Todd Gitlin and the lingering colonialism of 972



So with the ambiguously liberal-left nouveau Israeli journalists that labor in the galleys of +972 magazine, it’s perpetually one step forward, then twenty three steps back. On a good week, they’re publishing something ripping into the despicable delusions of Israeli Peace Now-style liberalism. Yes! On a better week, they’re explaining the political economy and social bases of continued occupation. Better. And every week, they’re publishing reports from the spot-fires of civil resistance across the West Bank. Vital. On a bad week – this week – they’re publishing a piece that has exactly two differences from an Arutz Sheva piece calling Palestinians a bunch of gun-toting Koran-worshipping sand niggers, and those are that the guest-author uses a few polysyllables and makes a graceless effort to veil his racism. The culprit?Todd Gitlin. Here’s Gitlin:

On top of Tunisia and Egypt, it now looks as though—fingers crossed—a critical mass of Palestinians may, at last, be getting the point. When they blow people up, they manufacture panic and hatred, and lock themselves up. They forfeit the initiative. When they act en masse with what Gandhi called satyagraha, soul force, they seize the initiative. If the Palestinian national movement had begun with disciplined nonviolence, it would have achieved statehood by now.

Where to start? That the Egyptian demonstrators were hardened in the crucible of solidarity protests in support of the 2nd Intifada? That the Palestinians have a proud history of non-violent protest, and that the overwhelmingly non-violent 1st intifada could never have overcome Israeli power? That when “soul force” meets a gun it dies the same as when a weaker gun meets a bigger gun? Or with the simply historically illiterate, colonially arrogant, sociologically bereft claim that the failures of the Palestinian national movement lie in its failure to start off with “disciplined nonviolence”?

Resistance when facing a stronger enemy is a matter of making it cheaper for him to compromise his goals or accept your claims than to pursue his own maximal goals. After the shattering of the Palestinian economy during the 1936-1939 revolt, during which British concessions occurred in response to riots and violence, not Gandhian revolt, the Palestinian national movement lacked the strength to prevent Zionist expansionism. The non-existence of the Palestinian state is not a moral failure of the Palestinian people. One could go on, but Gitlin himself is not, in this context, what’s important.

In fact, what’s important is not even ripping into the Western fetishization of Palestinian non-violence, although that is an issue. The Palestinian civil resistance is powerful, ennobling, and has real potential. That’s clear. The problem is +972, whose writers/editors simply cannot shake off the arrogance of the colonial racist culture into which they were born and which conditions them to publish this simply insulting non-sense from a hack American sociologist whose most important contribution to the intellectual culture would be to staple his fingers to his mouth. Oh and the symbolic violence of this prose troubles you? It troubles me to see the professor descending from Morningside Heights and lecturing people about how to resist the violence he pays for, and to see him given a platform by self-described leftists.

I want to like +972. I want their writers to stop screwing up. I want them to join fully their society’s radical left and jolt their insane society out of the path to regional destruction that it has set out before it. Which of those things are possible or impossible is not a choice for me to make. Insofar as it’s a choice at all, it’s a choice for them to make. Throw Gitlin in the trash bin. Stop pining for respectability from scoundrels. And make it.

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