Mondoweiss, Haymarket, the ISO, and BDS hypocrisy: Caterpillar’s dollars hard at work

No, it’s not the hypocrisy you’re thinking. It’s not the typical refrain: “Why target Israel when there are so many other brutal, colonialist states out there?” That would be far too simplistic. Activist campaigns always have to pick and choose which causes they rally behind, so it’s hardly a valid criticism to ask: “Why A, B, or C and not X, Y, or Z?” Some well-meaning individuals have raised objections along these lines, but frankly I think they’re missing the point.

Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions proceeds from the premise that Israel’s relation to Palestine is roughly analogous to the white Afrikaaner regime’s relation to the black population of South Africa. Moshe Machover, once a member of the now-disbanded Israeli socialist group Matzpen, has shown fairly definitively that this analogy does not hold. Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, longtime critics of Israel, largely agree with Machover’s assessment, and question the BDS strategy for more or less the same reason. Besides, Western liberals like to flatter themselves with the idea that a similar campaign helped bring down apartheid back in the 1980s, but they exaggerate its effect. Sustained class struggle by major black unions in solidarity with poor white and Asian workers from the south — i.e., a secular democratic bi-national movement — ended this form of racial oppression. Not “Sun City” by Steve Van Zandt.

As for myself, while I’d like to see Zionism (and all forms of nationalism) smashed as much as the next guy, I’m skeptical whether BDS has anything more than symbolic value. The only part of it that has any traction right now is the boycotts part of it, by far the least effective component of the three-pronged program. Getting your local co-op to drop kibbutz-farmed organic couscous is not going to bring down the Israeli state. Considering IBM just invested close to a billion dollars buying the cybersecurity company Trusteer, and Israeli weapons sales last year topped $7,000,000,000.00, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. You can’t organize a civilian boycott of military surplus.

Technically, BDSers shouldn’t be using Facebook, either, given that the company acquired the Israeli startup Onavo back in 2013. It now runs a research and development department out of the Holy Land. Don’t despair, though: Myspace and Ello are still kosher. But how am I going to carbonate the blood of Christian children without a Sodastream ZOG-machine? Supporters will cite the hysteria of hasbara peddlers, apologists for the Israeli state, or maybe instead insist that the point is to raise awareness more than actually weaken “the Zionist entity.” Pretty weak tea, in my opinion.


Let’s assume for the sake of argument, however, that BDS is in fact an effective strategy and that it eventually will bring about the liberation of Palestine. A number of organizations on the Left profess that it will, and have pledged their support in solidarity with “Palestinian civil society” — an indeterminate hodgepodge of expat groups speaking on behalf of those still living in the Occupied Territories. For example, the progressive Jewish website Mondoweiss has made the case for a broad-based BDS coalition. One of its authors, Max Ajl, scolded Finkelstein for refusing to sign on to the campaign. Similarly, the blogger Richard Seymour has wagged his finger disapprovingly at Finkelstein for undermining BDS. One of the publications he contributes to on a fairly regular basis, the International Socialist Organization’s main organ Socialist Worker, has likewise condemned institutions that failed to withdraw their financial support for construction firms like Caterpillar. CAT is famous for selling its equipment to Israeli settlers, who then use it to bulldoze Palestinian homes (sometimes with residents still inside). Haymarket Books, which has a deal publishing the paperback editions of Brill’s Historical Materialism series and runs its Toledo Translation project, also promotes BDS

Readers of these outlets — Socialist Worker, Haymarket, and Mondoweiss — will be surprised to find out that the nonprofit which supplies the bulk of their funding, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change (or CERSC for short), has bought and sold Caterpillar stock itself. Despite their professed adherence to the strictures of BDS, these outlets have themselves profited from CAT’s business. No small sum, either: the CERSC bought 86 shares worth of Caterpillar for $4,906 and sold it for $7,655 ten months later. All in all, they cleared $2,749 in gains, an increase upwards of fifty percent. Pham Binh, an ex-member of the ISO, brought this to readers’ attention two years ago, but no statement or explanation has been forthcoming from any of the organizations tied to the nonprofit. Why not?

In any case, it’s nice to be reminded now and then of this hypocrisy when writers and supporters of these sites — Max Ajl, Andrew Ryder, Paul Heideman, and Aaron Hess, to name a few — heap scorn on me for daring to leak documents or publish accounts which show the ISO tried to cover up allegations of sexual misconduct by one of its senior members on the West Coast, or point out that Marxists don’t form trans-class alliances with homophobic religious groups that tolerate antisemites. Platypus, the group I used to belong to, may have had some ridiculous opinions expressed by its leaders on their private listserve, but at least it didn’t try to cover up rape or sexual abuse. Which is more than can be said for the ISO-US (see Comrade Daniel), the SWP-UK (see Comrade Delta), or Solidarity (according to some conversations with one of its former members, KDGD). My heart goes out to all my detractors: I’m just glad to see Caterpillar’s dollars hard at work.

20 thoughts on “Mondoweiss, Haymarket, the ISO, and BDS hypocrisy: Caterpillar’s dollars hard at work

  1. If isolation was a great technique, Cuba and North Korea would’ve caved decades ago. History suggests that if you want to change the world, engagement with it is your only option.

  2. Maybe Eric will get an invite to Chicago this July to read his parable about capital accumulation, and its dialectical transformation into its opposite, a multi-coloured, intersectional, identitarian flight of paradise (under workers’ control, of course):

      • Don’t want to say too much since we still run in the same circles.

        Paul just thinks he’s so fucking special that he can get away with anything. If you call him on his shit he plays it off like he’s just a weirdo, but it goes beyond that. If you see him around, just run out the door.

        Creep might be too strong for Aaron, just a complete bro.

    • I don’t know Paul Heideman that well, but I can personally testify that Aaron Hess is one of the most despicable people I’ve ever encountered. He’s hardly the “socialist” and “feminist” he pretends to be; if anything, he’s a hypocritical backstabbing a-hole who has no respect for women. You have to be very careful around him because he will act very charming and “warm” to your face, but is very abusive behind your back.

  3. This is very disingenuous coming from someone who cheered on a crackdown against Palestine solidarity activists. Try again while dismissing Palestinian resistance. That usually cuts to the chase to the liberal non-sense.

    Also note how you do not reference one Palestinian activist, thinker, or politician whom has brought forward the tactic of BDS from the civil society groups in occupied Palestine. I’m not attempting to do point-scoring here, but simply point out all against the apartheid analogy are part of the dynamic of those privileged in Israel. Seems that you may have some first-world tunnel vision you may have to deal with …

    • 1. I didn’t “cheer on” the government crackdown on Palestine solidarity activists. Rather, I expressed disdain for the groups they were alleged to support ⎯ namely the PFLP and FARC. The former murder innocent civilians at synagogues while the latter kidnap civilians and hold them for ransom. At the time, I had very sympathy for the FRSO-hard, which had called the cops on WIL comrades in Minneapolis just a couple years prior. Nevertheless, I was wrong, and have said as much (repeatedly). Clearly, the government was looking for any excuse to crack down on groups that challenge Israel’s violent colonial practices.

      2. How am I “part of the dynamic of those privileged in Israel,” simply by questioning the legitimacy of the apartheid analogy? I refused my “birthright” of “return” to a land I’ve never visited, preferring not to waste my time on a state-sponsored propaganda tour of the Holy Land. Chomsky, Finkelstein, and Machover are all Jewish, but not Israeli. Machover was practically chased out of Israel for his Marxist views. The actual political parties that operate in the Occupied Territories do not advocate BDS as a strategy. Only far-right conspiracy theory websites think Hamas is behind BDS.

      • Would you like a cookie for not partaking in a settler-colonial process?

        As well I am pointing out not that you are “part of the dynamic”, but that the people you listed critical of the apartheid analogy would still undoubtedly benefit from the apartheid regime in Israel if all (not just Machover) where in Israel because of their identity being Jewish. Not to say their opinion is not valid, but it’s not fair to simply list only Jewish scholars criticizing the apartheid analogy without letting Palestinians describe for themselves their lived reality as colonial subjects.

        Not all political parties in Gaza are Hamas and ban BDS action with the territory, it’s just hard to use BDS when you are in an open air ghetto. You may want to stop harping on Hamas so much if you can’t put yourself in their shoes on why they are defending themselves (not to excuse any of their reactionary politics what-so-ever). For the Occupied Territories, many civil groups, political organizations, and trade unions have signed up comprised of Palestinians leading the call, if you wanna ignore the Palestinian voice in this equation, go ahead.

  4. I once saw Paul Heideman furiously masturbating into a lager at HM London while screaming “Walter Benn Michaels isn’t even a sociologist!! Jihad against Walter Benn MIchaels!!!!”

  5. Please enlighten me as to what the SWP did wrong. I’ve always thought the whole “scandal” was, at best, a pathetic bit of posturing by identity politickers who want to destroy traditional socialism.

  6. You and Machover are wrong , The State Of Israel has to be smashed and we need a single Workers state from the River to the sea with the right of all Palestinian refugees to return. The analogy with South Africa and the Black Population prior to Apartheid is the correct position. Leon Trotsky argued this position in 1938 and the Spark the journal of South African Trotskyists in the WPSA The position of Jewish settlers is the same as white workers in South Africa, therefore as the National liberation movement fought out the battle to free South Africa from their white oppressors so the struggle to free Palestine is to support the Palestinian struggle and for the destruction of the state of Israel to be replaced with a Workers Republic from the River to the sea, any other demand is an adaption to the racist ideology of Zionism

  7. Pingback: Solidarity-US: Yet another dinosaur Marxist sect covers up rape allegations within its ranks | The Charnel-House

  8. The Renewal Faction published a whole thing about the ISO and CERSC which may be of interest:

    Incidentally, if you check the latest (FY2013) CERSC financial disclosure, you’ll notice that they accepted $10K from the Unz Foundation, run by the infamous “English only” kook Ron Unz. He’s some kind of right-wing anti-Zionist. Apparently Unz had a prior relationship with Mondoweiss that CERSC “inherited” when the former became a CERSC project. These people are long, long past having any principles around money.

Leave a Reply