Sunday, February 16, 2003

A (Hopefully) Complete A.N.S.W.E.R. Wrap-Up

Well, warbloggerwatch still hasn't issued a correction, but there has been some traffic on their mail list, so I thought I would post as complete an update as I can. (Note: the mail list and archive are public to anyone who signs up, so I'm assuming that the discussions there are public. I can't link to specific posts, but you can read up on them, plus "analbrenda's" invitations, by signing up yourself.)

Part I - A.N.S.W.E.R. Background:

"A.N.S.W.E.R." is the modestly named "International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to End War and Stop Racism)." As you can see from their site, they are a major player in the anti-war protests, and played a major role in organizing the protests earlier this month and a series of protests over the next few weeks.

They are also seriously dirty. They are a front group for the Worker's World Party, a Stalinist (really) political group that actually supports Slobodan Milosovic, Saddam Hussein, and both Kims of North Korea.

Not many people in the anti-war movement have seriously attempted to defend A.N.S.W.E.R. Instead, like warbloggerwatch or Slate's blogger, Mickey Kaus, they have argued that an anti-war movement is necessarily a big tent, and that A.N.S.W.E.R.'s role was limited.

A few weeks ago, the story went around the web that A.N.S.W.E.R. had blackballed Michael Lerner from speaking at a peace rally because Lerner had criticized A.N.S.W.E.R. and argued that it is possible to oppose war and support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. (For those who don't know, Lerner and his group, Tikkun, seem to be firmly among the good guys - a rabbi committed to peace and various left-wing causes for years, leading a seriously committed group of goodwilled leftists.)

Warbloggerwatch in particular tried to fight some kind of rear guard action on this, arguing that the story was "unsubstantiated" and that A.N.S.W.E.R.'s role in the protests was "little more than having secured permits and chartered buses."

Part 2 - Substantiation! (Warbloggerwatch stays silent):

Last week, David Corn of The Nation reported that the story was true -- Lerner offered to speak at a rally in San Francisco and was blackballed. Not only was Lerner blackballed, Corn reported, but two of the other groups organzing the rally, Not in Our Name and United for Peace and Justice, failed to challenge the blackball. A few days later, Lerner himself wrote about the experience.

I challenged warbloggerwatch to issue an update, as it seemed that this story was about as substantiated as it was going to get, but they, of course, have stayed quiet.

On the warbloggerwatch mail server, though, Matthew Brown has responded. He provided this report, which has a different spin on the blackball. In it, Michael Albert argues that as far as he can tell, A.N.S.W.E.R. didn't blackball Lerner, United for Peace and Justice did, because UFPJ had "promised" not to propose any speakers that had been critical of any other group. Albert argues that the promise was foolish, and that Lerner should be allowed to speak, but that it was basically a mistake, not any ill intent.

My take. First, Lerner states that A.N.S.W.E.R. itself stated publicly that he was out because they didn't want a "pro-Israel" speaker, even if the speaker was anti-war. (It's also important to remember that Lerner's criticism of A.N.S.W.E.R. was that they were tieing the anti-war and anti-Israel movements together unnecessarility).

Ultimately, whether Lerner or Albert are right on the details, it looks to me like the peace coalition, such as it is, is in bed with A.N.S.W.E.R. a lot more than it should be. If the price of getting a bunch of Stalinist stooges for the world's worst dictators to rent your buses for you is that you need to silence everyone who criticizes A.N.S.W.E.R., then you are paying way too high a price. The problem with A.N.S.W.E.R. is that they paint your whole movement as a bunch of unreasoning anti-Americans, just as people like Pat Buchanan painted the GOP as a bunch of isolationist bible-bangers (before we kicked him out, that is).

Of course, I may be proved wrong. If the left starts criticizing A.N.S.W.E.R., and invites Lerner to speak at the next set of rallies, I think the movement will be stronger, and I'll be happy to apologize. If not, and if people continue to remain silent about A.N.S.W.E.R. as the price of staying in the movement, then I'll know that you all are still in bed with the Stalinists. Let me know.

(I'm running out of steam - I apologize, but I'll have to finish the rest of the links later - J Mann).