Proud to be a Zionist

April 14, 2016 at 8:56 pm (anti-semitism, Eric Lee, history, left, national liberation, palestine, posted by JD, socialism, zionism)

kibbutz gan shmuel

One vision of Zionism: Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, 1950

By Eric Lee

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother recently made headlines by tweeting that “#Zionists can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for #Palestine”. That the tweet took place in the context of a heated discussion about how the Labour Party is coping with increasing allegations of anti-Semitism is not the point.

The point is that the word “Zionist” has become toxic on the British Left, and I have a problem with this. On one of the Sunday morning radio shows, Jonathan Freedland was asked about this. He quoted the Israeli author Amos Oz who said that “Zionist” was like a family name. There always needs to be a first name, such as “Religious Zionist” or “Socialist Zionist”. But Freedland himself, when asked, said he’d rather not use the label “Zionist” to describe his own views as it would just cause confusion. There are really two approaches to dealing with political labels that become toxic.

One is to accept reality and abandon them. The other is to be defiant and embrace them. And there are consequences in the real world to choosing one or another of those options. For example, a generation ago, right-wing politicians in America would label every attempt at social reform, no matter how modest, as “socialism”. (They still do, but with less success.) As the Cold War raged, the word “socialist” had become toxic. We on the American Left would argue that by openly calling ourselves “socialists” we were giving breathing space to liberals, and changing the political discourse in the country. Little did we realize that within a few years, an openly socialist politician would be a serious contender for the Presidency.

Still, there are terms we’ve been forced to abandon. Most leftists I know don’t call themselves “communists”, for example. While we can all claim to embrace the ideas expounded by Marx in the Communist Manifesto, most of us accept that it would cause more confusion than it’s worth to try to claim the word for ourselves. This is helped by the fact that up until 1918, most socialists called themselves “social democrats”, and that the Bolsheviks took on the rarely-used “communist” label to distinguish the new parties they were creating. It was a label we could discard because we had a perfectly good alternative. But this is not the case with the word Zionist.

As Freedland and most others would agree, a Zionist is a person who supports the Jewish people’s right to a national homeland. One could be a Zionist and oppose the current right-wing government in Israel. One could be a Zionist and support an independent Palestinian state, side by the side with Israel. One could oppose the occupation and still be a Zionist. In fact, one could even argue that if you really believe the Jewish people need a state of their own, and want it to survive, you must also support reaching an agreement with the Palestinians to share the land which both peoples claim. There is no other future for the Jewish state that I can imagine.

As a Zionist, I therefore support genuine peace and reconciliation between the two peoples — and a two-state solution to bring an end to the conflict. I am happy to embrace the label “socialist Zionist” and the tradition that represents — the kibbutz movement which for decades was a model democratic socialist society, the struggle by left Zionists including a party I was proud to be a member of (Mapam) against racism and for peace, against religious coercion and for social justice for Jews and Arabs. I could, I guess, go along with Freedland and just call myself “a socialist who supports the right of the Jewish people to their own country” — but why not just embrace the label of “Zionist” instead?


This article appears in the latest issue of Solidarity.

33 Comments

  1. Steven Johnston said,

    Well, count me out, I do not support Jewish nationalism or indeed any other kind of nationalism. Israel is another capitalist state and is not worthy of the support of the working class.

    • ZINR said,

      Guess the only countries you can get behind in any way would be North Korea and Belarus, eh? Gosh, it must be tough being such an uncompromising Trot…are there many of you left out there these days?

      • Steven Johnston said,

        No, I don’t support any capitalist state. Try harder next time with your trolling.

      • ZINR said,

        North Korea and Belarus are capitalist states?

        Is there any state which is worthy of the support of the working class?

        It’s not trolling, I’m just sort of vaguely interested to know what you’re on about.

      • Jim Denham said,

        He’s pretty obviously *not* a “Trot” or any other kind of Marxist, ZINR. I think he may be in the utopian “Socialist Party of Great Britain.”

  2. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Your head is up your arse if you think a two state solution is possible. The Islamists and Christian fascists would wipe out Israel and Jews the job unfinished by Adolf as far as they are concerned.

    • Pinkie said,

      Oh my life, mr Glasgow. What are you on?

      • Glasgow Working Class said,

        I am on a historical trip back to 1933.

    • ZINR said,

      Must say they aren’t doing a very good job of it so far. Why would it be easier for Islamists to wipe out Israelis if they had their own state? How does a Palestinian state make Israel less powerful?

      As for the Christians…are there many of ’em in Gaza at the mo? Funny, I thought Gaza was an Islamofascist enclave run by the Hamas?

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    No, there are no states worth supporting. Yes, both the DPRK & Belarus are capitalist states. If there is a state, if there is commodity production of course that is capitalism, what else would you call it?

  4. Steven Johnston said,

    Thanks Jim, call me anything you like but please don’t blacken my name with the Trot insult. They shoot socialists don’t they?

  5. Rilke said,

    You people should read and try and understand Primo Levi. A great writer, a fine man, an anit fascist fighter and an Auschwitz survivor, denigrated by Israeli nationalists for not being ‘Zionist enough’. He thought beyond the boundaries of limited nationhood and communal identity bigotry. You should be clearer on what kind of Zionism you imply. All modern Zionism really means now is that Jewish Nationalism has as much right to commit crimes against people who get in their way as any other people or nation. To single out Zionist Jews as some how more vindictive than say, Latins or the Kiev Rus when it comes to establishing their ‘land’ is certainly anti Semitic. I cannot think of any nation on earth that did not come into existence except with founding crimes, coercion, deceit and violence. Ask the Sioux how they feel about the ‘American state’. Israel is no different. But it is hardly worth the term ‘socialism’.

  6. Rilke said,

    You people should read and try and understand Primo Levi. A great writer, a fine man, an anit fascist fighter and an Auschwitz survivor, denigrated by Israeli nationalists for not being ‘Zionist enough’. He thought beyond the boundaries of limited nationhood and communal identity bigotry. You should be clearer on what kind of Zionism you imply. All modern Zionism really means now is that Jewish Nationalism has as much right to commit crimes against people who get in their way as any other people or nation. To single out Zionist Jews as some how more vindictive than say, Latins or the Kiev Rus when it comes to establishing their ‘land’ is certainly anti Semitic. I cannot think of any nation on earth that did not come into existence except with founding crimes, coercion, deceit and violence. Ask the Sioux how they feel about the ‘American state’. The Han Chinese prefer to brush aside any mention of the Mongol influence on China as ‘anti Chinese’. Versions of the same narrowness is clear in the anti English insinuations of Scottish nationalism now, it is unavoidable, they need it. Zionism is no worse, but certainly no better and is hardly worth the term ‘socialism’.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I wouldn’t disagree with much of that, Rilke, except to say that I’m inclined to be more sympathetic to Jewish nationalism (ie Zionism) than to most other nationalisms, given the history of the 20th Century.

      By the way, a comparison between Israel and Turkey – and the “left”‘s attitude to each, is instructive.

      Turkey as a modern state was built on two rounds of ‘ethnic cleansing’ – first of Armenians, during the First World War, then of Greeks, just afterwards. This is only thirty years or so earlier than the creation of Israel. As far as I am aware pretty much nobody thinks the restoration of Armenian land in Turkey, or the giving back of Izmir (Smyrna) to the Greeks, are necessary democratic demands.

      I guess the retrospective-left view of this is partly shaped by the fact that Turkey at that time was also a kind of prototype ‘anti-imperialist’ nationalist state (at the same time as it slaughtered and expelled Greeks it was driving out especially French imperialism). But on one level it was the Ottoman state, which had collapsed, reconstituting itself. (The future Attaturk was the Ottoman military commander who inflicted the devastating Allied defeat at Gallipoli).

      But if someone was to suggest that Turkey was a state so illegitimate and so racist in its DNA as to have no right to exist, and that nothing short of the return of the descendants of Greeks and Armenians could be considered remotely acceptable, they’d be considered very strange.

      • Juan P. Lewis said,

        Turkey (a NATO member) occupied half of Cyprus the year I was born. It ethnically cleansed every single Greek who was living in the north of the island. I hasn’t moved and inch since then and it while it has not officially annexed the island, it has created a situation that is akin to the WB, but without violence, because there’s nobody left to kill.

        In my lifetime Israel has withdrawn from the Sinai, Gaza and areas A and B of the West Bank. It has dismantled check points, it left Lebanon and has frozen the area occupied by settlements (not it population density, however).

        Still you see a lot of people on the left frothing at the mouth about “expansionist Israel”… and who could only say anything about Turkey after Erdogan (the hero of such people when the Mavi Marmara incident) started to play a role against Assad, a man who killed or expelled more Palestinians from Yarmouk in 4 years than Israel has done since 1967… but who some of the mouth-full-of-froth Stalinists have defended (like Frutos, ex Sec. Gen. of the Spanish CP, among many). Before, Turkey was not even in their radar…

        I used to give the Israeli-obsessed brigade some benefit of the doubt… they don’t fool me any more.

  7. jschulman said,

    If Zionism means anything, it means:

    1) the belief that all the world’s Jews, religious or secular, constitute a nation, and
    2) therefore, the state of Israel is the homeland/lifeboat state of that nation, and any Jew living anywhere in the world has more of a right to live in Israel than any of the Palestinian refugees expelled in 1948 or 1967, or their descendents.

    I reject (1) and therefore (2). Shlomo Sand and various others have demonstrated that world Jewry is not a nation, nor have they been a nation in any contemporary meaningful sense for well over 2,000 years. (2) is obviously the basis of an ethno-religious chauvinist ideology, incompatible not only with socialist internationalism but with any principled liberal-democratic understanding that Israel must become a state where all who live there are “first-class” citizens.

    I do, however, acknowledge that self-identified Jews born in Israel are part of a regionally-specific “Hebrew nation.” This is very different from the argument that they are part of an international nation of Jews. Zionists deny that this Hebrew nation exists. But it is a fact — an anti-Zionist fact, if you will.

    Both the Hebrew nation and Palestinian nation have the right to national self-determination. This could take either the form of “two states for two peoples” or a bi-national state. The former is more likely, though it will take great effort to ensure that the Palestinian state is a real state and not, in Moshé Machover’s words, “one powerful Israeli state dominating a disjointed set of Palestinian enclaves similar to Indian Reservations, policed by corrupt elites acting as Israel’s proxies.”

    • Juan P. Lewis said,

      “Shlomo Sand and various others have demonstrated that world Jewry is not a nation”

      No nation is a nation. They’re all constructs. The problem is that Jews have been historically seen as a group, both by themselves, but esp. by their enemies. Zionism is like any other modern minority nationalism, and if you like, a more justified one, because few other minorities have been so intently persecuted (maybe with the exception of the Roma).

      Shlomo Sand can say whatever he wants, but anti-Semites will see Jews as a group and if they have power they will use it. Most European Jews were Bundists before 1933, but the Shoa told them that having a place to migrate in case the shit hit the fan might be a better option than trusting the good will of foreign governments to give them asylum (see how Britain introduced quotas of Jews they would give asylum to in the 30s and 40s).

      “I do, however, acknowledge”

      It’s not what you acknowledge… it’s what people want to define themselves as…

      “This is very different from the argument that they are part of an international nation of Jews”

      You can keep saying that till you get blue in the face, the anti-Semites won’t listen… this is seen in the way Jews’ views are policed by the self-righteous brigade of dummen Kerle. No other group is asked to clear their throat about the actions of a foreign country before they speak. Somehow Jews are. So go and then tell them, “well you’re not part of “the international nation of Jews”… the rest of the room will remind them all the time that, in fact, they are…

      • jschulman said,

      • Jim Denham said,

        Machover’s fundamental point, stated from the outset of his piece ….

        “Let me start with a proposition that should by now be a matter of general knowledge: the totality of Jews do not constitute a nation in the modern sense of this term; nor have they been a nation in any contemporary meaningful sense for well over 2,000 years.”

        … is completely besides the point: there is no Marxist (or Leninist) definition of a nation (though Stalin’s definition is, despite its unfortunate provenance, usually taken as a rough guide): if people see themselves as a nation, then they *are* a nation and we would support their right to self-determination.

        All the more so in the case of the Jewish people, given (as Juan has pointed out) that all the atheists, assimilated Europeans, Catholic and Protestant converts and a lot of people who’d nearly forgotten that they were Jews, were defined as Jews by the Nazis in the 1930’s and their descendants have regarded themselves as Jews ever since and have, for obvious reasons, continued to identify with Israel. People like Sands and Machover simply have no answer to this fundamental fact.

  8. Rilke said,

    ‘…if people see themselves as a nation, then they *are* a nation and we would support their right to self-determination.’ This gets slightly more complicated when this ‘self-determination’ means, as it often does, denying others self-determination in order to impose your own. In that case one is compelled to make a case as to why one version of ‘self-determination’ is better than another. But making a ‘case’ hardly matters in these instances as it comes down in the end, to force. The Volsci had as much ‘right’ to self-determination in the Etruria and Pallatine as the Latins. But they got the sword instead. Ad Victorem Spolia.

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Or as Leon Uris put it in Exodus, they (the Jews) wanted it more, so ergo they deserved it (Palestine/Israel).

    • Jim Denham said,

      In situations of conflicting national claims on land, the only solution is negotiated compromise: in Israel Palestine that can *only* mean two states existing side by side – a long way off at the moment, I would agree; but it’s the *only* possible solution.

  9. jschulman said,

    So all the world’s Jews, people who have no common language, no common country of origin, plenty of whom don’t even follow the Jewish religion, are a Jewish Nation…because the Nazis said so.

    Maybe the Nazis were wrong? Maybe the Jews who identify with Israel are wrong to do so, too, given that Israel is a colonial-settler state in need of thorough “deZionization” if it’s ever to become even a normal bourgeois democracy?

    I was raised Jewish. I don’t identify with Israel. An increasing number of American Jews don’t identify with Israel either. Are we wrong in our view? Are we “traitors to the Jewish nation”?

    • Jim Denham said,

      “So all the world’s Jews, people who have no common language, no common country of origin, plenty of whom don’t even follow the Jewish religion, are a Jewish Nation…because the Nazis said so”: in essence, yes. Because that’s how the vast majority see themselves. End of story.

      “Maybe the Nazis were wrong?” Well …errr… I’m not so sure about the “maybe”. But history is history and consciousness is consciousness. That’s why everything the likes of Sands and Machover say is simply wrong – or, to be precise, besides the point.

      It’s also of significance that (as far as I can work out) both are opposed to the only possible solution (this side of a socialist united states of the Middle East): two states.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      You are not a traitor I would leave Israelis to deal with their own security. However you being a Jew whether Israeli or not will meet the same fate as your ancestors if you are not prepared to defend youself. The Nazis are still around in their various forms

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Yet, if these modern day Nazis come to power you presumably would not want to leave them to deal with their own security?

  10. Glasgow Working Class said,

    Steven, I presume modern day Nat sis would do what their ancestors did if they gained power. However let us hope they do not get political power.
    Israel should be prepared for all contingencies including the Romans invading!

  11. Steven Johnston said,

    When it comes to nationalism the Nazis were a potent brew, I guess we prefer a ours with a weaker body.

  12. Rilke said,

    Coriolanus negotiated a ‘just’ and unshameful peace between the Latins and the Volsci. He was banished from Rome as a traitor by both the mob and the patricians for recognising the Volsci and then executed by the Volsci for not attacking Rome.
    Same old story…trying to speak human decency, calm and sense to nationalist hysteria is like trying to watch TV on a washing machine. You can fiddle with the knobs all day, they seem similar and therfore workable. But in the end… better to let the lumpen cosh each other to death. A few less morons in the cosmos = better for the rest. Let the dead bury their dead.

  13. Political Tourist said,

    Good old Soggy Oggies.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Bigot and Nat si.

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