Polemic: Against Zionism
By John Stone
Israel has just celebrated its 50th anniversary. The 'peace settlements' have pushed the PLO leadership, Egypt and Jordan to recognise Israel. It seems that Syria and other Arab states will do the same. There are almost 4 million Jews in the State of Israel and many elements of a Hebrew-speaking nation. Is it the time to abandon our demand for the destruction of the Israeli state and its replacement with a secular, multi-ethnic, democratic and Soviet Palestine, and to advocate a united front with the PLO and the Zionist left in order to achieve a bi-national state or a two-state solution to the Arab- Israeli conflict? This article will examine the programmatic positions of the most left-wing Zionists. We will explain what the Marxist position on the Palestine question must be and why we cannot recognise any national rights of Israel.
Left Zionism's backward evolution.
In the early years of the Communist International, Poalei Zion (Workers Zion) participated as observers in some of its activity. This current tried to fuse Marxism with Jewish nationalism. For them the Jews where a nation without a territory. In order to make a socialist revolution the Jews needed first to create its own state and multi-class society.
Poalei Zion initially accepted the possibility of a bi-national Arab-Hebrew state but later they backed the division of Palestine and the creation of a pure Jewish state. Poalei Zion became one of the pillars of the MAPAM, which achieved around one fifth of the votes in the first Israeli elections. The MAPAM initially combined Marxist and Leninist phraseology with its active integration in the Hagana (Israeli army), the Histadrut (Israeli anti-Palestinian corporate union) and the Labour Zionist cabinets. They built many kibutzim and they believed that these islands of rural collectivism where the seeds of socialism.
MAPAM survived as the left wing of Zionism and many Labour governments. It backed Israel in all its wars against the Arabs. In the late 1940s the MAPAM capitalised on the pro-Moscow sentiment that was created all over the world resulting from Hitler's defeat and Stalin’s backing the creation of Israel. Before the creation of the Israeli state many thought that the Jews where in general an oppressed people despite that the Zionists wanted to transform them into colonial settlers against the Arab native population. However, Israel became an oppressor whose existence was based in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of native Palestinians, and the founding of a US pillar against all the anti- imperialist movements in the Middle East.
A "Marxist" movement that adapts to forms of third-world nationalism can survive with some radical proposals. However, a socialist movement that became an apologist of an expansionist and colonialist power would become more and more reactionary. Moving to the right MAPAM was loosing its initial roots and became confused with the pragmatic Zionists.
Around ten years ago MAPAM, Shilumit Aroni's Ratz and Shinui created Meretz, a political front that in 1997 became officially a united party. Ratz was a movement in favour of constitutional rights and Shinui was an ultra-liberal organisation committed to Thatcherite economics in a context of liberal concessions to the Palestinians. The Shinui believed that the best way to develop an open `free market' was to allow Israel to be a county at peace with its neighbours and with the capacity to export capital to them.
On February 1997 the founding convention of the new Meretz Party adopted its `Basic Principles'. In it there is no mention of the struggle against imperialism or for socialism and for a working class based party. MAPAM simply abandoned any class reference. Meretz proclaimed the combination of `the values of enlightened liberalism and democratic socialism'. A few countries had already experienced the fusion between their political extremes on economic issues. Just as it is impossible to fuse oppressive nationalism with any form of socialism, nor is it possible to combine Thatcherite economics with any form of progressive economic reforms. The former Zionist collectivists abandoned their initial goals and accepted a neo-liberal agenda.
MAPAM gave up all its former demands for state intervention and rural collective expansions. Now it accepts neo-conservative economics. `Initiative, profitability, and fair competition between all sections of the economy will be facilitated'. Meretz is in favour of privatising some of the companies that the `left Zionists' put under public ownership. They only oppose privatisation of natural monopolies, education, postal service and the welfare state. The rest, transport, communications, industries, arm production, etc. could be sold.
For an exclusionist state
In all of its Basic Principles Meretz does not mention the struggle against anti-Semitism. The main purpose of Zionism is to "struggle against assimilation which threatens the existence of the Jewish people in the Diaspora". Assimilation means that Jews should abandon their religious-cultural values and became assimilated into the nations in which they live. They want to stop that process. In places in which the Jewish workers are struggling alongside their own class brothers and sisters against the bosses, they want to divide the workers. The Jews have abandoned other workers to migrate to Israel in order to help Zionist capitalists to build their own state.
"The Zionist objective of the State of Israel is to provide an open door for any Jew. Aliya [mass Jewish emigration to Israel] is also a source of reinforcement for the State of Israel. Meretez sees Aliya to Israel, with the goal of gathering the majority of the Jewish people in the state".
Meretz wants to move the majority of the fifteen million Jews all over the planet to Israel. Eight million Jews in Israel would be a strong basis for maintaining a state. Its aim is doubly reactionary. On the one hand they try to dislocate many Jews (some of which were the basis of many socialist and progressive movements in their own countries) from their own homelands and to divide the working classes. On the other hand they want to use the Jewish as colonial tools to consolidate a state founded on the expulsion of its native population.
Regarding the Arabs, Meretz is the most `heretical' of all the Zionists. It is in favour of granting the right to create a weak state in a minority of their former lands for `the Palestinian Arab people, which has lived in this land for generations and which is now beginning to realise its right to national self-determination'. The ones who are starting `to realise its right to national self-determination' are, precisely, Meretz. The Palestinians fought for their own state in the 1947-48 wars and even before (like in the 1936 upheavals). It was the Zionists who destroyed their aspirations.
In which territories will Meretz grant a Palestinian state? "In a context of the permanent settlement, Israel will be obliged to vacate most of the territories occupied during to the Six Day War." Before the mass expulsions of Palestinians after the creation of Israel, two thirds of Palestine where inhabited by Arabs. In 1947 the UN resolved to divide that land in around two halves. In 1947 Israel managed to conquer around 40% of the Palestinian half. Therefore the territories that Israel occupied after 1967 represents a small fraction of Palestine.
For the left Zionists the Palestinians should accept not only the loss of the majority of their land but also of some of the post-1967 occupied territories as well as their historically claimed capital. For the Palestinians Jerusalem is their capital. For the Christian and Islamic Arabs it is one of their holy cities where they were the majority of its population from the beginning of the first millennium until 1948. Until 1967 Eastern Jerusalem (where is the historical city) was in Arab hands. Since then the Zionists have tried to buy Arab land or to expel Palestinians. For Meretz "Jerusalem, Israel's capital, will never again be divided."
First the Zionists expelled the Palestinians. Next its left wing `discovered' that they want national rights. Now, its most radical wing is prepared to concede a sort of independent Bantustan for them. For Meretz the new Palestinian State should occupy less than a half of that half of Palestine that the UN undemocratically resolved to give them in 1947. The Palestinians should give up 100% of Jerusalem and at least 75% of the land in which they where the majority of the population when the British left 50 years ago.
The new Palestinian State should not have a contiguous territory and between its two main areas (Gaza and the West Bank) Israel should be allowed to maintain a heavily guarded territory. The Palestinian State not only would have to accept the ethnic cleansing of its own people by Israel but also to be an impotent and unarmed scattered country surrounded and patrolled by Middle East's main Nuclear Power.
Meretz is also in favour of keeping and developing the strength and superiority of the Israel army: "The protective might provided by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is the main guarantee for Israel's security, even in an era of peace. The strength of the IDF and its technological and personal superiority over all the other armies in the region must be ensured."
Israel a reactionary military machine
Israel has one of the most reactionary military machines. It destroyed the Palestinian State in 1948 and led to millions of Palestinians being forced to live in the worst humanitarian conditions. Israel sided with France and the UK against Nasser's nationalisation of the Suez Canal. It invaded Egypt in 1956,19 67 and 1973; Jordan and Syria in 1967 and 1973. It helped the Kingdom of Jordan's bloody repression of the Palestinians in 1970. It occupied southern Lebanon in the 1980s.
It unconditionally supported every US and NATO reactionary movements against any regime that has had clashes with imperialism in the Middle East (Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, etc.). It backed Turkey against the Kurds, the largest nation without a state. It was one of the main enemies of all the de-colonising and anti-imperialist movements through the entire planet. It legalised torture and killed many Arab children in the Intifada and in its terrorist bombing and incursions into Lebanon. It helped the anti-`terrorist' commands in Somoza's Nicaragua and in Peru. And what does it mean to "ensure" IDF's "superiority"? Perhaps to develop more nuclear and bio-chemical weapons which can be used to make a holocaust that could be a thousand times more devastating than Der Yasin?
In a country that has a very strong Jewish colonialist-fundamentalist camp, Meretz appeared as the most extreme Zionist force concerning civic rights. In the state of Israel every Jew who was born in any other part of the globe can have citizenship automatically. However, a Palestinian whose family inhabited that land for centuries, is a second class citizen and does not have the right to return to the land or home from which he/she was expelled in 1948 or 1967.
No Palestinian occupies any leading position in any Israeli government, the state or the army. Who decides who is a Jew? It is not a secular entity or even any Jewish religious congregation. That right is in the hands of the most orthodox and archaic rabbinate. This is such a reactionary body, that even the US Conservative Jews are to its left. The State of Israel does not have a constitution because it is based on a Jewish religious code.
Meretz 'radicalism' is limited to "the separation of religious institutions from the institutions of the state". Israel should be "governed by the rule of law, rather than by the rule of the Halakha." Nevertheless, Meretz vindicates that "Jewish heritage and the Jewish legal core are a cornerstone of our national culture and a source of inspiration in our lives and in creativity".
As we saw, Meretz' programme does not have any reference to the working class. It has very reactionary goals. It wants to keep a Jewish identity based in elements of Jewish religion. It tries to separate progressive Jews from their non-Jewish compatriots and to transform them into colonial settlers, dispossessing a native population. It wants to maintain a purely Jewish exclusionist state. It has a neo-liberal anti-working class economic programme. It differs from the hard-liners only in the sense that it is prepared to soften the rabbinical influence on the state institutions and allow Palestinian 'self-determination' in the form of a fragmented and powerless 'independent' Bantustan.
The peace accords, instead of pushing 'socialist Zionists' to the left, are causing a backward evolution towards neo-liberalism and reaction. Despite the possibility of organising common demonstrations and actions with them against the colonialist settlers and hard-liners, it is impossible to make any kind of anti-imperialist united front with currents that are advocating an imperialist and segregationist solution to the Palestinian question.
Zionism has no single progressive aspect
The doctrine of Zionism was created by Theodor Hertzl. He wanted to convince the Tsar and all the great powers that the best solution to the `Jewish question' was to provide the Jews with a state. Instead of being persecuted, the Jews could `expand ‘Western civilisation'’ against `barbarians'. Hertzl offered his services to transform the Jews into a colonialist tool against native peoples.
When Zionism was born (one century ago) hundreds of thousands of Jews were very active in the labour and anti-capitalist movement and many socialists were Jews (as was Marx, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Zinoviev, Kamenev etc). Zionism was also used to divide the Jew workers from their fellow classmates. If Marxists advocate the unity of all the workers of all nations and communities against the capitalists, the Zionists advocated the unity of the Jewish workers with and behind the capitalist Jews and their imperialist associates against other peoples. The Zionist emigration to Palestine had a reactionary goal. Jewish capitalists, unions and co-operatives excluded the natives from their ranks. Arab lands where purchased and given to Jewish colonial settlers. The Arab population felt that they were being driven away from a new colonialist movement.
After the holocaust the imperialist powers and the USSR where prepared to give the Jews a state in Palestine. In 1947 the UN partitioned British Palestine and created two states. In its war against its neighbours, Israel captured many Arab lands and the rest of the Palestinian lands where taken by Egypt and the Transjordan kingdom (since then it became Jordan). Comprising less than 10% of the world's Jewish population Israel was created as the homeland for all the Jews. The Jewish minority in Palestine (most of them where settlers born in Europe) took most of the country. Zionism managed to transform a persecuted people into Western colonialists. Zionism did not end with anti-Semitism. On the contrary, it produced the expulsion of most of the Jews from the Arab world (a region which had a much less anti-Jewish traditions than the West). Zionism became another form of anti-Semitism. A new state was created expelling and oppressing a Semitic people (the Palestinian Arabs).
Marxists need to address the Israeli Jewish working class. A big difference that we have with the Arab nationalists and fundamentalists is that they don't want to create a bridge or form an alliance with the Jewish proletariat. We should support the Hebrew workers struggles for better wages and labour conditions, against privatisation and for de-militarisation and civic rights.
However, we need to understand that imperialism can create communal privileges amongst one ethnic section of the working class against another section. In South Africa and Northern Ireland the White or Unionist workers achieved better social conditions than the Black and Republican workers. Some of the most reactionary terrorist forces where recruited amongst that layer of privileged workers.
We need to address the most oppressed sections of the proletariat. The anti-Unionists in the six counties and the Black workers in South Africa are the vanguard of the anti-imperialist movement. The actions of these layers should influence workers from the privileged communities. The only way to win the workers from the oppressor states is to win them to solidarity with the most oppressed sections of society and to show them that, instead of maintaining their privileges, they need to fight together with all the working class against their common enemies: the capitalists.
Marxists are champions of the right of self-determination for every nation. However, we can deny such rights in some concrete circumstances, like when the national right of one community would clash with the rights of another community. In Northern Ireland and South that would mean an attack on the oppressed population. The same principle we apply to Israel. The Africa we are against the right of the Protestant Unionists and the Afrikaners to form their own states because, like the Israeli nation, they would have their inception in the oppression of the native population.
A society created around discrimination
While the Boers and Ulster Protestants can show that they were the majority of the population of some part of their lands for many centuries and that they had some historical-territorial continuity, the Israeli Jews only started to arrive to Palestine in this century. They arrived from all the corners of the planet. The Jews from Western or Eastern Europe, Yemen, Mesopotamia, Maghreb, Central Asia, Kurdistan, the Caucasus, South Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Australasia, India or Ethiopia had different histories, cultures, histories, traditions, religious practices, languages and races. Some of them evolved in a near complete isolation from other Jewish communities. There are tens or even hundreds of different Jewish religious congregations. The only thing that unites all of them is their common belief in the first Testament and in a common vindication of the old Jerusalem faith.
Hebrew, a 'dead' classical language only used for religious rituals and education, was modernised and transformed into the new `national' language. In order to develop Hebrew, Zionists undermined Ladino, the traditional Jewish mother tongue of the Jews in the Ottoman empire based in old Spanish, and Yiddish, the traditional European Jewish language based in old German. The Bolsheviks, on the contrary, massively promoted Yiddish Publications, Higher Education institutions, schools and even set up a territory (Birobidjan) for the development of the Yiddish culture and language.
Arabic was the language spoken by the overwhelmingly majority of the population in Palestine until 1948. Around half of the Jews that came to Israel after 1948 came from Oriental countries where most of them had Arabic as their mother tongue. Like all discriminatory society Israel had a system based in different levels of privileges. The Arabs are the most oppressed. Among the Jews, Oriental Jews are oppressed by Azkanazim Jews of European origins. The Black Jews (Falasha) suffer racism and discrimination. The Chief rabbinate does not fully recognise Falasha as having Jewish status. They are a sort of inferior Jew.
Israeli society is also divided amongst religious believers. The most orthodox minority (like the small Naturei Carta) is against the Israeli state because they think that a Jewish state could only be created with a Messiah and that the actual one tries to eliminate the Jewish traditional community in order to create a modern secularised state. The majority of the orthodox (the `crows') wants a fundamentalist Talmudic and segregationist state. They even attack non-orthodox Jews when they drive cars on the Sabbaths (holy Saturdays) or when they see women with `improper' clothes. Many Israelis wants a modern and secularised life.
Most nation-states were created claiming the continuity of a people that lived in the assigned territory for many centuries. Most of the nations, despite having an official religion, adopted some secular and non-confessional legal basis. Pakistan was divided from India around religious allegiances. However, most of the people that inhabited Pakistan where the native population. In India Marxists are against the creation of Khalistan. A Sikh state could be based in a community that is the majority of the population of certain parts of the Punjab. However, it would be created under religious and segregationist/communalist basis and would became a reactionary tool against the most secularised Sikhs and the Indian population.
The Israeli nation cannot offer any territorial-historic continuity. Until the last century less than 5% or even 1% of Palestine where Jews. The Jews which arrived in that land had different histories and they and their immediate ancestors lived mainly in other countries or continents. Their only territorial claim to that land was that of descent from the old Israelis who inhabited that land 2,000 years ago. The Welsh, Gaelic and Bretons could claim Britain and even most of Western Europe because the Celts where the majority of the population 2,000 years ago. Different regions in the Balkans and Eastern Europe could have been claimed by Albanians, Serbs, Greeks, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Germans, Hungarians, Turks or Polish because
only one century ago they used to be the majority of the population. With this kind of territorial claims the Canaanites or the Philistines, who inhabited Palestine before the Jews -as the Bible related- bloodily invaded them, could have better claims. In fact, The Palestinians can claim to be the direct descendants of them.
A Jewish state can be created only around some religious allegiances because that is the only thing in common that all Jews share. A secular state would mean a republic based on a constitution in which every citizen has equal rights. In the Bolshevik Soviet Union, Jews, who were only 2% of the people, were allowed to lead the Red Army, the two main Soviets and the ruling International Party. Would an Israeli entity allow an Arab to become Prime Minister, mayor of Jerusalem or chief of the army? This is impossible because the state is founded on religious segregation. A Jewish state in a territory that was populated by a heterogeneous Jewish minority for less than half a century and founded on the expulsion and oppression of its native population, can only survive by means of its Apartheid character.
Can we recognise the right of a Jewish nation?
Palestinians (and progressive Jews) should not recognise the right of Israel to exist. A two-state solution would imply that the Palestinians must renounce most of their lands from which they were pushed in the last five decades.
In Argentina, Australia and the USA the native population was largely wiped out and new modern White settler nations where created on the basis of massive European emigration. We cannot demand that these big countries should be given back to their original peoples. The indigenous populations where reduced to few hundreds of thousands. On the other side tens of millions now constitute industrialised societies. In these countries we defend the First Nations rights to use their mother tongue in their education and every day life, to have lands and even to achieve self-government in the areas that remain under their control.
Palestine does not offer the same scenario. The Zionists could not annihilate large chunks of the local population. There are more than four million Palestinians living under Israeli control or in neighbouring countries. The Palestinian working class and intelligentsia are among the Middle East's most enlightened and militant ones. Palestinian fighters are at the forefront of the region's anti-imperialist struggles. Palestinian demonstrations are a major source of inspiration especially for the hundreds of millions of Arab and Muslim masses.
The idea that the Arabs have to accept the colonist entity as a nation with the right to have its own state, is a demand to surrender made by the most pro-imperialist wings of the ruling classes. The left-wing Palestinians are resisting that capitulation. If the Arab left came to terms with Israel it would reinforce the Islamic fundamentalist attempt to monopolise the anti-Zionist Arab sentiment. That would be a colossal tragedy.
A bi-national Israeli/Arab State would be an unworkable contradiction. Palestine is the historical denomination of a territory. It does not have an exclusive, segregationist or religious connotation. Christians and Muslims, and even some non-Zionist Jews, also use that name. Israel means by its name the desire to create a separate and pure Jewish communalist state. It is possible to talk about a bi-national or bi-lingual country in Belgium or Wales. In these places different linguistic-cultural communities developed alongside each other without any strong degree of discrimination.
In Spain, Iran, the Andes, India and other countries it is possible to argue in favour of the right of self-determination for all its components or even for a multi-national federation. Basque, Kurds, Quechuas, Tamils are oppressed nationalities which had historical roots in territories in which they were the majority of the population for centuries.
A bi-national Israeli-Palestinian state would not be based on the equality of both communities. The Arabs have the worst jobs and not have the same rights as the Zionists. Israel and Aliya are inseparable. Israel needs to grant citizenship to every Jew no matter if he/she was born in Argentina or Australia and has never been before in the country. Israel provides housing, jobs and benefits to theJewish emigrants while the Arab native population are denied their rights to return to their lands or homes and they cannot have important positions in the state, the police or the army.
Marxists oppose Aliya. We are, of course, in favour of free frontiers and against people's displacement. We want open borders for all the Jews, Gypsies and other peoples who suffer discrimination. However, we have to oppose colonialist emigration. We opposed the French or Italian attempts to resettle poor peasants or workers as colonial tools in Northern Africa. We rejected the Rabat's kingdom mass march on Western Sahara because they wanted to solve a land problem in Morocco at the expenses of the Sarahui local population. A democratic secular Palestine should welcome citizens from all countries but they could not accept émigrés that try to create a segregationist state at the expense of the original people.
In Ecuador the Council of Indian Nations (CONAI) demand that this state should accept its multi-national character. The achievement of that goal would imply a great conquest for all the Indian peoples. In Palestine the native population is not fighting to be considered just one of several cultural and national components of the state. Israel is, by definition, based in a Jewish supremacist and segregationist platform and in the necessity to ethnically cleanse Palestine. The Palestinians are claiming their land back. Their historical aim was to refuse to recognise the state that deprived them of their lands and citizenship.
We are not in favour of a bi-cultural Northern Ireland or of a bi-national White/Black South Africa. It does not mean that we are in favour of a clerical Catholic all-Ireland or for expelling all the Whites from South Africa. It means that the former privileged community has to accept that they should stop considering the rest of the population as inferior and to accept that they should be an equal minority.
We are for the destruction of a purely Jewish segregationist and confessional state. But that does not mean that we want to drive all Jews into the sea or to support yet another genocide. We want to convince as many Jews as we can that the best thing for them is to unite with the Arab workers in order to create a secular non-religious and non-racist egalitarian republic.
The communists promoted the Yiddish culture and they designated a territory for Jewish colonisation. The Jews did not arrive in Birobidjan as a racist segregationist colonist who tried to exclude the native peoples. They coexisted peacefully with the locals. Today, for example, Birobidjan's Slav majority is very keen in maintaining the Jewish identity of that country as a means of attracting investment, technology and people.
In countries where the Jews constituted a compact oppressed majority in some territories (like the Falasha in Ethiopia) it was possible to advocate their right of self-determination, including autonomy or separation. However that right could not be extended to a group of people that wants to come into a new country to ethnically cleanse the local population.
Zionism needs to trample on the rich cultural and linguistic traditions of the Arab, Ladino, Yiddish, Falasha and other Jewish communities in order to create a new Hebrew oppressive nation which is forged in bloodiest battles against the Arab natives. We need to emphasise the fact that the Israeli Jew community is, in fact, a multi-ethnic amalgam. Zionists try to unite them against a common enemy: the native Arab peoples. We should not help them in doing that.
We need to defend many of these communities against the Zionists attempts to deny some of their most progressive traditions (like the Yiddish working class movements) and its discriminatory conditions in Israel. Begin and Likud tried to use the Oriental Jew resentment against the Azkenazim in a reactionary way: trying to transform them into the most patriotic anti-Arab pro-Israeli force. We should address the oriental Jews explaining that their enemies are not the Arab neighbours or natives but the capitalists and Zionists.
A socialist, secular, multi-ethnic Republic.
Our demand is for a socialist, secular, multi-ethnic and democratic Palestinian republic. In that country there live scores of communities: non-religious Jews and Arabs, secularised Russian-speaking Jews, Ladino-speaking Jews, Yiddish-speaking Jews, Arab-speaking Jews, Hebrew-speakers; non-Talmudic Jews (Samaritans, Falasha, Karaite), as well as Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews; various Christian congregations (Armenians, Copts, Catholics (Roman and Orthodox); Maronnites, Protestants, etc.); Muslims (Shias, Sunni, etc.); Druses, Bedouins, Bahai, etc.
All these communities should have equal rights. No single community should impose its own religion onto the state. A secular constitution with a secular civic code should regulate their activities. There would not be special treatment for those of the same religion that come from other countries. Palestinians should have the right to return.
A democratic multi-ethnic Palestine could only be achieved as a result of a socialist revolution based on workers councils and militias. It would also be part of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East. In that context not only Palestinians would have the right to return but also Arab Jews would have the right to return to Syria, Morocco, Iraq and other Arab countries. Kurds, Assyrian and other nationalities would achieve self-determination and equal rights.
LCMRCI December 1998