Zionism or Socialism?

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A revolution throughout the Middle East is key to solving the problems of the Palestinians, argued John Rose in 1986. We reprint an extract from his pamphlet.

Israel's left wing supporters in the west continue to insist that all Israel wants is peace and recognition by its Arab neighbours. They might agree that something called Palestinian 'national rights' does exist, and even that a Palestinian state on the Israeli-occupied West Bank of the Jordan is 'acceptable'--though under some form of 'Israeli-Jordanian' supervision. However, in this they are woefully out of date and out of touch. The Israeli leadership has not the slightest intention of conceding even this inadequate 'compromise'.

In fact, it is doubtful whether 'peaceful coexistence' with their Arab neighbours was ever the intention of the Zionist leadership. How could it be, when the very foundation of the Israeli state rested upon stolen Arab land? Maxime Rodinson, in his classic study 'Israel and the Arabs', has given an evocative account from the 1950s of why this is so. Such a settlement, he argues, 'would have been the end of Zionism'. 'An Israel...admitting a certain number of Arab refugees to her breast, abandoning some of her conquests, conforming to the decisions of the UN...would have meant the extinction of a proud dream of reviving the kingdom of David and Solomon, bridgehead of the Jewish diaspora, able to call on the aid of the whole of world Jewry for its defence and ultimate victory. The "normal" progress of events was fatal for Zionist Israel... Once the external danger disappeared, Messianic fervour would decline. The pioneer spirit was in jeopardy... Zionist Israel throve on a bellicose atmosphere and the threat of danger.'

These sentiments are enshrined in Israel's Law of Return, which endows automatic Israeli citizenship upon any Jew from any country who wants to live in Israel. All non-Jews are excluded--especially the former Palestinian inhabitants. (It's worth adding that the vast majority of the world's Jewish community has chosen not to take up the offer. The Jewish population of New York State alone is larger than Israel's entire Jewish population.)

Menon Benvenisti, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a widely recognised authority inside Israel on the fate of the occupied West Bank, has argued conclusively in a number of reports that Israel has not the slightest intention of withdrawing to pre-1967 borders. His studies have found that the government, under various ruses, has already taken over half the territory outside Jerusalem for planned Jewish settlements. Under the Labour-Likud coalition government the rate of settlement has increased.

In his book 'Heritage: Civilisation and the Jews', Abba Eban, a leading Labour politician in Israel, has included a map with the title 'Israel Today'--which shows the West Bank already integrated into the Israeli state.

Furthermore US and Israeli university surveys of Israeli opinion confirm that more than half the Israeli population welcome Zionist settlement on the West Bank. Perhaps most strikingly of all, only 1 percent favour a political settlement with the Palestinians by withdrawal to pre-1967 borders.

This implies the existence of a colonial mentality among the mass of Israelis not dissimilar to that of White Rhodesians 'under siege' from black Zimbabweans in the 1970s, the French in Algeria 'under siege' from Algerian Arabs in the 1960s, or the Afrikaaners 'under siege' from blacks in South Africa in the 1980s. A damning indictment of this mentality was revealed by Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz shortly after the bloodletting in Lebanon: 'In the matter of Sabra and Shatilla--a large part of the community, perhaps a majority, is not at all troubled by the massacre itself. Killing of Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, is quite popular, or at least "doesn't bother anyone", in the words of the youth these days. Ever since the massacre I have been surprised more than once to hear from educated, enlightened people, "the conscience of Tel Aviv'", the view that the massacre itself, as a step towards removing the remaining Palestinians from Lebanon, is not terrible. It is just too bad that we were in the neighbourhood.'

Yoran Peri, former Labour prime minister Rabin, pronounced peaceful coexistence well and truly dead in October 1982 after the Lebanon invasion, in an important article in the Labour paper 'Davar' entitled 'From Coexistence to Hegemony'. As the title implies, Peri argued that the destruction of the PLO in Lebanon was about asserting Zionist hegemony in the region, and nothing less.

No intention of repatriating

Everyone knows that the PLO carry the support of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, both on the West Bank and throughout the Middle East. The Israelis have no intention of negotiating with the PLO. They want it wiped off the face of the earth. But today the PLO have a tremendous problem. Their strategy of 'the gun and the olive branch' is in ruins. 'The gun'--armed struggle by the Palestinians alone--cannot defeat Israel and, more important, is useless in the hands of all of the Arab states put together. They cannot 'diplomatically' deal with Israel, and they don't have the will for a military struggle. The old argument in the fedayeen guerrilla camps of Jordan in the late 1960s was resolved in the wrong direction. The present Arab regimes block the Palestinian Revolution. It cannot succeed until they too have been overthrown.

It is Israel's claim for hegemony in the region that points to an alternative strategy. Certainly armed revolution remains the key. But only an armed revolution that involves the mass of the Arab population, workers and peasants, across that region, rising against Zionism and against the rotten regimes in their own countries, holds any serious prospects of success. Such a vision is by no means far-fetched. As US Secretary of State Schultz remarked in April 1986: 'History teaches us that nations in deep economic distress are more vulnerable to political instability.' The ruling classes of the world know the dangers of rising expectations, first stimulated by the oil revenues then dashed by their subsequent demise. It was just such a revolution of rising expectations that brought the Shah of Iran tumbling down--although there the left, by failing to relate to the workers in that revolution, allowed the religious fundamentalists to take it over.

The US bombing of Libya in 1986, and the complicity in this of Britain and Israel are signs of the weakness of the world economic and political order rather than strength. US power has waned in the world. Many of its tinpot dictatorships have been overthrown. Even the apartheid regime of South Africa knew it couldn't rely on US support--because the strength of black resistance was so powerful. Apart from Britain, Europe's rulers opposed the Libyan adventure--because it might inflame the Middle East rather than suppress it.

The industrialised Middle East

Indeed it might. Egypt's police riot may be the signal of much deeper convulsions in a country which had traditionally served as the spearhead for the Arab national liberation movement. Oil money has changed the face of the Middle East. It is now a much more industrialised region. There are more workers in Arab countries than ever before. Their expectations have been aroused. The recession, combined with US aggression and the bloody posturing of the Zionist state, may indeed awaken powerful new social and political forces which seek to complete the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist revolutions of the past--but a movement which can only succeed if a new working class socialist politics can find a voice.

Meanwhile Zionism will continue to exploit those fears of anti-Semitism which are its lifeblood, and which have so successfully divided the left in the West. By so doing it will prove itself even more durable as America's military watchdog.

Abram Leon was a Jewish leader of the illegal revolutionary socialist movement in Belgium during the wartime Nazi occupation. On the eve of the war he completed research and wrote 'The Jewish Question'--a manuscript attempting the first thorough Marxist analysis of Jewish history. Leon was to pay the price for being both a Jew and a socialist. On both counts he was a target for the Nazis. He was arrested by the Gestapo and gassed to death in Auschwitz.

Leon's book is recognised today as the authority on the Jewish question by both Jewish and non-Jewish opponents of Zionism. His analysis is sharpened by his own previously deeply held Zionist commitment, and his personal struggle to understand and overcome it. His analysis brilliantly anticipated and warned against the role of Jews transformed into Zionists and then 'brokers' for British and American imperialism in the Middle East--'using the Jews as a counterweight to the Arab threat', as he put it. As Leon points out, it is exactly the Jewish role of broker or 'middleman' in 19th century Poland and Russia that provides the key to understanding the roots of modern anti-Semitism.

But there is nothing inevitable about the Jews playing this role in the Middle East. In a famous passage Karl Marx described how circumstances trap human beings in conditions not of their own making, but how human beings also have the capacity to transform those conditions. The global crisis of imperialism that has put Arabs and Jews in their respective positions is historical in origin. It can be resolved only by destroying the economic basis of imperialism itself. And that means socialist revolution--led in the Middle East by the Arab working class, liberating Palestine, and creating a socialist republic with full rights for Jews and all national minorities.

Would such a society genuinely welcome the Jews? It would surely be a much safer place than modern Israel, which, far from providing a haven, is the only area in the world where Jews have to surround themselves with barbed wire and machine-guns. An older Jewish political tradition once drew strength and inspiration from their past. From their faith it drew a sense of universality and respect for learning. From their history as a dispersed people it drew an internationalist outlook. From their history as a persecuted people it drew a respect and sensitivity for all other oppressed peoples. That tradition has survived despite Zionism's efforts to suffocate it. And that tradition would indeed be welcome in a socialist Palestine.