Hebrew nation

Comrade Tony Greenstein’s article, ‘Zionism’s political crisis’ (June 6), contains the following remarkable paragraph:

“According to the Pew Research Report - Israel’s religiously divided society - 46% of Israeli Jews see themselves as Jewish first and 35% as Israeli first. This incidentally is the answer to those who say that Israeli Jews form a separate nation, because, according to Zionist ideology, Israel is a state of all Jews, not simply those who reside in Israel. It appears that Israeli Jews by a significant majority support this position. Furthermore 22% of Israeli Jews see being Jewish as a matter of religion, compared to 55% who see it as a matter of ancestry, with a further 23% citing both factors. What this suggests is that the Jewish settler population of Israel cannot agree on how it defines itself.”

What Tony says here about Zionist ideology is quite true; and it is also true that most Hebrews (aka Israeli Jews) have been successfully indoctrinated in this, the official ideology of the Israeli state. But one tenet of Zionist ideology - denial of the existence of a distinct Hebrew nation - is supported also ... by Tony himself! Apparently, he denies the existence of this nation because that is what Zionist ideology alleges and what those conditioned by this false ideology think. He ignores the usual objective criteria for nationhood (inhabiting a definite territory, possessing a common language and culture, having a common economy, etc), according to which this nation clearly does exist. It is indeed one of several settler nations that were formed in all colonised territories where the colonisers’ political economy did not depend on the labour-power of the indigenous people.

By the way, Zionist ideology has fabricated not one, but at least two ‘nations’ from what in reality are religious denominations. In addition to the fictitious worldwide Jewish ‘nation’, there is the Druze community in Israel, whom Israel utilises to divide and rule its Arab national minority. The Druze are in reality Arabs, differing from other members of the Arab nation by religion only. In Israel alone they are designated as a distinct ‘nation’, and are granted some of the privileges bestowed on Jews. Many of them accept this false, but relatively advantageous, designation; presumably, Tony would also accept it, because they themselves support this position.

Tony compounds his philosophical idealism by the following misleading statement:

“This is reflected in Israeli identity cards, in which both religion and nationality are categorised as Jewish. Indeed an individual can refuse to include Jewish as religion and simply opt for it as their nationality. What they cannot do is put down ‘Israeli’ as their nationality - there is no such category! In that sense Israel is unique - a state that does not have its own nationality.”

This is a farrago of factual errors and confusions. First, Israeli ID cards never had a religion rubric. Many years ago they did have the rubric nation (in Hebrew: le’om), but since 2002 this is no longer the case. The ID card does state the bearer’s citizenship: Israeli. (It is, however, true that in the Israeli population registry Hebrew and Druze individuals are falsely listed as belonging to the worldwide Jewish and the uniquely local Druze ‘nations’, respectively.)

Tony evidently falls into the quite common confusion between nation and  nationality. A nation is a human group that shares certain objective attributes; but it need not have a state of its own (eg, the Kurdish nation). Also, several nations can exist in one state (eg Walloons and Flemings in Belgium, Hebrews and Palestinian Arabs in Israel).

Nationality, in contrast, always refers to a particular state; it is a legal relationship between individuals and a state. By international convention, in a passport issued by a state the rubric Nationality/Nationalité is used to specify the citizenship status of the bearer. All citizens of a state are its nationals (see Wikipedia under ‘Nationality’). Thus there is no Kurdish nationality, because there is no Kurdish state: the Kurdish nation is split between several non-Kurdish states. But there is a Belgian nationality, shared by Walloon and Fleming citizens of Belgium: two nations, but one nationality. And - contrary to Tony’s mistaken assertion - Israel is no exception in this respect: there is an Israeli nationality, which is listed as such in the passport carried by an Israeli citizen of any ethnicity. In the Hebrew text of the passport this rubric is correctly rendered as ezrahut (citizenship), not as le’om (nation).

For a more detailed refutation of Tony’s position, see my article, ‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’, Weekly Worker January 12 2017.

Moshé Machover


I read Emma Silva’s reply (June 6) to my letter of May 23 and I am glad she didn’t agree with Nicola Daniels’ opinions on transwomen (May 16). I fear it is Emma and not me that is taking ‘safe spaces’ out of context.

Whilst I agree that women experience problems under capitalism at the hands of men, you cannot separate these problems from the context of the class-divided society in which they occur. For socialists to focus on the problems of one particular section of the working class, to the exclusion of the rest, is counterproductive and will do nothing to build solidarity within the working class as a whole.

Surely the answer is to get men more, not less, involved in solving women’s problems? Sorry to say that ‘safe spaces’ are just a regressive step and by ignoring the class element are ultimately doomed to failure. I’m not going to get into the further failings of safe spaces, such as, where do you create a safe space for women in Syria? Or Palestine? Do wealthy women need safe spaces? Do men who suffer from male sexual violence need them too?

If Emma is so convinced these are the way forward, then maybe she should invite women from the British National Party, English Defence League, the Brexit Party, etc to join with other women in shelters or ‘hang-outs’ and see if she can build solidarity with them there. I mean, you wouldn’t want to miss out on the struggles, concerns and perspectives that are lost in their movements because of men taking up their spaces would you?

I wouldn’t invite them to self-defence classes though. Not because I plan to attack far-right women - I just don’t want them using the skills they would learn there on others.

Steven Johnston

Song and dance

Richard Farnos asserts in his June 6 letter that I wrote that “gender is a spectrum”. What I actually wrote was: “There may be a spectrum somewhere” - which, I would suggest, is a lesser claim (Letters, May 30).

Richard also suggests that I, among others, “believe that gender should somehow be policed” and in my case by means of my “magic eye that can accurately ‘spot a woman or a man in the street’ (how would he know for sure?)”

What’s that got to do with policing? Never mind ‘How would he know?’ - what about ‘Why would he care?’ If we are in, for instance, a busy town centre, we might see hundreds of people in a short time. In so far as we take an interest, we could identify people as male or female, tall or short, fat or thin, young or old, of assorted colours and so on. And that without making any moral or other judgement about them whatsoever. If we are romantically interested in a person, then almost nobody, I suggest, would wonder if they were in transition of gender, etc. A more interesting question would be whether they are available or not.

In the late 60s/early 70s I, like many of my contemporaries, had hair reaching below my shoulders. I could walk into a bar and be confronted by a sea of hair and denim. Through the clouds of smoke, and often something more exotic, I could spot who I was going to meet or sometimes someone I would like to meet. Occasionally it might have been difficult to distinguish between a man and a woman, from the back - because of the hair. Elderly comedians used to get a great deal of pleasure from the potential confusion, but mostly you could just tell. That wasn’t policing: it was just observation.

If your identification turned out to be an error, then so be it; again, no need to “make a big song and dance” about it. As I indicated in my last letter, everyone “is entitled to the same respect and empathy as anybody else” - except, of course, people like Trump, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Salvini, contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party and others, who probably would want to make a big song and dance about it.

Jim Cook


I am a woman born to Australian Aboriginal and Inuit parents in Scandinavia in the 7th century BCE, and was brought up there as a Theravada Buddhist. I am also a native speaker of Sumerian. I was born with ginger hair, a roughly far-eastern skin colouring, a penis and testes (all of which I still have), and am (usually) sexually attracted to men of roughly Turkic appearance who have breasts, a vagina and a clitoris.

Anyone who questions any of this is guilty of one or several of a range of hate crimes and should be excluded from the labour movement.

Sean Thurlough

Sex workers

Professor Philip Alston, in his UN report on extreme poverty in the UK, described meeting people who “depend on food banks and charities for the next meal; who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep; who have sold sex for money or shelter [or food]”.

On March 19 the parliamentary work and pensions select committee launched an inquiry into the possible link between the roll-out of universal credit and ‘survival sex’. The committee has identified three possible links:

1. The wait for a first payment, which is a minimum of five weeks, but can be longer.

2. The accumulation of debt - for example, as a result of third-party deductions to benefits or taking out an advance payment at the start of the claim.

3. Sanctions, which are applied at a higher rate under universal credit than the system it replaces.

On May 22 the committee heard witnesses from charities helping women involved in prostitution and on the same day published 17 written submissions from these seven charities and others. The English Collective of Prostitutes explained in its written submission: “Of the 72,800 sex workers in the UK 88% are women. Prostitution has always been connected to women’s poverty - that’s why most clients are men and most sex workers are women. Research shows that 86% of austerity cuts have fallen on women. As poverty rises, single mothers (including those with disabilities or caring responsibilities), turn to sex work to survive and feed their families. In some cities massive increases in prostitution are being directly attributed to benefit sanctions.”

Many single mothers who turn to street prostitution, either for the first time or after a gap of several years, do not have a computer or a smart phone, which are needed to access universal credit. Street prostitution is a last resort for women. The minimum five-week wait without any money for new claimants of universal credit is causing many single mothers to work in brothels. One Nottingham brothel has seen a rapid turnover of staff, as a result of single mothers working there, including those waiting for UC to be paid.

What can be done about UC and ‘survival sex’? According to the English Collective of Prostitutes, UC must be scrapped and tackling poverty must be a priority - there must be support for mothers and a living wage. Sex workers’ safety is paramount, so prostitution must be decriminalised.

Communists would go further. We must use the slogan of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1930s: “Work or full maintenance”. In 2019, this means a minimum wage of at least £500 a week alongside benefits of at least that amount for those unable to work through unemployment, sickness, disability or caring responsibilities.

John Smithee


What next? Now the Vatican is promoting an alteration in the wording of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’s reported recommendation of what Christians should ask for from the deity. This can be found in two of the gospels - Matthew vi,13 and Luke xi,2 - which the Anglican ‘authorised version’ gives as “Lead us not into temptation”.

Pope Francis prefers “Do not let us fall into temptation” - a change approved last month by the Episcopal Conference of Italy. Apparently the problem with the standard version is that it suggests that it is the Almighty who tempts, rather than that being the work of the devil. The move has annoyed some traditionalist Catholics (eg, Philip Lawler, editor of a conservative website, Catholic World News) on the grounds that the changed wording misleads people and is not a correct translation of the original Greek (What Jesus said in his original Aramaic has not survived in written form).

On this last point the traditionalists are right, as the Greek in both gospels runs: “Me eisenengkes hemas eis peirasmon” - literally “Do not bring us into temptation”. It may be observed, however, that all the verbs here are active ones. “Let us fall” is admittedly not such a strong expression as “lead” or “bring”, but the Heavenly Father is by no means entirely removed from the picture. Yet, curiously, the standard Irish translation of the phrase is exactly that proposed by the Pope - “Na lig sinn i gcathu”: ie, ‘Do not allow us to fall’. This must have come from somewhere - perhaps Irish correspondents can explain.

In any case, the change proposed is highly symbolic, like the dreaded ‘backstop’ in the current Brexit drama.

Chris Gray