Palestine solidarity and anti-semitism
Gilad Atzmon may rant against Israel, writes Tony Greenstein, but he shares a good deal of common ground with the Zionists
Why, people often ask, do we not ignore the small group of anti-semites - those such as Gilad Atzmon, the Socialist Workers Party’s favourite pro-Palestinian “ex-Jew”, and Mary Rizzo of the Peace Palestine website - around the solidarity movement? There are three reasons.
Firstly the existence of such a group is a recent phenomenon. Although numerically insignificant, the danger is that they will gradually racialise discourse and depoliticise the movement. Historically supporters of the Palestinians came to their positions primarily from a socialist and anti-imperialist perspective. The exception to this was in the Labour Party, where it was the Tribune group which tended to be pro-Zionist and the Labour right - people like Christopher Mayhew and David Watkins - who were pro-Arabists. It is often forgotten that until the 1982 Lebanon war people like Tony Benn and Eric Heffer were members of Labour Friends of Israel. There were a few Conservative supporters of the Palestinians - usually Arabists, such as the late Lord Gilmour - but by and large they were the exception.
Secondly it used to be the case that those who equated Jewishness with Zionism were either confused or fascists. But today there is a minority who have come to these views via their work around Palestine, whereas the fascists were never interested in Israel’s crimes other than as a stick to beat Jews with. That is why the BNP, for whom anti-muslim racism is now its main focus, is now pro-Zionist.
But the third and most important reason is that the arguments of Atzmon and co can only lead in one direction - to the strengthening of Zionism. All those who say that if you are Jewish then you are also Zionist are doing the work of Zionism. The purpose and effect of their political intervention is to divide the Palestine solidarity movement and to ostracise its Jewish component.
We should not be surprised about this phenomenon. Just as Zionism was both a reaction to and a reflection of anti-semitism,1 so Atzmon and co are a reaction to and a reflection of Zionism.
It is no accident that they reserve their venom primarily for Jewish anti-Zionists. We are the “Elders of London”,2 crypto-Zionists no less!3 Atzmon argues: “We have never come across a German dove who defines himself as an ‘Aryan for peace’; neither do we know of Russians who define themselves as ‘Slavs for human rights’. … as far as Jews are concerned, the demarcation between racial identity and nationalist identity is very ambiguous.”
This is from someone who says that you won’t find a word about a Jewish race in his entire writings4 at the same time as he tells us that “being Jewish is about ‘race’”.5
In fact there were a number of white anti-apartheid groups in South Africa - for example, the Black Sash and End Conscription Campaign. There is a long history of minorities among a privileged group organising amongst themselves, whether it is anti-Zionist Jews or anti-apartheid whites.
The one campaign which seriously rattled the Zionist movement was the boycott campaign in the trade unions. This was a campaign which was led by Jewish anti-Zionists. And what was the reaction of the Board of Deputies of British Jews? Did they applaud those Jews? According to the Jewish Chronicle, “Deputies also gave vent to their anger - particularly at Jews who supported the move” (for boycott - June 22 2007). Strange that. Perhaps Atzmon should have told them we were also Zionists!
It is even more ironic that Atzmon came out against the academic boycott, terming it “book-burning”. In an interview with Mary Rizzo, he explained: “Unlike some of my best enlightened friends, I am against any form of gatekeeping or book-burning. But it goes further - I actually want to hear what Israelis and Zionists have to say.”6
“Gatekeeping” is Atzmon’s code for Jews in the Palestine solidarity movement who he considers to be nothing more than fifth columnists. Indeed it is the presence of Jews in the Palestine solidarity movement that is responsible for the lack of success of the movement!7
Atzmon starts off from the Zionist premise that if you are Jewish then you must be a Zionist: “To demand that Jews disapprove of Zionism in the name of their Jewish identity is to accept the Zionist philosophy. To resist Zionism as a secular Jew involves an acceptance of basic Zionist terminology: that is to say, a surrendering to Jewish racist and nationalist philosophy … Jews cannot criticise Zionism in the name of their ethnic belonging because such an act is in itself an approval of Zionism.”8
A Jewish anti-Zionist “serves as an inside enemy. It is he who will convert [to Zionism] in the next anti-semitic wave.” And there we have it. The anti-semitism that Atzmon is doing his best to create will in turn create more Zionists!
To Atzmon and co, Zionism is the authentic representative of secular Judaism. Their enemy is what they term “Bundists”: ie, Jewish socialists and anti-Zionists. The Bund, the General Jewish Labour Union of Lithuania, Poland and Russia, was formed in 1897 to unite the Jewish workers of the tsarist empire’s ‘pale of settlement’. The Bund sought cultural and political autonomy within society and within the Russian Social Democratic Party and when the majority refused to accede to this, it left the RSDLP in 1903, rejoining in 1906.
Regardless of one’s position on these antiquated debates, there is no doubt that the Bund played a major part in the revolutionary struggle in Russia against tsarism and anti-semitism, organising self-defence against the pogromists of the Black Hundreds. During the Hitler period it was the Bund that led the resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, without which there would have been no uprising. The Zionist groups, in particular Hashomer Hatzair, had little contact with non-Jewish groups, from whom they needed weapons to conduct the uprising.
The Bund was also anti-Zionist and saw Zionism as an abandonment of the fight against anti-semitism and fascism. Whereas the Zionists abandoned the Jews of Europe, on occasion collaborating with the Nazis, the Bund fought to its last breath. The Bund representative in the Polish government-in-exile,Shmuel Zygleboym, after the crushing of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, committed suicide in protest at the indifference of the world to the fate of Poland’s three million Jews.
What is Atzmon’s analysis? To him the Bund was “a unique, esoteric form of Judeo-centric socialist reading of the Jewish question …” That the Bund represented the oppressed of the oppressed has escaped him entirely. Far from being “Judeo-centric”, the Bund sought to organise Jewish workers as a means to forge unity with non-Jews.
Apparently the Bund “failed to grasp the obvious meaning of cosmopolitanism and universalism as an opposition to any form of racial or ethnic division within the ‘international’. Early Zionists were clever enough to realise that the true meaning of nationalism can only be realised in terms of geographical orientation. For the Zionist, nationalism meant a bond between man and ‘his’ land.”
These statements are not merely the product of ignorance. What Atzmon is saying is that, when it comes to the historical dispute between Jewish socialists, who insisted on fighting anti-semitism and racism where they lived, and Zionism, which accepted the arguments of the anti-semites that Jews did not belong in the societies they were born into, Atzmon sides with the Zionists.
Compounding his ignorance, Atzmon argues that the Bund “also failed to develop a general tolerant attitude towards the manifold of ethnicity within the Jewish people around the world”. Since the Bund made no claim to represent “the Jewish people” or anyone other than the Jewish workers of eastern Europe, it is no surprise that they made no claims concerning Arab Jews.
Yet, if Atzmon is critical of the Bund, then he is sympathetic to Zionism’s origins: “Zionism conveyed an exceptionally harsh reading of the Jewish diaspora conditions and promised a transformation of the Jewish reality.” That is certainly one way of putting it!
For example, Pinhas Felix Rosenbluth, a leading German Zionist (later to become Israeli minister of justice) wrote that Palestine is “an institute for the fumigation of Jewish vermin”.9 And when Arthur Ruppin, head of the Jewish Agency from 1933 to 1935, was accused of being anti-semitic, he retorted: “I have already established here that I despise the cancers of Judaism more than does the worst anti-semite.”10 Ruppin had called for the execution of Dreyfus, symbol of the fight against the reactionary and clerical anti-semitism in France.
Jacob Klatzkin, editor of the Zionist official weekly, Die Welt, wrote of “a people disfigured in both body and soul - in a word, of a horror. At the very worst it can maintain us in a state of national impurity and breed some sort of outlandish creature … The result will be something neither Jewish nor gentile - in any case, not a pure national type ... some sort of oddity among the peoples going by the name of Jew.”11
But for Atzmon “… the Zionist project was there to make a change and it indeed succeeded in doing so. The first generation of Zionist ideologists was aiming at the formation of Jewish secular life and secular meaning.”12
The change Atzmon speaks about - the rejection of Jewish participation in the revolutionary movements, the colonisation of Palestine and the expulsion of the Palestinians - was achieved under the protection of British bayonets. Nonetheless “Zionism, at least in its early days, had more than just one face ... such as Gershon Scholem, Martin Buber and Hugo Bergman [who] felt an urge to establish a Zionist ethical value system.”
All this demonstrates that Atzmon and co understand little or nothing about Zionism. An intelligent and honest Zionist like Zeev Sternhell13 accepts that from the very start Zionism, be it ‘left’ or ‘right’, agreed on the fundamentals and disagreed only tactically. It is little wonder that Atzmon welcomed with open arms the election of Amir Peretz as leader of the Israeli Labour Party, who as defence minister launched the 2006 invasion of Lebanon:
“For the first time an Israeli politician considers peace as a meaningful signifier rather than an empty slogan. … But not only is Peretz’s message authentic; it may as well be a message to the European community: no more global capitalism ... the only way to confront global capitalism is to fight it locally and socially. This is what the Israeli Labour Party has decided to do ... In the next election the Israeli people will have to choose between the hard capitalistic vision of the notorious Netanyahu and the call for social transformation and equality led by Mr Peretz.”14
This gibberish is a consequence of the failure of Atzmon and co to understand Zionism. It is a result of seeing the problem as “Jewishness” rather than Zionism. And this is the other aspect of their politics. They fail to recognise, still less understand, Zionism as a political category. It is the Jews, not Zionism, who are the main enemy.
That is why Atzmon writes: “… as much as Zionism is meaningful within the diaspora Jewish context, it is totally meaningless within the Israeli reality … The new Israeli, the one who is born in a Jewish state, is not concerned at all with the diaspora Judeo-centric query, ‘Who am I?’. The Israeli subject regards himself as an ordinary citizen within a normal national society.”15
“Israel and Zionism has managed to hijack the notion of Jewish secularism. The diaspora Jewish youngster who has to choose between a pale, bearded rabbi … and a young athletic Israeli marine who offers him a gun, a red beret and a war to fight may find the latter slightly more appealing. The young Jewish diaspora female who has to choose between a wig to cover her head and the Israeli, rather liberated interpretation of femininity will probably find the Israeli lifestyle far more attractive.”16
In fact the reverse is true. Diaspora Jewry is starting to fall out of love with Israel.17 Just as the number of Israeli emigrants is estimated to be some three quarters of a million: that is, over a seventh of Israelis in total - a phenomenal number for a young state.18
In fact Zionism is alive and thriving in Israel. Its manifestations being the Jewish National Fund, the Judaification of the Galilee and Negev, the pauperisation of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Atzmon and his anti-semitic coterie invert the relationship, failing to see that the role of diaspora Jewish communities is one of support for Zionism and the Israeli state. Just as Atzmon sees Israel controlling US foreign policy, so he sees Israel as being controlled in turn by diaspora Jewry as part of the global Jewish conspiracy.19
As Jonathan Cook, who lives in Nazareth, writes, “As long as Israel is an ethnic state, it will be forced to deepen the occupation and intensify its ethnic-cleansing policies to prevent the emergence of genuine Palestinian political influence … The obstacle to a solution, then, is not about dividing the land, but about Zionism itself, the ideology of ethnic supremacism that is the current orthodoxy in Israel. As long as Israel is a Zionist state, its leaders will allow neither one state nor two real states.
“The solution, therefore, reduces to the question of how to defeat Zionism ... discrediting Israel as a Jewish state, and the ideology of Zionism that upholds it …
“Without Zionism, the obstacle to creating either one or two states will finally be removed. And if that is the case then why not also campaign for the solution that will best bring justice to both Israelis and Palestinians?”20
Rejection of colonialism
Atzmon and co reject an anti-imperialist and colonialist analysis of Israel and Zionism as part of their opposition to a socialist and anti-imperialist understanding of Israel and its founding ideology. In The ‘third category’ and the Palestine solidarity movement: Jewish identity, Zionism and Palestine Atzmon writes: “We are now starting to realise that Zionism should not be seen merely as a nationalist movement … It is not exactly a colonial movement with an interest in Palestine. Zionism appears to be an international movement that is fuelled by the solidarity of third category subjects. To be a Zionist means simply to accept that, more than anything else, you are primarily a Jew.”
It could not be clearer. Zionism is an international Jewish movement. It has nothing to do with imperialism or colonialism, the theft of land and water - “more than anything else” it is the fact that “you are primarily a Jew”.21
No-one has been more explicit in developing this argument than Mary Rizzo, the person who runs the anti-semitic sewer that goes by the name of Peace Palestine. In December 2007 Israeli academic Ilan Pappe, who has done more than any other historian to publicise the truth about the massacres and expulsion of over three quarters of a million Palestinians in 1947-49, was interviewed for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto. In a debate on Alef (Academic Left), a site hosted by Avraham Oz of Haifa University, Rizzo made it clear that she disagreed with Pappe’s analysis:
Pappe argued that “we have to change our terminologies. It’s not about a clash between Jews and Palestinians.” This was a red rag to the anti-semitic bull. “This is inaccurate,” Rizzo proclaimed. “The settlements are inhabited by Jews and the occupation of Palestine is for a Jewish state.” By the same analogy, no doubt unionism, since it sought a protestant state for a protestant people, was the product of the essential and changing nature of protestantism.
And when Pappe stated that, “It’s a matter of colonialism”, Rizzo took further exception: “Yes, it is also that,” she proclaimed, but “It is not for a colonial immigration such as one by the Italians in Libya … nor is it similar to French colonialism in Algeria or Indochina. It is a specific, ethnically oriented programme to displace one ethnic group with another and to also take over the resources. Including in this the foundation of a new state that is independent and not a colony.”22
It is, of course, possible that Rizzo is merely ignorant, since all forms of settler-colonialism are based on an ethnic differentiation. Maybe Rizzo has never heard of the ‘black peril’ in Rhodesia23 or the ‘Black Act’ of Thomas MacCaulay in India in 1835, which rendered British citizens subject to the jurisdiction of Indian judges in civil cases. When in 1851 it was proposed that the Black Act be extended to British subjects, the governor general, Lord Dalhousie, “objected that such people would then be subject to Mohammedan law. He would not give his assent until a new and uniform code had been framed and enacted.”24
Colonialism by its very nature involves the superimposition of an alien society and its norms on an indigenous society, and this coincides with ethnic differentiation between coloniser and colonised. Pappe went on to note how incredible it is that “a colonialist policy can be still accepted in the 21st century”. Rizzo protested: “It must be demonstrated that it is simply a colonialist policy ... because it includes an ideology of transformation of the land into suiting the needs of a specific group in maintaining it ethnically pure. The idea of reclaiming the ‘promised land’, of restituting it to the ‘will of god’s plan’, is much more than colonial ideology: it is a racist and supremacist ideology based on religious belief or tradition. That is why many do not fight against it as a colonial struggle. The Palestinians do not see it that way.”
Leaving aside Rizzo’s ability to discern what Palestinians are thinking, this is a good example of the imperial arrogance of the anti-semitic ‘supporters’ of the Palestinians - one wonders what she thinks colonialism involves: tea and cucumber sandwiches for the natives? Religion and the missionaries were one of the main ideological props of colonialism - and what is racism if not the justification for colonialism?
When Pappe pointed to the fact that “Today there are opinion movements of young Jews, in Europe and in the US, who point the finger at Israel’s colonialist policies and accuse it as a colonialist and racist state, not because it is a state founded by Jews”, Rizzo all but exploded: “So far, they have not been able to liberate one inch of Palestine.” True, of course, but is that their role? Has anyone liberated an inch of Palestine? For Rizzo and Atzmon, Jews “are certainly not the protagonists in any liberation struggle and they have no bearing whatsoever on what is happening to the people of Gaza.”
Warming to her theme, she railed: “We don’t need to keep on praising Jewish activists when they are so totally ineffective and keep the pressure of our leaders down, do we?” No doubt Rizzo and Atzmon have made up for our ineffectiveness, but in reality Jewish activists have been the most prominent and effective supporters of the Palestinians, precisely because as Jews we counter the myth that Zionism is the only voice of Jews.
Citing a Wikipedia definition of colonialism as “the extension of a nation’s sovereignty over territory beyond its borders”,25 Rizzo informs us that “Israel is not even mentioned in this long article, but if you find evidence that Israel is a colonial country, please present it. What nation is the ‘mother nation’? … Yes, it acts in ways that are colonialist, but it is not a colonial country. It takes over the resources and displaces to create its own national identity.”26
Apparently Zionism is not a settler-colonial movement, but a Jewish movement and it is Jewishness that defines Israel. The rest of the arguments are specious. It may be exceptional that there is no mother country, but it is not unique. The Boers of South Africa had no mother country, as they found out when they came into armed conflict with the British in 1899. Is anyone seriously arguing that after the War of Independence in 1783 the American settlers were not colonists? Yet they had no mother country. Was the displacement of the indigenous population of the Pacific western coast of the USA different in mode or degree from that of the eastern seaboard?
It would be interesting to know if Rizzo can name a colonial movement which did not take over the resources of another country or try to preserve its own national identity. Maybe she has never heard of Rhodesia’s Land Apportionment Act of 1930 or South Africa’s Group Areas Act? And all settler colonial movements seek their independence. The British empire created a specific category of self-governing colonies called dominions.
In rejecting any class analysis of the Palestinian question and the idea that Zionism is a settler colonial movement, the anti-semites have only one explanation left. The Jews. How strange it is that the Jews left it to the late 19th century, the era of colonialism, in order to achieve their state. Even stranger is the fact that the most ardent Zionists were not even Jewish.
1. See my article ‘Unholy alliance’ Weekly Worker June 22 2006.
3. peacepalestine.blogspot.com/2007/11/whats-it-all-about-indy.html, www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/southcoast/2008/01/388930.html
4. “Although they insist upon suggesting that I am a ‘racist’, in the entirety of my work there is not a single reference whatsoever to race” (lists.indymedia.org/pipermail/imc-uk-features/2007-November/1113-7c.html).
7. “Though this may explain why Jews are so involved in Palestinian solidarity, it may additionally explain why the Palestinian solidarity movement has never made it into a global mass movement. Apparently, not many people around are that keen to join a liberal synagogue” (www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/Dialectic.htm).
8. ‘Not in my name - an analysis of Jewish righteousness’ (www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/notin.html).
9. J Doron, ‘Classic Zionism and modern anti-semitism: parallels and influences (1883-1914)’ Studies in Zionism No8, autumn 1981, citing ‘Feldbrief aus dem Osten’ Der judische Student (1914) p74.
10. Ibid - diary, August 4 1893.
11. A Herzberg The Zionist idea pp322-23.
13. Z Sternhell The founding myths of Israel New Jersey 1999.
16. G Atzmon The politics of anti-semitism: Zionism, the Bund and Jewish identity politics www.gilad.co.uk/html%20files/bund.htm
17. AC Brownfeld, ‘Judaism and Israel: increasingly, thoughtful American Jews are rethinking Zionism’ Washington Report on Middle East Affairs May 2004, pp67-69 (www.washington-report.org/aboutwrmea/index.htm).
18. “In Israel, the number of emigrants exceeded the number of immigrants for the first time in 20 years, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported Friday. Many emigrants were recent arrivals who wanted to leave Israel again, the report said. In 2007, 14,400 immigrants are expected in Israel, while 20,000 people are expected to leave the country, according to the report, based on figures for the first months of 2007.
“The last time emigration exceeded immigration was in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur war and in 1983 and 1984 when inflation was high. Meanwhile the Maariv newspaper reported that approximately a quarter of the Israeli population was considering emigration. Almost half of the country’s young people were thinking of leaving the country, the report said” (report, April 20 2007, Tel Aviv - stlouis.ujcfedweb.org/page.html?ArticleID=144274).
19. This was the thesis of a section of the Nazi Party, including the early Hitler. In Mein Kampf he wrote: “They have not the slightest intention of building up a Jewish state in Palestine so as to live in it. What they really are aiming at is to establish a central organisation for their international swindling and cheating” (p184). Likewise Nazi author Wolf Christian Meyer’s Die argued that a Jewish state would be “a key base for world Jewry”, which would enjoy citizenship in this state without giving up citizenship rights in their states in Europe and the United States (J Herf, ‘Convergence: the classic case - Nazi Germany anti-semitism and anti-Zionism during World War II’ Journal of Israeli History March 2006, p71).
21. www.amin.org/look/amin/en.tpl?IdLanguage=&IdPublication=7&NrArticle=14605&NrIssue= 1&NrSection=3
23. See J McCulloch Black peril, white virtue: sexual crime in Southern Rhodesia, 1902-1935 Indiana 2000.
24. J Clive Macaulay - the shaping of the historian London 1973.