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Why is United for Peace and Justice ignoring the key issues?
Time to shake up the movement

April 28, 2006 | Page 12

STANLEY HELLER is chairperson of the Middle East Crisis Committee and host of its weekly TV news program that can be seen on the Internet at He is a member of the organizing committee of Connecticut United for Peace. This article first appeared April 13 on the CounterPunch Web site.

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IN WHAT country will a huge peace coalition hold an antiwar rally that has nothing to say about Iran, Israel and Palestine or Afghanistan? Is the answer Israel? Turkey? Micronesia?

Sadly, it's the USA. On April 29, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) is holding a big demonstration in New York City called "March for Peace, Justice and Democracy." The only "peace" demand mentioned is bringing troops home from Iraq. There isn't even going to be a rally, just a march and a "festival."

The silence about Iran is staggering. On April 9, the Washington Post reported on U.S. military planning for an attack. It includes this sentence, "Pentagon planners are studying how to penetrate eight-foot-deep targets and are contemplating tactical nuclear devices."

Contemplating? We're not talking about mediation here, but dropping "tactical" Hiroshima-size atomic bombs. And UFPJ has nothing to say. The conventional wisdom smugly says this is all a bluff--that with all the losses in Iraq and sagging polls at home, Bush would be crazy to attack Iran.

But Sy Hersh reports (New Yorker, April 17, 2006) that a government consultant with ties to the Pentagon told him "that the President believes that he must do what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

"Mission" is part of Bush's "reborn" personality. Remember, he seriously believes that he was chosen by God to be president. Who is going to stop him? The non-cooperation of France and Germany of 2003 is a thing of the past. Russia and China? Can anyone believe that these money-sotted regimes would put up any opposition to a U.S. full court press?

How about the U.S. Congress? Hersh reports that the White House briefings of the leadership are underway and the only questions that are being raised are: "How are you sure you can hit the targets deep enough?"

What about the Democrats? Kerry and Obama tried to win the macho crowd by claiming in 2004 that Bush wasn't taking a hard enough line on Iran. They're not about to change their spots now. Lieberman? He's probably signing his name on the nukes themselves.

The peace movement seems paralyzed by the charge that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Never mind that Scott Ritter, who was dead right about Iraq's WMDs, has said repeatedly in interviews and speeches that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, or that the IAEA officials have no evidence of such a program. Never mind that the U.S. has thousands of nuclear weapons that could holocaust Iran in minutes. Never mind that Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons pointed at Tehran.

Oops, I mentioned Israel. UFPJ doesn't want to say anything about it. Condemn "unending oil war," and that's the beginning and ending of analysis. The Christian Zionists who see a Jewish conquest of Palestine as the start of Aramageddon? They don't really matter. AIPAC, which draws half the Senate and a third of the House to their blood-curdling conventions? Not really worth mentioning--not even the 2006 gathering which was devoted to demands that the U.S. "take care" of Iran. Bush himself has stated, "We will use military might to protect our ally Israel," but why get into that?

And those pesky Palestinians. Yes, they have their troubles, but why mention them in an antiwar movement? As if Israeli war-mongering wasn't based on its apartheid-like oppression of Palestinians. As if an Israeli official hadn't publicly said that wiping out Saddam would help Israel impose a new "order" on the Palestinians. As if the al-Qaeda killers haven't tried to adopt the Palestinian cause as their own.

Bringing up Palestine in connection with the war will just alienate us from those thousands and thousands of Israel partisans, who are just itching to join the movement once we get rid of our "anti-Semitism." Uh-huh.

Unstated in the UFPJ rally call is a rush to the Democrats. After grassroots activists pushed the UFPJ and ANSWER coalitions into having one successful giant demonstration on September 24, 2005, UFPJ passed a resolution to never work with ANSWER again!

Instead, it found new allies in liberal environmental groups, feminists and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH coalition. Jesse Jackson, father confessor to war criminal Clinton, is going to teach us morality. Grand. Dump all the bleeding hearts who sympathize with the Arabs and Muslims, and the Dems will pick up votes in the heartland.

Well, in Connecticut, this strategy of pandering to the so-called center has been tried, and it's failed. We in Connecticut have had a statewide umbrella group, Connecticut United for Peace, that for over three years has run the large statewide demonstrations. We're members of UFPJ, but years ago we formally decided that the oppression of Palestinians was intimately tied up with the war and have mentioned it in all our rallies.

We started making plans for this year's March 18 rally last November, and we held two ultra-democratic votes about the demonstration's demands. Anyone who showed up at the meetings could vote. In November, we proposed the slogan "End Israeli occupation and apartheid." We also had slogans for immigrant rights, opposition to persecution of Muslims and rejection of war with Iran.

At our final meeting in January (with 125 in attendance), a number of people demanded a single-issue rally, totally about Iraq, saying by going for the lowest common denominator we'd get labor, the Democrats and antiwar Jews.

The majority wouldn't go for it. We weren't going to abandon the immigrants and Muslims, and we'd be fools not to mention Iran, but we figured the real sticking point was Palestine. So we offered a compromise. Instead of the slogan "End Israeli occupation and apartheid," we offered the vague "Justice for the Palestinian people."

People voted for the compromise by a large majority. Still, the very notion that the Palestinians were the victims was too much for some and others were afraid of offending the Democratic Party and the Democratic Party-oriented labor leaders.

So the Israel apologists, the Peace Council and some labor leaders went off and did their own thing. They held a rally on March 19, a day after ours, and formed a group with the acronym COW, Connecticut Opposes War.

On March 18, we marched 20 blocks from a largely Latino neighborhood and held a rally on the New Haven Green that, according to the Associated Press, attracted 1,000. We think it was larger. Perhaps 10 percent were Muslim and Palestinians. We had pro-immigrant speakers in English and Spanish and a section of the Green with Spanish translators. It was a great demo, but we had expected double that number to attend and we blame it mostly on the split.

So how well did the splitters do on the 19th in Hartford? Politically the rally sucked. It was two blocks from Sen. Lieberman's office, and none of the speakers denounced Lieberman. Neither Democrat Ned Lamont, who was challenging Lieberman for antiwar reasons, nor Ralph Ferrucci, who was running as a Green, were invited to speak. The only chant was this embarrassing bleat: "We are Americans. This is our country." Imagine, after three years of the war they still think we have to defend our patriotism?

All the speeches denounced one person and one person only, George Bush. As if the Democrats hadn't pushed for the war enthusiastically and as if they weren't still supporting it. Iran was mentioned in one sentence. And, of course, they didn't say a word about Israel's constant pressure for war against Iraq and Iran or the fact that Gaza is now without flour.

But the bottom line is numbers. Did they draw out the "silent majority"? No. Their rally was about the same size as ours (and included many of our people). It was hardly the breakthrough that COW was predicting. There were a dozen Democratic state legislators.

As for labor, state AFL-CIO President John Olsen spoke, and there was a sizeable presence by SEIU 1199, maybe 50 or so union officials and members. That was about it. Organized Jewish presence was invisible. No one saw a single sign from a Jewish organization, and only one person objected to the tons of pro-Palestinian rights literature we gave out.

On the other hand, whatever was gained from the "middle" was lost from the fact that Muslims were conspicuous by their absence. The COW strategy is a model for what shouldn't be attempted on April 29th. We have three weeks. Something has to be done to change the political direction of UFPJ.

Ignoring Iran is madness. Abandoning Muslims and Palestinians is disgraceful. Silence about Israel is inexcusable. We need to pressure the out-of-touch UFPJ leadership. We need public statements, petitions and a ton of e-mails to the UFPJ steering committee. Tell them to change the demands, hold a rally and get speakers who'll talk about all the realities of the war.

View and sign an online petition or e-mail your concerns to UFPJ at [email protected].

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