A letter worth pondering

January 18, 2010

In News

Dear Dr Finkelstein,

My name in Jermaine, and I am writing you from London. We met some time ago: I work at Hatchards Bookshop in London, and you were kind enough to sign the copies of your books that I brought to SOAS, a number of months back. You may be pleased to know that I was able to sell all of them, but this email, which I will attempt to keep brief, is about something else that has been concerning me for some time.

I am concerned with how the cause of freeing the Palestinian people is being rhetorically packaged as a message, at least here in the UK. I am not a Socialist myself, and I do not wish to make my personal political worldview the topic of this email, but as a person who might be (vomit-inducingly) referred to by some as a member of the ‘mainstream’, I have to say that I am confused by the tactics of the various Socialist, and Communist organisations here that are, without a doubt, the strongest voices for the Palestinian cause. I fear that so long as freeing the Palestinians is regarded by the ‘mainstream’ public as a Leftist, Socialist, or radical cause, we have very little hope of making timely progress.

To illustrate my sentiments more clearly, I would like to draw your attention for a moment to the various pro-freedom marches here in London, which I attend, and which pain me with their seeming lack of focus or seriousness. I am at a loss to understand why the Socialist, and Communist groups, which are often the very groups organising these marches, find it necessary to wave red flags, hammers and sickles, and ‘Capitalism Isn’t Working’ placards at an event which is, ostensibly, meant to raise awareness and increase public support for the Palestinian cause. A quintessential example of this is a placard printed by the Socialist Worker which has ‘Socialist Worker’ in bold at the top, and ‘Freedom For Palestine’ underneath. I cannot sufficiently express my frustration when I see such things, and it makes me wonder whether these groups care more about promoting Socialism than they do about ending the Israeli occupation. Would Josiah Wedgewood have printed ‘Slaves of the West Indies Unite’ next to ‘Am I Not a Man and a Brother?’

In mentioning the slave-trade, I wonder whether you feel that we could be learning more from the tactics of men like Wilberforce, and the rest of the Abolitionists, whose primary focus was to gain, and increase, mainstream support by emphasising basic principles of human rights, and packaging their message so as to make it palatable to as large an audience as possible.

I have followed your work very closely, and this seems to be your position; is this, then, a concern that you have, as well? I write, because of the influence you have on the movement, and the measure of ethos you have among members of the Left. Should we not be seeking to set political differences aside? As cliché as this sounds, people are dying, and it hurts me to see this movement continue with such ineffectiveness. I do what I can to promote your work to as many people as possible, but I am often defeated by people who simply will not accept it because they see the free-Palestine issue as a Socialist issue.

Finally, I thought that your lecture on Ghandi was an excellent example of the type of movement we should be embracing. I am sure that you know more about the Abolitionist movement than I, but if you are ever casting about for a lecture topic, I would presumptuously suggest borrowing from the library William Hague’s book, William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner. There are so many lessons for us in the history of the struggle to end the African Slave Trade, and slavery itself; if you agree with this observation, I think the movement could benefit tremendously from your sharing of this view with the various Socialist organisations, who, as I said, must be given the credit of being, despite any shortcomings, the most active political force in support of the Palestinian cause.

So, this was not so short an email after all,