Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tom Hayden, A Cautionary Tale

Tom Hayden (1939-2016) died on October 23. He was one of the leaders of the new Left Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organisation in the United States in the 1960s. Despite the strength of pro-civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activism of the 60s and 70s, this did not translate into an understanding of, let alone an engagement with, the oppressed Palestinians, except to some extent by Black Panther radicals.

While SDS activists such as Hayden identified with (and even met with) the Viet Cong, there is only one reference in Kirkpatrick Sale's massive 700+ page book on SDS to the Middle East. This refers to a certain Sue Eanet visiting "leaders of Al Fatah in the spring of [1969]," and writing "an adulatory three-part account of the 'Palestinian liberation struggle' in [SDS's paper] New Left Notes." Sale records in a footnote that "This last position received a great deal of flak from Jewish SDSers, several of whom wrote to the paper with strangulating outrage. But as near as one can figure out, 'Jewish consciousness' was not high among SDSers or student activists generally, who were more likely simply to ignore their Jewish heritage or, if committed revolutionaries, discard it as 'bourgeois' baggage." (SDS, 1974, p 517)

Hayden, of course, would move on from 60s/70s Left radicalism to marry the actress Jane Fonda and carve out a career as a liberal Democrat politician in California. What interests us here, however, is that, in 1982, the pair turned up in Israel, in the immediate wake of Israel's invasion of Lebanon. The mainstream US press reported their appearance at the time as follows:

"Jane Fonda and her husband, Tom Hayden, arrived today for a weeklong visit here and said that the Palestine Liberation Organization's terrorist acts and refusal to recognize Israel had made the invasion of Lebanon inevitable. The visit was arranged by the Israeli Association for the Welfare of Soldiers, which has invited several American entertainers to Israel to improve morale." (Jane Fonda criticizes PLO, UPI, 3/7/82)

"Today Jane Fonda and her husband, Tom Hayden, briefly visited the Israeli position at St. Anthony's School and watched the shelling [of West Beirut]. The movie star and her husband have been visiting Israeli soldiers and Lebanese wounded in in the invasion. Israeli soldiers crowded around Miss Fonda to be photographed with her, but she looked distant and uncomfortable. Mr Swersky, the Israeli command spokesman, gave Miss Fonda and her husband a private briefing on the military situation. Mr Hayden, who was a leader of the opposition to the Vietnam War, has said that the Israeli invasion is justified because the PLO refused to recognize Israel." (Israelis keep reminding Beirut that siege is on, James M Markham, New York Times, 5/7/82)

So what possessed this doyen of 60s Leftist radicalism to become a running dog of the Israelis, to revive the old phrase, or, to put it in more Zionist terms, one of Israel's useful fools? Needless to say, it's a very American story, only prised out of him by another, much later Israeli onslaught on Lebanon, this time in 2006, in the form of a mea culpa with the title, I was Israel?s dupe (, 20/7/06). Here is a slimmed-down version:

"Twenty-five years ago (in 1981) I stared into the eyes of Michael Berman, chief operative for his congressman-brother, Howard Berman. I was a neophyte running for the California Assembly in a district that the Bermans claimed belonged to them. 'I represent the Israeli defense forces,' Michael said. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. Michael seemed to imagine himself the gatekeeper protecting Los Angeles' Westside for Israel's political interests, and those of the famous Berman-Waxman machine. Since Jews represented one-third of the Democratic district's primary voters, Berman held a balance of power...

"I had traveled to Israel in a generally supportive capacity, meeting officials from all parties... befriending peace advocates like the writer Amos Oz. I also met with Palestinians and commented favorably on the works of Edward Said. As a result, a Berman ally prepared an anti-Hayden dossier in an attempt to discredit my candidacy with the Democratic leadership in the California state capital. This led to the deli lunch with Michael Berman. He and his brother were privately leaning toward an upcoming young prosecutor named Adam Schiff... But they calculated that Schiff couldn't win without name recognition, so they were considering 'renting' me the Assembly seat, Berman said. But there was one condition: that I always be a 'good friend of Israel.'

"That wasn't a particular problem at the time. Since the 1970s I had favored some sort of two-state solution. I felt close to the local Jewish activists who descended from the labor movement and participated in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements... While I believed the Palestinians had a right to self-determination, I didn't share the animus of some on the American left who questioned Israel's very legitimacy...

"I can offer my real-life experience to the present discussion about the existence and power of an 'Israel lobby.' It is not as monolithic as some argue, but it is far more than just another interest group in a pluralist political world... During my ultimate 18 years in office, I received most of my Jewish support from the ranks of the liberal and less observant voters. But I also received support from conservative Jews who saw themselves as excluded by a Jewish (and democratic) establishment. However, all these rank-and-file constituencies were attuned to the question of Israel, even in local and state elections, and would never vote for a candidate perceived as anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian. I had to be certified 'kosher', not once but over and over again.

"The certifiers were the elites, beginning with rabbis and heads of the multiple mainstream Jewish organizations... An important vetting role was held as well by the American-Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), a group closely associated with official parties in Israel. When necessary, Israeli ambassadors, counsels-general and other officials would intervene with statements declaring someone a 'friend of Israel.'...

"I won the hard-fought primary by 51% to 45%. The Bermans stayed neutral... But that summer I made the mistake of my political career. The Israel Defense Forces invaded Lebanon, and [Israeli counsel-general in Los Angeles] Benny Navon wanted Jane and me to be supportive... Ever curious, and aware of my district's politics, I decided we should go to the Middle East. But only as long as the Israeli 'incursion,' as it was delicately called, was limited to the 10-kilometer space near the Lebanese border, as a cushion against rocket fire. Benny Navon assured me that the 'incursion' was limited... I also made clear our opposition to the use of any fragmentation bombs in the area, and my ultimate political identification with what Israel's Peace Now would say.

"There followed a descent into moral ambiguity and realpolitik that still haunts me today. When we arrived at the Israel-Lebanon border, the game plan promised by Benny Navon had changed utterly. Instead of a localized border conflict, Israel was invading and occupying all of Lebanon - with us in tow. Its purpose was to destroy militarily the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) haven in Lebanon. This had been Gen. Ariel Sharon's secret plan all along."

You can access the full text at Counterpunch. Suffice it to say that copies of it should be compulsory reading for all Young Labor activists aspiring to climb the greasy pole, because sure enough, sooner or later, in one form or another, they will find themselves being approached by a Michael Berman figure, proposing that they become 'a friend of Israel,' and advising them that an all-expenses-paid 'study tour' of Israel would be the-mother-of-all career-enhancing moves.

Learn from Tom Hayden...


Grappler said...

"...advising them that an all-expenses-paid 'study tour' of Israel would be the-mother-of-all career-enhancing moves." And gently hinting - nothing explicit you understand - that any criticism of Israeli policies in regard to Palestinians, spoken or written, will mark the end of their careers in politics.

MERC said...

Oh yes!

Anonymous said...

Tom Hayden discovered rather late in his political career that life is too short to prostitute oneself to racist thugs and war criminals.

I disagree with both The Grappler and MERC. It is no longer career enhancing hence the anti-incumbancy sentiment in the western world. The grovelling may advance a career within various political parties and impress the media but not the electorate. The people can not only see through it, they are sick of it.

Grappler said...

Reply to Anonymous:

You think that Michael Danby is facing defeat? Dream on! Middle Eastern politics ought to concern us - as it has repercussions that affect our lives - but it doesn't. We'd rather vote on boat people - which has minimal effect. I guarantee that, despite us fighting wars there - costly deployments of troops and materiel - it will not be an issue in the next Federal election.