Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Changing Priorities Of Protest

The Changing Face Of Protest: In marked contrast to the theologically- and ideologically-driven protest movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, contemporary protest, like this demonstration against the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, tends to be led by those whose stake in the identified violation of individual and/or collective identity is perceived to be the greatest. Photograph by GPJA.

PROTESTS against Israel’s latest invasion of Gaza are gathering momentum. In Auckland the rallies and marches of the last two Saturdays have drawn thousands to Aotea Square and Queen Street. Hundreds more have marched in Wellington. More action is planned. The protest organisers are now vowing to rally and march every Saturday until the Israeli Defence Force ceases its assault upon the beleaguered Palestinian enclave.
Viewed from an historical perspective these protests would appear, at least superficially, to conform to the templates laid down by the protest movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Like the current movement in support of the Palestinian people, the movements against sporting contacts with Apartheid South Africa, nuclear weapons, and the war in Vietnam grew out of New Zealanders’ conscientious objection to conflicts flaring far beyond their country’s shores.
The prime movers of these earlier protests were drawn, overwhelmingly, from the churches, the trade unions and the universities. For the most part their motivation was straightforward moral revulsion. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960; the nuclear war-gamers’ apocalyptic doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction; the technology-driven carnage being visited upon the Vietnamese; all of these horrors stirred into action the muscular Christian ideals which, ever since the days of the Church Missionary Society, have played such an influential role in shaping New Zealand society.
Inevitably there was an element of smug condescension in these demonstrations of Christian charity. In the warm glow of the post-war boom many New Zealanders believed their little country came about as close to social perfection as it was possible to get in an imperfect world. With its “exemplary” race relations, its cradle-to-grave welfare state and its convenient amnesia concerning the nation’s disgraceful colonial conduct in Samoa, “progressive” New Zealand felt entirely justified in protesting against the rest of the world’s moral delinquency. How could “God’s Own Country” do less?
Playing the part of yeast in all this liberal Christian white-bread were the tiny communist parties. To the worthy moralism of the churches these Marxist missionaries added the sharp-edged arguments of socialist anti-imperialism. Though they were careful never to say so directly, implicit in their criticism of New Zealand’s diplomatic and military allegiances was the clear suggestion that we had taken up our position on the wrong side – not just of the Cold War but of History itself.
Wielding influence out of all proportion to their numbers, the communists would have been even more persuasive if their loyalties had not been divided between the gospels of Lenin, Mao and Leon Trotsky. The intensity of the struggles waged by the Communist Party of New Zealand (Beijing) against the Socialist Unity Party (Moscow) and by the Workers Communist League (Mao) against the Socialist Action League (Trotsky) rivalled that directed against the running-dogs of Capitalism themselves!
But regardless of whether the deities they worshipped were religious or secular, the leaders of New Zealand’s protest movements shared a common assumption that their respective doctrines were universally applicable. Black or White, Male or Female – everyone was welcome in God’s Kingdom/the Proletarian Paradise. What united human-beings was more important than what divided them.
It was only after the most convulsive protests in New Zealand history: the Springbok Tour Protests of 1981; that these universalist assumptions began to be challenged. Maori demanded to know what middle-class Pakehas could possibly know about racial and colonial oppression. Women wondered how men who preached racial equality could be so blind to inequality between the sexes. Gays struggled to make the straight world understand how oppressive a universal definition of sexuality could be.
The things that divided human-beings were important too. The new left-wing catechism now held that people define themselves less by the qualities they share with everybody else than by the attributes peculiar to themselves and those similarly identified: gender; ethnicity; sexuality; nationality; religion.
In this, the age of identity politics, protest activity operates according to a very different set of rules. The idea that New Zealanders per se might launch a series of nationwide protests inspired simply by Israel’s abrogation of universal moral values would quickly be challenged by persons and groups representative of the people most directly involved. In the case of Gaza and in descending order: by Palestinians; fellow Arabs and Muslims; people similarly victimised by imperialist oppression; and only then by “ordinary” New Zealanders – who must, of course, acknowledge the leadership and political objectives of those at the summit of the identity hierarchy.
And so the anti-Israeli protesters chant “Palestine will be free – from the river to the sea!” And no one who expects to be invited back dreams of asking: “Free in what way? Do you mean two free and independent states living side-by-side in peace? Or, do you mean that from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean, Palestine will be free of Jews?”
Because there’s a big difference.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 29 July 2014.


Tiger Mountain said...

The only conditions for marching in support are not reacting physically to provocation from bystanders or organised pro Israeli factions and no anti Semitic signs or attitudes–hard to enforce, but jews have spoken at the rallies and got good receptions as have aged holocaust survivors overseas who are supporting the Palestinian cause.

To your punchline Chris; what the solution is to Israeli apartheid is not directly part of the protests yet though obviously the original organisers* and todays small communist groups have some idea. Even a version of the old PLO one state solution has surfaced again online which would basically require the state of Israel be dis-established with the population minus the hardcore zionists remaining in a new Palestine.

It is interesting that over half of the marchers appear to be of mid East descent in addition to the kiwis appalled on a human level at Gaza’s ‘ghetto’.
The overseas marches are huge and the BDS is gaining mainstream traction.

*New Zealand Palestine Solidarity Network, Palestine Human Rights Campaign, Global Peace and Justice Auckland, Kia Ora Gaza, BDS Wellington, Canterbury for Justice in Palestine, Auckland University Students for Justice in Palestine.

Richard Christie said...

Ah well, I suppose that's a history lesson.
still, thankfully we've moved on from framing everything worthwhile in a warm Christian glow of godliness.
Decent morals are universal, supernatural beings are not required.

Brendan McNeill said...

Free of Jews, if you read the Hamas charter:


The Charter identified Hamas as the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine and declares its members to be Muslims who "fear God and raise the banner of Jihad in the face of the oppressors." The charter states that "our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious" and calls for the eventual creation of an Islamic state in Palestine, in place of Israel and the Palestinian Territories,[2] and the obliteration or dissolution of Israel.[3][4] The charter also states that Hamas is humanistic, and tolerant of other religions as long as they "stop disputing the sovereignty of Islam in this region".[5] The Charter adds that "renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion" of Islam.[1]

So how does Israel reach a negotiated settlement with a people whose founding charter denies their right to exist?

Yes, there have been injustices stemming from the displacement of Arabs from Palestine in 1948, just as there are injustices flowing from any war.

I'm of Irish descent. Would I be justified in hating the British over the events of 'Bloody Sunday' circa 1972? Would I be justified in launching rocket attacks against them, assuming I had the capacity?

When does any people stop being refugees held captive to past hatreds and move on?

Has the world fogotten Israels withdawl from Gaza just nine years ago, photos of settleers being dragged away from their homes and places of worship?

What have the Palestinians done with that land - land containing 300 glass houses, and a vibrant export industry?

They buldozed the glass houses, and elected Hamas. Rather than build roads, rail and infrastructure, they built underground tunnels, purchased rockets, and began yet another conflict against the Jews, the hated enemy of all Islam.

Go figure.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan, as usual you are shooting from the lip. I would say one of the biggest obstacles to the recognition of Israel, is the actual size of the recognised state. 1948 boundaries? 1967? All the land they have stolen in the last few years? That's an old canard about Hamas Brendan, because no one is ever actually been able to get the Israelis to define what they mean by Israel. They refused to do it until somebody recognises their right to exist. Impasse.
Secondly, Israel did not withdraw from Gaza as such. They certainly didn't coordinate with anyone about pulling out the troops, and left it pretty much in the state of chaos. They reserved the right to control what goes in and what comes out, to restrict fishing rights, to restrict overflights. Gaza is as someone has pointed a prison camp.
Yes the Gazans elected Hamas, the critical word of course is elected. They may or may not elect them again but that is their choice. And to be honest, I think I might have voted for them given the corruption of the Palestinian authority at the time, and the lack of action against the occupying power.
Your last statement is complete rubbish. Muslims are not necessarily anti-Semitic. Research has shown that Israel's policies have a huge effect on anti-Semitism. Even among Christians.
Hamas offered a ten-year truce if the restrictions on Gaza had been lifted, and had not fired any rockets into Israel for at least 2 years – indeed they had arrested people who did. Yet when 3 Israelis children were murdered, Israel went on a rampage and arrested hundreds and destroyed houses and other property . That's when the rockets started.
Funny, when a Palestinian youth was killed in revenge, not an Israeli house was touched. It's this sort of thing that fuels the rage against Israel. Not just anti-Semitism.

Barry said...

It looks to me that MORE than half of them are of Middle Eastern descent.(Tiger Mountain at 13:59 today.)

Victor said...


I have several cousins in Israel and (Iron Dome notwithstanding)am concerned for their safety at this time of tragedy and danger.

I'm also a longstanding critic of most of Israel's policies with respect to the territories it occupied in 1967. And I plead guilty to being a dogmatic "Two State Solution" supporter, having been so since the very early 1970s, when I first read Uri Avnery's "Israel without Zionism".

But I think it would be unfair to assume that everyone who rejects the Two State Solution necessarily wants a Palestine that's "Judenrein".

I've come across many people (not all of them hopelessly naive or ignorant) who believe that a unitary state would be the best possible way forward for both peoples. Amongst this number are quite a few of my fellow Jews.

I don't agree with them but I also acknowledge that both the time and space for a Two State settlement might be rapidly running out, as Israel continues with its settlement policies unabated and as so much of the rest of the Middle East succumbs to various streams of Islamist extremism.

Shalom Aleichem, Sala'am Aleychum, Pax Vobiscum.

Anonymous said...

I've come across many people (not all of them hopelessly naive or ignorant) who believe that a unitary state would be the best possible way forward for both peoples.

The justification for the One State Solution is fairly straightforward: it essentially holds that Israel has rendered any Palestinian state non-viable, so rather than obsessing about creating a new Palestinian homeland, the better strategy would be to aim for Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza to have full civil rights within the current Israeli state.

Which, demographically, means that Israel would become a biracial state, but Israel should have thought of that before it crushed the Palestinians' ability to operate a functional state.

jh said...

Communists might have been busy but it was Labour that made the changes that see the camels in Queen Street.
David Round makes the point that one of the unspoken fears of NZ getting binding referenda is that it will threaten the influence of the liberal elite who dominate politics. He suggests that the people aren't always that silly (wisdom of crowds).
Bring it on , I say. We have had far too much tail- wagging - dog.

jh said...

Playing the part of yeast in all this liberal Christian white-bread were the tiny communist parties. To the worthy moralism of the churches these Marxist missionaries added the sharp-edged arguments of socialist anti-imperialism.
Ah yes, they argue there is no such thing as a Pakeha ethnicity (it is based on mimicry and selective amnesia) but blood doesn't matter when it comes to being Maori as it is a matter of choice .
We pay these academics to undermine our interests.

jh said...

One of the problems with universalism is not seeing the big biological picture (which includes population).
I remember a TV drama where some Brits broke down the walls between their houses and walled them up again.

Ennui said...

Yes Chris, be careful what we wish for. We really are into the region of the "sins of our fathers", which in this country has resulted in the Treaty process. We cannot redress the past however without reference to the present and future.

Israel and the Jewish issue fall into the same camp. There are several generations of Israelis, if not Israel where are they to live? If they leave how will the historic "Jewish issue" be resolved? How is the dispossession of Palestine from its native people to be resolved? So many more questions.

It really illustrates why it was so necessary for NZ to go down the Treaty path before things got out of hand. I still hope that it is not too late for the Palestinians and Israelis to seek the common good together. They no longer have the luxury of a separate future.

Charles Etherington said...

Yes well said Ennui, except the Jews are also native to the same place. It's as if the Maori were an ancient nation here long long ago but then were mostly killed or thrown out of here by another people and eventually returned stronger and took over the whole show, shoving aside others who were here too for eons or have come since. Both peoples can claim native rights, which hardly helps I know. But it sure means they have to live together in two states or a federation. One state does not, and clearly never will float.

Victor said...


"The justification for the One State Solution is fairly straightforward: it essentially holds that Israel has rendered any Palestinian state non-viable"

I agree that we are rapidly approaching that point. However, the justification for a Two State Solution is that these two peoples cannot live together under the same government in anything approaching equal numbers.

Last time it was tried, it took 100,000 British squaddies to keep an uneasy and frequently fractured peace. It would take a lot more armed outsiders next time around, following nearly seven decades of fructifying hatred.

As far as I'm concerned, a Two State Solution may be almost impossible but a One State Solution is absolutely impossible.

So, I continue to pump for two states, though it gets harder and harder by the hour.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Israel has clearly buggered up any chance of a 2 state solution by stealing more and more land. I can't see any solution at the moment. I would hope that Palestinians would eventually adopt the tactics of Gandhi and simply walk over the border in hundreds of thousands. Unarmed. I bet the Israeli government dreads that particular reaction. Probably why they keep the pot stirred so much.

David said...

When I was younger, I thought that anti Jewish repression was started by the Nazi's. I've seen a documentary, "Constantine's Sward" and was appalled that the hatred towards the Jews has been going on probably two thousand years. Jews have been repressed, dispossessed, and killed in their thousands all over Europe from the time of the Romans.

I was challenged to go on a march recently & declined. There was an almost unspoken antisemitism undercurrent going on with some of the people involved. Protesting against Israel for me is problematic. I believe we must recognize the right for the Jewish homeland of Israel to exist. Otherwise we are just continuing this thousands of years of repression of the Jewish people.

Perhaps this ancient history of repression & genocide is a driver for Jews to want, and fight, and die, for their own homeland. Perhaps for them it is better to die fighting, than to be herded into cattle trucks and be taken to the slaughter.

Frank said...

"I'm of Irish descent. Would I be justified in hating the British over the events of 'Bloody Sunday' circa 1972? Would I be justified in launching rocket attacks against them, assuming I had the capacity?"

Brendan, when the British start bombing Dublin and attacking Irish women and children in schools, and hospitals - then come back to us.

Until then, your apologism for Israel is meaningless because supporting the bully who wields a f*****g big stick is never a good look. Don't expect to garner much sympathy.

Perhaps the reason why "extrmist" (and I use that term loosely) groups like Hamas thrive is because of aggressive, repressive policies such as Israel exerts over Gaza and West Bank.

Seriously, mate, you can't be seriously expecting the Palestinian people to show love and adoration to a neighbouring state that blockades them; builds settlements on their land; and sets up street parties to watch the bombing of helpless men, women and children like some kind of Hollywood entertainment?!

If that's what you support, then maybe you should reflect on your "values".

Frank said...

"I was challenged to go on a march recently & declined. There was an almost unspoken antisemitism undercurrent going on with some of the people involved..."

David , I attended the Wellington Peace March on 27 July, and covered kit for "The Daily Blog" (and my own blog, "Frankly Speaking").

I saw nil evidence of any "undercurrent of anti-semitism".

Not. One. Jot. Or. Word. Spoken.

However, I did snap a pic of this; https://fmacskasy.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/palestine-gaza-israel-war-crimes-26-july-2014-wellington-israeli-embassy-46.jpg