Commentary: Supporting Peace Has Different Interpretations By THOM SEATON

Tuesday August 09, 2005

The pages of this paper have overflowed with typographical adamancy bemoaning the changes in a cherished Berkeley commission devoted to “peace and justice”—the mother and apple pie of Berkeley politics. Some have pointed to a Zionist cabal which, with Beth El, appear to comprise our local axis of evil. It is inspiring to mourn and honor those dead Jews who perished in the Holocaust, but apparently those live ones can sure cause problems.  

I have been a member of the commission for three years and one of those described as an enemy of peace whose presence on the commission blasphemes Berkeley’s ideals. Let me offer my demurrer.  

As the religious right has too successfully appropriated the term “family values,” while advocating programs which too often undermined family strength, I became concerned prior to my appointment that a Berkeley faction had appropriated for itself the term “peace,” although the policies it advocated were inconsistent with human rights and the “peaceful resolution of conflicts”—to use the phrase adopted by this paper’s editor. This faction appeared only to favor peace when the United States or its allies resorted to war or violence. But when a peaceful resolution of conflicts meant ceasing an armed struggle to overthrow “oppression,” peace was descried as a tactic by the powerful to keep the downtrodden at bay. When it came to human rights, massacres in Rwanda, slavery in the Sudan, mass graves in Iraq, and the execution of women in soccer stadiums paled in comparison to Israel’s occupation which many in the peace faction date from 1948, not 1967.  

As Dennis Ross chronicles, Clinton almost coaxed the Israelis and Palestinians to agree a virtual return to the 1967 borders with a divided Jerusalem (a land swap for some West Bank developments retained by Israel), and a very limited right of return. Differences of opinion may exist about the responsibility for the failure to reach agreement during these negotiations, but the attempted peaceful resolution of the controversy was blown apart by suicide bombings which destroyed Israel’s peace movement—a mainstream movement committed to a Jewish Israel within the 1967 borders. Yet, rather than condemn these calculated attacks on civilians, the Berkeley peace faction condemned Israel. Why? Because in its view the Palestinians were entitled to a full right of return which would be denied by the existence of a Jewish Israel. Because this right was steeped in “justice,” the use of violent means to reach a “just” result was not only excusable, but applauded. Instead of forthrightly stating support for a binational state, the end of Zionism and a Judenfrei Middle East (and not a true two-state solution which included a Jewish Israel), the peace faction and its elected political adherents found it more expedient to state only that they supported “peace.” This enabled them to cynically attend synagogue events and openings and thereby show their love of Berkeley’s Jews.  

I and others are vilified for opposing peace. Yet, one of the strongest advocates for a Department of Peace sees no irony in his advocacy of wars of national liberation. In 2004, following the killing and hanging from a bridge of American contractors in Fallujah and the Israeli incursion into Rafah to stem the flow of arms through tunnels, another long-time commission member and former chair wrote an e-mail which summarized the worldview of Berkeley’s “peace” faction: “From Fallujah to Rafah, one struggle, many fronts. Salaam.” That commissioner is permitted by our Constitution to support the Palestinians’ continued armed struggle what some call “the resistance” in Iraq. But to hold such views while lambasting others for not supporting peace is passing strange—though perhaps not here. One fairly may ask, who are the true opponents of peace on the commission? 

Several letter writers have revisited the Rachel Corrie matter; the record of that debate, however, demonstrates that it was not the commission’s neophytes, but those adhering to Berkeley’s traditional ideology, who chose confrontation over cooperation. On July 7, 2003, when the commission took up the Rachel Corrie matter, I offered the following resolution which was overwhelmingly defeated in favor of a resolution focusing only on Corrie’s death. 

“Whereas, the citizens of the City of Berkeley long have supported a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians; and 

“Whereas, peaceful resolution of the conflict will be furthered by fair, impartial analysis of allegedly improper and illegal acts committed by the Israeli government, by the Palestinian Authority; and Palestinian militant groups; and 

“Whereas, in addition to Rachel Corrie, 17 Americans have been killed since September 2000, including Americans dedicated to a peaceful resolution of the conflict . . . and 

“Whereas, in November 2002, Human Rights Watch prepared an extensive detailed report entitled Erased in a Moment in which it described suicide bombings of civilians as “war crimes: and crimes against humanity.” 

“Now therefore, be it resolved that the Berkeley City Council urge Barbara Lee and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to support a full, fair and expeditious inquiry into the deaths of all Americans killed in Israel and Palestine since September 2000 to determine the circumstances of those deaths and those responsible for those deaths and to urge that the United States and the Palestinian Authority take steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.”  

I have been involved in other issues which confirm that the commission often has cared little about human rights violations, except when committed by the U.S. or its allies. For example, I waged a lonely battle to obtain a resolution condemning the arrest and long imprisonment of Cubans—including non-government librarians—who used non-violent means to oppose the Castro government. At the same time the commission was aghast at searches of library records countenanced by the Patriot Act, the commission could not bring itself to condemn Cubans who used peaceful methods to seek change. Apparently many of those arrested had been armed but, alas, only with copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  

This newspaper urges cooperation among commission members to advance peace and justice. Does its editor want cooperation or simply results that accord with her view of justice—the real goal of many who have corresponded to the Daily Planet. Adhering to what amounts to a sectarian orthodoxy does not befit this community. Responding to the oft-times simplistic reactions to world events offered by the Bush administration with equally simplistic responses of our own serves no purpose. I, too, hope the commission can find common ground and move forward with resolutions which support the entire community’s concerns about human rights, regardless of the miscreants’ political ideology, nationality or religion—whether the despicable acts be committed by a suicide bomber recruited by Hamas or Al Qaeda or Zarqawi or by an Israeli AWOL soldier properly labeled a terrorist by his government. 


Thom Seaton is a member of the Peace and Justice Commission.