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A Criminal Amalgam: The Limits of anti-Zionism

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Previous:  A Criminal Amalgam: The Limits of Anti-Zionism I

This is the second of four articles published in French by the French socialist Yves Coleman. The original text in French is here. The articles were published at the height of the Intifada violence and the accompanying anti-Semitic violence and anti-Zionist propaganda campaign in Europe. The basic premises remain valid, and the arguments of anti-Zionists remain as they were, though the current issues may be somewhat different. While we may disagree with some of Coleman's socialist rhetoric about imperialism and nationalism, there is no doubt that he effectively demolishes the heart of "leftist" anti-Zionist propaganda, and exposes it as anti-Semitism and theorizing that is divorced from reality. 

Coleman exposes the weaknesses of the classic Marxist and neo-Marxist stands on nationalism. This problem was pointed out in detail by Marxist Zionists and especially by Ber Borochov, a century ago, and Coleman's arguments as well as the unfolding of history in the tragedies of World War I, the genocidal Soviet nationalities as well as the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis, were mostly foreseen with deadly and telling accuracy, for example, in Poalei Tziyon - Our Platform written by Borochov in 1906.

We should be aware that Coleman has swallowed without question a number of favorite myths of the anti-Zionist claims of the extreme left and right:

- Coleman states as a matter of course that Israel was created and got rich by expropriating the lands of the Palestinians. That is one way of looking at it, but it is a distortion. Certainly, Israel took the land and property of Arabs who fled in 1948. However, that was not part of the plan or the UN decision. If the Arabs had agreed to form a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the Arabs living in Israel would still have their property today and would live in Israel. It is absurd to claim that Israel became rich by expropriating Arab property. It brings up visions of mountains of stolen lucre that enriched the greedy Jews of Israel in 1948. But in fact, Israel was very poor in 1948. As a good Marxist, Coleman must understand that the value of property in Israel was created by the subsequent labor and financial resources invested in that property, as well as by its usefulness in what Marxists would probably call, the "means of production." The land that produced a crop worth 50 pounds sterling in 1947 may now have on it a hi-tech park with an annual turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars. That value was created by Zionist settlement, work and investment.

 - Coleman repeats the refrain of anti-Zionists that Zionists assumed there were no Arabs in Israel. The slogan "A nation without a country for a country without a nation" was coined by Lord Shaftesbury in the 1840s and translated into German and back to English by Israel Zangwill a half century later. But it was quickly apparent to Zionists, before many Jews had settled in the land of Israel (there was no entity called "Palestine" in Ottoman Turkish times) that there were quite a few Arabs here, and it was clear that most of them were not happy about Jewish settlement. This is attested by the statements of people like Achad Ha'am and Borochov, in Turkish times, concerning the prospects or lack of them for coexistence, by the Kaffiyot [Arab headdress] worn by the guards of the Hashomer society, and by the history of riots and violent opposition to Zionist settlement, both in Turkish times and from the earliest days of the British mandate. If there were no Arabs in the land of Israel, then who killed Joseph Trumpeldor ?? Who threw rocks at Jews in Jerusalem in the 19th century?

Lately, it is true, the claim that there were no Arabs before the Zionists came to settle was revived in a different form and adopted by Zionist supporters outside of Israel, whose ancestors were not here to see any Arabs and who cannot see the evidence of Arab settlement all around them. It is not a central tenet of Zionism though, nor is it believed by most Israeli Jews and it certainly was not believed in the formative years of the Zionist movement.


The Limits of anti-Zionism 2: Questions and Answers [ 1 ]

 Yves Coleman

What is Zionism?

There are all kinds of definitions of Zionism and all kinds of Zionists: religious, atheists, socialists, right-wing, left-wing, extreme right-wing, etc. It does not seem useful to me to go into the details of all the nuances or the divergences which separate them. It is enough to indicate that  Zionism is a form of nationalism, therefore an ideology which rests on an imaginary community of interests between individuals belonging to different social classes. Zionism tries to mobilize the Jewish people in a completely uncritical [eclectic] way  (on an international scale) and the Jewish citizens of Israel behind the government of the state that has been constructed in the Middle East since 1948.

Does the Jewish people exist ?

For the two readers of Socialist Worker, the Jews would be only the practice of a religion, like the Catholics, the Protestants, the Hindus or the Buddhists and thus the  Jewish people would not exist. Consequently the Jews would not have any "right" to a state, at least it is what their letter implies. Indeed, if it is denied that there is Jewish people, and that these people have possibly a right to some share of the ground on this planet, it is much easier "to solve" the problem... on paper. Unfortunately for our limited dogmatists, there is in fact a  Jewish people, and today an Israeli people and state. One cannot turn back the clock. But the problem should be investigated a bit further. The Marxists have always defended the right of the people to self-determination as a democratic claim which could possibly resolve certain inextricable situations. For that reason, for example, Trotsky momentarily considered the possibility that the American Blacks create their own state, faced with the incorrigible racism of the Whites. On another hand, Marx was opposed to the national liberation struggles of certain Central European peoples, because they did not seem to him to follow the "direction of the History".

Today, one can draw up the balance between these positions: the socialist revolutionaries had no influence on the development of the various national liberation struggles and the twentieth century saw the appearance of numerous new independent states. Apparently this process of parcelization into nation-states, even in old Europe where separatist movements separatists thrive, in Scotland, in the Basque Country and Catalonia, and passing through Corsica. This will of return to oneself, this need for local, regional or national identity, unfortunately proved much more urgent than proletarian internationalism, the class solidarity between exploited.

One can regret it, denounce nationalism as a dead end, but how can one close one's eyes to this phenomenon and be astonished that the Jewish people wanted, also, to have its own state? Nothing prevents us from believing that one day the Romany people ["gypsies"] as much as it is an anti-official minority if it is until now, also claims to have a nation-state with some share of the planet.  It is thus within this more general framework  that it is necessary to locate the force of Jewish nationalism, the renewed interest  of many secular Jews or atheists in their culture and their religion, etc. To this general situation came to be added the elimination of 6 million Jews during the Second World war.

Could the Holocaust do anything other than convince (definitively?) the Jews that they could count only on themselves, and that their only means of not being  massacred once again was to form a block, to support the constitution of a state having an imposing military power and to conclude all military or economic alliances possible, including with the most villainous states? Is the nationalism of oppressed less harmful than the nationalism of the oppressors?

What hides behind the often a-critical support for national liberation movements, is both the same time the idea that the nationalism of the old nations would be more harmful than that of the young nations, and also that national liberation struggles could accelerate the advent of a socialist revolution. This analysis is completely erroneous.

No victorious national liberation movement in the Third World countries led to a social revolution. Colonial or imperialist Domination ,  was replaced by implacable dictatorships over the working class and the exploited classes in China in Algeria, and in passing, Cuba. That does not mean, however, that one did not have to oppose the colonial wars, but that fixes the limits of the support which one can bring to national liberation struggles and especially to the organizations which lead it, and to the illusions which give birth to these movements. In brief: "yes" to support of the right of the people to dispose of their own destiny, "no" to carrying the bags of the future exploiters!

At least than, following the example of incorrigible third-worlders of the diplomatic World, one wants to get a whiff of politicians like Nasser, Ben Bella, Torrijos, Chavez, Castro or Noriega, while relieving them of socialist and anti-imperialist virtues that they never had.

Is Zionism colonialist?

Yes Israel is a colonial settlement whose evolution resembles that of the United states, of Australia, even, in some aspects, of South Africa This last comparison is, however, dangerous because the situation of the Palestinians in Israel does not have, for the moment, any relation to that of the black Africans in South Africa before the end of the apartheid and because it dangerously criminalizes not only the Israeli government but all citizens. Israel built itself on the violent expropriation of the land and of the goods of the Palestinian people and this process never stopped. Is the Zionism a imperialist?

If one understands by this that the state of Israel has expansionist aims, yes. But what can one then say of the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and of Lebanon by Syria, to take only two examples in the area? If one uses the word "imperialist" in the sense of expansionist, that is true of an impressive number of states on earth, which the leftists do not spend the same amount of time denouncing as they do Israel. But the leftists also employ this word in another sense : they consider Israel a "servant of the American imperialism". Any movement which advertises itself as a national ideology can be led to ally itself with one or more imperialist powers. It is what did the Algerian FLN, the Vietnamese FLN, all guerrilla movements of  Latin America and Africa, the Cuban state, etc, with the Russian imperialism. It is what the Afghan resistance  did by accepting the American assistance. The Israeli governments, them, chose the American imperialism after being directly helped by the Soviets, at the crucial moment of the creation of the state of Israel, in 1948. Thus yes, the Israeli state has strong affinities with the large powerful imperialists, but that does not make them imperialist  with the  economic and financial meaning of the term. Or in any case, it would be necessary it to show, figures to support the claim, and not to be content with invective.

Is Zionism racist?

Any nationalist ideology can, at one moment or another,  employ racist arguments. And any national state uses, at one time or the another, the weapon of xenophobia or racism. Nationalism, the state and racism sometimes go together, sometimes are separate, but there is no major incompatibility between the three. Besides, that is why the revolutionaries support disappearance of nations,  borders and states.

Therefore, yes the Zionism has a potential racist dimension, but like any other national and nationalist ideology, including that of the Palestinians, and not more than another. Besides let us note that even within Israel there are powerful racist prejudices among the Jews themselves, prejudices denounced for decades by Eastern or Ethiopian Jews, and sources of real discriminations in Israel.

However, to constantly underline the racist tendencies of  Zionism, while being silent about the racist tendencies of the Palestinian nationalists is extremely dangerous. The systematic use of this argument is relatively new, as shown in the Durban international conference  on racism where Israel was condemned as a racist state by the majority of those present. Those which want absolutely to show that the Zionism is a racist ideology exploit moral indignation which the Holocaust caused and try to turn it against Israel. This process is villainous because it succeeds, by successive degrees, in making a parallel between Zionism and Nazism. And it is precisely what Socialist Worker did by comparing the Palestinians of Jenin to the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, and what Socialisme did by juxtaposing photographs of Nazi and Israeli soldiers. [See the first article in this series  ].  Such comparisons are not at all innocent, because they constitute one of the favorite weapons of the refusal front and the anti-Semites who want at all costs to show that the Jews are as racist as the others, even more. Lastly, with the force of banality,  the charge of racism becomes a kind of cream tart,  which removes all seriousness in the eyes of most people,  reinforcing the new creed of the reactionaries who preach, in the tones of good sense, that everyone is racist and that one can do nothing about it. 

A state or two states?

The readers of Socialist Worker preach the creation of a state which would bring together Jews and Palestinians. Their position is incoherent. One cannot at the same time claim that the Jews are only the practitioners of a "religion", that they occupy a "foreign" territory, that their state is "racist", "colonialist" and a plaything of "imperialism" and to believe at the same time that the Jews could live tomorrow on the same territory as the Palestinians. The readers of Socialist Worker do not even employ the term of binational state, which is logical, since they deny, at least in their letters, that there is Jewish people and thus a Jewish nation.

If the Jews of Israel are the "Pieds noirs" [French settlers in Algeria] of Palestine, or a simple band of fanatic or enlightened religious people,, then it is necessary to draw the appropriate conclusion: they must return to the "imperialist"  metropolises  that they left, as happened to the hundreds of thousands of French who lived in Algeria or to the Portuguese who lived in Angola, Mozambique or Guinea-Bissau. Let us point out that it was creed of the PLO for tens of years (cf declarations of Shoukairy who wanted "to throw the Jews with the sea"), that its timid change of position is only very recent (1988), and that that remains the position of terrorist organizations like the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad which plant bombs in Israel.

Our two readers know this well, but carefully avoid posing the problem. And to make the situation even more inextricable, they take refuge behind a resolution of UN which, while it states a perfectly justified right, is inapplicable. One can hardly see how the 4 million Palestinians of the Diaspora could recover the land and the houses that were expropriated as well as employment of which they were deprived. Where would the expropriators go, that is,. the Israelis? The payment of compensation seems more reasonable, and the "right to the return" seems to be an aberration for the Palestinians - but also for the Jews of the whole world.

The Jews established a state based on force, as all the people which sought to have their own territory. The Zionist legend would have it that they arrived in an uninhabited area but today even some Israeli historians disproved this gross lie. [Since there were Anti-Jewish Arab disturbances from the beginnings of Zionist settlement, recounted in all Zionist histories, it is hard to swallow the legend of the Zionist myth that there were no Arabs].  The compromises that must be made one day will be inevitably painful and unjust for both parties. This is why I had written in Socialist Worker [See the first article in this series.   the letter itself is no longer available on the Web]  that the Israelis "did not occupy a foreign country" and that the situation was "more complex" than a traditional colonial occupation of a distant territory. The borders of the state of Israel are by nature extensible, since from the beginning neither this state nor the state of Palestine had a recognized existence and consequently clear borders.

Considering the current situation, and the nationalist ideology which mobilizes the two peoples concerned, it seems impossible to conceive that Palestinians and Israelis can live in the same state. Two states and not one are therefore needed.

Does the state of Israel engender anti-Semitism?

Not, this charge is absurd. Or, it is true only in the sense that all  states create hostility to their nationals when their armies carry out criminal acts. The armed intervention of the United states in Serbia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq or Somalia engenders anti-Americanism: many people, of all political tendencies, scorn the Americans totally. But as one could also say that Chirac, at this moment, causes  anti-French reactions in the Ivory Coast or that Mitterrand caused them before in Africa and in the Middle East.

Revolutionaries will therefore not allow one to repeat that one cannot confound the citizens of a state with the policy of their government, and are unwilling to make known the struggle of Israelis who oppose their government and fight for peace, even at the risk of imprisonment and being regarded as traitors by their compatriots. And the revolutionaries must have explained to them the differences between Israelis (citizens of Israel), Jews as members of the Jewish people and Jews as practitioners of  Judaism. The  anti-Semitic
cretins in fact are motivated by their racist impulses and not by the criminal acts of the Israeli army.

It is not the Israeli state which engenders anti-Semitism, but the anti-Semites themselves. The struggle againstanti-Semitism needs serious explanations on the origins of the racism rather than twisted reasoning and the ensnarement of excuses.

Will the state of Israel involve "us" in war, even in a world war?

This way of putting the question reveals one of the principal reasons why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stirs so much passion in France, while [in fact] this confrontation, which is minor when judged by the size of the directly impliecated populations, remains marginal and other world conflicts are infinitely more fatal. As the singer Noa (who happens to be the daughter of  Itzhak Rabin) said, "In Israel, more people die because of road accidents than because of the attacks;" the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian  confrontation is measured rather by its duration, the number of refugees and exiles concerned (several million) and above all by its symbolic importance.

Many people have the impression that the Western world could be at the edge of the chaos, or in any case threatened by terrorism, because of Israel (actually, because of the Jews). The billionaire Ben Laden  reinforces this impression, while pretending to be interested in the fate of the Palestinians, that is, by exploiting their situation, like all Arab leaders. But, as has always happened, he will forget them at the first opportunity. The absence of Palestinian militants in the Al Qaida networks seems to indicate that they are not easily deceived by its demagogic character.

To analyze war in connection with Israel, it is necessary to touch on the problem of the origin of wars. Even if this state had not been born in 1948, the competition would be very strong in this region, which has seen a  situation of  considerable geopolitical instability since the collapse of the Ottoman empire. This is due largely to the actions of the great imperialist  powers  of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, which sought to divvy up zones of influence, to adapt markets and to control the oil reserves. The liquidation of any regional power and its disintegration into more or less artificial local states supported the external interventions and stokes the internal motives for conflicts. Thus, the most serious war in the area, which occurred independently of the existence of Israel, opposed Iraq to Iran in 1980 to 1988. It represented for the countries involved, a bloodletting equivalent to that caused by the First World War in Europe. All the Western states, as well as the USSR, supported the Iraqi aggression against the Iranian Islamist government. Even the French state was a cobelligerent there, by lending war planes and pilots to Iraq. The terrorist attacks of 1986 were a consequence of the dispute of the French state with the Iranian state, exacerbated by the question of a credit line which the French did not want to restore. Who in this country denounced this disastrous diplomacy?

One can admit that the existence of Israel and its total economic dependence on the United states complicate the situation, but they are not at the origin of the multiple tensions which wrack the area, although the  Tel Aviv leaders make believe they are. Those which would like to make Israel into a scapegoat, and to see in it an the obstacle with peace in the world, have forgotten the two world wars, the cold war and all the colonial wars in one century. To out the question differently, does Israel form or not form a part of the Western world? And if it does, can this fragment embedded in the arabo-Moslem world suck the Western world into a conflict with the whole of this world? No matter what happens, everything seems to happen as if Europe had tried to solve its Jewish problem on the back of the Palestinians. The historical responsibility of Europeans is thus even heavier than that of the Americans. The aggravation of the situation in Palestine is not the product of Machiavellian  cynicism of some Israeli politicians, nor of the criminal unconsciousness of an Arafat. These people rather thrive on a compost of inextricable problems that all our leaders wove for the last one or two centuries. As we continue to leave them in place, there is no reason while matters should resolve themselves.

Does the gathering of the Jews in a separate state constitute a resignation to anti-Semitism?

No. For a few decades, hundreds of thousands of workmen and Jewish intellectuals believed in socialism, even in the socialist revolution. In Europe as in North America and Latin America, the labor movement included very many Jews, atheistic and revolutionary theorists, as did the Marxist and anarchist movements. But considering the passivity or the inefficiency of the international labor movement in the face of the persecutions and the massacres of the Jews, particularly before and during the Second World war, one can understand that the majority of the Jews concluded that the attempts of a significant minority of them to solve the alleged  "Jewish question" by a socialist revolution were failures. At least, the Soviet Union, held up as a paragon by the vast majority of leftist people of the world for decades, could only be used as a counter-example, in view the importance of anti-Semitism in that country and the way Stalinists used it,  in the people's democracies as well

What the leftists request from the Jews is to trust them blindly, to believe that the small revolutionary groups, if ever their ideas seized the masses, would not commit the same crimes and would produce, why not, improved humanity. It is a lot to ask, no? Especially when it is known that one (small) part of the left, the French refusal front, comes from the rows of the extreme left. This same extreme left  does not hesitate to demonstrate with groups that hold up the flags of the Hamas and  scream "Death to the Jews" in the streets of Paris. Again, recently, Saturday October 12, a call expressing "solidarity with the Palestinians", a call signed by tens of organizations of extreme left and left, explicitly denounced the current Israeli policy, without mentioning even once the terrorist attacks that claimed hundreds of victims in Israel. Moreover, who can affirm seriously that anti-Semitism will disappear in a socialist world, if ever one is born?

Lastly, it is false to claim that Israel does not fight anti-Semitism. On the contrary, it has done just that for 50 years. It mobilizes all efforts against anti-Semitism on an international scale. That this propaganda does not make anti-Semitism disappear, is obvious (but which propaganda could it?) ; that it imposed limits on its public expression in Western democratic countries is not easily contestable.

Between the Palestinians and colonialism (or imperialism), which does one have to support?

Given the way in which the question is put, [one must support] the Palestinians, of course, but it all depends on what you mean: Palestinian people or the PLO?

In fact, this way of posing the problems is only the resumption of an old argument that the Stalinists and the international bourgeoisie already used during the cold war "Whoever is not with us is against us" It is curious that this kind of reasoning is again taken up by the sympathizers with a political current that was born precisely of the refusal to choose between American imperialism and  Russian imperialism. Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the International Socialist Organization, whose ancestors fought in the years 1940, 1950 and 1960 both against the Stalinists and against the American bourgeoisie. Today and tomorrow, just as yesterday, there is no reason to choose between Sharon and Arafat, the rope and the firing squad. If one day a solution takes shape between Israelis and Palestinians, it will be done despite the nationalists on the two sides, Zionists, members of the PLO or the fanatic movements. Thus, while it may be what one thinks, one does not declare one's intentions now for tactical reasons.

The Palestinian Authority is as much the enemy of the Palestinian people as the rightist and leftist Israeli parties are the enemies of the Jewish people. (Y.C.)

Translated by Ami Isseroff

Letter of Yves Coleman to Socialist Worker

(this is not the letter referred to in the text of the above article, which is not on the Web apparently)

You can’t compare Israelis and Nazis

April 19, 2002 | Page 12

Dear Socialist Worker,

In a recent editorial (SW, April 12), you compared Palestinian suicide bombers to Jews who resisted the Nazis during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and quoted an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officer talking about how the lessons of that battle have been put to use to put down the Palestinian resistance.

Even if you took this comparison between the Warsaw Ghetto and Palestine from the words of an IDF officer, it only--I repeat ONLY--has an anti-Semitic implication.

There are no concentration camps in Israel/Palestine. The Israeli forces are not occupying a foreign country (it is much more complex). The Israelis are not thousands of miles from their native soil, and most of all, they are not determined to exterminate the Palestinian population as the Nazis and their Polish friends were determined to exterminate the Jews.

Your comparison can only fuel anti-Jewish feelings--which here in France have led manipulated individuals to burn synagogues and beat up Jews in the street.

It is one thing to be in favor of a Palestinian state, but it is another to support uncritically the corrupt dictatorship of Yasser Arafat and his allies. It is one thing to stand in favor of democratic rights for Palestinians, but it is another to think that terrorism is only the product of Israel’s expansionist policy.

The religious forces (Hamas, Jihad) and nonreligious forces (PLO, etc.) make excuses for "martyrs"--meaning people who blow up innocent Israeli civilians. This has nothing to do with socialism.

Yves Coleman, France

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