Issue 3

Connecting American Tenancy With Palestinian Struggle

With the continued assault on the Palestinian people, it is the duty of American socialists and communists to disrupt capital at home from the docks to the doorstep.

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Social media is awash with videos and testimonials of Israeli state violence against the Palestinian people. Everyday, evidence mounts of a clear ethnic cleansing program in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood; Palestinian homes are invaded and the occupants ejected, towering apartment complexes topple in the air strikes specifically called onto them, and rampaging far-right mobs of settlers and their supporters commit acts of racial and religious violence. To the Netanyahu government, this is a matter of a “real estate dispute between private parties”. But for the Palestinians who have lived in this neighborhood for decades, this more closely resembles a pogrom. Meanwhile in the US, the Biden administration unsurprisingly declares Israel’s right to self-defense, wrings their hands about violence on “both sides”, and blocks a UN ceasefire statement as the only opposing vote. The mainstream American media outlets, fresh off their deep concern for the lack of civility in politics during the Trump administration, are quick to apply the passive voice and confuse the issue, saying Palestinians died “in clashes”

For decades this pattern has played out the same and we’ve watched it from afar with horror. Around the world tens of thousands of people, fed up with the ongoing slaughter, take to the streets to protest. But nothing changes and the pattern continues in a hideous rinse and repeat cycle of cruelty, purposeful impotence or downright collaboration on the part of our “elected leaders”, and consent manufacturing. 

Outside the confines of the conflict, we’re meant to behave as an audience, to bear unbearable witness to the continual kristallnachts and the bombings. The purpose of the violence is to ethnically cleanse Israel of the Palestinian people, while the political and media response is designed to keep that violence abstracted in our minds, something that happens to other people completely disassociated from ourselves in a situation too complicated to understand. With the majority of states having implemented so-called anti-BDS laws which bar employment in the public sector for anyone having previously expressed support for the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement, Americans are meant to feel helpless or indifferent, too weighed down with the severity of their own precarious existence under capitalism to be concerned for the lives of a foreign people so far away. 

Truthfully, the kind of violence and state repression we’re seeing used against the Palestinian people is not so foreign to Americans. Indeed, the primary difference here is merely a matter of degree, rather than kind. With the widespread use of military hardware, US police departments are essentially foreign armies invading our communities, outfitted for war. US police forces have received training by the IDF for decades in “anti-terrorism” tactics. We witnessed the application of these teachings during the 2020 summer uprisings against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, including unlawful detainment, excessive use of often deadly force, and targeting of the press. When the police rioted and indiscriminately attacked protestors, the state response was to deploy tens of thousands of National Guard troops onto city streets across the country complete with unconstitutional curfews. Just as the police assaulted journalists covering the protests in a concerted project of intimidation, so too did Israel recently when the IDF bombing the building which housed the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news media offices under the dubious pretense that Hamas had a headquarters there.

The history of redlining in America against black and brown communities draws the parallel with Palestine even closer, in regard to ethnic cleansing. The Los Angeles freeway system, for instance, was designed to separate communities of color from white neighborhoods. An incident known as the Battle of Chavez Ravine involved the violent displacement of an entire Latinx neighborhood for the sake of Dodgers Stadium. American communities of color such as Flint, or the nearly 4000 other communities with poisoned drinking water, can absolutely empathize with the Palestinian people whose water supply is 97% unsuitable for human consumption. Infamously, the 1985 MOVE bombing leveled two city blocks when the Philadelphia police set fire to a household of radical black activists. And of course there is the centuries-long genocide against the indigenous people on which this country was founded. Just as the Palestinians are penned-in to what amounts to an open-air panopticon, our POC communities can easily be kept within systemic poverty with something as simple as a road or, as with our indigenous people, a reservation. 

For the organizers, the question remains: what is to be done? Indeed, public support for Palestinian liberation has grown, due in no small part to the 2020 summer uprisings, and intensified with this recent wave of attacks. Protests in solidarity are necessary and must continue in order to generate this kind of sentiment, but then what? 

One answer lies in the fact that capital used to fund both the ethnic cleansing in Palestine, as well as the right-wing media apparatus which attempts to justify it, is not only distributed globally but also, most essentially, generated locally. As politicized labor support for BDS is increasing, unions and BDS activists are working to identify localized pressure points and utilize them accordingly. In Oakland, for example, dock workers with the ILWU, organized through the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) and joined by East Bay DSA, successfully blocked the docking and unloading of the Israeli ZIM shipping line, with similar actions planned for New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, and others. Clearly, there are strategic and often local actions we can take to target the transportation and sale of Israeli commodities and further the goals of BDS. We must look for ways to extend these efforts into other areas of organizing by identifying further links between capital generated domestically and the pro-Israel lobby. 

One area rife with these connections is that of real estate development, which has become one of the central sites for capital accumulation in the contemporary United States. For example, Spencer Partrich, a developer in Detroit through his company Lautrec Ltd., which specializes in mobile homes, has donated millions to Netanyahu’s defense fund. Then there’s Myron Zimmerman, a developer in the San Francisco Bay Area, who, through his charitable organization the MZ Foundation, has poured money not only into direct support for illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but also into American Islamophobic hate groups and pro-Israeli far-right media entities. A commonality with these foundations is their support for groups such as the Israel Land Fund through the Central Fund of Israel. Profits generated locally through real estate investment are funneled to CFI in the form of untaxed charitable donations, then channeled to ILF where it is then used to buy land in Israeli occupied Palestine, developed, and handed to settlers. Literally, our rent, and the capital accumulated from the commodification of property and the “soft” ethnic cleansing of our neighborhoods is used to subsidize the forcible displacement of Palestinians.

Effectively uncovering links between accumulation strategies in the US and direct support for both Zionist propaganda and settlement abroad can itself come out of the efforts of local organizing. For instance, the organization Jewish Voice for Peace includes, as part of their BDS campaigning, ongoing protests at MZ headquarters with the goal of making Zimmerman’s connection to the CFI public and decidedly toxic. Then, in terms of tenant organizing, the tenants of 1921 Walnut Street in Berkeley, CA joined the Bay Area groupTenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) once word was sent to them by the University of California that they were to be evicted and their rent-controlled building destroyed. The 1921 Walnut Street Association identified Jackie Safier as the lynchpin behind this entire issue. In the course of the Berkeley TANC local’s organizing efforts, it was discovered that Safier, the CEO of the Prometheus Group, the largest developer and corporate landlord in the Bay area, is also the head of the Helen Diller Foundation, an organization with a long history of funding far-right and hyper-zionist organizations such as the American Freedom Defense Initiative, Project Veritas, and the Canary Mission. In her capacity as the leader of the foundation, Safier has donated millions to UC Berkeley, including money to fund the Program on Israel Studies. Now she is using that clout to eject long-term tenants from their homes and eliminate another piece of rent-stabilized property in her long mission against tenant protections. 

Such organizing initiatives offer the opportunity to both directly confront capital that aids Israeli settler occupation and to strengthen our understanding of the links between US capital and imperial violence abroad. They also help raise the consciousness around efforts for Palestinian liberation of tenants we organize with around the country, uncovering direct material links and forging cognitive links between, for instance, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and the housing precarity that so many face here. If we can unite as a radical, militant force against property commodification, the truth is we can effectively throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of capital which works so diligently to maintain the pattern we see in Palestine and imported domestically. We must continue to organize our tenant unions and present to them these parallels of struggle. Our fellow tenants must be taught to recognize that we are inherently, and should actively be, comrades in struggle with the Palestinians; the kind of extralegal harassment we see from landlords in the US, placing our very homes into the hands of the speculative market, and the savagery of the police is no more legitimate than the Israeli settlers “evicting” Palestinians from their homes in an area over which they hold no jurisdiction. Landlords and developers may not telephone us with five minutes to spare before our homes are bombed or burn down our families’ olive groves, but our shelter, communities and livelihoods, all built by our sweat as purchase for our right to survive, are just as equally in the hands of strangers who have a financial incentive towards their destruction; gentrification is ethnic cleansing by inches.

How much do we have to put up with before the capitalists and property owners are able to justify to themselves importing the kind of barbarism we see visited upon the Palestinian people? How can we justify inaction against the financiers of Israeili apartheid when tenant power, grassroots organizing, and direct action locally can arrest the transnational capital flow enabling genocidal displacement?  We have to remind our fellow tenants that the state of things as they are, this world to which we bear witness in Palestine and our own doorstep, is not necessary.

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