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The Repackaging of Tom Hayden

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“In the halls of the national gallery in Washington there are 46 portraits of Benedict Arnold. None look alike, yet they all resemble Tom Hayden.”

— ALEXANDER COCKBURN, Village Voice, July 20, 1982.

That’s how Alexander Cockburn opened his column, 33 years ago, upon learning of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s trip to Israel in the first week of July, 1982, a month after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Hayden and Fonda had been part of a tour sponsored by the Israeli Association for the Welfare of Soldiers which, according to UPI, “invited a number of American entertainers to Israel to improve morale during the [Peace in Galilee] operation” and they did just that.

On June 6 of that year, using as a pretext the attempted assassination of Israel’s London Ambassador by the outlier Palestinian Abu Nidal group, Israel invaded Lebanon with 80,000 troops backed by its air force and navy with the intent to drive the PLO out of the country.

In Baabda, on the outskirts of Beirut, in the third week of what would be a 70 day siege of trapped Palestinian forces, they watched from a schoolyard as gunners lobbed their deadly shells into civilian neighborhoods of Lebanon’s capital.

From Israel came photos showing Fonda hugging wounded Israeli soldiers in their hospital beds while Hayden expressed his support of the invasion, tempered only by mild criticism of Israel’s pervasive use of cluster bombs. “We differed in the use of anti-personnel weapons,” said Tom.

By then, according to Red Cross and UN estimates, the Israelis had killed, close to 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, most of them civilians, figures which Hayden, citing Israeli sources, claimed were “wildly exaggerated.”

On his return from Israel, Hayden defended his trip on Pacifica radio stations and wrote an op-ed in the LA Herald-Examiner, employing what has become a standard trope among defenders of Israel’s bloody assaults on Gaza in recent years, asking rhetorically, what the US response would be if “Mexico collapsed in bloody internal strife, and an armed terrorist group used the opportunity to continuously shell the citizens of San Diego, driving their children into bomb shelters and their elderly to settle somewhere else.”

That 34 years earlier, the Israelis had forced 750,000 Palestinians to leave their homes and villages and “settle somewhere else,” many of them in Lebanon, was among the larger pieces of the problem that Hayden failed to mention.

More to the immediate point, there had not been shelling of Israel from Lebanon by the Palestinians, continuous or otherwise for the 11 months preceding the invasion, despite repeated Israeli provocations.

To Ariel Sharon’s frustration, the PLO strictly adhered to a cease-fire agreement drawn up between the Palestinians and Israelis in July, 1981 by US ambassador Philip Habib.

The cease-fire was no secret in Israel and Hayden could not have failed to be aware of it. He admittedly knew that in the second and third weeks following the invasion, 20,000, then 100,000 Israelis went in the streets to protest the invasion much as hundreds of thousands of Americans had protested our country’s war on Vietnam a decade and a half earlier in which Hayden, one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had played a significant role.

“At twenty eight he is a professional revolutionary,” is how Steven Roberts described him in the December, 1968, Esquire. “dedicated to the curtailment of American power abroad and the system” at home.

But that was then and this was now and Hayden had, by his own admission, jettisoned the anti-war movement for “the system.” He had decided to run for the California State Assembly in Santa Monica with its significant Jewish population; the need for votes and money from the latter easily trumped whatever principles that Hayden might have brought to the table.

“I’m not the angry young man I was in the 60s,” he said in his television ads. As if to prove the point, Hayden was quoted as questioning the military’s overspending on sophisticated weapons, saying, “We actually have a shortage of old-fashioned things, like guns and tanks.” (SF Examiner & Chronicle, 10/31/82)

As Gore Vidal pointed out at the time, Hayden gave “opportunism a bad name.”

Hayden went on to win that election, the most expensive in the state’s history and several more, hanging on to his assembly seat until 1992 and then moving up to the Senate where he filled the chair from 1992 until 2000.

If he had any second thoughts about his 1982 behavior we didn’t hear about it for 24 years when he was no longer in office and had other fish to fry and no longer Jewish voters or donors to please.

It was not until the summer of 2006 when Israel was again bombing Lebanon that Hayden publicly spoke about the subject. Under the ambiguous headline, ‘Things come ’round in Mideast,” (Truthdig, 7/18/06) Hayden wrote that “that summer I made the mistake of my political career,” but attempted to shift the blame for his actions on the Israel Lobby, and, in particular, on the political machine of Congressman Howard Berman and his brother, Michael, that controlled Democratic politics in Los Angeles and much of California, and pretending that he had been duped about Israel’s goals in Lebanon.

“Ever curious and aware of my district’s politics,” wrote Hayden in the Herald-Examiner, “I decided we should go to the Middle East—but only as long as the Israeli ‘incursion,’ as it was delicately called [and how he described it at the time], was limited to the 10-kilometer space near the Lebanese border, as a cushion against rocket fire. [Israel Consul]Benny Navon assured me that the ‘incursion’ was limited, and would be followed by negotiations and a solution.”

A quarter of a century may have passed but the truth remained the same. By the time Hayden and Fonda arrived in Lebanon, on July 2, the Israelis were already well past the Lebanese border and had been besieging Beirut since June 14. Hayden had clearly lied.

At this point readers may wonder why I am bringing this up now. It’s a reasonable question but one that should have been asked when Hayden, trying to regain his onetime prominence among “progressives,” co-founded (What else?), “Progressives for Obama” in 2008.

On the April 30th broadcast of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman devoted her entire program to Hayden, interviewing him, first, regarding the Baltimore police killing of Freddie Gray—based on Hayden’s experiences in Newark’s Black ghetto a half a century ago—and on his new book, “Listen Yankee, Why Cuba Matters,” based on his conversations with renowned Cuban diplomat, Ricardo Alarcon.

In the light of his past history, it would seem that Hayden is taking advantage of the US opening to Cuba to reestablish himself as a spokesperson of the Left and, consequently, a warning label needs to be applied to the repackaging.

With regard to his actions back in 1982, it should be stressed that Hayden, while stating that his trip had been “the mistake of my political career,” it was anything but and his article contained no apology. In fact, his expression of solidarity with Israel’s invading army was no error but a calculated move to enhance his political career which it did; his 18 years in the state legislature and now tidy pension testify to that. If he had done the right thing and condemned Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 he never would have served a single term and I am sure he would be the first to admit it.

In the previous October, Hayden already had his eyes on that assembly seat. In an op-ed distributed by Pacific News Service (10/9/81), he warned that the US was sacrificing Israel for the sake of Arab oil. Sounding very much like every other bought American politician from Joe Biden to Elizabeth Warren, Hayden wrote:

“We are letting dollars and weapons eclipse the fact that America and Israel, at their best, are lands of vision and idealism. The United States has stood side by side with Israel since its birth, not simply because it was a ‘strategic asset, but because of a strong moral commitment—a bonding of two nations with a deep respect for democracy, human rights, and justice.”

Five years before that, Hayden, funded by the success of Jane Fonda’s workout video, had launched the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED which he would use as a springboard for his assembly bid. Speaking at the beginning of a national tour of the CED in New York in 1979 before “thousands, most of them Jewish,” at Temple Shaaray “in Manhattan’s fashionable East Side,” as Ron Radosh described it in In These Times (10/17-23/79, Hayden accused the oil companies of backing the PLO and “said [while] he was well aware of the profound grievances of Palestinians… he was sure they could not be satisfied unless they created a democratic-secular state, “and that means the dismantling of Israel.”

On the eve of the Democratic Convention in San Francisco in 1984, Hayden was part of a panel discussion, heralded as “Whose Party is This, Anyway?” sponsored by The Nation, The New Republic, Mother Jones, Harper’s, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Hayden’s CED, a “Who’s Who” of the American Liberal establishment. And featuring, besides Hayden, Mother Jones’s Deirdre English, the Democratic Socialists of America’s Michael Harrington, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and food expert, Francis Fox Piven.

There were a handful of protesters there to greet Hayden and a full auditorium of 1700 attendees, among them myself, handing out a mimeographed three page leaflet headed by the quote from Cockburn that began this article and critiquing Hayden and Fonda’s visit with the Israeli soldiers.

A copy of the leaflet was placed in front of each of the speakers’ microphones. As they took their seats, Hayden, apparently forewarned, was missing, as was Waters. She had an earlier speaking engagement in Oakland.

Just as the event was beginning, Hayden, having entered the auditorium through a back door, slipped into his seat and soon was exchanging disapproving nods with Harrington as they looked at our leaflet.

Harrington was the last speaker and as soon as he had concluded his remarks, Hayden rose from his chair and scampered for the rear exit, only to be forced to put on the brakes by the entrance, through the front door, of Rep. Waters, who had just arrived.

Rather than showing Waters the courtesy of returning to his seat as she stepped to the rostrum, a visibly nervous Hayden took a chair behind the curtain, close to the door. Following her last word, he vanished into the night, eluding the several protesters who had climbed the stairs to the stage to confront him.

Unfortunately, Hayden didn’t stay vanished. Thirty-one years later, he is still among us, maintaining a degree of celebrity and acceptance in progressive circles as he did that night that which says as much about those circles as it does about him.

Does any reader believe that would be the case had Hayden or anyone else with “progressive” credentials made a similar trip to South Africa in 1976 to show solidarity with South African soldiers as they mowed down Black protesters in Soweto?

Of course not, and as the Bard had his Julius Caesar exclaim, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in us.”

Jeffrey Blankfort is a radio host and journalist in Northern California and can be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net.

Jeffrey Blankfort is a radio host and journalist in Northern California and can be contacted at jblankfort@earthlink.net.

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