Letter: Proud to be a Zionist

Submitted by Matthew on 13 April, 2016 - 9:22 Author: Eric Lee

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point.

The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this. On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion. There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic.

One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. And there are consequences in the real world to choosing one or another of those options. For example, a generation ago, right-wing politicians in America would label every attempt at social reform, no matter how modest, as “socialism”. (They still do, but with less success.) As the Cold War raged, the word “socialist” had become toxic. We on the American Left would argue that by openly calling ourselves “socialists” we were giving breathing space to liberals, and changing the political discourse in the country. Little did we realize that within a few years, an openly socialist politician would be a serious contender for the Presidency.

Still, there are terms we’ve been forced to abandon. Most leftists I know don’t call themselves “communists”, for example. While we can all claim to embrace the ideas expounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, most of us accept that it would cause more confusion than it’s worth to try to claim the word for ourselves. This is helped by the fact that up until 1918, most socialists called themselves “social democrats”, and that the Bolsheviks took on the rarely-used “communist” label to distinguish the new parties they were creating. It was a label we could discard because we had a perfectly good alternative. But this is not the case with the word Zionist.

As Freedland and most others would agree, a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland. One could be a Zionist and oppose the current right-wing government in Israel. One could be a Zionist and support an independent Palestinian state, side by the side with Israel. One could oppose the occupation and still be a Zionist. In fact, one could even argue that if you really believe the Jewish people need a state of their own, and want it to survive, you must also support reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to share the land which both peoples claim. There is no other future for the Jewish state that I can imagine.

As a Zionist, I therefore support genuine peace and reconciliation between the two peoples — and a two-state solution to bring an end to the conflict. I am happy to embrace the label “socialist Zionist” and the tradition that represents — the kibbutz movement which for decades was a model democratic socialist society, the struggle by left Zionists including a party I was proud to be a member of (Mapam) against racism and for peace, against religious coercion and for social justice for Jews and Arabs. I could, I guess, go along with Freedland and just call myself “a socialist who supports the right of the Jewish people to their own country” — but why not just embrace the label of “Zionist” instead?

• Eric Lee runs the LabourStart international trade union news website, and is an activist in Democrats Abroad and the London organiser for the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Comments

Submitted by david kirk on Thu, 14/04/2016 - 18:04

Eric Lee argued in his letter that
"a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland."
It's seems like under that generous definition then everyone is a Zionists apart from anti Semites would be Zionists.
Eric's definition of Zionism is actually the same as many "absolute anti Zionists" on the british left who would label anyone who concedes that Israeli jews as a people should have the right to self determination alongside the Palestinians as Zionists.

Both positions are nullifying Zionism of its political content and its context and they deny the possibility of a consistent international socialist position of defending the right of the Israeli people to their own state but at the same time also opposing Israeli nationalism (as we oppose all nationalism's) in its Labour Zionist as well as its more conservative and religious variations.

The Zionist movement in its political form rose out of a reaction to the discrimination and persecution faced by Jews during the 19th Century. It was a movement away from demanding civil rights and equality for jews everywhere to setting up a separate Jewish homeland. Eventually their grew to be two wings of the Zionist movement 'politcal Zionism' that looked at a deal with great powers, religious institutions and bourgeois settlement agencies to bring this state about. Labour Zionism was a form of utopian socialism that argued for the setting up of kibbutz and co'operatives to create a secular socialist Jewish homeland.

Both forms of Zionism were opposed by the socialists of the second international and later by the Bolsheviks and the early third international that argued that the agency for Jewish liberation is working class struggle. It was the Holocaust and Stalinism that practically killed off the international socialist movement many Jews had been involved in.

As more and more Jewish refugees headed for Palestine it obviously boosted the political prestige of Zionism but socialists should have being raising the democratic rights of Jews in Palestine to self determination alongside Palestinians who were also ruled by the British.

Once the Israeli state had been set up both wings of Zionism developed into the patriotic chauvinistic ideologies of the two wings of the Israeli ruling class.

Now I am guessing most Jews wherever they live in the world probably think of themselves as Zionists, just as the Irish diaspora probably think of themselves as Irish nationalists or the Kurdish diaspora as Kurdish nationalists.
Yet even among those diaspora's whilst socialists should always argue for national rights we should not see nationalism as anything but a block to the development of the cause of socialism world wide.

We are for two states because its the Palestinians peoples right to self determination that is currently being denied.
But this self determination cannot nullify the Israeli peoples national rights.

Zionism (which today should be more accurately called Israeli Nationalism) is not uniquely evil as some on the left whose anti zionism flirts with anti semitism would have us believe. Yet neither should it be exempt from our ruthless criticism of all nationalisms and chauvinisms as the enemies of the international workers movement

Submitted by Jason Schulman on Sat, 16/04/2016 - 21:17

If Zionism means anything, it means:

1) the belief that all the world's Jews, religious or secular, constitute a nation, and
2) therefore, the state of Israel is the homeland/lifeboat state of that nation, and any Jew living anywhere in the world has more of a right to live in Israel than any of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 or 1967, or their descendants.

I reject (1) and therefore (2). Shlomo Sand and various others have demonstrated that world Jewry is not a nation, nor have they been a nation in any contemporary meaningful sense for well over 2,000 years. (2) is obviously the basis of an ethno-religious chauvinist ideology, incompatible not only with socialist internationalism but with any principled liberal-democratic understanding that Israel must become a state where all who live there are "first-class" citizens.

I do, however, acknowledge that self-identified Jews born in Israel are part of a regionally-specific "Hebrew nation." This is very different from the argument that they are part of an international nation of Jews. Zionists deny that this Hebrew nation exists. But it is a fact -- an anti-Zionist fact, if you will.

Both the Hebrew nation and Palestinian nation have the right to national self-determination. This could take either the form of "two states for two peoples" or a bi-national state. The former is more likely, though it will take great effort to ensure that the Palestinian state is a real state and not, in Moshé Machover's words, "one powerful Israeli state dominating a disjointed set of Palestinian enclaves similar to Indian Reservations, policed by corrupt elites acting as Israel’s proxies."

Submitted by John D on Sun, 17/04/2016 - 13:34

I am not a proud Zionist, nor proud that I can walk, get wet in the rain, enjoy flowers and trees in springtime. These are simple responses to the world in which I find myself. I was (and am) offered the same age-old choices: convert to the dominant religion, adopt the dominant culture, stick it out as I see myself with whatever consequences, walk away from it - get the hell out before the sh*t hits the fan, be an activist to strive for an ideal world. Or some weighted mixture of all the above and other choices, with weighting adjusted by current experience.

Jason Schulman's timing is exquisitly appropriate. Wherever Jews are found, this week they celebrate one of their most dominant, influential ceremonies: the Passover. No matter that factually it is all a myth. It is tradition. And intended to be very, very formative - especially to young, impressionable minds.

A tradition that for hundreds of years has recognized the Schulman view: Of the four sons, the wicked one asks "What mean you by this service?" By "you" (l'chem) he does not include himself. He excludes himself from the body of the Jewish people.

Every Jewish document, statement or reading that I know of repeatedly uses one or more of the expressions "Am Yisrael" (the people of Israel) , "Klal" or "Klal Yisrael" (the collective community of Israel), "Bet Yisrael" (the House of Israel), "Goy Yisrael" (the nation of Israel), "B'nei Yisrael" (the children/followers of Israel) or similar. Also the plural collective verb construct "u" or "nu" meaning "every one of us who are of the people".
That's solid evidence. And in the light of that evidence Jason Schulman is, to be excessively generous, somewhat misleading.

It is also well-established historical tradition that a highly popular time to attack Jews is at the important festival times. Especially Passover. It's not difficult to see where he is coming from:

Submitted by Jason Schulman on 16 April, 2016 - 21:17
If Zionism means anything, it means:
1) the belief that all the world's Jews, religious or secular, constitute a nation, and
2) therefore, the state of Israel is the homeland/lifeboat state of that nation, and any Jew living anywhere in the world has more of a right to live in Israel than any of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 or 1967, or their descendants.
I reject (1) and therefore (2). Shlomo Sand and various others have demonstrated that world Jewry is not a nation, nor have they been a nation in any contemporary meaningful sense for well over 2,000 years.
Jason Schulman Retweeted: In These Times ‏@inthesetimesmag Apr 15
Bernie Sanders Must Defy the Pro-Israel Lobby & Reinstate His Anti-Occupation Jewish Advisor http://bit.ly/1SH0dQG

Jason Schulman ‏@PartyOfANewType Apr 15
.Tell @PENamerican not to accept money from a government that restricts the movement of Palestinian writers! http://bit.ly/264uN0v #Israel

1) Nothing to do with being based on Zionism. Has been common for over a thousand years.
"2) therefore . . . ?". Eh? What? And this from an academic! I do hope he doesn't teach logic.

With whom will he sit this Thursday? And in what spirit?

This is the fourth article in as many weeks in AWL on some mosaic topic. Mostly focus on anti-semitic history and theory. Not one of them proposes a current plan of action, nor addresses the Israeli/Palestinian/Jewish/Muslim/Christian/Athiest worker's needs from a class point of view.
So kudos to Eric Lee. Fine article. Now I'll start reading his site.

Submitted by Jason Schulman on Sun, 17/04/2016 - 17:55

Is that what you're saying, John D?

Really, if I thought there was a hell I might bother to tell you to go there.

Submitted by Jason Schulman on Sun, 17/04/2016 - 18:02

I don't see how anyone who isn't an ideologue with an axe to grind could argue with his explanation.

http://www.israeli-occupation.org/2013-05-17/moshe-machover-zionist-myt…

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