Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A socialist looks at Israel and Palestine

The assumption underlying the Zionist movement was that to establish a "national home for the Jewish people” was the only way to end their age-old persecution, especially under the yoke of the Tsars.   The Jewish Labour League, the Bund, which was affiliated to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, had as its purpose Jewish cultural autonomy within a Social-Democratic Russia. They saw that on the principle of divide and rule the Tsars had actually fostered anti-semitism. They were convinced that the Jewish problem was a by-product of the private property system and would end with the end of that system. They did not think in terms of a return, to “the promised land” as a solution to their problems. 

The end of the second world-war saw Zionism reaping a harvest of disillusionment and despair. Out of the camps, emerged the Jewish survivors. Few who had witnessed the holocaust of the Jews could fail to be moved by the determination of the survivors to have a home of their own, to live in a land where they could walk with heads held high, where they could till the soil and make the desert bloom and little by little heal the wounds of two thousand years. Despite the brutally callous turning back of their ships by the British Labour Government, many joined with the pioneers to oust the British and set up the Jewish State.  True to form, the territorial demands of one set of Nationalists were diametrically opposed to the demands of the other set. In Palestine, where a majority of Arabs had lived for centuries, the territorial demands of Jewish and Arab nationalism proved utterly irreconcilable. When the clash came the Zionists, who were then militarily superior and created an entire new exodus. Israel was not established out of nothing; large numbers of Arabs had to be expelled to make room for the new state. With calculating cynicism normal to ruling classes, the Pan-Arab capitalist class left the Palestinian refugees idly by the frontier, to grow in hate as an invaluable political weapon.  A flag-waving mentality to convince that one Israeli is worth any three or whatever number of Arabs is easier to pound out of the propaganda machine than explain the distinctions between Arab rulers and their pawns. The evidence is with us. Zionism has failed to achieve its objectives. Inevitably so. So long as there are Jewish workers attached in any numbers to the divisive and anti-working-class national idea, so long as their (and our) Arab brothers believe likewise, so long will strife ensue, so long will their respective ruling classes remain in the seat of power. The Jewish problem remains with us. It is an aspect of the working-class problem which has no solution outside of world-wide Socialism.

As they run to the shelters as Hamas or Hezbollah rockers fly, Israelis may well have wondered whether there is any country in the world where Jews are less safe. Zionists are always complaining about anti-semitism, real or imaginary. They use such complaints especially as a gambit to de-legitimise criticism of Zionism and Israel. From the start, however, Zionist opposition to anti-semitism has been superficial and selective, because Zionism is itself closely connected to anti-semitism. Thoughtful Israelis may also wonder how much of the anti-semitism in the world today is generated by Israel itself through its mistreatment of Palestinians and Lebanese. The Zionist needs anti-semitism like heroin addicts need their fix. What if the Jews in a given country are well integrated, face no significant anti-semitism, and show no interest in being "normalized"? Originally Zionism was conceived as a means of solving the problem of anti-semitism. From this point of view, where the problem does not exist there is no need for the solution. However, ends and means were inverted long ago, and Zionism became an end in itself, with anti-semitism a condition of its success. Anti-semitism might still be regarded in principle as an evil, but as a necessary evil. Often it was also said to be a lesser evil compared to the threat of assimilation supposedly inherent in rising rates of intermarriage. Against this background, it seems a trifle naive to ask why Israel's ruling circles don't realise that by their own actions they are generating anti-semitism. They fully realise. But they make it a point not to give a damn what the world thinks of them. There is nothing unique about the affinity between Zionism and anti-semitism. Russian nationalism thrives on Russophobia (the denigration of Russians), Irish nationalism on anti-Irish prejudice, Islamism on hatred of Moslems, and so on. To escape the vicious circle, we must respond to ethnic persecution not by promoting "our own" brand of nationalist or religious politics, but by asserting our identity as human beings and citizens of the future world cooperative commonwealth.

One myth propagated for many years by supporters of Israeli nationalism was that when it came to running an economy there could be none more successful than a Jewish state. Despite this hope on the part of those many Jewish workers who have invested their hopes and lives in Israel that country, like all others, is a part of the world capitalist system and will not escape its inevitable crises.  Israel is just another capitalist state. The Zionists who thought they could create a land of security for all should go and talk to the destitute Jewish workers of Israel. The ignorant anti-semites who imagined that every Jew drove a big car and smoked fat cigars should look at the slums in which their fellow wage slaves live. And before the Arab nationalists gloat at the failure of Israeli nationalism, let them ponder on the fact that while Arab oil billionaires are loafing in palaces their subjects are dying of malnutrition or living on paupers' incomes. The prejudices of capitalism are once again being struck out by the hard truths of experience.

The meia goes to great lengths to portray the Israelis as a people strong, but tolerant and peace-loving. Little publicity is given to the fact that the Israeli Cabinet has included convicted terrorists and extremists. Palestinians on the West Bank have been dispossessed of their homes in favour of Israeli settlers. They must carry identity cards and are subject to military orders which, for instance, prohibit such subversive acts as the planting of olive groves.

Like the Zionists, the Palestinians have embraced a dangerous myth about the past; in their case, the myth that pre-1948 Palestine was some kind of paradise. It was no such thing: most Palestinians struggled along on tiny plots of land, under the weight of massive debts, exploited by a class of landlords. Palestine did not belong to the Palestinians, any more than modern Israel belongs to working class Israelis.  It is easy to see why the oppressed people in the refugee camps might view the promise of Palestinian self-government as an answer. It is not surprising that settlement of the occupied territories by orthodox Jewish zealots who subscribe to the racist religious nationalism which advocates the expulsion of all Arabs from “Greater Israel”, has resulted in an equally vicious hatred of Jews by many Palestinians. But to strive for the replacement of an oppressive Israeli state by a Palestinian one cannot be an answer. It can only result in continued oppression — class oppression — by a Palestinian ruling class that would replace the Israeli ruling class. The dreams of Jewish workers of a life free from persecution and oppression finds its echo today in the dreams of Palestinian workers. Jewish dreams have not been answered by the setting up of the state of Israel and Palestinian dreams will not be answered by the establishment of a Palestinian state. Today some Israelis are also questioning why young conscripts should be sent into the West Bank to repress its inhabitants and defend the illegal Jewish settlers. Was this the kind of society that they have, on so many occasions, fought to defend and that their parents and grandparents dreamed about and struggled so hard to bring into existence?

The Zionist movement has pleaded the case for a Jewish Homeland as the answer to the problems of Jewish people everywhere. Those who have settled there have been subjected to continuous warfare, violent "incidents," and continuing poverty. The Palestinian elite gives out the same nonsense to their workers. Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism hold back the growth of class consciousness among the working class in Israel and Palestine.  Until the hold of nationalist and racist poison on the minds of the world's workers is destroyed, it will not be possible to live the full and satisfying life of socialism. Stand up for yourself as a human being and fight for the only worthwhile end — the achievement of a free humanity.

 'Zionism as the dream of capitalist Jewry the world over for a Jewish State with all its trimmings, such as Government, laws, police, militarism and the rest. In other words, a Jewish State machinery to protect the privileges of the few against the many.'  , Emma Goldman, 1938

No comments: