[Metroactive News&Issues]

[ Santa Cruz | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

[whitespace] Scott Kennedy
Later, He Met With Klingon Warlords About the Earth: Scott Kennedy (left) has become the center of many a conspirary theory.

Catching the Crossfire

The post-9/11 fascination with the Middle East has brought new attention--and an incredible backlash--for longtime activist Scott Kennedy

By Sarah Phelan

SCOTT KENNEDY has led some 25 delegations to the Middle East over the span of the almost 30 years he's been involved in the issues there. And in those three decades, there have been no doubt countless times that he felt he could get hardly anyone to pay attention to the news he brought back.

But since Sept. 11, that's the least of his problems. Since the terrorist attacks last year, Kennedy says, he has witnessed an incredible surge in interest in all things related to the Middle East.

"Attendance for the [Resource Center for Nonviolence's] Middle Eastern events has doubled, we're doing 2 to 3 times the number of events, and we're more successful at getting our interviews rebroadcast on Community TV and KUSP," says Kennedy, who is coordinator of the Middle East Program for the RCNV, as well as a member of the Santa Cruz City Council.

But along with the increased interest has come increased criticism of both Kennedy and the center.

"We often joke that seldom has a program so modest in its scope and impact exacted such scrutiny and criticism," says Kennedy, noting that a relatively small number of people can raise a relatively large stink. "I've been a pet project of theirs for years, and I'm used to their annual attacks, so usually I don't respond to their criticisms, but this time some of them have been so outrageous, namely that I've encouraged a boycott of Jewish businesses, and that I'm backing Saddam Hussein."

These specific accusations were made in letters to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

"What's curious," says Kennedy, "is that if you tried to lace together as many falsehoods as possible in one document, you'd be hard-pressed to beat those letters. Literally every sentence was inaccurate."

Kennedy says that after he participated in a UCSC panel, one guy wrote a series of letters trying to regulate what students can attend, saying that such lopsided pro-Palestinian events should not be held on campus.

"UCSC Professor of Sociology Paul Lubeck responded, defending the events on grounds of freedom of speech," he says. "And the Resource Center has made a good faith effort to address all such criticisms by giving people the opportunity to critique its work."

At a recent forum on Iraq, Kennedy says a half-dozen people stopped and thanked him for speaking out and said they were sorry to see the personal attacks.

"One person said, 'Lots of my progressive friends think you are too pro-Palestinian but I support you.' But another resident asked City Councilmember Mark Primack to bring a resolution censoring me for abusing my power on City Council to promote the Palestinian cause."

None of this is anything new, exactly--Kennedy decided 25 years ago that he wouldn't let accusations of anti-Semitism stop him from doing his work. He says he believes what is really happening is that many people are feeling extremely threatened because the moral high ground that Israel once seemed to enjoy within the Middle East debate has diminished.

"There's been a shift in public discourse that used to be dominated by pro-Israeli sentiment. If I'm critical of Israel, they demand that I be equally critical of other Middle Eastern countries," he says. "But we don't insist if the Holocaust comes up that catastrophe of 1948 be discussed. My critics claim they're speaking on behalf of Jews and Judaism, but really they are supporting the most reactionary, racist substratum. It would be like supporting David Duke, Jerry Falwell and James Watt here in America."

Room for One More War?

But as this country inches towards the anniversary of Sept. 11 with much talk of lost innocence and national trauma, Kennedy notes that for much of the world, terrorism and chaos are practically standard operating procedure.

"Americans are obsessing over how everything has changed, and the current situation has had a huge impact on Israel," he says. "Restaurants have guards, and people won't go to concerts, movies, public places and demonstrations for fear. But for the Palestinians it's not so different, since they haven't enjoyed normalcy for decades."

Asked about recent polls that indicate that around 60 percent of Americans support a war against Iraq, Kennedy says, "Two-thirds of people will generally support what the government does, unless there's a protracted debate, which is what the peacemakers are trying to get, but the U.S. government won't bring in experts like weapons inspector [Scott] Ritter or Hans von Sponeck, the former [U.N.] humanitarian coordinator for Iraq."

As for the administration's justification for the war, Kennedy isn't buying it.

"The Gulf of Tonkin is a good example of how governments are perfectly capable of fabricating excuses for wars," he says. "During the Gulf War, they used the story of babies being torn from incubators. And the media is perfectly capable of ignoring certain voices. Last year when Hans von Sponeck was in town, I arranged a meeting with the editorial board of the Sentinel. Editor Tom Honig immediately began arguing that the idea of the U.S. being interested in going to war with Iraq was absurd. Von Sponeck tried to make the point that the U.S. has been at war with Iraq nonstop since sanctions began 12 years ago. You'd have thought they'd hear him out, given his position in the U.N, but they didn't."

Kennedy says he also distrusts the way the Bush administration's rhetoric has shifted from the need for inspections to the need for a regime change.

"We don't insist on inspecting Israel's nuclear capability, or democracy in Saudi Arabia. So, why would anyone think we are interested in democracy in Iraq?" he says. "We helped put Saddam in power when he was gassing the Kurds. In fact, it was Osama bin Laden who offered to pull together 10,000 faithful to get Iraq out of Kuwait. The rest of the world sees that--even Tony Blair, Egypt and Japan are saying, 'Don't.'"

Peace or Something Like It

A particularly tricky issue in this country is the question of why Sept. 11 happened, and what can be done to prevent domestic terrorism in the future. Kennedy says he doesn't want to blame the victims, but does want to point out that Americans have an interest in considering the emotions and attitudes behind the attacks.

"It's not hatred of our freedom or the values we claim, but it's when we fall short of them that people get upset," he says. "Osama bin Laden's words were very clear detailing his concerns. First was the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. And bin Laden's already succeeded to a certain extent in causing serious stress in that relationship, with Saudi Arabia publicly denying use of their air space for attacking Iraq, which is a big change since the Gulf War."

Bin Laden also denounced the U.S. stand on Israel, yet another example of how the issue of peace in the Middle East has had a profound impact on this country. But despite seemingly never-ending setbacks, false starts and sabotage of the pro-peace movement there, Kennedy is not entirely pessimistic about the matter, even after a hellish spring in which countless suicide bombings took place and 1,200 Palestinian homes were demolished.

"Both sides have been exhausted," he says. "Sharon demonstrates no interest in political solutions or Palestinian aspirations, but the peace movement in Israel is clearer and more courageous than a year ago, and the number of refuseniks has grown as has the number of attempts to break closures and curfews. It's still not a full-blown antiwar movement, but it would blossom if the opportunity for political breakthrough arises."

Scott Kennedy leads an Inter Faith Peace Builders delegation to Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip of Palestine Sept. 27-Oct. 12, 2002. For information contact Kennedy at 831.457.8003 or Gretchen Merryman of Inter Faith Peace Builders, Washington, D.C., 202.244.0951

[ Santa Cruz | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the September 4-11, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.