Some 80,000 people rallied in London over the weekend to support the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip whom Israeli forces are slaughtering daily by the dozens. This commendable display of internationalism, defined as unconditional solidarity with the oppressed and the exploited without regard to borders, colors, or creeds, was repeated all over the U.S. and Europe as thousands turned out at similar marches, even defying a government ban in Paris. Bringing this street sentiment into the halls of power, Chile’s parliament voted to suspend trade talks with Israel.
This vigorous internationalist grassroots response to Israel’s murderous campaign is exactly what revolutionary Syrians called for from activists abroad since 2011 in response to the Syrian regime’s adoption of Israeli tactics like collective punishment and bombing, shelling, and demolishing entire civilian neighborhoods — but to no avail. The regime of Bashar al-Assad has killed over 2,000 Palestinians and displaced far more Palestinians than Israel has and yet the only time organizers of London’s Gaza protest, the Stop the War Coalition, ever took action over Syria was to save said regime from airstrikes and to stop the imposition of a no-fly zone — the only way to end the regime’s barrel bomb attacks. After they succeeded, Stop the War Coalition organized a ‘victory’ march to brag that they had stopped the war in Syria!
Clearly Stop the War Coalition’s solidarity with the Palestinian people begins with Gaza Strip and ends on the Golan Heights. In this they are not the exception but the rule. A large segment, perhaps a majority, of self-styled ‘pro-Palestinian’ activists in the West are afflicted by this same selective internationalism, of state-centered borders-based pseudosolidarity, of opposing the collective punishment and mass murder of Palestinians and Arabs in one land by one government and supporting or justifying collective their punishment and mass murder next door when a different government is the perpetrator.
The most nauseating example of this hypocrisy was the recycling of images of Bashar al-Assad’s victims as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victims, as if there were a shortage atrocity photos emanating from Gaza.
Not only were these victims robbed of their dignity by these repurposed images, not only were their perpetrators absolved, but the credibility and the moral high ground of the Gaza solidarity campaign was damaged by this heartless mendacity, to the glee of rightist and Zionist websites.
For ‘pro-Palestine’ activists that have abandoned Palestinians to their fate at the hands of the Syrian regime or betrayed them by siding with the regime, the ironies abound. Out of one side of their mouths, they attack liberals and soft Zionists for blaming ‘both sides’ for the Gaza crisis; out of the other side of their mouths, they blame ‘both sides’ in Syria for the regime’s starvation of Yarmouk refugee camp located near Damascus. Out of one side of their mouths, they reject Israel’s claim that Hamas has left them ‘no choice’ but to take military action against the most destitute and oppressed people in the region; out of the other side of their mouths, they repeat the Syrian regime’s claim it has ‘no choice’ but to act in ‘self-defense’ against armed militants espousing Islamist ideology. The sacred right of Palestinians displaced in 1948 to return home is useless to the dead and at least 2,000 of them will never be able to exercise that right thanks to the regime. What about their right to live? What about their right to food, clothes, and shelter, a right that trumps what any armed group decides to do?
More ironic than these obvious hypocrisies is the fact that the very Palestinians that these ‘pro-Palestine’ activists claim to support, defend, and love support the Syrian revolution and hate Assad. Being subject to collective punishment, torture, and mass murder has a funny way of providing the kind of moral and political clarity that utterly escapes activists festooned with advanced degrees in post-colonial studies or worship at the altar of washed up Marxist wannabes.
Like the Palestinian masses, Hamas supported the Syrian uprising; it not only moved its headquarters from Damascus but shared the military knowledge it obtained from Hezbollah with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) when the FSA fought Hezbollah and the regime at Qusayr in June 2013. For following the Palestinian street and doing the right thing, Iran cut off Hamas’ funding; 40,000 civil service and security employees in Gaza went without pay, a high price to pay for showing solidarity. The overthrow and suppression of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood — which constituted Hamas’ other major funding source — forced Hamas to seek Iranian patronage once more and its funding was restored in exchange for moderating its Syria stance in early 2014. But unlike the activist ‘pro-Palestinian’ cliques who scabbed on Syrian (and Palestinian) freedom fighters on the pretext that they are backed financially by the Saudi and Qatari governments, free Syrians acted as consistent internationalists by refusing to withhold solidarity from Gaza on the grounds that Hamas is funded by their number one enemy, Iran.
When Stop the War Coalition leader Lindsey German was called out for this kind of selective internationalism, her cop-out response was that, “the organisation was not active on Syria because that ‘isn’t Stop the War’s job.’ Its focus is on what ‘Britain and the US are doing’.” This is a lie. The coalition chooses not to agitate around the petition to end the British government’s financial dealings with Russian arms manufacturer Rosoboronexport (perhaps the coalition thinks being killed with a Russian MiG flown by the Syrian regime rather than an American F-16 flown by Israel is somehow less murderous). The coalition has not joined with the Syria Solidarity Movement to campaign to let more Syrian refugees into Britain, but that hasn’t stopped Stop the War from posting website articles denouncing Prime Minister David Cameron’s refugee policy as as “cynical,” itself a cynical criticism given the coalition’s refusal to do more than Cameron for the refugees.
State-centered borders-based pseudosolidarity is not only at the core of selective internationalism but also the false notion that the Syrian regime is somehow pro-Palestinian due to its participation in the “axis of resistance,” an anti-Israel alliance of Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. Any force that is against Israel is ipso facto part of this ‘resistance,’ regardless of that force’s aims or political characteristics. This is how Iran’s Press TV ended up hosting anti-Israel white supremacist David Duke; the Klan is evidently part of ‘the resistance.’ The Assad regime paints itself as an ally of Palestinian freedom on the same anti-Israel basis, as if attacking the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Palestinian camps in Lebanon in the 1980s and torturing and killing Palestinian activists helps anyone but Israel.
Fascists, Klansmen, and Nazis are against Israel but they are also uninterested in fighting for anyone’s freedom except their own freedom to kill with impunity, burn crosses, and use poison gas on defenseless civilians.
However, does that mean Hamas was or is wrong to accept aid from the enemies of the Syrian people — the Assad regime and its allies, Iran and Hezbollah? The Saudi and Qatari monarchies are among the most reactionary forces in the world — are the FSA and the Islamic Front wrong or mistaken in accepting or seeking their patronage? How can any of these forces claim to be freedom fighters or revolutionaries given their backers? Don’t alliances with reactionary powers run counter to consistent internationalism?
The erroneous assumptions embedded in these questions are that alliances are matters of morality rather than expediency, that political struggle is primarily about first principles rather than advancing the interests of living, breathing constituents, that it is impossible or impermissible for the oppressed and exploited to exploit contradictions between various camps of oppressors and exploiters to win freedom. The history of successful revolutions is a history of unusual and ugly alliances with morally revolting backers:
- The American revolution of 1776 allied with the French monarchy while the British monarchy it fought against allied with indigenous peoples. Neither the revolting colonists (themselves an alliance of slaveholders, merchants, and farmers) nor the indigenous peoples who hoped to check westward colonial-settler expansion were monarchists or aided monarchist oppression in Britain or France.
- The 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland sought rifles from the German Kaiser to oust the British occupation.
- The Cuban revolution of 1959 allied with the butchers of the 1956 revolution in Hungary, the USSR, to guard against U.S. aggression.
- The 2011 revolution in Libya allied with NATO because it lacked the air power necessary to combat the regime’s heavy armor columns.
The real question about alliances is not whether they feel morally wholesome but do they advance or impede a particular struggle? Do they serve the interests of oppressed and exploited peoples in any way, shape, or form? What conditions do such alliances entail? Are the trade-offs acceptable?
These are the difficult, context-specific dilemmas revolutions have to grapple with if want a chance at winning. To activists afflicted with selective internationalism, such questions are incomprehensible since their stand is based not on a meticulous, all-sided evaluation of the stakes involved in a struggle from the standpoint of the oppressed but solely on opposition to this or that reactionary power’s orientation. In the name of opposing their enemies they continually betray their friends.