Zionism and anti-Zionism

Submitted by martin on 23 October, 2003 - 11:54

The pamphlet Arabs, Jews and Socialism, now long out of print, collected the articles which appeared in Solidarity's predecessor Socialist Organiser during a prolonged reassessment of the Jewish-Arab conflict. Beginning with support for a "secular democratic state" in all of pre-1948 Palestine, we finally concluded that this was a utopian proposal behind which sheltered a virulent Arab chauvinism. The only way forward was through two states, an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
The pamphlet contained an exchange on the question of "what is Zionism?", an issue discussed recently in Solidarity. To facilitate the new discussion we here reprint extracts from Arabs, Jews and Socialism. Pen-names have been replaced by real names.

What is "Zionism" today?
Sean Matgamna, Socialist Organiser 289, 23/10/86

Zionism is a term that has now ceased to have any very clear meaning. It originally meant a Jewish political movement aiming to set up a Jewish state in Palestine. The Zionists were a minority of Jews until well after Hitler took power in Germany.
With the founding and consolidation of the state of Israel in 1948 and after, the original "Zionism" was consigned to history.
What does "Zionism" mean today? The right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist, even if you would like to see it radically changed? In that sense probably a majority of politically aware people in the world, vastly though their outlooks differ, are "Zionist". In that sense, too, Socialist Organiser is "Zionist".
But the "Zionism" that is denounced on the left is not some narrow amorphous body. It is far narrower than that. In practice it means the "Zionist" hard core of activists and enthusiasts, that is, the Jews.
The commitment of large chunks of the left to the destruction of the state of Israelinevitably leads it to adopt attitudes of deep hostility to Jews - not racist hostility, for the left is not racist, but political hostility, except that it is political hostility to almost an entire people, and on a matter of life and death.
"Pillar of Fire" [an Israeli-made TV series] tells a story which should make every "anti-Zionist" socialist who sees it examine his or her conscience. For the facts do not lie. And though inevitably the story told by "Pillar of Fire" is the story as seen by the Jews, and the series is thus "biased", beyond that the facts are straightforward...
In the 1930s hundreds of thousands of Jews went to Palestine - because no other country would have them...
There are many pictures of the millions of Jews of Eastern Europe going about their daily lives - traders, peddlers, scholars, children playing in the street - almost all of them destined to die soon at the hands of Hitler's racist maniacs.
In 1937 a Commission of Enquiry was set up by the British Government which then ruled Palestine, and it recommended that Palestine be partitioned, giving the Jews their own state. It was shelved because of Arab opposition.
The Arab opposition was understandable enough: but maybe if the Jewish state had been set up, the Jews of Europe would have had a refuge, and millions might have survived. Instead the Jews of Europe were trapped on a continent which soon offered them nothing but death.
Palestine itself came close to being a death-trap for the Jews there. If the Germans and Italians had won the battle in the Western Desert in 1942, then Palestine would have been theirs. In fact the British had plans for evacuating Palestine...
The terrible truth is that "Zionist propaganda" had all its work - and much more - done for it by the virulent anti-semites and those who either connived with them or looked away.
"Pillar of Fire" made the telling point that though the Allied air forces had control of the air over Europe from mid 1944 and hit innumerable airports, depots, munitions factoris etc. (not so speak of cities), and though what was happening in the death camps was know to the Allied governments, no attempt was made to destroy the death factories or the railway lines leading to them...

We're not Zionist 1
Clive Bradley, Socialist Organiser 290, 30/10/86

It is true that Zionism in its original sense has been "consigned to history" - the movement for a separate Jewish state. But I cannot agree that Zionism as a term now means no more than the belief that the Israeli Jews have the right to a state. If this is so, the majority certainly of Israeli anti-Zionists and non-Zionists are "Zionists". I do not agree that Socialist Organiser's position is, or should be, in any sense "Zionist".
Much of what is reactionary and oppressive in the Israeli state flows from its specifically Zionist character. That it is defined as a state for all Jews rather than its citizens is not incidental; that Jews are free to immigrate to Israel but displaced Arabs are not, is not incidental either. These features, among others, define Israel as a Zionist state, and to understate this aspect of the issue is liable to lead to an underestimation of the problems posed by the Middle East conflict.
Similarly, it is right to condemn the anti-semitism of the "democratic" Allies prior to 1948 in refusing to open their borders to Jews fleeing Hitler; but it seems to me to undermine that condemnation to add "maybe if a Jewish state had been created, the Jews of Europe would have had a refuge, and millions might have survived".
Maybe. But far better, surely, if they had been able to escape to America, or Britain, where most of them would have preferred to go. And where were the communists, homosexuals, gypsies, trade unionists supposed to seek refuge? A "refuge" was not the answer - as post-1948 history has tragically shown.
In any case, the fate of the "refuge" would have depended on Allied military success in north Africa.
Socialist Organiser is right to bend the stick against the "idiot anit-imperialists" on the question of the Middle East; but I think maybe there's a danger of bending it too far.

We're not Zionist 2
Bryan Edmands, Socialist Organiser 290, 30/10/86

Mick Ackersley states that: "Zionism is a term that has now ceases to have any very clear meaning". However, as he asserts, it does mean "the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist", even if perhaps "radically" altered.
But the state of Israel, a state clearly based upon the democratic wishes of the vast majority of its Jewish people, is a state fundamentally resting upon the oppression of over two and a quarter million Palestinian Arabs - Arabs scattered throughout the Middle East (and elsewhere) or forced to live under the Israeli state's military control of the annexed West Bank and Gaza Strip...
To say that in a "sense", then, Socialist Organiser is "Zionist" is thus akin to saying that we support and condone all of this - and the manifestation of the Israeli government's foreign and domestic policy in the region, namely the continued and aystematic terrorisation of the Palestinian and Arab peoples.
I understand the motivation behind the sentiments expressed in the article - there is no easy solution to this situation, and most solutions put forward by the left in essence reduce to an external and forceful destruction of not only the Israeli state but Jewish society (and people).
But in trying to differentiate from this position Sean Matgamna has gone too far the other way.
Zionism is a thoroughly racist and reactionary ideology - one today based upon the maintenance of the power of one people, the Jews, organised in their own militarised state, over that of a dispossessed and dispersed people, the Palestinian Arabs.
The terrible tragedy of the Jewish people is that in fleeing the Holocaust they built a homeland by the systematic brutalising and oppression of another people - a people who to this day continue a hard, bitter, misrepresented and all too often forgotten struggle against this reality.

Where "anti-Zionism" leads
Sean Matgamna, Socialist Organiser 293, 20/11/86

Clive Bradley was one of the first two or three Socialist Organiser supporters to break away from the delusion we used to share with many on the left that the answer to the Jewish-Arab conflict is a "secular democratic state" in Palestine...
Like "socialism", "communism", and "Trotskyism", "Zionism" is now a pretty decayed word with lots of different meanings. It no longer defines something clearly. Today you need additional information before you know what the word is being used for and what it means.
Its original - and now its historic - meaning was clear enough: the goal of a Jewish state and activity to achieve it. Its logical meaning now, developing from its original meaning, should surely centre on the state created by the original Zionists and on one's attitude to that state.
Those who support the right of the Jewish state, in some form, to exist, are, logically, "Zionists" - and that now includes a vast spectrum of opinion, including those, like Socialist Organiser, who are hostile to aspects of the existing Jewish state.
When we wanted to replace Israel with the mythical and impossible secular democratic state, we logically regarded all who supported Israel as Zionists of one sort or another. I did, certainly. Now we should try to be consistent and honest with ourselves.
If the word "Zionism" could be forgotten about or left in its decay form to the reforming Israeli critics of the Jewish state as a term of abuse for the Israeli establishment, fine. But we have to relate to the word "Zionism" according to its use in the society around us, and especially its use on the left.
For, though, logically, all of us who support Israel's right to existence are Zionists, "Zionist" on the left now in fact means Jew.
It is the Jews who have the hard-core commitment to Israel and from whom come Zionism's militants. It is the Jewish Zionists who are the target of the "no free speech for Zionists" campaigns.
It was surely established in our discussions in Socialist Organiser that the left's "anti-imperialism-of-idiots" Zionist-bashing is anti-semitic - a new form of anti-semitism, if you like, but anti-semitic nonetheless.
It is anti-semitic not only because of its unique proposal to destroy a nation, but also because of what it implies towards most Jews outside Israel, who defend Israel's right to exist. That being so, we can distance ourselves from certain detestable policies and activities of the Israeli state; but to distance ourselves from "Zionism" is neither consistent nor honourable.
No name, no mere word, will saddle us with responsibility for the crimes of the Israeli state. But on the left now the violent repudiation of the word, when in fact it is used to mean Jew, would saddle us with some of the responsibility... for the left's vocal and activity hostility to Jews ("Zionists") who refuse to break with Israel and Zionism and endorse the Arab goal of conquering and destroying the Jewish nation state.

We're not Zionist 3
Clive Bradley, Socialist Organiser 294, 27/11/86

If all that being a "Zionist" meant or implied was support for the right of an Israeli Jewish nation to exist, and opposition to their forcible inclusion into a "democratic secular state", I would have no quarrel with Sean Matgamna.
I am even prepared to concede that if that is all you mean by it, then I am a "Zionist" too. It would be logically irrefutable.
But I don't think that is all it means. Zionism is an ideology - a "decayed" one, no doubt, but an ideology all the same. There are two claims in particular of this ideology that I think we should oppose.
First, that the movement for the creation of Israel was a movement of Jewish national liberation. Whatever the subjective intentions of its adherents, it was in practice a movement of colonial conquest.
Second, even if it had not been a reactionary movement in this sense, the project of a Jewish state would have been a false method of fighting anti-semitism in Europe (as false as the notion of a "homosexual state" for other victims of fascism); and a ridiculous method of developing a Jewish socialist movement as the "socialist" Zionists believed.
Just history? I don't think so. Whilst, to repeat, defending the rights of the Jews, we have to explain the origins of the conflict. It is simply impossible to discuss the question of Palestine without doing so. These historical issues are therefore very live political issues.
And the Israeli state is recognisably Zionist - recognisably the product of the Zionist movement. It is a state for Jews, as opposed to a state for its citizens. Arabs expelled since its creation cannot live in it.
I oppose a programme to conquer Israel. I think that the propose the self-obliteration of the Israeli Jewish nation is utopian rubbish. I think that the expelled Arabs have no absolute right, in the sense of a right that in principle could be enforced by external armes and thus conquest, to "return". But I do think they have a "right", in a more minimal sense, to live in Israel, and that their exclusion is chauvinist, indeed racist.
Zionism, minimally, is Israeli Jewish chauvinism. I do not think we should call ourselves "Zionists" any more than, though support for Palestinian naitonal rights, we should be Palestinian nationalists.
To do so obscures real political issues rather than clarifying them.

Against ideological terror
Sean Matgamna, Socialist Organiser 295, 4/12/86

After Clive Bradley's letter I'm not sure what our quarrel is about. Clive objects to my assertion that Zionism logically means support for the right of Israel to exist and that those who support its right to exist are Zionist.
Now Clive - who does support the right of Israel to exist - conceded that if this is all that is meant by "Zionism" then he too is a Zionist: "It would be logically irrefutable".
Clive insists that Zionism means other things too. Yet nobody proposed that we formally adopt the name - or the ideas and attitudes of the campaigning Zionists, who are usually Jewish chauvinists.
Israel was created by "a movement of colonial conquest" of sorts. But people who emphasise this are usually concerned with more than precise classification. They use it to justify a denial of Israel's right to exist and to back up a proposal to roll back the film of history by destroying the Jewish nation in Palestine. It encapsulates a reactionary Arab revanchist and chauvinist programme.
In any case support for Israel's right to exist does not necessarily imply support for the "movement of colonial conquest". We can only relate to that now as an event of past history.
Setting up a Jewish state was a false way to fight anti-semitism in Europe? I'm not so sure about that. By the end of his life Trotsky - though he rejected the Zionist enterprise in Palestine - had come round to the view that a Jewish state was necessary. [See the pamphlet Two Nations, Two States].
The historic fact is that Zionism was not able to save Europe's Jews from anti-semitism, or from massacre. Nothing but the socialist revolution would have saved the Jews.
The fascists armies might very well have got to Palestine - they almost did early in the war - and turned it into a death trap for the Jews. Yet that didn't happen. The Jews in Palestine survived, while the Jews of Poland and most of Europe were murdered in their millions. That fact makes one wish that what Isaac Deutscher called "the liferaft state" had come into existence before the war.
History tells us that all methods of fighting anti-semitism in Europe failed, and that our method failed more thoroughly and disastrously than the Zionist method. It failed most completely in the country where the Jews had been most assimilated, Germany. Trotsky faced up to that fact after a lifetime spent as an assimilationist.
I don't conclude that, therefore, those who said to the Jews "assimilate and fight for the socialist revolution" were wrong. The tragic outcome wasn't inevitable. But that is how it turned out.
The massacre of the Jews - like so much else - was a byproduct of the defeat of the revolutionary socialist workers' movement in the early 20th century. But the workers were defeated, and the Jews were massacred; and as a knock-on effect terrible things were done, and are still being done, to the Palestinian Arabs, though incomparably less terrible things than were done to the Jews in Europe.
From 1986 it is a matter of evaluating the history of the Jews in the 20th century and not what it was in 1900, a choice of programmes, Zionist or assimilation, to fight for.
Israel is a state for all Jews as opposed to a state for all its citizens? Yes, but what is wrong with what?
As an ideal a state in which Jews and Arabs would coexist as equal citizens is very attractive. But haven't we all agreed - very belatedly to be sure - that it is a utopia behind which hides the Arab chauvinist demand for the conquest and destruction of the Jewish nation?
Either the Jews have a right to their state, or they don't. And if they do we can't make it conditional on us liking or approving everything they do. Of course while defending Israel's right to exist we champion the Palestinian Arabs within Israel and on the occupied West Bank, we support those Jews who fight Jewish chauvinism, and so on.
I can't see why - within that framework and within those qualifications - it is of special concern that Israel says all Jews in the world have a right to Israeli citizenship. Israel is a state conceived of as a refuge for all the victims of anti-semitism - why demand that the Israelis forget this? The law of (Jewish) return and the treatment of the Palestinian Arabs are separable and should be separated.
Surely the big issue here, though, is not just whether our support for the right of the Jews to have a state makes us - strictly speaking - Zionist or not. What makes that important and worth arguing about is that "Zionist" now is used on the left as a term of condemnation whose emotional content - used to bludgeon, intimidate and stigmatise - is about equal to the term "racist" and not too far away from "fascist". That is the political issue here.
It is necessary for us to stand up to this thinly disguised anti-semitism and to insist that it ia based on ideological lies and on pseudo-historical myths about how Israel came into existence.
Think about it. On the left "the Zionists" - read, the very big majority of Jews - are stigmatised as imperialists and racists of the very worst sort. Israel is imperialism incarnate, with its tentacles everywhere. It was the undercover workings of powerful Jewish conspirators which led to the creation of Israel.
Comparisons with Nazism come easy to those who see it like this, and are frequently used. It may be only the demented "petrodollar anti-Zionists" of Gerry Healy's old WRP who say all this clearly, but nevertheless that picture is widespread.
All this - despite the crimes of Israel against the Palestinian Arabs - is preposterous. The Jews have been the chief single victim of imperialism in the 20th century. The supposedly all-powerful pre-Israel world Jewish community couldn't even save its own from massacre. It couldn't secure entry visas for refugees from Nazism into Britain, the USA, or into any other country, not even to save their lives.
The picture of Zionism and of Israel as a creation and tool of imperialism (as distinct from an ally playing power politics with various imperialisms) is a grotesque historical libel and misrepresentation. That isn't how things happened, or why, whatever the long-term plans and machinations of the Zionist movement.
The Jews who made modern Israel possible fled to Palestine from murderous fascism. As late as the decisive war in 1948 Israel depended not on monopoly-capitalist imperialism, but on Moscow and its Czech satellite for the arms without which they might have lost.
The picture of modern history and the Jews' demonic place in it now dominant on the left is, if you think about it, not too far off a "left-wing" version of the "blood libel" of the Christian anti-semites, according to which Jews murdered children during their religious rituals.
You don't need to regard Israel and Zionists as they are regarded on much of the left to be able to oppose and condemn aspects of Israel and to demand justice for the Palestinian Arabs.
In fact our equivalent of the blood libel - which owes a great deal to the thinly disguised anti-semitism of the Stalinist movement and its post-1948 campaigns against "Zionism" - serves another purpose. It backs up and legitimises "socialist" support for the Arab chauvinist programme of conquering and annihilating the Jewish nation in Palestine.
Clive Bradley has as little time for this horrible nonsense as I have. But I think he hasn't freed himself from emotional attitudes and from hints and half-thoughts which imply attitudes and policies he both rejects and condemns.
The job of Socialist Organiser is to help the left scour itself free of the new anti-semitism. That is why, working in a political milieu in which Zionism is used as a demonological name tag to morally blackjack and ideologically terrorise Jews who stand up to the hysterical "anti-Zionists". Socialist Organiser cannot afford to go along even part of the way with the blackjackers. If we are Zionists, so then we are Zionists.

More next issue.

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