What is left anti-semitism?


Sean Matgamna

What is “left-wing anti-semitism”? Where is it manifested? What is to be done about it?

There are three difficulties, three confusions and obfuscations, that stand in the way of rational discussion of what we mean by “left-wing anti-semitism”.

The first is that left-wing anti-semitism knows itself by another and more self-righteous name, “anti-Zionism”. Often, your left-wing anti-semite sincerely believes that he or she is only an anti-Zionist, only a just if severe critic of Israel.

The second is that talk of left-wing anti-semitism to a left-wing anti-semite normally evokes indignant, sincere, and just denial - of something else! “No, I'm not a racist! How dare you call me a racist?”

No, indeed, apart from a nut here and there, left-wing anti-semites are not racist. But there was anti-semitism before there was 20th-century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still anti-semitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Hitler-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became part of the mental and emotional furniture of all half-way decent people, and perhaps especially of left-wing people.

Left-wingers are people who by instinct and conviction side with the oppressed, the outcasts, those deprived of human rights, the working class, the labour movement. We naturally side against the police, the military, and the powerful capitalist states, including our “own”. We are socially tolerant; in contrast to the “hang ‘em, flog ‘em, build more jails” types, we look to changing social conditions rather than to punishment to deal with crime — we are people who want to be Marxists and socialists, and consistent democrats. Confused some such people may be, racists they are not. We are not saying that left-wing anti-semites are racists.

The third source of confusion and obfuscation is the objection: “You say I’m an anti-semite because I denounce Israel. I’m not anti-Jewish when I denounce Israel, but anti-Zionist”. And sometimes, at this point, you get the addition: “By the way, I am myself Jewish”.

The objector continues: Israel deserves criticism. Even the harshest criticism of Sharon’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza, and of Israel’s long-term treatment of the Palestinians, is pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, not anti-semitic. To equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is just crude and hysterical Zionist apologetics.

No, by “left-wing anti-semitism” we emphatically do not mean political, military, or social criticism of Israel and of the policy of Israeli governments. Certainly, not all left-wing critics of Israel or Zionism are anti-semites, even though these days all anti-semites, including the right-wing, old-fashioned, and racist anti-semites, are paid-up “anti-Zionists”.

Israel frequently deserves criticism. Israel’s policy in the Occupied Territories and its general treatment of the Palestinians deserve outright condemnation. The oppressed Palestinians need to be politically defended against Israeli governments and the Israeli military. The only halfway equitable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a viable, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel, needs to be argued for and upheld against Israeli power.

Solidarity condemns Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. We defend the Palestinians and champion an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.

The difference here between left-wing anti-semites and honest critics of Israel — a category which includes a very large number of Israeli Jews as well as Israeli Arabs — is a straightforward one of politics, of policy.

The left-wing anti-semites do not only criticise Israel. They condemn it outright and deny its right to exist. They use legitimate criticisms, and utilise our natural sympathy with the Palestinians, not to seek redress, not as arguments against an Israeli government, an Israeli policy, or anything specifically wrong in Israel, but as arguments against the right of Israel to exist at all. Any Israel. Any Jewish state in the area. Any Israel, with any policy, even one in which all the specific causes for justly criticising present-day Israel and for supporting the Palestinians against it have been entirely eliminated.

The root problem, say the left-wing anti-semites, is that Israel exists. The root “crime of Zionism” is that it advocated and brought into existence “the Zionist state of Israel”.

Bitterly, and often justly, criticising specific Israeli policies, actions, and governments, seemingly championing the Palestinians, your left-wing anti-semites seek no specific redress in Israel or from Israel, demanding only that Israel should cease to exist or be put out of existence.

They often oppose measures to alleviate the condition of the Palestinians short of the destruction of Israel. Thus the petitions and chants on demonstrations: “Two states solution, no solution!”

A neat illustration of this was provided three years ago when, at a meeting of the council of the SWP-dominated Socialist Alliance, a supporter of this newspaper proposed the slogan “Israel out of the Occupied Territories”. It was voted down, and much vaguer ones, “Free Palestine”, “Victory to the intifada”, voted in.

Why? “Free Palestine” can be understood in different ways, depending on your definition of “Palestine”. Therefore it can accommodate those who, without having studied the complexities or the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict, instinctively side with the oppressed and outmatched Palestinians, and for whom “Free Palestine” means simply that Israel should get out of the Occupied Territories. And it can also accommodate those, like the proponents of the slogan, the political Islamists of the Muslim Association of Britain/ Muslim Brotherhood and others, who define “Palestine” as pre-Israel, pre-1948 Palestine, and by “Free Palestine” mean the destruction and abolition of Israel, and the elimination in one way or another of the Jewish population of Israel, or most of them.

The political differences spelled out here are easily understood. But why is the drive and the commitment to destroy Israel anti-semitism, and not just anti-Zionism?

Because the attitude to the Jewish nation in Israel is unique, different from the left’s attitude to all other nations; and because of the ramifications for attitudes to Jews outside Israel. Apart from a few religious Jews who think the establishment of Israel was a revolt against God, and some Jews who share the views of the leftists whom we are discussing here, those Jews outside Israel instinctively identify with and support Israel, however critically. For the left-wing anti-semite they are therefore “Zionists”, and proper and natural targets of the drive to “smash Zionism”.

The attitude of the “anti-Zionist” left to Israel brings with it a comprehensive hostility to most Jews everywhere - those who identify with Israel and who defend its right to exist. They are not just people with mistaken ideas. They are “Zionists”.

In colleges, for example, where the anti-Zionist left exists side by side with Jewish students, this attitude often means a special antagonism to the “Zionist” Jews. They are identified with Israel. They, especially, are pressured either to denounce Israel, to agree that it is “racist” and “imperialist” and that its existence is a crime against the Arabs — or else be held directly and personally responsible for everything Israel does, has done, or is said to have done.

In such places, where the left “interfaces” with Jews, the logic of the unique attitude to Israel takes on a nasty persecuting quality. In the past, in the mid 1980s for example, that has taken the form of attempting to ban Jewish student societies. Non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist are not classified in the same category.

But is the attitude of the “absolute anti-Zionists” to Israel really unique? There are seeming similarities with left attitudes to one or two other states — Protestant Northern Ireland, apartheid South Africa, or pre-1980 white-ruled Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) — but the attitude to Israel is unique, because the reality of Israel cannot properly be identified with Northern Ireland, apartheid South Africa, or white Rhodesia.

In apartheid South Africa and white Rhodesia a minority lorded it over the big majority of the population, exploiting them. Israel is a predominantly Jewish state consisting of all classes. The Jewish nation does not subsist, and never has subsisted, on the exploitation of Arab labour, or depended in any essential way on such exploitation.

The general left hostility to the Northern Ireland Protestants — who are not exploiters of Catholic labour, and who are the compact majority, if not of the Six Counties, then of the north-east half of the Six Counties — is the closest to the attitude to Israel.

But it is not widely believed on the left that the Northern Ireland Protestant-Unionists simply have no right to be there. The right of the Jews to “be there” is denied in those sections of the left that we are discussing. The organisation of Jewish migration to Palestine — that was the root “crime” of Zionism, of which the “crime” of establishing Israel was only a further development. The “solution” is not only to undo and abolish Israel, but to reverse Jewish “migration” — which now includes people born there, to parents born there — and to roll the film of Middle-Eastern history backwards.

The prerequisite for left-wing anti-semitism is the catastrophic decline in the culture of the left over the last decades, a decline which allows people who want to be socialists to chant “Sharon is Hitler, Israel is Nazi” and similar nonsense without checking on the words. The specific framework within which what we have been describing exists, and without which it probably couldn’t exist in these “left-wing” forms, is the poisonous and systematic misrepresentation and falsification of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and of the Jewish people in the 20th century. We can only touch on that here.

In real history, Jews fled to Palestine, where a small Zionist colony and a small pre-Zionist Jewish community already existed, from persecution in Europe in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In the 1930s and 40s they fled for their lives from Nazism, which killed two out of every three Jews alive in Europe in 1939, in a world in which no non-persecuting state would let them, or enough of them, in.

They fled to the existing Jewish national minority in Palestine (a long-established minority which, though small, was for example the majority in Jerusalem in 1900).

While Hitler was organising mass slaughter, Britain shut out Jews from Palestine, interning those who tried to enter. Overloaded, unseaworthy boats carrying illegal cargoes of Jews sank in the Mediterranean trying to get to Palestine (for example, the Struma, in which over 700 people died).

Israel was set up by those Jews on licence from the UN, which stipulated two states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab. When the state of Israel was declared in May 1948, the surrounded Arab states invaded. States like Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt were then British-dominated, and some of the armies were staffed by British officers.

The Israelis defended themselves and won. In the war three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs were driven out or fled; in the same period and afterwards, about 600,000 Jews were expelled from or fled Arab countries.

In the Arab invasion of 1948, the Arab-Palestinian state was eliminated. Most of its territory went to Jordan, and fell under Israeli control in the war of 1967. That was a tremendous tragedy that will only be redressed when an independent Palestinian state takes its place alongside Israel.

This complex and tragic history is presented by the “absolute anti-Zionist” left as a conspiracy of Zionism, conceived of as a demonic force outside history. It is not rare to find “left anti-Zionists” arguing that this Jewish-Zionist conspiracy was so all-powerful that it was able even to manipulate Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust in which six million Jews died (see the play by the veteran Trotskyist Jim Allen, Perdition, of which Ken Loach planned a performance at a London theatre in 1987).

The core idea, the root of modern left-wing anti-semitism, is that Israel, in one way or another, is an illegitimate state; and that therefore, in one way or another, it should be done away with. If its citizens will not be the first in history to voluntarily dismantle their nation-state and make themselves a minority in a state run by those whom they have had to fight for national existence; if they will not agree to voluntarily dismantle Israel and create a “secular democratic Arab state”, in which Israeli Jews can have religious but not national rights - then they must be overwhelmed and compelled to submit or flee by the Arab states, now or when they are strong enough.

Usually beginning with the benign-seeming proposal to sink Israel into a broader Arab-majority entity in which “everyone could live in peace”, the chain of logic rooted in the idea that Israel should not have come into existence, that it is an illegitimate state, leads directly — since Israel will not agree to abolish itself — to support for compulsion, conquest, and all that goes with it. Israel must be conquered.

Even the work of a writer like Hal Draper can feed into this poisoned stream. While Draper made valid and just criticisms of Israel, he accepted that it had a right to exist and a right to defend itself. He denounced those who wanted to destroy it. But he made his criticisms in the tone and manner of a prophet denouncing sin and iniquity. He too thought that Israel was an illegitimate state, that it should never have come into existence and should go out of existence as soon as possible.

By agreement, and only by agreement, he believed; but the subtleties got lost. There is nothing to stop someone swayed by Draper’s denunciations of Israel, and accepting his idea that Israel is an illegitimate state, then impatiently insisting: if not by agreement, then by conquest.

And so an increasingly-disoriented SWP-UK could look to a Saddam Hussein to “free Palestine”, that is, conquer Israel.

The point here is that states and nations are the products of history. There is no such thing as an illegitimate nation or a “bad people” which does not deserve the rights conceded to other peoples.

The German socialist leader August Bebel, confronted by raucous denunciation of "the Jews" ludicrously depicting them as the epitome and embodiment of capitalism said of anti-semitism that it was “the socialism of the fools”.

The anti-semitic left today, which depicts Israel as the hyper-imperialist power — either controlling US policy, or acting as its chief instrument, the story varies — is in the grip of an “anti-imperialism of the fools”. And that in practice leads to a comprehensive hostility to Jews not far from what Bebel called the socialism of fools.

One of the great tragedies of today is that many young people, whose initial instincts to oppose Bush and Blair in Iraq and to support the Palestinians are healthy, are being poisoned with “left-wing” anti-semitism through the “anti-war movement”.

“Left-wing anti-semitism” is, in short, a comprehensive hostility to most Jews alive, branding them as “Zionists” and seeing that description as akin to “racist" or “imperialist”. It excepts only those Jews who agree that Israel is racist imperialism in its most concentrated essence, and oppose its continued existence.

The general antidote to this anti-imperialism of fools is the propagation of rational democratic and socialist politics. Such politics focus on a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They measure and criticise Israel — and the Arab states — according to their stand in relation to that just solution — the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

There is an immediate “antidote” to left-wing anti-semitism too, and it is a very important task for Marxist socialists like those who publish Solidarity: relentless exposure and criticism of their politics and antics — without fear of isolation, ridicule, or the venomous hostility of the vocal and self-righteous left-wing anti-semites.


I've just linked to this piec

I've just linked to this piece from Engage. I assume that this piece is written by Sean. If I'm wrong, will someone tell me, so I can change the link.

I don't understand why Sean argues that "No, indeed, apart from a nut here and there, left-wing anti-semites are not racist."

Why does Sean insist that this type of antisemitism is not a type of racism? What is at stake in this distinction between antisemitism and racism? It seems to me that antisemitism is exactly a form of racism.

For resources and discussion on the topic of anti-Zionist antisemitism, see www.EngageOnline.org.uk. Check regularly for the latest news and argument.

David Hirsh

The "racist" sidetrack

The function of the statement early in the editorial that left-wing anti-semites are typical not racists should be pretty obvious: to get away from squabbles and obfuscations with those who - sincerely - deny being racist, while being anti-semitic as defined in the editorial.

There are people who try to turn any discussion on left-wing anti-semitism into a discussion on how anti-racist they are and how unfair it is to call them racists. People who by anti-semitism understand nothing else but Hitlerian zoological racism.

The question is: is it true that - nuts aside - left-wing anti-semites are not racists? It surely is true. The typical left-wing anti-semite does not - and this is a plain matter of fact - concern him or herself with zoological race theory, or subscribe to any such theory.

One of the poisoned darts in the arsenal of left-wing anti-semitism is the false assertion that Zionism and Israel are rooted in such racism.

Contemporary left-wing anti-semitism, amongst types of anti-semitism, of which there have been many in history, is more akin to persecuting Christian anti-semitism than to Hitlerism. Like the old Christians, the left-wing anti-semites want to "save the souls" of the Jews. A Jewish-background left-wing "anti-Zionist" is honoured in left-wing "anti-Zionist" circles. Some of the worst left-wing anti-semites are people of Jewish background.

For example, the late Tony Cliff of the SWP, one of the most influential and virulent left-wing anti-semites, was a Palestinian Jew. "Race" doesn't come into it, except for the odd nut. (The anti-semitic explanation for left-wing anti-semitism? It's all the fault of the left-wing Jews!)
So it is not only expedient to get away from fruitless headbanging with left-wing anti-semites and those influenced by them about whether when we call them anti-semites we thereby call them racists (which they know themselves not to be). It is also the truth..

Typically, your left-wing anti-semite has as much a loathing of racism as any of us. This will be true of young people drawn into the "anti-war" movement, for example. The thing is to get such people to reflect that a set of ideas can sincerely reject Hitlerism and yet be viciously judeophobic..

"Racism" is now a term so overused that in common usage it has just a vague, general meaning. Yet it had, and has, a sharper, clearer meaning.

Denial that he or she is a racist in the old, sharp, Hitlerian meaning functions for many leftists as a obfuscation to hinder discussion and recognition of the real anti-semitism in which so much of the left not partakes.

The left-wing anti-semite uses terms like "racist" and "Nazi" as emotionally satisfying crude clubs to beat down "Zionists". Those who fight left-wing anti-semitism might in their turn find denouncing the left-wing anti-semites as "racists" emotionally satisfying.

But it isn't true. And, by reinforcing from our side the armour of denial and evasion behind which left-wing anti-semites hide, it will hinder our work of uprooting left-wing anti-semitism.

It is a very narrow way of de

It is a very narrow way of defining racism - to insist that it must be linked to "Hitlerian Zoological" theories of race. Using this definition of racism, there are, "except for nuts" almost no racists anywhere. If only racism was confined to Hitlerian nuts.

People who demonize Islam as backward or as inherently violent and reactionary are not racist, because they operate with a 'cultural' rather than a 'zoological' idea of 'race'?

Institutional racism that relies on, for example, the practices of the Metropolitan Police, rather than the 'zoological' theories of the police officers?

You think a left antisemite will be outraged when you call them a racist, but when you say "Oh no no, you're not a racist, you're only operating with an antisemitic politics" they'll reply, "Oh well, thats fine then. As long as you don't think I'm a Hitlerian racist but only a Christian antisemite?"

And why is this comment signed only "AWL"? Is it not written by a person? Is the original article not written by a person?

I'm also interested in Sean's

I'm also interested in Sean's claim that "The prerequisite for left-wing anti-semitism is the catastrophic decline in the culture of the left over the last decades".

Haven't there always been plenty of Jew-haters and other supporters of totalitarianism hanging around on the left - talking as though they were leftists? When was the golden age that you are thinking of, from which the culture of the left has declined?

David Hirsh

declining left culture

David, I agree with you that there have always been jew-haters on the left, but I think that the culture amongst what was the class-struggle, activist left has declined to such an extent that on a recent rally in Leeds a platform speaker was able to make openly anti-semitic statements and be cheered on by the SWP. The explanation I got from one (quite sensible normally) SWPer was that "we have to encourage militant muslim activists even when we disagree with them".

I would be unthinkable for this to have happened 10 years ago.

There's a complete level of 'dumbing-down' about all national questions on most of the left. To compare Israel/Palestine to South Africa requires a staggering level of political stupidity or/and calculating malice. Yet this goes unchecked on whole of the left.

In leeds we have comradely relations with an experienced left-wing, ex-SWP activist of 20years standing. Coming back from an (early) anti-war demo we asked him whether he thought that the anti-semitism has ruined the day. He replied that he hadn't seen any at all. We pointed out various the star of david=swastika stickers, 'lets stamp out racism' accompanied by a boot stamping on a star of david, 'The real holcaust' posters that we on hundreds of coaches. This comrade didn't regard any of those as anti-semitic. This comrade is more or less representative of the mainstream left in this opinion, and that does mark a significant decline.

Our culture is one of critical debate and clarity, this has declined so far that on much of the rest of the left, these are less important than attacting whatever the flavour of the month 'radical' current is.

In Marx's time people like Br

In Marx's time people like Bruno Bauer were speaking against the emancipation of the Jews. Others were getting a hearing for propaganda against "Jewish Capital".

Between the 30s and the 80s a significant part of the left thought that the Soviet Union was socialist.

In the 1930s a significant part of the left thought that in Germany Social Democracy was the most important threat to the labour movement. And in Spain a significant part of the left was for the suppression of the workers militias fighting against Franco.

Being unconcerned about antisemitism and cheerleading totalitarian movements are not exactly new phenomena on the left, are they?


How much worse?

There is much in the 'left's history that stinks. The lies that the Stalinised left told itself about the brutal persecution of Russian oppositionists and near extermination of the Ukrainian people in the forced collectivisations in the 30s, the refusal to believe the stories about the vast repression in China throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Certain sections of the non-stalinist left may have fallen for those lies through a mixture of gullibility and a lack of information.

From the 70s onwards, possibly before that, the non-Stalinist left has had identifiable features of anti-Semitism. I can remember the 'star of David' = swastika equivalence around the left from at least 1972. I think it was taken from one of the left Palestinian groups, the DPFLP if I remeber right.

Is it different now?

Nasser and the early PLO played with images of driving the Jews out of historical Palestine. But that wasn't their stated programme. Arab nationalists, the PLO and stalinist offshoots like the DPFLP, then played with anti-semitic arguments but would probably have claimed that they were against repression of racial or religious minorities. Their covert racism should have been opposed but it is different from what we see the left tolerating now.

The explicit programme of political Islam towards the Jews in the Middle East is far worse than just denying them democratic rights.

And the toleration by the SWP-influenced left of racism within political Islam is even more disturbing than the left's toleration of racism within the 'left wing', avowedly democratic, Arab nationalisms of the past.

Driving the Jews out was the

Driving the Jews out was the PLO's stated programme until 1988, when it recognised the right of Israel to exist. Their version of "democratic secular state" was based on the British Mandate borders – and expelling Jews not resident by May 1948.

From the 1970’s there was significant contact between some sections of the PLO and Israel which lead to its paper position becoming less significant.

I agree that it is more recent that there has been open antisemitism rather than anti-Zionism in the Middle East - an example of which is the incorporation of the 'Protocols' into the Hamas charter. See here for a mini series, currently screening in Iran that dramatises the Protocols myth of a Jewish conspiracy running the world, organising Bolshevism, Nazism and capitalism - for a new audience.

But on the other hand, it is difficult to read the ethnic cleansing of Jews that was carried out in a number of predominately Arab countries in the 50s and 60s as 'anti-Zionist' rather than antisemitic.

Left wing antisemitism

As a left winger person of Ashkenazi Polish refugee Jewish background I find this a very sensitive and welcome piece echoing the fears and feelings of alienation with the UK left supporters in the Jewish Community. SWP led hostility to Israel per se and the organised UK Jewish Community by implication leaving no room for discussion is pushing a new generation of youth away from the left and politics of peace.

A visitor to the site.

left anti semitism

My initial thought ( and I hope to prepare a detailed response in due course ) was to recall a "small" incident I had a couple of years ago when I visited London to stock up on books

I went to a bookshop specializing in science fiction and asked the assistant if she anything on "Jewish science fiction "" Her immediate and spontaneous response was to say "god - how racist !

Presumably if I had asked for say "black science fiction or "Asian "
then this would habe been OK

Its precisely this sort of claptrap that made me realise 30 years ago that I had " to make my own arrangements "!

John de Frece

WAl's and anti-jewish prejudice

The WAL's have opened a debate on what they quaintly refer to as "anti-semiticism" But don;t worry they'll be talking to themselves again and even if anyone should hear or they should manage to come to a coherent conclusion don;t worry because as they say:

"Confused such people may be, racists they are not. We are not saying that left-wing anti-semites are racists."

The term anti-semitism should not be used. IT is the self-entitlement of the prejudice that dare not name itself, anti-jewish prejudice, bigotry or racialism or lattery, judeaophobia. Anti-semiticism is the name the German racial theorists gave to their own prejudice. And that is where the rot set in. We need to name this for what it is. The term semitic refers to a language group. Forgive me but no self-resoecting racialist is prejudiced because of the language anyone speaks. And the idea of a common anti-semitic prejudice involving Arabs, Malaysian Kyaks(?) and others is nonsense. So we need to be clear about the terminology we use. Anti-semitism is itself the racialist polite way of saying anti-jewish and of beginning the work of co-opting the rest of the population inotheir bigotry.

You say that left-wing anti-jewishness is not the same as racialism? But it is! And what is more for the serious nazi right it is the keystone, the cornerstone of racial theory and prejudice. The left is guilty of racial prejudice. Think of the way that the SWP etc talk to or about Jewish people without thought or let or waiting to hear what a person;s ideas are "Where do you stand on Israel?" If you donl;t think that is racialism then there os little hope and you should disband your prganisation as you are incapable of any ideological or political leadership role.

You need to look at the German and French debates on anti-jewish theories again. The leades of Social Democracy may have been cautious in ther denunciation but the implication is clear if not the next best thing to explicit. Such ideas are counter-productive because racialist and we do not subscribe tohem because they are racialist and we are not - we are internationalist. You should be able to argue this out fairly openly and simply. The problem is not that you don;t understand this- you will have your won tendency who say the same thing as me. But you spend your time wallowing in the filth of the SWP and ex-trot degenerate left. On this issue you need to make common cause with jewish people and the jewish left and also those in the Labour PArty and the liberal portion of politics - if that menas the lib dems s be it. And within the academic world who do not subscribe to the ideas of the bigots and the perpetuators of human ignorance and obscurantism.

One State Solution Anti-Semitic?

I call for a solution for Israel/Palestine to start with a single state in which all the inhabitants have equal citizenship rights, in which all citizens can define themselves as Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc (that is, by nationality and/or religion) as they so desire, and in which no national and/or religious group enjoys a privileged or inferior position. In short, a democratic state.

For this, I have been branded by a leading member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty as holding an 'anti-Semitic' attitude towards Palestine/Israel. This is not only a political and personal insult, it is illogical -- how can one hold a racist attitude if one is calling for a solution in which no national and/or religious group holds a privileged or inferior position in society, and in which people can define themselves as they wish both nationally and religiously?

I accept that the left does need to approach the question of Israel and Palestine with more care than it often has shown, but the sort of response from the leading AWL member that I received, and which is evident in the above article, is no help at all in raising the level of the debate.


Is there any other national conflict in the world where you advocate a one-state solution? Is there any other state in the world which you think should be forcibly incorporated into a single state with another nationality? Is that your proposed solution to Russia/Chechnya, or Iraq/the Kurds, or Indonesia/Aceh, ...?

I'm asking genuinely, because I don't want to make assumptions about your views. But everyone I have ever met on the left who advoates a one-state "solution" ONLY advocates it for Israel/Palestine. It is that singling out of the Israeli Jews that makes it anti-semitic.

The vision of a state that "in which no national and/or religious group holds a privileged or inferior position in society" is one which we should aspire to for the whole world.

And you shouldn't take it as a "personal insult". The article is at great pains to point out right at the start that describing this set of politics as 'anti-semitic' does not mean that the AWL brands the people who hold these views as anti-semites.

One State

To hold a one-state solution doesn't make you anti-semitic and I actually doubt that a leading member of the AWL denounced you for simply suggesting a one-state solution. Of couse that would be crazy, but...

To say that the start of the solution is a secular democratic state begs a the simple questions how will the state come into being? and who will create it?

I've yet to come across answer from socialists to these questions that doesn't imply a forced destruction of the israeli state and the denial of self-determination of the jewish population of israel.

Secondly israelis and palestinians alike do not want a single secular state. Poll after poll in both communities records a massive(~80%) majority for a two-state solution. Whatever the ultimate goal the starting point for any lasting solution has to be an equitable resolution of the national question that is equally acceptable to both communities. At the moment the only possible way forward is some form of two-state solution.

Thirdly in the face of the above what is the possible motivation for continuing to argue for a single-state solution? For the various Islamicist groups the motivation is fairly simple and open -a hatred of jews and a wish to see the complete and forced destruction of the jewish state. Some of this hatred is spilling over and infecting the left in the various palestinian campaigns and then becoming the hegemonised default positions on the left.

To be clear, the Israeli state is not going to dismantle itself and become a single secular state. It's ahistorical and pointless to argue that it can or will do so. The israeli/palestinian working class or some outside force are the only agents capable of dismantling the jewish state. The barrier to isaeli/palestian unity is the unresolved national question.

The logic of a one-state solution is the implicit destruction by outside forces of the jewish-israeli state and the denial of any national rights to israeli jews. Socialists who are argue for a one-state solution are implicitly arguing for the denial of self-determination for israeli jews. It's a specific form of naive and unconscious anti-semitism. However, working with groups who openly call for the destruction of israeli and driving all jews (in israel and otherwise) into the sea is something altogether different.

one state?

Your position - one state for all in Israel\Palestine - isnt necessarily antisemitc. It is many thngs and we will come onto some of them later, but it isn´t necessarily antisemtic. You appear to be even handed in your denials, Palestinians don´t have national rights either in your schemas.

Not necessarily antisemitic your position is instead utopic, eccentric, crackers, weird, fanicful, novel and any similar abuse that chimes in with your flight of fancy. Tell me by which empirically validated underpinning theory,(appeals to Perm. Rev. are ruled out...absolutely) by which political process, which whim takes you from the here and now to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs all being satisfied without a nation state to call their own and to protect their interests.

Problems with partition

Janine asks one commentator: "Is there any other national conflict in the world where you advocate a one-state solution?"

There are in fact a number of conflicts where most people on the left look forward to some kind of one-state settlement - notably, Bosnia, Cyprus and Ireland (and in previous years, South Africa, where are a one-state solution of a kind has been achieved against the partitionist instincts of the British Foreign Office and others).

I welcome the general tone of the article on left-wing anti-semitism - moving towards a more serious discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ending the offensive rhetoric and portrayal of Israel (and sometimes Jews as a whole) that has been emerging on the left and alienating Jewish people otherwise sympathetic to the left.

But while a one-state settlement is presently unfeasible, compelling us to call for a two-state settlement that immediately addresses the ongoing conflict, i think it is a mistake to categorise such discussion as anti-semitic, or even just beyond the pale.

The Israeli and Palestinian agony can be seen as yet another disaster arising from the partitionist solutions of the retreating British Empire which have been substantial and bloody failures wherever they were tried - as in South Asia, Ireland and Cyprus.

The politics of partition is, of course, harmful to the humanist values that the left stands for and destructive in that sense. I imagine everyone here, especially AWL members, welcomes the progress being made in undermining partitionist policies in Bosnia and Cyprus. I presume too that most people here do not spend much time arguing that the Turkish enclave in Cyprus or Republika Srbska are states demanding special understanding, while also supporting the right of Greek Cypriot and Bosniak refugees to return to their homes from which they were forced out and be compensated for the injustices done to them. None of this is deemed unfair to Serbs or Turks.

Israel is more complicated given that it arose from such an awesome tragedy and has served as a refuge for Jewish refugees from the Middle East. But a serious solution, even a temporary one, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, must recognise that the Palestinian refugee problem is a crisis today (not just 57 years ago) and an injustice demanding political redress of some kind, even if a full-scale return policy is unfeasible. It is immoral both that the Israeli government should continue to deny primary responsibility for their fate, or that millions of people should remain as stateless dependents on UNRWA for six decades for no reason other than their ethnicity.

The nature of a state that wishes to maintain an ethnic majority constantly leads to discriminatory and racist policies - as long as Arabs and Palestinains are regarded as "a demographic threat" - a problem by virtue of their very existence and numbers, the Israeli state cannot avoid an inbuilt racism of a kind the left cannot avoid opposing.

Ultimately, the humane solution in the long-term seems to me to be a compromise between the Zionist ideal of a Jewish homeland and a reversal of injustices done to the Palestinians. It is important that such a discussion not be put into a category of anti-Semitism. The article should elaborate on differences between principled critique of the Israeli state in its current form and the desire for the physical destruction of Israeli society or the subjugation of Israeli Jews.


In fact the road to a one-state solution is simple, technically at least. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza could begin arguing that they are de facto ruled by Israel so should be entitled to seats in the Knesset. If widely adopted this would transform the paradigm from, say, Algeria to something nearer South Africa, potentially transforming the issue from a national dispute to a democratic one. This might in fact be far more difficult for the Israelis to counter politically.

I believe this was moreorless the position Edward Said held, and I've seen it circulated in a number of places (possibly more as a threat to concentrate Israeli minds on the consequences of further expansion).

Two states seems the best pragmatic solution at present, which is why most Israelis and Palestinians support it. However we should not necessarily elevate it to a principle - surely as socialists we regard all national questions as irrelevant in the longer term. And the more the Israeli ruling class persists with creating new settlements and carving up the West Bank with checkpoints and settlers-only roads, the less likely a viable Palestinian state looks.

If present trends continue, two states could begin to seem as utopian an idea as a secular democratic Palestine does now.

"one state" is not anti-semitic

Wanting a one-state solution is not anti-semitic. You may think it is less likely than a 2 state solution, but I see it as probably more feasable in the long term than hoping that the people in the occupied territories are going to be left with anything with which to build a viable state. As I am not anti-semitic and consider myself an ally to people who are oppressed because of their jewish heritage, I am also dismayed at the thoughtless "anti-zionism" paraded by many on the left. It is too easy to collude with the anti-jewish racism which has grown up amoung young palestinians and other arab communities. But the roots of that racism amoung people oppressed by Israel are completely understandable. The anti-zionist analysis is wrong, but the experience of Palestinians makes it seem credible. That is precisely why this is such a difficult question, and I don't like it when people, including AWL comrades, imply that it is easy really and all contrary positions are just bad. I appreciate that the AWL champion the right of Jewish people to exist, but I do not appreciate the impression that it is less important to resist the daily oppression of Palestinians or their long-term annihilation as a people than it is to avoid anti-semitism. Palestinians are of equal value. The jews are not really "a special case", either as victims or oppressors. It has suited the owning classes of both Arab and Western states to pretend that they are, and I'd like to see a bit more discussion of how that has played out.

nation states?

I'd like someone to explain a bit more about why the national self-determination bit is so important in this contex. Is that real, or is it just a theoretical assumption? Do the present/coming generation of Israelis really have an issue of preserving National identity in the way that holocaust-surviving jewry did? Is this about the theory of stages and the necessity for bourgeois state before a working class can emerge with international interests?

Why is this about "Israel" and the Israeli state, rather than the Israeli capitalist class and the working class interest here?

When I went to Palestine I was told that Israel depended on cheap Palestinian Labour and US subsidies - is this not true?

Let's be clear what we're debating

Hi Theo,

1. I agree, advocating a one-state solution is not inherently anti-semitic. It's more the narratives around Zionism, seeing it not as one nationalism clashing with others but instead a uniquely reactionary and powerful, world-controlling force that shade into anti-semitic conspiracy theory.

2. I'm surprised you think we put less emphasis on championing the Palestinians than on defending Israel's right to exist. In fact, we are not in favour of "balance" at all - we are unambiguously for the Palestinians. See for instance the material on the blog we ran when our delegation was in Israel and Palestine last year - ipsol.wordpress.com. The reason we put emphasis on defending Israel's right to exist is not because we think the conflict is an even-sided one, but because of Arab nationalist, Islamist and "left" hysteria about Israel and Zionism.

3. We don't think Jews are a "special case".

4. Based in my part on conservations when I was in Israel, I think people in Israel still have a very strong consciousness of being a nation that emerged from a people that suffered discrimination almost everywhere, persecution in many places and genocide in Europe. This is strengthened by repeated wars with the Arab states, and the fact that most of their neighbours don't recognise them. That's one reason why it's utopian, in the bad sense, to think the two nations are just going to dissolve into each other. That can only happen after the conflict has receded into history and a lot of the poison has drained.

5. No, we're not in favour of the theory of stages. We fight the class struggle and for socialism now. But the workers' movement needs a democratic program to deal with national conflicts if it is going to unite workers across the boundaries. A democratic program is not a 'stage', but a way of helping to 'clear the decks' for class struggle.

6. What concerns us is the Israeli working class, of course. But at present the Israeli capitalists are in power. It makes no sense to say "We cannot defend the Israeli people's right to self-determination until they make a social revolution". (I'm not sure that is what you're saying, just clarifying our position.)

7. Actually Israel was founded on excluding Palestinian labour and building up a Jewish working class - not saying this is good, of course, but it's far from the case the state depends on the Palestinian as a source of labour (the West Bank settlements are, as in many others ways, a different matter). And in fact it has recently in effect excluded thousands of Palestinian workers from its economy with the Wall, increased checkpoints etc. As for US military aid, Israel won a war against all the Arab states, semi-supported by Britain, in 1948 without much international support at all - and did not make an alliance with the US until the 60s. It could survive without the US.

Sacha Ismail

Israel and the US

Very quick point. Israel did indeed survive without substantial US backing until 1967, but under very different circumstances. The main difference now is the cost of maintaining the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza: without US funding these would be very hard or impossible to maintan, economically, they're enormously intensive and expensive. So Israel within the green line borders doesn't need the US, but Israel occupying outside them does.

There is an OK book by Shir Hever called The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation which goes over some of this.

Also, something about appeals to the "practicality" of one and two state solutions. Neither are practical, nor, within the forseeable future, remotely possible. Any solution, one or two state, would require a total revolution in the conciousness of the Israeli masses in particular. The question is, on what basis to argue for that revolution? Certainly not, in my view, by generating unnecessary divisions between one and two state sympathisers, associating the former in some way with anti-semitism, or by glossing over the racist assumptions at the heart of many mainstream "two state" positions - racist assumptions which drive the conflict onward.

Partial agreement

Hi Tom,

Thanks for these points. On the first one, I agree. But a) good and b) the argument often made on the left is the broader one, that Israel as such (rather than imperial Israel) would collapse with US backing.

Which leads rather neatly to the second point: I don't think the consciousness of the Israeli masses is the only factor - we can also demand governments recognise Palestinian statehood, that the US stops backing and whitewashing Israel and instead puts on pressure etc. But obviously, from a revolutionary point of view, the Israeli workers are central. I agree that a massive shift will be required to win the majority to even a two-state settlement in the sense we advocate it, but surely it's self-evident that a far, far greater shift would be required for a majority of Israelis to be willing to simply dissolve their national identity? So the two "revolutions" are not of the same magnitude.

I don't doubt that there are those who support a single state from a benign, utopian viewpoint rather than a reactionary one (as I understand it the late Steve Cohen had that sort of position). I agree that a single state would have many advantages, particularly for the Palestinians, but it is utopian in the bad sense because there is no force, by which I mean no conceivably likely force, that can make it happen - at least until the conflict had receded into history. And in general, it is not the benign version we are talking about on the British and international left. Moreover, there is constant pressure for the benign variant to shade or morph into the reactionary one, for the good practical reason that the only way Israel will be abolished (short of a regional social revolution) is by external force.

I think I know what you mean about "the racist assumptions at the heart of many mainstream 'two states' positions", but can you elaborate for the purpose of discussion?

Sacha Ismail

Why does West support Israel?

Sacha - I'd also like Tom to elaborate on that, and I absolutely agree with your point that the way zionism is demonised as a unique and sinister form of nationalism is at root anti-semitic thinking. It is scarily close to the surface for many otherwise progressive people and the current general left position does nothing to challenge it. The jewish community picks up that it is being targeted for special treatment and rigidly defends every action of the Israeli state, and accuses every critic of being anti-semitic. People who are the victims of Israeli state oppression and anti-arab racism then see more justification for their anti-semitic feelings etc etc. It's a tragic situation.

For all the anti-zionist talk on the left and elsewhere, palestinians and their allies notice that while everyone in the world sympathises with them, nothing whatsoever is actually done to defend them in reality. This gives strength to the anti-semitic global conspiracy ideas, particularly when people talk about the power of the jewish lobby in the USA. I'd like to discuss this, and to discuss specifically why the other capitalist nations appear to side with Israel whenever the chips are down (and this is reflected in the way events are reported, though the pro-israeli jews tend - mistakenly I think - to see anti-zionist bias in the media). Why for instance will the US not use the threat of witholding military aid etc to end the building of new settlements? It seems to suit the western powers to have Israel there behaving as it does and I was interested to hear how Menwith Hill in Britain has been used by the US to help the IDF target "militants" for rocket assasinations.

So I guess what I'm thinking is we need to clarify why exactly the existence, effective expansion and brutal war-crimes of Israel are not reined in by European and US capitalism. We need to clarify it because it is what feeds the anti-zionist arguement. One theory I have heard is that it is a continuation of anti-semitism in another form, allowing jews to be the ever-present scapegoats for the middle eastern situation, just as previously jewish capitalists have been used as scapegoats to deflect criticism of the whole capitalist class.

When we've clarified all that, I think we should discuss the implications of the arab revolution for palestinians and israelis, and whether that might change the prospect for progress to a settlement.