Windmills fear Al Fishman

The daily ration of carnage from the “Holy Land” has become a perverse video loop, replaying with the regularity of “M*A*S*H” reruns, but without the clever dialogue.

Fanatics cloak themselves in explosives and bolts and nails, becoming human warheads to obliterate scores of innocents and gain Allah’s favor. Fanatics with tanks and laser-guided grenade launchers make sweeping retribution, and more innocents are pulverized.

Righteous rhetoric ricochets in a vacuum. Impractical demands are made and ignored, and more innocents are dispatched.

And while the Israelis and Palestinians dabble in genocide, U.S. forces from on high wipe out 50 or so attending an Afghan wedding celebration. Oops. Our bad.

Extended exposure to this grotesque charade wears a callus on one’s conscience. Survival mechanisms provide a welcome imperviousness that might salve the mind, perhaps even the heart. But there is no accounting for the soul.

The demagogic din subsumes any voice that cares — or dares — to reverse our conditioning.

Yet these voices exist, and it’s important that they be amplified.

They emanate from quiet places like the Detroit living room of Al Fishman, a self-avowed “radical” who has spent the majority of his 74 years battling bloodshed and bigotry.

He is a resolute and venerable — some might say quaint — dove who has no fear of flying in a sky darkened by bristling birds of prey and carrion eaters and flock upon flock upon flock of myopic, anesthetized cuckoos.

Fishman believes the future of Israel, the cessation of mass murder, the neutralizing of terrorists and stability in the Middle East are all dependent on one first step: establishment of a Palestinian state — within the pre-1967 War boundaries. The violence will not end until the Palestinians are freed from the yoke of a system he likens to “apartheid.”

“The occupation must end,” he says. “Until the occupation ends, there will be no peace.”

Despite his contempt for Israeli and U.S. policies, he hastens to add: “There is absolutely no way that I would condone suicide attacks or any attacks on innocent civilians, whether it is by Israeli forces or Hamas or Islamic Jihad.”

His parents were devout Zionists, and Fishman is committed to the preservation of the state of Israel. However, “Beginning sometime in the 1960s, I began to recognize that the Palestinian people had some rights that were being denied,” he explains in a soft, measured voice.

Though he claims his views are in the best interest of Israel, he is acutely aware that they are heresy to many of his fellow Jews.

“In my political activism — anti-nukes, anti-Vietnam War activity — I’ve been allied with many progressive American Jews who see it as their right to oppose our government when it is wrong, and yet they cannot find themselves being critical of the Israeli government.” he says. “I find that rather interesting.”

He describes some encounters with such erstwhile allies as “painful.” He’s been branded a “self-hater.”

“That is so wrong because it is, in fact, my desire to see the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people,” he says. “That makes it incumbent upon me to struggle against the ruinous policies of Israel and the blanket support of those policies by the United States. I see that as a duty.”

The Army veteran served in Italy immediately after the end of World War II. His passion for activism was kindled when he learned that the victorious Allies were reinstating Nazis to important administrative posts in occupied Germany. “That really angered me,” he says. The information officer (read: propagandist) was further appalled at the reaction of white GIs to President Truman’s executive order integrating the armed forces. It was his job to inform a group of them.

“Needless to say, that was not a friendly audience,” he says.

The experience inspired him to oppose racism wherever he encountered it.

He supported the socialist Henry Wallace of the Progressive Party for president in 1948. He was blackballed — lost four jobs from 1953 to 1956 — and was scheduled to be grilled by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Red Scare withered before he was summoned before the inquisition. (His wife, Margaret, did make the scene.)

He laughs and recalls the contents of the dossier the government compiled on him, including his bowling excursions, poker nights and picnics with friends.

“You read it and you get angry,” he says. “But it’s also amusing, the amount of resources and energy that the United States government put into surveillance.”

He toiled tirelessly to get African-Americans into elective office. He has been arrested for nonviolent activism more times than he can recount — for advocating everything from workers rights to civil rights to curtailment of nuclear arms. He is a member of the board of directors of Peace Action of Michigan and once served on the national board of that organization.

In the early ’80s, he helped form a Michigan chapter of the New Jewish Agenda, the first Jewish-American group to advocate Palestinian statehood. The organization opposed Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, an operation overseen by Ariel Sharon, who was then the nation’s defense minister and who is now its prime minister.

He sees Sharon’s conservative Likud government and the radical Islamicists as twisted bedfellows.

“In a strange sort of way, I think that the Likud right wing and Hamas and Islamic Jihad are supportive of each other,” Fishman says. “They act in ways that perpetuate the hostility and violence and bloodshed.”

A Palestinian state might not bring an immediate end to the terror afflicting Israel, he concedes, because there are too many who are bent on Israel’s destruction.

“To call for Israel’s destruction flies in the face of reality,” he says.

But he believes a Palestinian state would mollify many Arabs and reduce the pool from which the killers recruit their “martyrs.”

“The total humiliation of the Palestinian people in everyday life is something no self-respecting people can take,” he says. “At the same time, the movement for Palestine would be much further ahead if they had adopted nonviolence as their tactic.”

He laments that peace movements are much larger and more vocal in Europe and Japan than in the United States. And until Americans perceive they are paying a price for their nation’s foreign policy, he knows he and his fellow peaceniks will remain a small contingent.

He sees hope from an unlikely quarter.

“As people begin to see that this economic corruption is more than skin-deep, it might present an opportunity for the peace movement. The corruption is systemic, and that corruption includes foreign policy, which is basically corporate policy — or essentially the corporate interests at a particular time and place.

“The U.S. has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.”

Al Fishman understands that given the current mood of the country and the cheerleading of the mainstream media, people might believe he is naive or quixotic. He smiles and sighs.

“I always figure that if we weren’t doing something, things could be a lot worse.”

Jeremy Voas is editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]
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