PEOPLE IN CLASS HOUSES
As a member of the working class, I make less money than I did in the 1970s. Back then I also had medical and dental coverage, vacation pay and sick leave. There was a union for warehouse men, and we shipped merchandise made in Amer ica. In response to Walter Mosley’s “Show Me the Money” [Dec. 18] one must look as far back as James Madison and as near as our current plutocratic government. Our country was founded on the Madisonian principle that the people are too dangerous to wield power. To keep order the rich minority must keep the working-poor majority fragmented and separated from decision-making. As long as there is an excess of the poor, wages will be driven lower, and people of all colors will fight among themselves, not against the system.
I come from an impoverished Irish family and my dad used to talk about the “race riots” of the 1960s and say, “See? That’s what we all need to be doing in this country. Maybe then people would wake up and shake up–things might change.” Like many, he ended up defeated, losing his passion in drink.
Most people don’t understand poverty. They think (like Reagan) people choose it, or it’s their own fault–they deserve to be in the boat they’re in. I’m grateful for Mosley’s voice in The Nation, a trustworthy source of information I can afford. Thanks for the dignity and respect.
Robert S. Boynton correctly notes one fallacy at the heart of Walter Benn Michaels’s The Trouble With Diversity: Race does matter, and it cannot and should not be replaced with class [“The Plot Against Equality,” Dec. 25]. Yet, as Walter Mosley wrote here just a week earlier, class also matters. Boynton dismisses scholars who study working-class culture as “sentimental” about poverty; but “class” does not equal “poverty.”
As Mosley points out, most Americans are working-class, and–as scholars like Jack Metzgar, Nan Enstad, Annette Lareau, Robin Kelley and others have shown–working-class culture is not defined by failure and lack. As we have argued in New Working-Class Studies, we need to take class as seriously as other social categories. Class matters–as do race, gender, sexuality and other categories–but none should be privileged over the others. Nor should any be erased.
SHERRY LINKON, JOHN RUSSO, co-directors
Center for Working-Class Studies,
Youngstown State University
‘A TWO-PRONGED STRATEGY’ IN ISRAEL
Bashir Abu-Manneh’s criticisms of my book One Country [“In Palestine, a Dream Deferred,” Dec. 18] would have been more relevant if he had actually reviewed the book rather than what he apparently assumed was in it. He suggests that my advocacy of a single state for Palestinians and Israelis with mechanisms to allow ethnic communities autonomous decision-making power amounts to a “shortcut around the struggle against the occupation” and wonders, “Is it fair to ask 3.5 million occupied Palestinians to wait for redress of their daily sufferings and national humiliation until there is sufficient support among both peoples for a binational solution?” Absolutely not.
I clearly argue for a two-pronged strategy: urgent and escalating resistance to the outcome that Israel is trying to impose on the Palestinians but in conjunction with creating a vision for what comes after this struggle, both for Israelis and Palestinians, that is more convincing, attractive and just than the unachievable yet comforting fantasy of hermetic separation. Abu-Manneh wonders how if “Palestinians have been struggling to no avail to implement the much less demanding two-state solution,” they can ever hope to bring about a one-state solution. Yet nowhere does he actually engage with the answers I provide to this central question, as well as my rebuttals to key assumptions within it, particularly the claim that the two-state solution is indeed the most practicable. I argue that the military, economic and diplomatic strength that allows Israel a veto on a minimally fair and workable territorial division can be rendered powerless (or at least much less effective) in a struggle that is aimed not at dividing the land but providing equal rights to all who live in it.
Abu-Manneh views Israeli opposition to a single state as an immovable object. Perhaps it is, but then no more than Israeli opposition to a two-state solution, which continues in practice through relentless colonization of additional West Bank land. I emphatically acknowledge that “any serious argument for an Israeli-Palestinian democracy in a single state must confront the reality that, at present, Israeli Jews, overall, are deeply hostile to the idea.”
Hence my chapter on South Africa does not focus on the postapartheid constitution as a model for Israel-Palestine. Rather, I offer an analysis of the conditions that allowed Afrikaners, who, like Israeli Jews, overwhelmingly opposed a single democratic state in their own country, to eventually embrace that idea, abandoning the exclusionary worldview that had defined their policies for decades. While acknowledging that Palestinians face perhaps a greater challenge than South Africans confronted with apartheid, I argue that there are lessons to be learned from their struggle. I do not argue, as Abu-Manneh seems to suggest, that economic relations between South African whites and blacks on the one hand, and Israelis and Palestinians on the other, are identical. Abu-Manneh asserts that “the creation of a single democratic state is not a pressing demand for most Palestinians.” The evidence I provide challenging this conventional position is open to debate, but Abu-Manneh does not even address it.
There are other ways that unwary readers may mistake the carelessness of the review for carelessness in my own analysis, as when Abu- Manneh writes, “Nor does it make sense to describe the Israeli-Palestinian relationship as ‘intertwined,’ as Abunimah often puts it.” In fact the word appears five times in specific contexts that Abu-Manneh conflates into a straw man that he then knocks down. Abu-Manneh accuses me of ignoring the long history of binational thought among Israeli Jews and Palestinians. Of course I do discuss this, but if not in the detail he would have liked, it is because my book is not a history. I agree absolutely with his conclusion that “if the binational idea remains largely divorced from politics, it has no legs to stand on.” That is why I wrote One Country, to make this necessary reconnection.
New York City
My review of One Country makes two main criticisms. One: that Abunimah’s binational idea has no political constituency or support in Israel-Palestine. Two: that his core notion of Israeli-Palestinian “intertwining,” which he utilizes as an argument against national separation, is premised on a flawed analysis of the situation in the West Bank and Gaza since 1991, when Israel instituted its policy of closure. I also argue that advocating binationalism today is effectively asking the Palestinians to continue to suffer under occupation for a very long time indeed. And this at a time when an overwhelming majority of them support a national resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the creation of a sovereign and independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as capital in accordance with the international consensus on Israel-Palestine rejected by both the United States and Israel.
For Abunimah, as he states in his letter, this international consensus about separation is an “unachievable yet comforting fantasy”: Partition is impossible, he argues. Why? Because all previous attempts at peace have failed (news to no one) and the colonization of the West Bank is irreversible: Settlements are “an irreversible reality.” As he states in his book: “Palestinians do not have the political or material strengths to stop the settlements and walls that have rendered a two-state solution unworkable”; and: “there seems to be no constellation of internal or external forces that will push Israel out of the West Bank against its will.” So Abunimah concludes from this that Palestinians should abandon their struggle for national self-determination and construct a “moral” struggle for “individual rights” and democracy within a binational state. For “diaspora Palestinians” like himself, he revealingly states, who are “long accustomed to transience and movement,” nationalism “has lost its luster.” If only the Palestinians can now be as inclusive as the ANC, Abunimah wishes: “build a consensus around a clear, simple, and inclusive alternative like the Freedom Charter” and “Israel’s arguments are powerless in a struggle that is not about winning territory but securing democratic rights for all.”
Such naïve moralizing misses the point I emphasized in my review: What was possible in South Africa has proven to be far less possible in Israel-Palestine. The reason is not Palestinian nationalism, as Abunimah charges, but the nature of Zionism itself. Unlike South African apartheid, Zionism is an exclusionary settler colonialism and has sought to dispense with rather than exploit the indigenous population. As Mona Younis argues: “While the majority of both whites and Jews were committed to exclusionary states in South Africa and Israel…the economic inclusion of Africans in South Africa permitted an inclusionary vision that had the potential of gaining support from significant sections of whites…Palestinian exclusion obviated this possibility in Israel.” How can Abunimah expect bantustanized Palestinians to produce the same out come of a one-state democracy in a situation where they are banished and cut off from their oppressors’ structures? Where are Palestine’s townships and labor movements, and where is Israel’s Joe Slovo and his ANC-allied Communist Party, which had the support of a sizable and influential minority of whites?
This is why I felt it would have been worthwhile for Abunimah to consider the history of binationalism in Israel-Palestine more closely. It may have helped determine why binationalism has been such a weak and marginal option and explain why it has had such little support among Palestinians and none among Israelis.
But Abunimah cares little about popular opinion. He is unrealistic in proposing a solution that has zero support among Israelis rather than advocating a solution that has their majority support (negotiated peace) or at least their 34 percent support (withdrawal to 1967 lines) and is backed by an international consensus. If Abunimah has spent a lot of time objecting to the feasibility of the two-state solution, he spends far too little time appreciating why after forty years of Israeli colonization, rejectionism and demonization of Palestinians there still remains such solid support in Israel for ending the occupation. Any real advocacy would choose to work with a realistic political program as an initial step in resolving the conflict rather than with wishful thinking.
JUST ONE QUESTION
Regarding John Leonard’s 3,360-word review of Thomas Pynchon’s 1,085-page book [“Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind,” Dec. 11]: Yeah, but is it any good?