The incoherence of anti-Zionism

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 12:23

Rebels Against Zion, edited by August Grabski is a collection of Jewish left “anti- Zionism” essays that ultimately shows the descent into incoherence of anti-Zionism over the twentieth century.

The sheer panorama of perspectives in the book renders a consistent thread of anti-Zionism implausible. And the closer one gets to today, the clearer it becomes that much of anti-Zionism is merely a cover for left anti-semitism.

The principal virtue of the book is the long essay by Workers’ Liberty member Stan Crooke, which forensically deconstructs the politics of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in the British labour movement.

If anything illustrates the reductio ad absurdum of “anti- Zionism” uncoupled from any positive political programme, then it is BDS. Supporters are expected to unite around tactics laid down by a noisy but unrepresentative group of Palestinian NGOs, while ignoring other more representative Palestinian voices. BDS is premised on deliberate silence over the political solution, while smuggling in a one-state utopia. But it explicitly requires acceptance of conditions — principally of the right of return — which render any democratic solution impossible. In the rush to “do something”, BDS supporters end up doing something really reactionary — painting all Jews in Israel as the enemy and appealing to outside pressure to enforce a politics far from democracy, never mind socialism.

Other essays examine different historical strands of “anti- Zionism” and some are very interesting.

Ronnie Gechtman writes a good account of the Second International debates on the Jewish question. The majority view was assimilationism, i.e. that Jewish people should be integrated into whatever society they lived in with equal rights. This might have worked had the Jewish question simply been about religion. But the growth of virulent racial anti-semitism during the 19th and early 20th centuries rendered the assimilationist perspective redundant. Whilst the Bund grasped the national status of the Jewish people and were able to deconstruct the dominant view, it was Trotsky within the classical Marxist tradition who finally broke decisively with assimilationism and came to engage with the idea of a territorial solution i.e. to with the rational kernel of Zionism as Jewish national self-determination.

Whilst Rick Kuhn and Jack Jacobs discuss non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish organisations in Europe, it is not clear what this tradition might represent had it survived until today.

Henry Srebrnik discusses the Bolshevik government’s attempts to resolve the Jewish question within the narrow confines of the USSR and how these efforts were mangled by Stalinism in the form of a territorial settlement in Birobidzhan. The merit of these essays is to indicate the wide variety of political assessments by Jewish socialists in the pre-Second World War period.

The essays on the period after the Holocaust and the creation of Israel are generally much worse, with only a couple of notable exceptions.

August Grabski’s essay on the Israeli socialist organisation Matzpen (1963-72) demonstrates the heroism of its militants under very difficult conditions, as well as the limitations of their understanding of Lenin’s consistent democracy on the national question.

Philip Mendes’ essay on the Australian 3CR community radio station in the 1970s shows how anti-Zionism in the post-war period became anti-semitism, using many of the tropes (such as equating Israelis with whites in apartheid South Africa) that are propagated today.

However much of the rest of the book is simply risible. Uri Davis promotes the one-state solution, which satisfies the national aspirations of neither people.

Ilan Pappe writes about opposition groups such as Hadash, Peace Now and Gush Shalom, sneering at those who advocate two-states while flattering Islamists like Hamas.

However this only goes to prove where incoherent anti-Zionism leads in current conditions. If this book inoculates readers against the dominant, negative, nonsensical anti-Zionist politics of the left, then it will have served a purpose.


Submitted by John D on Tue, 04/09/2012 - 10:32

As usual, WL provides a space where discussion can take place, rather than a shouting match. For which we can all be grateful. I haven't read the book, but I'd like to bring to your attention the closing of a site - BitterLemons - where for 10 years the quality of debate was outstanding.

Even the short notes on why they are closing are impressive.

One thing I have noticed, even here on WL, is that the following question is very powerfully and very loudly not asked: Why do people become Zionists? In 2012, why should any young thinking westerner want to go and live in Israel? And take their family with them, or start up a family there?

I think I know at least part of the answer, but that part, is at is core, a bit secret and probably inherently quite offensive.

On a completely different topic, as a former Glaswegian with on-going family and historical close links to Glasgow, and a great love of Scotland, I think the AWL reasoning on the referendum (for) and independence (against)is spot on. Great stuff, and thanks for the clarity in explaining the reasoning.

John Davidson

Submitted by John D on Tue, 15/03/2016 - 21:27

In reply to by John D

I note that my posting from way back in 2012 has been reposted as a relevant contribution to the current topic.

Disclosure: I am a former secular Jewish Glaswegian, love Scotland to bits, had a wonderful youth there. (. . . and my father went winching John Maclean's daughter!). I'll be in the Highlands this time next week - just for the nostalgic joy of it. I've been an Israeli for some 35 years, served in the IDF and brought my children up to serve and to be good civil citizens. Now retired and a respecter, but not a member of AWL. A well-wisher, if you will.

I pose again my question. Why would anyone be a zionist today (2016)? Why do people want to come here, live, work and raise a family? It's not easy.
Widen the question. Leave aside for the moment discussing the furious ant-zionism of resurgent ultra-orthodox Jewry. This is not an appropriate forum. Why are most UK Jews uncomfortable with the current left? If you cannot address this question then I think you are avoiding a core issue. There is an appeal and importance, an identification that has roots deep in the psyche of "am yisrael" - the Jewish people / nation. It has been very inclusive, accepting refugees and immigrants. More than half of all Israelis - themselves, parents or grandparents) are refugee immigrants. Many of them not bringing a particularly positive contribution to the welfare of the country (underexageration for the sake of political correctness). Left-wing analysis of this aspect is sadly trivial and sloganized.

Schoolboy polemics.

My children and younger relatives in the UK (several at universities and just getting on with life) have a clear answer to my questions. They tell me to listen to the left, the Greens, the SNP, Stop the War, Gilad Atzmon and the CPGB-Marxist Leninist, CND, Oxfam, SWP, Save the Children, Amnesty, the UN Human Rights operation, the Labour Party, LSE and SOAS, Essex University, the NUS, many unions and Swansea Council et al.

Feel the atmosphere. The "zeitgeist". The music of the times. Get the vibrations. They are most certainly coherent even if the supporting politics are not.

Even when they want to get on with other things, UK Jews sense the ground is not stable. They get it, they really do. Carrying on as though they don't is in itself quite offensive.

And . . .
BDS has now forced closure on Sodastream at Mishor Adumin. 700 Arab muslim workers have consequently lost their very nice jobs. Some 5,000 people were dependent on those jobs. BDS celebrates this. It is "the price that has to be paid". More of such to follow. Do not write answers on a postcard only. Celebrate and put the welfare of those workers and their families into the memory hole. Not workers. Not "us". Do not discuss. I wish AWL had considered this loss of jobs as at least worth a mention. It is apparently not the pain of the workers that has priority, but the victory over Israel.

Why am I a zionist? Of necessity. You (expansive hand-waving gesture) are driving it. (AWL mostly and nearly uniquely not included in this "you").
Sadly, the space for left-wing identification amongst Jews exists today primarily within a Jewish environment and that includes within Israel. It is argueable that those Jews who oppose Israel and Zionism are those ultimately in the process of leaving the Jewish people. I wish them a fond goodby and farewell and no ill-will. Just - please stop proving yourselves by so energetically kicking us in the tuches.

As for the left - it's looks like a lost cause.

John Davidson

Submitted by Matthew on Tue, 04/09/2012 - 14:16

"In 2012, why should any young thinking westerner want to go and live in Israel? And take their family with them, or start up a family there?"

It's pretty straightforward isn't it? If you're a religious Jew, it's the land God promised you. Even if you're not, there might well be economic, cultural or family reasons to do so.

Submitted by John D on Tue, 15/03/2016 - 21:36

In reply to by Matthew

I beg to disagree. It is most certainly not straightforward. Most (that means over 50%) of immigrants have not been strongly or even moderately religious. Many have been more or less effectively secular.

Just consider the great Russian aliya. Many many non-Jews. Lies, false documents, the thinest of ancestral threads. Even some genuine neo-Nazis. Anything to get out of Russia or the Ukraine.


Submitted by Jams O'Donnell on Mon, 14/03/2016 - 19:32

... "simply risible. Uri Davis promotes the one-state solution, which satisfies the national aspirations of neither people". The One state Solution is the only possible answer which will lead to equality between Jews and Palestinians.

As for "inoculat[ing] readers against the dominant, negative, nonsensical anti-Zionist politics of the left" - word's fail me. Where do you clowns think you are coming from? This web site gives new meaning the the term "lumpen proletariat" - more like "neolithic proletariat" - or perhaps utterly delusional and right-wing proletariat masquerading as progressives".

You people have as much idea of what left-wing policies are as Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact he probably has a better grasp. I am appalled by this reactionary site.

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 14/03/2016 - 20:30

Well "Jams", you can save yourself the aggravation in future by simply not reading our "reactionary" website.

If you want to have a rational debate of any kind, it might be helpful not to engage in weird pseudo-political sociological slurs ("neolithic proletariat"? I mean, top marks for style, but... what?), extravagant and patently ridiculous slanders (Benjamin Netanyahu probably has a better grasp of what left-wing policies are than "you people"), or straightforward insults ("you clowns").

Anyone interested in rationally debating Jams' contention that "the One state Solution is the only possible answer which will lead to equality between Jews and Palestinians" is welcome to peruse the abundant material on the issue on this and other sites. Alas, I fear any a rational exchange with Jams him/herself is precluded in advance.


Ira Berkovic

Submitted by Jason Schulman on Wed, 16/03/2016 - 22:09

AWL comrades,

This organization, which I support, claims to support BDS. Are you opposed to what it does and stands for? See:…

Or do JVP's priorities/actions (described mostly on the 2nd page) not count as "real BDS" in your view?

Submitted by AWL on Sat, 19/03/2016 - 00:36


This is a bigger issue than I have time to write comprehensively on now, so I'll point you in the direction of a couple of articles which express our position on BDS:

"Why left-wing students should not support boycotts of Israel"

"Why unions should not break links with Histadrut" (not about BDS as such but contains some stuff about our general attitude)

It's worth saying that our attitude to, so to speak, "B, D, and S" and our attitude to "BDS" are not necessarily the same. We are explicitly in favour of, for example, campaigning for Britain and America to stop arming Israel (a form of sanction), and we also support targeted divestment campaigns. We're not enthusiastic about boycotts in general for a whole variety of reasons, but if we were based in Israel I doubt we'd oppose, for example, Gush Shalom's campaigns to boycott settlement goods even if we didn't make them our main focus.

Our issue is more with the way "BDS" has become a kind of political religion in the Palestine solidarity movement (a critique also made, for what it's worth, by former BDS advocate Norman Finkelstein). It is misleading and disorienting on questions of agency, and exceptionalises Israel and Jewish nationalism in a way that can tend towards some very ugly politics.

Anyway, have a read of the articles and let us know what you think.



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