By Harry Glass, Workers Liberty
Review of Rebels Against Zion, edited by August Grabski.
This book is a collection of Jewish left “anti-Zionist” essays that ultimately shows the descent into incoherence of anti-Zionism over the twentieth century.
The sheer panorama of perspectives in the book renders a consistent thread of anti-Zionism implausible. And the closer one gets to today, the clearer it becomes that much of anti-Zionism is merely a cover for left anti-semitism.
The principal virtue of the book is the long essay by Workers’ Liberty member Stan Crooke, which forensically deconstructs the politics of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in the British labour movement.
If anything illustrates the reductio ad absurdum of “anti- Zionism” uncoupled from any positive political programme, then it is BDS. Supporters are expected to unite around tactics laid down by a noisy but unrepresentative group of Palestinian NGOs, while ignoring other more representative Palestinian voices. BDS is premised on deliberate silence over the political solution, while smuggling in a one-state utopia. But it explicitly requires acceptance of conditions — principally of the right of return — which render any democratic solution impossible. In the rush to “do something”, BDS supporters end up doing something really reactionary — painting all Jews in Israel as the enemy and appealing to outside pressure to enforce a politics far from democracy, never mind socialism.
Other essays examine different historical strands of “anti- Zionism” and some are very interesting.
Ronnie Gechtman writes a good account of the Second International debates on the Jewish question. The majority view was assimilationism, i.e. that Jewish people should be integrated into whatever society they lived in with equal rights. This might have worked had the Jewish question simply been about religion. But the growth of virulent racial anti-semitism during the 19th and early 20th centuries rendered the assimilationist perspective redundant. Whilst the Bund grasped the national status of the Jewish people and were able to deconstruct the dominant view, it was Trotsky within the classical Marxist tradition who finally broke decisively with assimilationism and came to engage with the idea of a territorial solution i.e. to with the rational kernel of Zionism as Jewish national self-determination.
Whilst Rick Kuhn and Jack Jacobs discuss non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish organisations in Europe, it is not clear what this tradition might represent had it survived until today.
Henry Srebrnik discusses the Bolshevik government’s attempts to resolve the Jewish question within the narrow confines of the USSR and how these efforts were mangled by Stalinism in the form of a territorial settlement in Birobidzhan. The merit of these essays is to indicate the wide variety of political assessments by Jewish socialists in the pre-Second World War period.
The essays on the period after the Holocaust and the creation of Israel are generally much worse, with only a couple of notable exceptions.
August Grabski’s essay on the Israeli socialist organisation Matzpen (1963-72) demonstrates the heroism of its militants under very difficult conditions, as well as the limitations of their understanding of Lenin’s consistent democracy on the national question.
Philip Mendes’ essay on the Australian 3CR community radio station in the 1970s shows how anti-Zionism in the post-war period became anti-semitism, using many of the tropes (such as equating Israelis with whites in apartheid South Africa) that are propagated today.
However much of the rest of the book is simply risible. Uri Davis promotes the one-state solution, which satisfies the national aspirations of neither people.
Ilan Pappe writes about opposition groups such as Hadash, Peace Now and Gush Shalom, sneering at those who advocate two-states while flattering Islamists like Hamas.
However this only goes to prove where incoherent anti-Zionism leads in current conditions. If this book inoculates readers against the dominant, negative, nonsensical anti-Zionist politics of much of the “left”, then it will have served a purpose.