Zionism, Jews and Gaza: two letters to the ‘Morning Star’

June 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm (anti-semitism, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, stalinism)

Boycott only way to force home the pressure

Friday 04 June 2010
.
Bernard Ogley (M Star June 2) is correct in advocating a total boycott of all Israeli goods and services – and not just the current fragmented efforts centring on those from illegal settlements in the occupied territories.

However, to be truly effective such a boycott needs to extend both to cultural and sporting boycotts and demonstrations – note the recent disruption of a concert by the Jerusalem Quartet, all of whom are ex-members of the IDF – and the peaceful confrontation with zionism in our own workplaces, communities and even our trade unions.

Too many on the “progressive” wing of British politics remain enamoured with a highly fictionalised account of the early years of the state of Israel and remain deluded as to how reactionary the likes of the Israeli Labour Party and trade union federation Histadrut both were then and certainly are now.

To be a zionist needs to become as shameful a position as being in favour of apartheid South Africa.

Paul Simon
Hadleigh

Response sent today:

Dear Comrades,

In the aftermath of Israel’s murderous attack upon the Gaza flotilla, it is only right and proper that socialists should be discussing ways of forcing Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza and to enter into serious peace negotiations with the Palestinian people and their representatives, including Hamas.

 However, proposals like Paul Simon’s (M Star June 5-6) are not the way forward. He calls for “peaceful confrontation with zionism in our own workplaces, communities and even our trade unions,” concluding that “To be a zionist needs to become as shameful a position as being in favour of apartheid South Africa.”

 For the sake of brevity, I will leave aside the false and simplistic analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa and simply ask the question: what (since 1948), is “zionism”? As far as I can make out, the only meaningful definition of the word these days is support for the right of the state of Israel to exist in some shape or form. That being so, the vast majority of Jews in Britain and the world are “zionists”, including left-wing peace activists like Uri Avneri of Gush Shalom, whose articles frequently appear in this paper.

 How could Simon’s call for ” peaceful confrontation with zionism” in workplaces, communities and trade unions, not turn in practice, into a Jew-hunt? We need to be building solidarity between Palestinians (and their supporters) and progressive Jewish people here and in the Middle East – not stirring up hatred that will result in further division, and (quite possibly) racist attacks upon both Jews and Muslims.

Jim Denham

16 Comments

  1. Steve said,

    Zionism refers to the whole racist edifice that Israel is built upon and all the injustices and crimes committed to ensure its existence and creation. We have a duty to challenge this. Sanctions are a tactic to force Israel to actually deliver some kind of political process that achieves real things, that begins to address the crimes against the Palestinians. The immediate goal is the lifting of the blockade but that is only the beginning. What sanctions are not designed to do is to drive the Israeli people into the sea.

    “what (since 1948), is “zionism”? As far as I can make out, the only meaningful definition of the word these days is support for the right of the state of Israel to exist in some shape or form.”

    As if the differences in these potential forms are of no consequence!

    “We need to be building solidarity between Palestinians (and their supporters) and progressive Jewish people here and in the Middle East”

    Absolutely. But that job requires more than appealing to people’s sense of decency I am afraid.

  2. maxdunbar said,

    ‘But that job requires more than appealing to people’s sense of decency I am afraid.’

    Not that you’d know about that, eh Steve?

  3. Jim Denham said,

    Steve (quoting me):

    “What (since 1948), is “zionism”? As far as I can make out, the only meaningful definition of the word these days is support for the right of the state of Israel to exist in some shape or form”…then commenting:

    “As if the differences in these potential forms are of no consequence!”

    Steve, it is *precicely* my point that “the differences” *are* of (crucial) consequence: something that those who simply denounce “zionism” ( like the ‘Star’ letter writer) completely ignore. They seem to think that those who support a two-states solution and Israel’s right to exist behind 1967 borders are, essentially, the same as right-wing “greater-Israel people” and the present Netenyahu government: hence the anti-semitic calls for the total destruction of Israel, as put forward by “absolute anti-Zionist” racists like “resister” here, some (not all) elements of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and (sadly) the ex-Marxists of the SWP and people influenced by them.

  4. Rosie said,

    I wish the word “Zionist” would be chucked except for the likes of Theodore Herzl . Why not use say “Israeli hawks” for those who pursue an aggressive policy against Palestinians, or “Israeli chauvinists” or “Likudniks“. However, I know that won’t ever catch on. Not everyone who uses the word “Zionist” means to be anti-Semitic but it’s a useful term for those who are, and think they can hide it.

  5. Steve said,

    Jim,

    You used the word Zionism to attack those calling for a boycott but my point is that those calling for a boycott are attacking the Zionism that refuses to compromise, refuses to reach a reasonable settlement. It is the stalling of the peace process and the blockade of Gaza that necessitates a campaign of boycotts. If Israel were to drop the blockade and started serious negiotiations then the call to boycott would end. In the meantime I urge all on the left to stand unified behind the campaign against Israel.

    The debate about the legitimacy or otherwise of Zionism is outside the issue of boycotts.

    Max,

    You’ve lost me I am afraid.

  6. martin ohr said,

    Steve: “If Israel were to drop the blockade and started serious negiotiations then the call to boycott would end.”

    but so-called leftists(and lots of right-wingers) have been calling for boycotts of Israel for the whole of my lifetime. It made me laugh to read in the guardian the parade of letters stating that this latest outrage is the very last straw and that no sane person could possibly oppose SOMETHING BE DONE, BY SOMEONE, NOW or whatever it was the various letter writers were calling for. I think the guardian must just have a form letter on file from Tony Greenstein and co into which they simply insert Israel’s latest act.

    Lets at least be realistic- the bulk of those who routinely call for boycotts of Israel are not remotely our allies in pursuit of socialism but precisely the opposite. The bulk of those who routinely condemn Israel are not leftwong critics trying to push for negotiated two-states but those who want to see Israel destroyed.

    Of course that doesn’t necessarily make a call for a boycott wrong; however I stand firm in my belief that a boycott of Israel will do little or nothing for reasons which we’ve gone over many times before on here- one obvious argument against (and this is not by a million miles the most important- but is worth repeating because it is often overlooked) is that it is almost impossible to be an observant jew and yet boycott Israeli goods.

    What’s required is that socialists don’t rush to sign up for stupidity but keep chipping away at building the sort of links with our Israeli and Palestinian counterparts that will ultimately move us forward.

    I totally oppose the blockade of Gaza and call for Israel to end this and withdraw to a negotiated settlement that leads to twin viable states. But on a personal level I’m filled with dread that Gazan’s would continue to elect a government that has as one of its constitutional aims that it intends to kill my family.

  7. Waterloo Sunset said,

    Steve:

    You used the word Zionism to attack those calling for a boycott but my point is that those calling for a boycott are attacking the Zionism that refuses to compromise, refuses to reach a reasonable settlement.

    It’s not Jim that’s introduced that into the debate though. A lot of the arguments for that boycott have been couched in precisely those terms, without any of the nuances in the latter part of your sentence.

    I’m not currently in favour of a general boycott (I think a much stronger case can be made for targetting of arms sales to Israel and/or settlement goods), but I don’t certainly think it’s a discussion that is in any way ‘beyond the pale’. But while so many of those calling for a boycott are doing so while putting out propaganda against “Zionism” in general, the debate is naturally going to strongly reflect that.

    The debate about the legitimacy or otherwise of Zionism is outside the issue of boycotts.

    Again, the way the debate about the proposed boycott is being framed by many of its supporters really doesn’t give that impression.

    As a more general point, one problem with the ways that “Zionism” is being used as a catchall category, is that it actually damages our capacity to both analyse and build links with progressive movements and class struggle within Israel itself.

    We saw that with the lack of serious reporting of the wildcat strikes in Tel Aviv airport back in 2008. We saw it when many of the left didn’t even bother mentioning the expulsion from Histadrut of the leaders of the wildcat railway strike last year (it should also be said that a lot of supposedly left Zionists avoided mentioning that as well, at least in the UK. Possibly because some people have supported Histadrut so much in the past that the fact they’ve been shown up as a scab led union was too embarassing to publicise). And we’re seeing it now with the undereporting of the movement against this attack in Israel, which has included people getting into fistfights with ultranationalists. (Hat tip/Honourable exception to The Commune for that last bit of information).

    We can’t start effectively undermining the Israeli right until we start understanding that we need to build solidarity with the Israeli left.

  8. Steve said,

    “Lets at least be realistic- the bulk of those who routinely call for boycotts of Israel are not remotely our allies in pursuit of socialism but precisely the opposite. The bulk of those who routinely condemn Israel are not leftwong critics trying to push for negotiated two-states but those who want to see Israel destroyed. ”

    You need to be realistic, the vast majority of the left are in favour of boycotting Israel and the vast majority of the right support Israel. Mad Melanie Phillips is typical of their stance. So let’s not use some reactionary support for sanctions as a stick to beat it with, otherwise we have a much bigger stick to beat you back with!

    I can’t remember a movement for sanctions of this nature before, it comes at a point when the peace process is dead in the water and there is a criminal blockade against Gaza. Many on the left are now supporting the call for sanctions because of the reality of this situation. The left realise that for ordinary people to make a difference they cannot rely on their own corrupt states but need to use their economic power and their own self activity and this is a good thing. This is a great lesson for people to learn. And the level of oppostion to it from Israeli friendly forces tell me it is a good tactic.

    “But on a personal level I’m filled with dread that Gazan’s would continue to elect a government that has as one of its constitutional aims that it intends to kill my family.”

    Give over, this is a very recent turn of events. Any form of Palestinian oppposition is too radical for Zionists. They said the same things about Fatah. And it is Israel who kills Palestinians in vast numbers and denies them the right to return to their homeland. Their crimes far outweigh those of the oppressed Palestinians.

    On the Israeli left, well they should support the Boycottt. The ANC in South Africa had no problem supporting the boycottt there. As I said earlier appealing to people’s decency is not enough. If Israeli’s see how strong opinion is in the world against the actions of their government that may prompt them to action, at first it may harden their stance but given time I think it willl begin to break open Israeli society and move the situation forward.

    I am one who does not blame the Palestinians for the failure to reach a just settlement, I believe the Israeli state has no intention of allowing such a thing to happen. They can only be forced into such action, that is my view of the situation.

    But people on the left know sanctions are a weapon and not the war. If Israel lifts the blockade and comes to the table with a credible peace plan I can tell you the boycott would be lifted. If that were not the case then sanctions would be a blunt tool.

  9. Steve said,

    I should also point out that it is hard to imagine how much more hardened Israeli society could get, given the nature of their current government. (and indeed the one before that was headed by mass murderer Sharon – and you complain about Hamas!)

    • martin ohr said,

      Steve, my complaint against Hamas is seperate from my complaint against Israel. Israel=baddies does not automatically mean Hamas=goodies- except in the minds of simpletons.

  10. martin ohr said,

    steve- you honestly believe that ‘strong opinion’ will force Israelis to act and bring down their government?

  11. Jim Denham said,

    The Brockley Man is very good on the ‘English Defence League”s attempt to pose as friends of Jews and Isreal, the fact that the vast majority of “zionists” have rejected the EDL’s overtures (though a a tiny and foolish minority haven’t)…and the dishonesty of some of those ‘anti-zionists’ who are trying to link zionism ‘per se’ with the EDL. Well worth a read:

    http://brockley.blogspot.com/2010/06/english-defence-league-and-gaza.html

  12. Cugel the Clever said,

    Steve, you’re a complete cunt. Would you be interested in a scuba diving trip off Gaza? I’ll even buy you the wetsuit.

  13. Confront wh…? « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism said,

    […] June 7, 2010 — Mira Vogel At Shiraz Socialist, Jim Denham tells of a letter the Morning Star (circulation hard to gauge) saw fit to publish […]

  14. zkharya said,

    ‘To be a zionist needs to become as shameful a position as being in favour of apartheid South Africa.’

    That is exactly how anti-Zionism transmogrifies into the latest form of antisemitism. I suspect it would have the exact opposite effect to the one intended.

  15. zkharya said,

    ‘So let’s not use some reactionary support for sanctions as a stick to beat it with, otherwise we have a much bigger stick to beat you back with!’

    You cannot see that it is you who are the reactionary.

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