This talk will be in two parts; the first dealing with Zionism and the second with Palestine solidarity.
First of all, let’s look at Zionism. When we are called ‘racists’ or ‘anti-Semitic’ for supporting Palestine, we say ‘no we are not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish, we are anti-Zionist’. But what IS Zionism? And why should we be against it? This is not a definitive history but hopefully it will be a useful snapshot and background.
The Zionist movement developed in 19th century Europe against a background of centuries of varying levels of persecution of Jewish minorities. It was a middle class movement which sought to build a ‘Jewish nation’, on the so-called Jewish ancestral land of Palestine. Despite some romantic notions about kibbutzim (communes), for the majority of Zionists, this was to be a nation with all the same class relations in it as prevailed in the European countries where Jews were located, but one in which they, who were currently held back by racism, could progress to the top and run the show.
Zionism grew, and was actively encouraged to grow by the bourgeoisies of the oppressor nations, in specific opposition to the other rapidly developing movement of the time – Marxism and communism.
In 1920 Winston Churchill wrote an essay ‘Zionism vs Bolshevism’ which basically said there were two types of Jews, the bad ones who were communists and the good ones, who were Zionists. Like the Tsars and other imperialist regimes, the British state would assist the ‘good Jews’ by any means at their disposal, in order to try to stem the flow of working class Jewish recruits joining the communist parties across Europe - both before and after the Russian Revolution.
As Zionism developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although overwhelmingly middle class, it did have a left wing, which was orientated towards the Jewish working class, and which operated through organisations such as the Jewish Bund and Poale Zion; these too had a reactionary nationalist character, which deliberately sought to divert the Jewish working class from communism.
The Bund sought to organise Jewish workers into a separate socialist organisation, with a nationalist component; while Poale Zion was only concerned with building a future socialist Israel and saw working for socialism in Europe as a waste of time and an act of treachery.
Both the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks strongly opposed these opportunist movements and Lenin polemicised against them in various writings which were subsequently gathered together under the heading ‘On the Jewish Question’.
‘Marxism is irreconcilable with nationalism, be it ever so “just,” “nicely-washed,” refined and civilised. Marxism puts forward internationalism to replace all forms of nationalism, the fusion of all nations into a highest unity…
‘To overthrow every feudal yoke, every oppression of a nation, every privilege, for one particular nation or one language, is the undoubted duty of the proletariat as a democratic force, undoubtedly to the interest of the proletarian class struggle, which is confused and retarded by national strife. But to assist bourgeois nationalism beyond this limit—rigidly determined and placed within a definite historical framework—means betraying the proletariat and taking the side of the bourgeoisie. . .
‘A struggle against all forms of national oppression—unquestionably, yes! A struggle for every kind of national development, for “national culture” in general—unquestionably, no! . . .’
And while Zionism had, and has, a ‘left wing’, it also had, and has, a right wing, more virulent and racist than the mainstream of the original movement.
If you want to know more about this whole topic, I cannot recommend enough the book The Iron Wall written by Lenni Brenner, which details the rise to prominence of this ultra right-wing tendency, Zionist Revisionism, founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and how this tendency became dominant in the founding of the state of Israel and in its consolidation, with massive assistance from British and US imperialism. While Zionists now raise question marks over everyone who opposes them, suspecting racism and anti-Semitism everywhere, there was no doubt at all about Jabotinsky’s own racist credentials. He and his followers hated and vilified Arabs (a Semitic people) and made no secret of this, any more than they did of their hatred for socialism.
Brenner takes us through the dirty deals and ignominious attempted pacts with every oppressor from Ottoman sultans, through Russian tsars to – yes, Ken Livingstone was right – the Nazis.
Internationally, even after the founding of the Israeli state, Zionism had, at most, token support from the majority of the world’s Jewish population. However, after the Six-day and Yom Kippur wars, and with the growth in strength of the revisionist Likud party, this changed, and militant support for Israel, immigration to Israel and the expansion of Israel, began to be much more systematically and aggressively encouraged, both by the Israeli government itself, and by its supporters in the US, Britain, France and other nations which depended on Israel to be their champion and proxy in the Middle East. [See Brenner p171 on the US and oil].
Integral to all this garnering of support for the Israeli state was the idea of the Jews as endlessly persecuted and never able to counter this persecution by staying put in other countries and fighting for their rights. Only fleeing to Israel, only building Israel into a strong, heavily armed state would do, and anyone who attacked or doubted this project would be denounced, not as a political opponent, but as a Jew-hater, an anti-Semite, even as a Nazi sympathiser.
Solidarity with Palestine
Fast-forward to the present day. What I can’t cover in a short talk here is the actual situation on the ground in Palestine.
But I probably don’t need to tell you about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, about walls, checkpoints, arbitrary detention, water shortages, land theft or massacres.
Because despite everything, despite the massive Zionist propaganda machine which, for example, in 2008/9 inundated the western media with claims of pro-Palestinian bias for not giving quite as much coverage to the seven Israeli citizens killed by rockets fired out of Gaza at nearby settlements, to the over 2,000 Palestinians who died in the Israeli bombardment of their homes, despite all this, people around the world still did know what was really going on and who the real aggressors and real victims were.
And those of us who know about this, whatever else we do, however active or not, have a tendency to boycott Israeli goods. Some of us mount militant demonstrations, such as the one the RCG has been involved with outside branches of Marks & Spencer since 2000, or the activists who drove Israeli cosmetics shop Ahava out of Covent Garden. Others try to put pressure on organisations, such as universities or local councils not to purchase Israeli produce by passing resolutions. Some people put stickers over produce from Israel and the Occupied Territories, or simply don’t buy the products.
To what extent all this hurts Israel economically, we don’t really know for sure, any more than we did with apartheid South Africa, but it most certainly damages the country’s reputation and hurts it politically. No state likes to be seen as a pariah
However, far from softening up in the face of protest, the Zionists have upped the ante. In 2015, Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked announced that the Zionist regime would be going on the offensive against those involved in ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ campaigns and would begin legal action against them.
The Times of Israel reported that this ‘legal campaign’ was to be integrated with a wider plan to combat the ‘delegitimization’ of Israel being put together by Public Security and Information Minister Gilad Erdan, and that this was in keeping with statements by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party (of which Shaked is also a member), who said, ‘Let it be clear to any company or organization that’s considering boycotting us: We will hit back. We will attack our attackers. We will boycott our boycotters.’
In truth they hardly needed to do this, as a word in the ear of their adherents in the governments of France, Britain etc would have sufficed.
So far, France is the only country – other than Israel itself - which has actually made it a criminal offence to call for a boycott of Israel. In fact France has more punitive laws than Israel, as in Israel such activity can lead to a fine but not to imprisonment.
On 20 October 2015, France’s highest court of criminal appeals upheld the conviction of a group of Palestine solidarity activists, from Mulhouse, in eastern France, who demonstrated outside and inside supermarkets in 2009 and 2010. In usual protest activity, they shouted slogans, handed out leaflets and wore T-shirts urging the boycott of Israeli products.
Charges were initially brought against the activists by local prosecutors and in December 2011, they were acquitted.
However, the French state persevered, and in 2013 an appeal court found them guilty and fined them under a 1972 anti-discrimination law which provides up to a year in prison and large fines to anyone who ‘provokes discrimination, hatred or violence against a person or a group of people by reason of their origin or their membership or non-membership in a specific ethnic group, nation, race or religion.’
Last year, the Court of Cassation upheld their convictions, on the basis that they had called for ‘discrimination against the producers and suppliers of goods by reason of their belonging to the “Israeli nation’.
Ironically, in 2013 Israel’s own high court had rejected the concept of there being an ‘Israeli’, as opposed to a ‘Jewish nation’.
Although there has not been any ruling as definitive as that in France, in Britain there are a variety of attempts to criminalise support for Palestine by one tactic or another:
First off in the current period, there is the whole Labour Party situation. And yes, we think that the Labour Party is in fact racist through and through, given its history in government of imperialist war, and mass detention and deportation of immigrants, but is it anti-Semitic in the way its critics describe? Clearly it is not.
No, this is an attempt by right wing forces both inside and outside the Labour Party to marshal the powerful Zionist lobby against the left leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
And there are other ongoing attacks.
The College of Policing (the successor to the shady Association of Chief Police Officers - ACPO) has issued guidelines on hate-crime, which, under anti-Semitism, include examples of criticism of Israel:
Examples of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel could include:
- denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour
- applying double standards by requiring behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
- drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis
- holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.
Two activists from the Scottish PSC are currently on trial for alleged ‘racism’. This is the second such trial of SPSC supporters – the first one ended in victory but took two years and lots of court appearances.
And as an attack on boycotters, in February 2016, the British government issued a ‘Public Procurement Notice’, which doesn’t actually mention Israel or any other country by name, but which coincided with a visit to Israel by Cabinet Minister Matthew Hancock. The notice states:
Public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government. There are wider national and international consequences from imposing such local level boycotts. They can damage integration and community cohesion within the United Kingdom, hinder Britain’s export trade, and harm foreign relations to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security. … It can also be unlawful and lead to severe penalties against the contracting authority and the Government.
So, what are we going to do about all this? We have to stand firm, expose and confront this nonsense, refusing to be silenced or cowed. And we need to shout even louder for Palestine!
Boycott the racist Israeli regime!