Debating with comrade Tony Greenstein is frustrating, as he keeps repeating the same confusions and errors - including factual ones - after they have been pointed out to him. This is what he does in his letter (June 20). As a desperate attempt at clarification, I lay out below the main assertions Tony makes in his letter and my responses to each of them. Let the readers judge.
TG: It is true that in most cases a nation is defined by common language, territory and economy - although, as Moshé points out, in the case of, for example, the Kurds then this is clearly not so.
MM: No, I never ‘pointed out’ such a thing. I said the Kurds are a nation, although there is no Kurdish state.
TG: However, I stand by my assertion that Israeli Jews, being an active settler people, have not formed a nation. It is precisely for this reason that Israeli Jews themselves are divided on how they see themselves …
MM: What does being an active settler people have to do with nationhood? The American (US) nation had been formed by the end of the 18th century, but continued its active colonisation well into the second half of the 19th century, after the civil war.
TG: Are they Israeli first - that is, defined by the territory in which they reside - or Jews who are part of a greater Jewish nation? This confusion is a reflection of the artificial nature of the Israeli state itself.
MM: Are there any non-artificial states?
TG: What Moshé refers to as the Israeli Jewish or Hebrew nation is defined by ‘the other’ - in this case their antagonism to the Palestinians.
MM: Nonsense. The antagonism evidently exists; but, as for it being the ‘definition’ of the Hebrew nation, this is Tony’s invention.
TG: If Moshé wishes to call the Israeli settlers a nation, fine, but it doesn’t change the reality that this is a ‘nation’ held together through the oppression of another.
MM: Irrelevant: all oppressing nations are partly held together through oppression of others. But what holds a nation together and whether that nation exists are two different questions.
TG: A nation is not simply a matter of ticking a box. This is the Stalinist method. It is also a matter of consciousness of being a nation and in Israel there is no such consciousness. It is not a matter of Zionist ideology, but a belief that runs from the establishment of Israel as a state that they are part of the Jewish people. There is no separate Israeli nation or even Israeli Jewish nation.
MM: The sentence I have italicised is blatantly incorrect. The “belief” in question is precisely a major tenet of Zionist ideology, in which the Israeli people have been indoctrinated after the establishment of Israel. I have explained the political motive behind this doctrine in my article, ‘Zionist myths: Hebrew versus Jewish identity’ (Weekly Worker May 16 2013).
TG: I fundamentally disagree with Moshé over the question of Israeli nationality. Moshé states quite correctly that “Nationality/Nationalité is used to specify the citizenship status of the bearer” in a passport. However, this is not the case with Israel. Israeli citizenship does not confer Israeli nationality. That is why the entry for nationality in Israeli passports is a lie.
MM: Tony is stuck in his confusion between nation and nationality. The latter term refers, by international convention, to citizenship status in relation to a state, not to membership of a nation. Israeli passports, just like passports of other states, specify under this rubric the citizenship of the bearer. If s/he is an Israeli citizen, then the passport correctly says ‘Israeli’ under this rubric. Israeli citizenship does confer Israeli nationality - as distinct from membership in an Israeli nation, whose existence is denied by Israel’s official ideology (as well as by Tony).
TG: In The unJewish state by Moshé’s late comrade, Akiva Orr, he writes, in respect of the case of Oswald Rufeisen, that “The actual controversy was about the entry for ‘nationality’ (which in Hebrew means ‘membership of a nation’ and not, as in Britain, ‘citizenship’).”
MM: My late comrade, Aki Orr, like Tony, shared the widespread confusion between nation and nationality. His statement, quoted here by Tony, is simply mistaken: the contested entry was not under the rubric nationality but nation (Hebrew: le’om). Rufeisen claimed that, despite having converted to Roman Catholicism, he still belonged to the Jewish ‘nation’. That the dispute in this and other similar cases was about the entry under the rubric nation, not nationality, is also made crystal-clear in a ruling of Israel’s chief justice, Shimon Agranat, which Tony himself quotes:
‘‘… the desire to create an Israeli nation separate from the Jewish nation is not a legitimate aspiration. A division of the population into Israeli and Jewish nations would … negate the foundation on which the state of Israel was established” (my emphasis).
The learned judge was perfectly aware of the legal difference between nationality and nation and was correct in addressing the latter as the disputed issue. And as a Zionist he was committed to the false ideological tenet that all the world’s Jews constitute a single nation, and hence there cannot exist a distinct Israeli nation. Ideology leads many people, including learned judges, to deny facts.
TG: Israel is remarkable and exceptional in that there is no Israeli nationality. In which other country is there no nationality? The entry for nationality in the population register is Jewish, Arab, Muslim and indeed there are hundreds of ‘nationalities’. That is what makes Israel different from all other states.
MM: Tony repeats yet again the same confusion. The facts are these: on the one hand, there does exist an Israeli nationality, recognised in Israeli and international law, and stated as such in Israeli passports. On the other hand, the entries ‘Jewish’, Druze’, etc in the Israeli population registry are under the rubric nation (Hebrew: le’om), not nationality, as Tony claims.
Right to exist
I read Tony Greenstein’s article, ‘Zionism’s political crisis’ (June 6) and really struggled to understand the point he was trying to get across.
For example: “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.” How does “significant majority” possibly follow from the maths he quotes? 46% is not a majority. People can surely see themselves as both Jewish and Israeli - one does not cancel out the other.
Tony’s letter last week was characterised by an incredible degree of obscurantism, pedantry, Jesuitical (yes, I know that’s ironic, given the subject) hair-splitting and false and mechanical separation and opposing of concepts of ethnicity, religion, nationality and citizenship. By the time I had reached the end, it was abundantly clear that Tony’s only purpose was to ‘prove’ there is no such thing as an Israeli nation.
I am not a great fan of separating people by nations or nationality and think in this increasingly globalised, multicultural and cosmopolitan world, especially with massive migrations of peoples, these old distinct categories are starting to break down (as Marx and Lenin argued and predicted) and that is a good thing.
I do recognise, of course, different peoples have different histories, cultures, languages, etc and, unless any of these are positively harmful, these differences should be valued and respected. Equally we should not be concerned if these intermingle and ultimately produce new cultures and identities. However, Tony’s obsession with ‘proving’ there is no such thing as an Israeli or Hebrew nation really does come across as a hostility to that entire people. There are words to describe hostility to entire peoples.
It is deeply ironical (or perhaps not) that Tony claims it is Zionist ideology that there is no such thing as a distinct Israeli nation, as Israel is the state of all Jews. Tony appears desperate to agree with the first part of this.
If you strip away all the ideology, religion, histories, Zionist claims and counter-claims, personal beliefs held by proportions of the Israeli population, surely what is really obvious is that there is a distinct population of people who are firmly established and living in the state of Israel and who may variously be described or describe themselves as Israeli, Jewish or Hebrew or any combination of these.
The vast majority of the current Israeli population are not original settlers, but were born and bred in their current location. Given that some of most significant Jewish migrations to Palestine happened from the 1930s, substantial parts of the Israeli population are many generations old. They have therefore acquired individual and collective rights, as has any other settled community in the world. They are clearly a ‘nation’ in any normally accepted understanding of the word. They are a nation forged both in the struggle for existence, against the hostile actions of the surrounding Arab countries, and also negatively, through their displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people.
These individual and collective rights have to be part of any genuine settlement of the Israeli-Palestine conflict - as should, of course, the equally legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. It seems clear that Tony is trying to deny that the Israeli population should have such rights - a right to exist as such in any settlement. There are words to describe the logical consequence of this.
I don’t accept every nation or people should have their own state. That would be ridiculous, backward and reactionary, and lead to absurd and dangerous fragmentation and stoking up of intercommunal conflict. And the concept and meaning of individual nations and peoples changes and evolves over time. Mike Macnair’s wonderful quote from Lenin on the national question is extremely relevant here: “The great centralised state is a tremendous historical step forward from medieval disunity to the future socialist unity of the whole world, and only via such a state (inseparably connected with capitalism) can there be any road to socialism” (‘Reclaiming democratic centralism’, May 23).
Marx, Lenin and Stalin argued from principle that we need to fully respect and value national and cultural differences if we are build a genuine unity of peoples across countries, regions and ultimately the world. But there are deeply practical and pragmatic reasons too. To deny any groups their distinct existence is to invite mass violence and destruction - not a good basis for the construction of a new socialist order. Israel and the Israeli people are heavily armed, including with nuclear weapons. If any Arab country decided to take Tony’s word that Israel or its people either do not or should not exist, they would invite their own destruction. I am sure Tony does not advocate the mass destruction of non-Jewish people, so his words are pointless, but still dangerous and nasty in their hostility to an entire people.
Tony may write his excoriating articles and letters wishing that the Jewish state or the Israeli people should not exist, but they are no use whatsoever in moving the Israelis and Palestinians towards anything like a genuine settlement.
I also reject the opposite and mirror-image position to Tony’s politics in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s counter-claim that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people and that the descendants of the Palestinians arising from the pogroms of 1948 and 1967 in particular have no rights as a distinct people and should assimilate in the countries where they are currently refugees. That is an equally appalling and disgusting position.
The Palestinian nation itself has been forged through struggle and the ongoing attempts by the state of Israel to oppress and crush them as a people and to occupy the whole of historic Palestine. They have shown themselves to be a people of immense courage, dignity, resilience and combativity and are an inspiration for all progressive people.
There absolutely must be the right of return for all Palestinian people. This does not, of course, mean that descendants of those evicted by the Israeli settlers are entitled to literally return to the individual homes, from where their ancestors were turfed out. Equally, it does not mean being crammed into the Bantustans on the West Bank or Gaza. A genuine settlement must involve a genuine and fair sharing of the reasonably scarce resources across the whole of historic Palestine.
The suspension of Peter Willsman for saying something that is provenly true and on film (In Al Jazeera’s documentary, The lobby) - that the Israeli embassy is actively sponsoring activities within the Labour Party aimed at undermining and destroying the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn - is so brazen that there has to be a response from the left. If this is allowed to pass without some kind of serious resistance, then anything can be done to Corbyn and his supporters with impunity by the Zionist witch-hunters.
Proof is no defence. Even if you can prove that your accusers are corrupt liars, you will still be suspended and marked for later expulsion from Labour if you speak the truth in any way. The attacks on Lisa Forbes, the victorious Labour candidate in the Peterborough by-election, are of the same brazen ilk. She was denounced as an anti-Semite by corrupt racists like Margaret Hodge and Jess Phillips simply for ‘liking’ a Facebook item expressing outrage at the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Even more brazenly and outrageously, the Jewish Labour Movement called for Lisa Forbes to be suspended and the whip withdrawn for having signed a statement opposing the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of ‘anti-Semitism’, whose movers aim to ban anti-racist criticism of Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people as ‘anti-Semitic’. So not only is the IHRA to be used to ban such criticism as ‘anti-Semitic’, but opposition to the adoption of the fake definition itself is also to be deemed ‘anti-Semitic’.
This is a perfect totalitarian formula, which brooks no opposition or criticism whatsoever. In our view the response of the Labour left to this should be to state openly that the Jewish Labour Movement is a totalitarian racist organisation that needs to be smashed.
But more needs to be said, and done, than mere pronouncements. The expulsions and purges of long-time leftists put capable people into prolonged limbo - a kind of purgatory - indefinitely. We need to counter this and force the reactionary role of Labour’s Zionist fifth column to the attention of the whole labour movement, and indeed the public as a whole. The expulsions are meant to immobilise our people semi-permanently.
We need a new left body to deal with this. We propose that expelled members of Labour should organise themselves in a Labour Anti-Zionist External Tendency, whose purpose is not to build a separate party from Labour, but to fight to get the party on the straight and narrow through the purging of Zionist racists, the supporters of the JLM, the Labour Friends of Israel, and Progress, and the reinstatement and reintegration of those anti-Zionists expelled, suspended and driven out.
Until this is done, the expelled members in particular, who have nothing to lose, should target Labour’s Zionist traitors, the likes of Watson, Hodge, Ellman, Philipps, Smeeth, the Eagles, Creasey, etc for prominent public attacks. One way of amplifying that would be for the putative Labour Anti-Zionist External Tendency (Lazet?) to stand independent anti-Zionist Labour candidates against the traitorous Zionists.
So would it not be good if Tony Greenstein were able to stand against Louise Ellman? Tony was expelled and smeared as ‘anti-Semitic’ for denouncing her defence of Israeli abuse of Palestinian children. Would it not be good if Marc Wadsworth were to stand against Ruth Smeeth, the racist whose allegations of ‘anti-Semitism’ can be seen to be lies by anyone with an ounce of integrity who watched the video of his challenging her collaboration with the racist Tory Daily Telegraph at the Chakrabarti report press conference in 2016.
Would it not be great if Ken Livingstone were to challenge Hodge over her disgusting attack on Corbyn as a “fucking racist anti-Semite”, which ought to have not only led to her expulsion from the party, but also a party-funded libel suit against her on Corbyn’s behalf? Or for Jackie Walker were to challenge Stella Creasey? Or Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight were to challenge Tom Watson? These are all possibilities.
The point is that the purged left needs to stand up and fight back against the creeping purge of Corbyn supporters, critical and less so, that is underway. These challenges should be carefully targeted to cause the maximum public challenge to these political figures, not least because if Labour does win the general election, they will be plotting with the likes of Mike Pompeo and the Israeli embassy to destroy Corbyn in office and replace him with a Blairite/Zionist. At the same time these very few candidates - no more than say half a dozen - must be very clear in our call for a Labour vote in every other constituency, and for a Labour victory in the general election.
We cannot go quietly in this attempt to sabotage what was originally the most promising leftwing development in the Labour Party for a century. The left needs to show some aggression back to the Zionists to prepare for the battles to come.
David Douglass has launched into an all-out attack on middle class protestors, but I feel that his real anger is directed at all those who think that climate change is caused by humanity and is a serious problem (Letters, June 20). Well, that includes me, but also, I note, virtually all scientists in the world who work in that realm: those working on climate, the sun, the oceans, the poles, glaciers, etc, etc, etc. David thinks that it is over 50% natural and points to natural changes from 11,700 years ago.
Yes, we know that there are long-term changes going on: that is what Michael Mann was looking for all those years ago when he bumped into the ‘hockey stick’. Unfortunately, however, the changes occurring now are already impacting on humanity and are forecast by scientists to get a lot worse very quickly. The melting glaciers in the Himalayas alone may cause famine for hundreds of millions of people - in a few years, not in a few millennia.
I believe that David is correct when he points to the urgent necessity of “stopping the decimation of the world’s forests”, which there is no intention of doing. To take the lunatic fringe alone, Trump and Bolsonaro are going full-tilt in the opposite direction. But there will be no change - no meaningful change - until the world is no longer ruled by capitalist markets. Markets will and do determine whether we have coal from Cumberland or Appalachia, and I suspect that falling steel prices have more to do with overproduction than with climate change protestors.
David reckons that the lack of police action is because the ruling class has no objections. The actions of “St Greta”, as he calls her, the school strikers and Extinction Rebellion have, in my view, had quite an impact. Most people think that there is a real problem and St Greta is perfectly correct in thinking that politicians have no intention of doing anything about it. Allowing the disruption and having “a hushed meeting of MPs” go towards pretending to do something. She correctly accused them of lying when they speak of taking action, pointing to the third runway, fracking and the mine.
I’m not aware - I may be wrong - of any government in the world taking any serious action to stop, slow or reverse climate change. How can they? We live in a capitalist world: the death of any species, including the human, ranks far below capital accumulation in importance.
Again, on police action or lack of it: there may well have been some “well-heeled” folk there - David has cherry-picked a couple - but I would guess that most were not. The bulk of them may well have been middle class, but so what? From my reading, along with some first-hand experience, I would guess that the bulk, or a high proportion, of protestors over Suez, apartheid South Africa, Vietnam and Iraq, along with Greenham Common demonstrators, were middle class. Should they all have stayed at home? Some of these protestors faced a great deal of police action.
This is not to denigrate the struggles of the working class. One conclusion I would take from the indulgent treatment of the rebellion crowd was that they were not seen, unlike the miners, as a threat. ‘Let them get on with it, leave them alone: they’ll get tired and we can forget about it,’ seems the likely attitude to me. Another possibility is the lack of police. Why, unlike Thatcher, have Cameron and May let police numbers go down? Perhaps they are waiting for some emergency to bring in more private security?
The Unison national delegate conference last week in Liverpool took place following a disappointing round of national executive elections for the left. The Unison Action Broad Left slate, comprising of members of the Labour left, Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party, among others, went from 29 to 27 members amid a low turnout.
This does not reflect the mood of the membership. The results were in part due to the fact that many seats had been left uncontested (23 pro-leadership candidates were unopposed in total); but also to new draconian election procedures prohibiting factions organising, on the grounds that they are “outside organisations”. Four left NEC members are currently facing potential disciplinary action for simply calling for members to vote for them.
At conference itself nearly all controversial motions and proposed rule changes failed to reach the floor as a result of the decisions of the standing orders committee (SOC), that decides on which of these get to be voted on and in which order. Two rule changes - one removing NEC seats on the SOC, and another reducing the maximum limit on the amount of time a member may be suspended from 36 to 24 months - were placed at the end of the agenda for the penultimate day of conference.
The SOC then allowed a motion calling for branches to be given the option of electing officers and stewards, and holding AGMs, every two years. This the majority opposed on the grounds that it would potentially increase the already wide gap in many branches between members and their branches, and lead to less accountability. Remarkably the SOC then allowed essentially the same motion (broken down into its constituents parts) to be taken in six further motions.
These motions were opposed by the NEC, providing them plausible deniability for what looked to me like a filibuster by other means, but what is clear is that the decision to allow for the motions to be taken like this at all rested with an NEC-dominated SOC. As a result the motions that would have led to a slight transfer of power from the NEC were not reached.
Last year, an NEC attempt to pass a motion calling for a review that they would control into the union structures and funding arrangements, by what appeared to be a deliberate misreading of a vote on the conference floor, was thwarted by delegates. This victory led to a new motion on funding arrangements this year, with the backing of both the NEC and the opposition, which was passed overwhelmingly and will give branches more access to funds from 2020 and creates a review (on which the NEC and regions will share seats) that should lead to a further transfer of funds to branches. This year, unfortunately, resistance to the NEC was negated by bureaucratic procedure and the disorganisation (although this is not meant as a criticism of any comrades) of the left. Of course, the lack of organisation has a number of historic causes, but there are two particular obstacles today: (a) the bureaucratic structures and the current intermittent witch-hunt of the left; (b) the degree to which stewards and branch officers are swamped in casework (as a result of austerity, attacks on facility time and the union’s approach to recruitment, which presents membership as an insurance policy).
Ultimately the fight against the labour bureaucracy - a necessary struggle, if we aim for our emancipation from the class system - will not be won by the passing of motions on a conference floor. A coming together of the radical left on the democratic terms around a radical programme for working class rule is what is needed. Such an organisation would need to operate within the Labour Party and unions, and press for these organisations to become vehicles for independent working class politics and action.
I’d like to congratulate Jack Conrad on an excellent series of articles concerning the green movement.
I have personally felt the appeal of many of the ideas outlined in the last article of the series around primitivism: eg, returning to the land, authentic existence (‘Drawn to the flame’, June 20). I found Martin Heidegger’s ideas in particular to be somewhat seductive. I can’t claim to have completely understood Heideggerian concepts, as I was spared diving in too deep by Theodor Adorno’s The jargon of authenticity. Adorno helps one to realise that these ideas are mystifications, uprooted and abstracted from any kind of sociological or social understanding.
I had been under the incorrect impression that Heidegger had renounced his Nazism as the wrong solution to the questions he raised around technology and alienation. Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialists after all defended and built on Heidegger’s thinking. Like Slavoj Žižek I believed that Heidegger - a critic of the modern condition - could have easily swung towards Marxism. Increasingly I see that his ideas, like those of Friedrich Nietzsche, are bound up with reactionary politics.
Other comrades who share similar interests and perhaps a pull towards Heidegger or Nietzsche ought to read Dangerous minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger and the return of the far right by Ronald Beiner. Not from a Marxist perspective, but superb at unpacking the political implications of their respective philosophies and providing evidence of Heidegger’s outrageous continued support for Nazism even after the war, and his despicable anti-Semitic beliefs.
In reply to all those that support safe spaces and feel that women are excluded from setting the agenda. Of course, the reason I agree with Karl Marx, is not because he is a man. But because I can’t fault his slogan: “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
‘Workers of the world, segregate. You have nothing to gain but your safe spaces.’ That doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
When it comes to nationalism, there is much literature written about how nationalist parties are instruments of capitalism and ruling class control. That is often the case, with many of those promoted by the mainstream media, but there is one party that does not receive funding from bankers and money speculators.
That party is the English Democrats, who believe that the economic prosperity of the working classes will be expanded by the implementation of a 25% reduction in consumer debt, because, based on the average household debt of £15,385, according to the Trade Union Congress, this will on average return £3,846.50 to those households. As the Weekly Worker will be aware, there are 8.3 million citizens, according to the National Audit Office, that are unable to repay their debts.
The debt burden placed upon the population by a network of bankers is destroying families and employment opportunities. That is why the English Democrats propose the 25% consumer debt amnesty, because it is the right thing to do to reduce the number of people living in persistent poverty in the country. The 25% amnesty is only the starting point: it will not be the maximum deduction.
Thank you all for reading this and I look forward to having lengthy exchanges with Weekly Worker contributors.
I just wanted to say, I follow British politics extensively and read all the analysis across the board. Eddie Ford’s articles are the best, with no second. Well done, comrade, and keep informing us - we need it.