A lot of political tendencies and ways of thinking come under fire in the editorial “what is left anti-Semitism?” in Solidarity 3/82. Among them are those on the left who maintain appalling double standards towards Israel – opposing its occupation of Palestine with far more venom than that with which they oppose the equally (if not more) brutal occupations of, for example, Chechnya by Russia. These attacks are justified, and I agree that the double-standards applied to Israel and the history of Jewish nationalism can legitimately be analysed as amounting to de facto hostility to Jewish people — not the racist anti-semitism of the Nazism, but a hangover from Stalinism from which the left is yet to shake itself.
So far, so fair enough.
But then, bizarrely, the editorial rounds on Hal Draper — one of the Trotskyists in whose theoretical tradition the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty situates itself. Hal Draper — the hero of the Free Speech Movement at Berkley University. Hal Draper — the man who, perhaps more spectacularly than anyone else, proved that an adherence to third-camp Trotskyism does not automatically lead you down the suicidal road of one of the tradition’s founders, Max Shachtman. Hal Draper — the defender of Israel, a left anti-Semite? Huh?
Of Draper, the editorial has this to say:
“Even the work of a writer like Hal Draper can feed into this poisoned stream. While Draper made valid and just criticisms of Israel, he accepted that it had a right to exist and a right to defend itself. He denounced those who wanted to destroy it. But he made his criticisms in the tone and manner of a prophet denouncing sin and iniquity. He too thought that Israel was an illegitimate state, that it should never have come into existence and should go out of existence as soon as possible.”
It’s pleasing to see that we in the AWL continue to be capable of criticising even those in whose tradition we strongly identify, but in this instance I think the criticisms are unjustified. And the editorial doesn’t back up these rather vehement claims with any reference to Draper’s work. When basing one’s denunciations around the “tone and manner” of a writer, it is not unreasonable to expect evidence from that writer’s work to be produced in order to substantiate the criticisms. None is forthcoming.
So – what did Draper actually say about Israel?
In “War of independence or expansion,” one of his most important works on the subject (and one that we reprinted in Solidarity 3/66) he says, “as Marxist socialists — that is, as the only consistent democrats — we believe in and accept the democratic right of all peoples (including the Palestinian Jews) to self-determination, to work out their own destiny as they see fit. We said this even while advising against the exercise of this right to the point of separation.”
In other words, Draper says that while the creation of a separate national entity is not the path that we as Trotskyists would advocate, we still defend the right of national groups to create such entities if they wish. You might agree or disagree with that analysis, but its starting point is that the Israeli-Jews are a national group and that they do have rights — the exact opposite of the perspective that we identify as “left anti-semitism.”
Draper goes on:
“To recognise the right of the Jews to self-determination, if it is not merely to be a pious obeisance to a formula, requires socialists also to recognise the right of the Jews to defend their choice of separate national existence against any and all reactionary attempts to deprive them of that right, whether by Arab feudal lords or UN imperialism. That is why we demanded recognition of Israel by the government, and why our British comrades particularly must demand similar action by the Labour government — as the concretisation of the demand that the imperialists keep out. That is why we demand the lifting of the imperialist embargo on arms to the new Jewish state.”
A clearer and more principled advocacy of the right of the Jews in Palestine to constitute themselves as a national entity up to and including the creation of a nation state could hardly have been written. If Draper writes as “a prophet denouncing sin and iniquity,” here the sin he denounces is the sin of not recognising the right of Palestine’s Jews to self-determination.
One may take this or that view about Draper’s overall sentiment that the partition of Palestine was a mistake. That debate is now historical. But to suggest that simply because Draper did maintain doubts about this partition, and because he expressed vehement (and in my view principled) criticisms of the circumstances under which it was carried out, he is somehow guilty of anti-semitism is ludicrous, and in fact undermines what is actually a clear advocacy of the right of the nascent Israeli-Jewish national entity’s right to exist.
The work of writers like Hal Draper on the subject of Israel-Palestine are weapons in our arsenal against “left anti-Semitism,” that is against the notion that the Israeli Jews, uniquely amongst all the world’s nations, have no rights whatsoever. The editorial in Solidarity 3/82 has been successful in generating debate on this subject with the AWL and beyond and in expressing our continuing commitment to take the issue of anti-semitism (within the left and without) seriously. The editorial’s eagerness to hand Draper over to the other side simply undermines that.
Daniel Randall, North London
Editors’ note: The editorial didn’t call Draper a left anti-semite! It even emphasised that Draper had the same basic position as us (championing Palestinian rights to self-determination while defending Israel’s right to exist). But Draper had an attitude to the Israeli Jews not quite consistent with his attitude to other nations. For Israel he insisted on advocating a binational state (and not merely as desirable, but as the only way to live in peace). Draper did not deduce that if Israel refused to integrage into such a binational state it should be crushed; but you can see why other people, maybe more realistic than him about the possibility of the Israeli Jews unilaterally and quickly renouncing nationalism, would conclude that the Israelis’ “unreasonableness” must be punished. That is why some of Draper’s fine work justly criticising Israel (on the seizures of Arab land inside Israel in the 1950s, for example) can be used by people who really are - unlike Draper - left-wing anti-semites. See Workers’ Liberty 50/51 (www.workersliberty.org/node/view/
4521) and 49 for detailed references.