but rather represents an entire ethos that is outdated, irrelevent, and altogether odious to the majority of Americans, whether they think the Iraq War was a good idea or not.
In a May press release, the national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, Leslie Cagan, wrote that "while professing to desire unity, Answer and the IAC have repeatedly misrepresented the positions of, attacked, and attempted to isolate and split UFPJ and other antiwar groups, even when we were supposedly in alliances."
Still, Cagan's organization eventually opted for cosponsoring the march, explaining its decision as a way to avoid disunity and draw the largest possible number of people to one protest.
It seems to be a conclusion some people on the left are coming to, despite their reservations about Answer's politics. The growing opposition to the war in Iraq, along with Cindy Sheehan's more populist protest this summer, might have made Answer's role less of a liability. Though Answer still might be getting the permits for marches and planting speakers at rallies, there is little question that the overwhelming majority of people going to demonstrations do so because they want to publicly oppose the war, not support fringe causes.I don't know what the overwhelming majority of the people going to demonstrations think. I do think that people who go to demonstrations, especially those who go to demonstrations regularly, are inherently non-mainstream. Mainstream people have kids and jobs and don't have the time or inclination to go to demonstrations for anything. They are politically involved through that forgotten institution known as elections. Of course, this is not something the anti-war movement is interested in, since if they tried for political power throgh the ballot box - i.e. by democratic means rather than mob politics - they are well aware of the fact that they will lose. If the anti-war movement were mainstream it would work through the political process, and not try for influence through street theater and media manipulation.
As for Cindy Sheehan, I don't doubt that her grief is real, but the idea that she was representative of anything other than the media's desperate fascination with the aesthetic of 1968 is wholly ridiculous. She struck me as a woman who was firmly convinced of her anti-American, antisemitic, Chomskyite politics long before her son was killed and her use of his name and memory - despite the fact that he quite clearly disagreed with the cause she advocates, and gave his life in the service of its opposite - seemed to me, to put it delicately, more than a little disturbing. To my mind, the Cindy Sheehan phenomenon speaks less of the growing popularity of the anti-war movement and more of the Left's obsession with image, aesthetics, and sentiment over debate, democracy, and the difficult questions of war and peace.
"Most of the media and most people have the good sense to understand that people who oppose the war are not these Stalinist androids," said Erc Alterman, who writes a column for The Nation.Maybe, but I think it is clear to any thinking person that those involved in the anti-war movement are people who have no problem lying down with Stalinist androids when it suits them. The point Alterman is making, it seems to me, is roughly equivalent to a conservative pundit declaring that folks like me need to "stomach" the leadership of neo-Nazi groups or the Ku Klux Klan in order to achieve a higher political good. If these are the friends the anti-war movement needs to succeed than they don't deserve to succeed. I've always thought Alterman was a distinctly untalented hack with a nasty tendency to engage in apologia for anti-semitism and anti-Americanism when it suits him, this does nothing to dissuade me from that conviction.
The anti-war movement needs to stomach Answer's antics and extremism, Alterman said, just "like the people who really wanted to go to war are stuck with the Bush administration."
But Alterman's willful blindness - or worse, depending on how you look at it - points to a deeper problem on the Jewish Left and on the Left in general. It is a problem personified in the anti-war movement and in this article as well. Namely, an inability or unwillingness to recognize poltiical evil when it is sitting right in front of your face. In the name of an amorphous - and therefore useless - unity, the Jewish Left is willing to lay down with supporters of terrorists dedicated to killing Jews and annihilating the Jewish state, and the anti-war Left in general is willing to lie down with totalitarians and anti-democratic demagogues. What we need from the Forward, if it is going to be more than an epitaph for a dying creed, is not apologia but denunciation. We need the Jewish Left to learn the real lesson of 1968 - that the man who lies down with murderers will eventually have blood on his own hands. At the moment that seems to be, unfortunately, far too much to ask for.