It was a few days before Chanukah when the World Trade Organization convened in Seattle for their 1999 Ministerial Conference. The aim of this conference was to launch a new millennial round of trade negotiations that would expand their global monopolies and
Only days after disrupting the WTO conference, I felt... part of the Chanukah story.
further exploit laborers around the world. An organization I headed at the time traveled to Seattle to hook up with other groups in order to take a stand and shut down the conference.
Anti-globalization activists from all across America were there numbering - according to the most modest estimates - over forty thousand people. Needless to say, not only did we shut down the conference, but we also shut down downtown Seattle. In order to regain control, the police were forced to resort to tear gas and rubber bullets. Although delayed, the WTO conference did take place. But our point was made and through what the press dubbed the “Battle of Seattle” we drew the public's attention to the immorality of globalization.
That Chanukah, less than a week later, was the first time in my life I felt any personal connection to the Maccabees. I had heard different versions of their story (depending on my age and who was teaching) many times growing up, but until the protest in Seattle I could never relate to what they were fighting for.
On a personal level, the Maccabees fought for religious freedom - something I had always taken for granted growing up in America. On a national level, they fought for Israel's liberation from foreign rule. But on a universal level, the heroes of Chanukah fought against Hellenism - the globalization of the ancient world. And only days after disrupting the WTO conference, I felt that now I, too, could be part of the Chanukah story (it was this realization that led me to explore my Jewish identity, join the Zionist Freedom Alliance and eventually immigrate to the State of Israel).
The Syrian-Greeks who ruled the Land of Israel in those years were involved in spreading Hellenist culture throughout their empire. They sought to unite all subjects under a unified culture that would add a sense of cohesion and collective identity to their territories. In addition to bringing the polis, the gymnasium and the theater to the indigenous peoples that they conquered, they also demanded access to local markets. This brought economic and social opportunity to their small provinces and one might well think should have been beneficial to the various backwater localities. Of course, it was profitable to the regime, but it raised all boats at the same time.
A handful of Jews, led by a family of small-town farmers, opposed this arrangement and declared a revolt against the Hellenists - against their invasive culture and against their political domination. After nearly thirty years of guerrilla warfare against the economic and military superpower of that era, the Maccabees won freedom for the Jewish people and initiated the Syrian-Greek Empire's decline by severely draining their monetary resources. Chanukah is the tale, if there ever was one, about the value of the particular, the local, and the idiosyncratic over global modernization and a one-size-fits-all consumer culture.
Like Hellenism in the ancient world, globalization today is a complicated foe. When I went to Seattle, I found it hard to explain to my friends exactly what I was protesting. There certainly are some brutal extremes to global capitalism that deserve protest wherever they occur. But my personal motivation might have been much more subtle. It had to do with a sense that multinational business has been slowly encroaching on the freedom of each nation and local community to be itself.
Even as I write this, I find globalization to be a hard villain to describe. Multinational capitalism, like Hellenism, is a slippery force. It is not necessarily a violent dictatorship that can be clearly pointed out and opposed wholeheartedly (though a unification of world economies and a centralization of governmental power can easily produce such an oppressive regime). Globalization actually appears benign in many of its guises, and
This journey has led me - a veteran activist of the far-left - to become associated with what is perceived as Israel's radical right.
probably really is for some people in some places. I personally benefit every day from the Internet, from the availability of non-local products and from corporate medical research.
But at the same time, I watched a little community hospital holding on for dear life against a tide of corporate medicine. I saw small bookstores and cafes shutting down in the wake of colossal corporate franchises. I noticed that we could less and less buy clothing or products made in our own community with local materials by workers who could afford to live and participate in our lovely and indigenous tribal culture. I sensed the encroaching homogenization of global capitalism and its fundamental disinterest in my welfare or anyone else's. I felt control over the wellbeing of our community slipping to more and more remote reaches.
All this made me feel like a Maccabee and inspired me to embark on my own Chanukah adventure. It is pretty ironic that such thinking led to my moving away from that small community in order to start my life over in the re-born State of Israel. And it is even more ironic that this journey has led me - a veteran activist of the far-left - to become associated with what is perceived as Israel's radical right. But the Maccabees, too, were viewed as right-wing extremists. So, I guess I'm in good company in the war against global capitalism.