During the past few weeks I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Glyn Secker, seeing him speak, and talking with him at length on several occasions about his life and political outlook. Glyn is a retired social worker who has in many ways committed his life to activism and organizing. At present, Glyn is finishing up a North American speaking tour in which he’s been telling his story of captaining a Jewish Boat to Gaza in open defiance of the Israeli blockade.
The story of the boat is interesting and powerful, and I recommend reading Glyn’s detailed testimony at the operation’s website: http://jewishboattogaza.org. The big picture is,a group in the UK which Glyn is involved in called “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” (http://jfjfp.com/) wanted to send an all-Jewish boat to Gaza to counter the charge that boats challenging the blockade were motivated by anti-semitism. They went public with the project last may, immediately following Israel’s piracy against the Free Gaza Flotilla and murder of 9 activists abord the Mavi Marmara.
The “Irene” sailed in September, and was intercepted by an Israeli frigate in International waters off the coast of Gaza. The frigate deployed 2 gunboats, 2 high power landing craft and four hard bottomed inflatables to board and take control of a 9 meter sailboat with 9 crew aboard, mostly seniors. They employed civil-rights type non violent resistance tactics, linking arms together to force the soldiers to use force to detain them. The worst of the force was directed at the two former IDF soldiers – one was shocked 4 times with a tazer, once directly on his heart (illegal in the US and UK). The other was thrown to the ground and had fingers pushed hard into one of the arteries that supplies blood to the brain – luckily he went floppy rather than resist because if they had restricted blood flow to the brain long enough to make him unconscious he might have suffered brain damage.
Glyn states as his reason for being involved in the boat the humanitarian crisis which is being purposely caused in Gaza by Israel by way of the blockade. He thinks Israel has gotten caught in a cycle of violence where it can only deal with problems by employing more violence, and force rather than understanding and mutual respect. He traces this back to the two separate jewish zionist traditions – humanist zionism and political zionism. Humanist zionism advocated peaceful co-existence with Arabs in Palestine and advocated immigration only to genuinely uninhabited land, whereas political zionism is characterized by the indefinite acquisition of more land and the use of force to create a jewish state if legal means prove insufficient. He speaks frankly about the terrorist tactics used by the stern gang (yehi) and the irgun gang (the haganah b) to clear hundreds of Palestinian villages in 1948 – the land and houses were later stolen by the Israeli state through acts which named them absent landlords even if they left their home by force. Glyn knows this history not only from books, but also from the Palestinian families he met in South Lebanon in 1980 when he visited the Sabra and Shatila camps, two years before the IDF enabled Christian fascist massacres of 1982. He recognizes it is difficult to talk about this aspect of Israeli/Jewish history, but that honesty is the first requirement in political thinking, and if people are not willing to talk honestly about difficult aspects of their past it is dubious whether there is any legitimacy in talking about the past at all.
Glyn stresses that the history of Judaism is that of a peaceful, non-violent religion which has been perverted by political zionism. The Torah, for instant, has been converted from a sacred text into a political doctrine, and worse, a real estate guide – used as justification for “greater Israel” a.k.a. the incorporation of the occupied territories into the country of Israel.
The organization he is involved with in the UK, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, is a moderate pro-Palestinian group which does not identify as anti-zionist; they argue for a two-state settlement because, although many members would prefer a single secular state, they believe the contemporary realpolitik is such that the two state settlement is the only viable one. It is one of many moderate Jewish organizations that are opposed to the oppression of Palestinians both in Israel and in the occupied territories – their counterpart “Jewish Voice for Peace” (JVP) has similar politics and organized Glyn’s speaking tour in the Northeastern United States.
Perhaps the most surprising and hopeful moment of his speaking tour was during the very popular J-Street conference when he received a rousing applause when he announced he had been part of the Jewish Boat to Gaza – indicating that the attendees at this centrist Jewish conference were themselves more critical of Israel than the events official politics suggests.
While Glyn’s work at present concentrates on the injustices Israel is committing against Palestinians, he has been involved in trade-union organizing his entire adult life, and he made difficult trips during the 1970s to various European dictatorships in order to materially support the pro-democracy movements.
What is most impressive about Glyn Secker, in my opinion, is not only the seriousness and conviction with which he approaches situations of injustice, but rather the overall sense that he seems to orient his life tactically, towards being effective at producing material changes. There is something emphatically social and communitarian about his approach to politics, something I fear is often missing from the post-post left in which everything is a problematic social construction and/or norm, and where resentment for an other who does not have the best politics on every issue, or who perhaps has not adequately accounted for their own privilege, can quickly counter the positive emotion that should come from joining together with others to develop a shared perspective despite having different backgrounds and politics.
I don’t mean or want to suggest that post-post politics don’t give voice to important issues of oppression. However, I think something Glyn stresses is often lost on the modern left: cited from one of the founding Rabbi’s he paraphrases “the true hero is the one who continues to strive to turn his enemy into his friend”. This means not resenting and absolutely rejecting your enemy for their failings, but rather to as much as you can engage with them, try to turn them into allies. This is what Glyn does, day after day, on his speaking tours. The live question for me is: how can I live in a way that is both progressive and public; to criticize the mainstream but at the same time not be completely excluded from it.