How can we best help the Palestinians?: Workers' Liberty 3/15

Boycott "apartheid Israel"?

Submitted by cathy n on 27 October, 2007 - 10:31 Author: Stan Crooke

The equating of Israel with apartheid South Africa dates back to the ‘anti-Zionist’ campaign launched in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in the late 1960s.

The Stalinist ‘anti-Zionist’ campaign was one in which traditional anti-semitic themes were given a ‘socialist, ‘progressive’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ makeover: Jews as the crucifiers of Christ and the poisoners of waterholes were replaced by ‘Zionists’ who were the agents of imperialism, colonialism and racism. (1)


Submitted by Jason on Sun, 26/08/2007 - 19:04

Of course some thinking they support Palestinians may indulge in anti-semitic claptrap and should be condemned.

If the Stalinists in the ex-Soviet Union used anti-semitism then this should also be condemned- though it is hardly surprising as Stalinism was a vicious anti-working class ideology. However, why dredge it up now? The rest of the article seems to equate supporting a boycott with anti-semitism- a completely inaccurate, scurilous assertion that should be withdrawn (unless you think racism is a casual matter to be bandied about at will- which obviously you don't).

As for the Anti-Apartheid Movement- it didn't call for the destruction of South Africa (what an absurd suggestion, though perhaps some apartheid supporters would have so claimed) but the dismantlement of apartheid. Those arguing for a workers' boycott of Israel are not calling for the 'destruction of Israel' but the dismantlement of the zionist state- nothing wrong with that.

The South African boycott may have gone on for 34 years but only built up a head of steam in the late 80s- it was not, I'd argue, the main cause for the defeat of apartheid- that was the struggle of the Black masses and those not insignificant white workers and activists who fought alongside them. However, the international boycott did play a very important role in isolating the South African ruling class and was a useful adjunct to the struggle of the masses and in addition played an important role in the British working class to politicise and publicise the antiracist struggle.

A boycott Israel campaign has a similar potential- of course we must be stridently anti-racist and for the isolation and complete sidelining of antisemitism. Our immediate demands are for the ending of the Israeli occupation and direct violence against the Palestinians. In pursuit of such a demand we can and should make common cause- on this immediate demand-with groups such as the Jewish peace movement and others.

In the longer term, however, and within any united front, socialists should argue and organise for justice for the Palestinians including the 4 million refugees right to return and for equal civila and social rights for all whether Arab, Jewish or any other ethnic origin. Of course this longer term solution would require a massive upheaval and a return to class politics drawing in those sections of the Jewish and other working class who can be won to an equal rights of Palestinians position. Within this there will of course be a role for a wide ranging debate on whether we should support some kind of Jewish autonomy. My view would be that we should support the right of any particular nationality or ethnic community to such autonomy without necessarily advocating it- that's up to the community itself. It should be noted that some Israeli refuseniks do advocate a singular state. Any seperation of states would mean in practice one state- the Israeli one, past history suggests- being used as a gendarme for imperialism whilst the other is surrounded, militarily dominated, economically subordinate and only nominally 'free'.

There is of course a wide and far reaching debate to be had about how socialists and working class activists can best support the movement for justice for Palestinians. It needs to be said loud and clear that we are against all racism and anti-semitism. However, to use anti-semitism as a blanket slur on the boycott movement is completely unfair and reactionary both by minimising real antisemitism and by acting as a deflection from how best to build the movement for justice and international solidarity for an oppressed people.

Submitted by sacha on Wed, 29/08/2007 - 13:45

Hi Jason. A few points:

1. You write: "As for the Anti-Apartheid Movement- it didn't call for the destruction of South Africa (what an absurd suggestion". I think you may have misread what Stan wrote: his whole point was that it DIDN'T, obviously, call for the destruction of South Africa. Such a thing would have been inconceivable.

2. You say that you for the dismantling of the Zionist state, not the destruction of Israel: but you are comparing things which properly belong in different categories. Of course all socialists are for the dismantling of the Israeli state by an Israeli - Arab and Jewish - working-class revolution. But what you are talking about here is fundamentally suppressing the Israeli national entity.

3. You concede that there is a debate to be had about autonomy, rights etc for the Jewish population within a single state solution. But what about the right to self-determination? Obviously, if the Arab and Jewish populations of Palestine ended up, as a result of some mass upsurge, being happily federated or even merged in a wider framework, that would be great: but given that NOW the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, a big majority of Israeli Arabs, and a big majority of Palestinian Arabs favour a two state solution, ie demand the right to a state of their own, aren't you being utopian (at best)?

4. If Israeli is like apartheid South Africa, why would you work with Israeli and Jewish peace groups that support a two state solution? Would socialists have worked with white South Africans who supported anything less than the total destruction of apartheid and a single state? And, in fact, did any genuinely left-wing whites support anything other than this? If Israel is apartheid, how do you explain the fact that the great majority of left-wing Israelis support a two state solution?

5. Your definition of independence is confusing. A state can't be genuinely independent if it is economically weak? Which states in your view are genuinely independent? I seem to remember one of your comrades, when you were in Workers Power, arguing that Iran (!) and India (!!) weren't really independent, but semi-colonies/neo-colonies - of whom I don't remember/can't imagine...

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 29/08/2007 - 15:52

Hi Sacha

Thanks for your points. I suppose on 1) I wasn't entirely clear - I was just trying to make the point that dismantling the Zionist state is roughly equivalent to destroying apartheid - no one was saying destroy South Africa and no one in the main stream boycott campaign as far as I am aware is saying destroy Israel- of course there are demagogues and racists who do say this such as the president of Iran. Of course we should condemn such statements but it is extreme, unwarranted and offensive to equate the majority of activists who support a boycott with this position. There are those like Daniel Pipes who like to quote Al-Qaeda on such matters as well. Al-Qaeda is a vicious anti-working class organisation who play straight into the hands of right-wing demagogues like Bush and people such as Danile Pipes whom I am sure we both despise.

I am saying it is wrong to equate support for a boycott with anti-semitism or calling for the destruction of Israel. It is quite different to be for the destruction of the Israeli ruling class and Zionism.

2) We are not for the suppression of the Israeli national entity but for the rights of the 4 million dsiplaced Palestinians to be able to immigrate freely into Plaestine/Israel and be part of any democracy.

3) There will of course be debates about autonomy and that would include for the right of self-determination and independence- though if the working class of Palestine/Israel become strong enough to overthrow the ruling class one would hope they get beyond this- but yes in principle self-determination can mean independence. But here and now one group should not have the right to exclude the 4 million Palestinians displaced and occupy territories in the name of self-determination.

4) Around specific questions such as withdrawal from the occupied territories, end the war on Palestine or Lebanon I see no problem working with Jewish or any other activists who advocate a two-state solution.

5) A Palestine surrounded and dominated by Israel, which can be bombarded at will and is often entered by the IDF, isn't at all independent even in the sense that states like India and Iran are. Of course in the widest sense you could make a case that countries like Iran and India are dominated by imperialism- sure. But that's a different matter from the one we are discussing.

So the whole point is that it is perfectly possible to advocate solidarity with Palestinians through a workers' boycott like we may with many other oppressed nationalities and workers. And that is not at all to be smeared as anti-semitic or racist.


Submitted by sacha on Thu, 30/08/2007 - 20:01

1. "Demagogues and racists such as the president of Iran". But a noteworthy feature of the mainstream of the Palestinian liberation movement, from quasi-Marxist groups like the SWP through to liberals, is that they DON'T condemn such people! (It's to PR's credit, obviously, that it does.) In fact they go out of their way to excuse Ahmedinejad's anti-semitic outbursts, downplay them etc.

2. What you are advocating IS the destruction of Israel: the suppression of the Israeli national entity. In South Africa, of course, we were for the suppression of the exploiting caste, forcibly if necessary. Presumably you apply the same logic to Israel? And if so, then of course you wouldn't balk at force? And it would have to be forcible, because the Israelis will not submit.

But the difference between SA and Israel is that the South African whites were, primarily, a caste exploiting the labour of the black majority, while Israel is a NATION, with its own fully formed class structure: Jewish capitalists, Jewish workers etc (as well as a poor and discriminated against Arab minority). It's the difference between a colonial occupation, one nation oppressed by another and fighting for its independence, which is what exists in Israel; and an apartheid-style system within a single nation.

And what flows from this is that forcible suppression = national oppression and maybe even genocide (not that it is on the cards: those currently facing national oppression are the Palestinians, not the Israelis), whereas in SA it meant democratic revolution.

3. All communists are, naturally, "for the destruction of the Israeli ruling class" (and therefore of its nationalist ideology and practice, Zionism). But by the Israeli working class, in alliance with the various Arab working classes - not by external force. (Another aspect of the difference with SA: there "external" force by the blacks against the whites was entirely justified, in fact because it was not external at all but class struggle within a single country.) And why are you singling out Zionism as worse (uniquely worse!) than other nationalist ideologies?

4. Do you support a boycott of any other countries? Which ones? If not, why are you singling out Israel?

5. "We are not for the suppression of the Israeli national entity but for the rights of the 4 million displaced Palestinians to be able to immigrate freely into Palestine/Israel and be part of any democracy."

Well, I am for freedom of movement too. But this cannot be counterposed to national self-determination. I am for free movement between China and Tibet, but that doesn't mean that the movement of Chinese population into Tibet to make Tibetan self-determination impossible is not malign. (Another example: Morocco and Western Sahara.) Do you support the right of the Germans driven out of Pomerania and Silesia at the end of WW2 to collectively "reclaim" western Poland? Does rejecting such a "right" mean opposing freedom of movement between those two countries? Of course not. And of course, now that (relatively) democratic relations are established between Poland and Germany, the border will (not yet, but soon) come down.

I am for freedom of movement now, of course: but in reality it is unlikely short of a democratic settlement between Israel and Palestine. If, after that, the demography changes and makes a two-state solution unviable, that is fine with me. But you want to use free movement as AN EXCUSE to argue against Israeli self-determination!"

6. "if the working class of Palestine/Israel become strong enough to overthrow the ruling class one would hope they get beyond this". This sounds like you reject democratic slogans and take a Militant "socialism is the answer"-type position. The point is that we are very unlikely to build a revolutionary workers' movement in that region unless it is armed with consistently democratic slogans leading to a federation of the Middle East.

7. "but yes in principle self-determination can mean independence." I'm glad you acknowledge that. So would you acknowledge that Israel is a nation?

8. "Around specific questions such as withdrawal from the occupied territories, end the war on Palestine or Lebanon I see no problem working with Jewish or any other activists who advocate a two-state solution." How do you square this with your comparison with SA? Surely any white who advocated anything less than the complete destruction of apartheid would be off limits? How can you then work with those who support the continuation (in whatever modified form) of Israeli apartheid? In fact, isn't the difference telling? Israeli Jews who support a two state solution do not = South African whites who equivocated on apartheid!

9. "A Palestine surrounded and dominated by Israel, which can be bombarded at will and is often entered by the IDF, isn't at all independent even in the sense that states like India and Iran are. Of course in the widest sense you could make a case that countries like Iran and India are dominated by imperialism - sure."

a) Well actually I would argue that Iran and India are fully independent capitalist states with their own regional imperialist ambitions. They are not semi/neo-colonies of anyone (nor would they be even if they weren't sub-imperialist powers) and it is simply confusing to describe them as "dominated by imperialism". Sure they are much lower in the rank of imperialist states/their position in the world market than eg the US or Japan or Britain. But they are independent. Read Lenin again: independence is fundamentally a political demand (though it intertwines with economics and has economic consequences). We are not in favour of "economic independence"!

b) Yes, that's why I advocate a genuinely independent Palestinian state that is not dominated militarily and politically by Israel. Belgium is much smaller and weaker than France, but there has not been any question of respect for its independence since 1945. Even if a Palestinian state were weaker than Israel, why does that mean it can't be independent? Surely the logical conclusion of what you have just said is a genuinely independent state for the Palestinians, alongside Israel?

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 01/09/2007 - 13:07

Hi again
This is quite an interesting article here (still can't work out the links thing)

Just a few quick rejoinders- I don't say the destruction of israel but the destruction of the ruling class by the working class- but your argument seems to be accepting that Palestinian Arabs are not allowed into Israel because thge right of return would obliterate Israeli self-determination. I think that's whta you're saying? If so that's completely wrong and reactionary.

Of course the Jewish population has the right to self-determination up to and including independence but not to drive Palestinians off the land, coral them into small sections of the land granted nominal independence, institute pass laws, for generations to come. That is thoroughly reactionary and we should completely oppose it- making links with Palestinian groups and those Israeli Jewish or any other groups that oppose the occupations and the unjust laws.

Anyway at least we've had something resembling a sensible conversation on this even if neither has changed views as yet.


Submitted by Bruce on Wed, 05/09/2007 - 16:40

Jason wrote:
Of course the Jewish population has the right to self-determination up to and including independence.

If you really believe this and accept that there is such a thing as an Israeli Jewish national identity (not easy to dispute), then you can't really be against a two state solution, except of course for hoping that in the distant future something better might come along.

Similarly if you are against any controls on who lives where in historic Palestine, you can't complain if Jews settle on the West Bank. Or maybe only the Palestinians have those rights?


Submitted by Jason on Wed, 05/09/2007 - 17:11

I support the right of self-determination of ethnic groups and oppressed nationalities- up to an including seperation if they so wish as is their right.

That doesn't mean we necessarily advocate it- merely se support their right to it (i.e. if the Weslh wanted to seperate and I lived and campaigned in Wales- as I once did- I would campaign for a no vote in a referendum but support the right of the Weslsh to have one)

(As an aside: As for Jewish settlers on the West Bank it is obvious that they are an armed wing of racist expansion- they don't just immigrate they invade by force. That's different.)

In Palestine/Israel the siutaiton is that tens of thousands of Arabs were either forcibly expelled or fled in fear of such force (pretty much the same thing) and now millions of descendants are corralled into refugee camps. Of course Israeli Jews have self-determination rights but these cannot be used to justify the state of Israel as it now exists serving the imperialist carve-up of the Middle East. It would be analagous very roughly to if in Sacha's example of China and Tibet many ethnic Chinese immigrated into Tibet but then expelled by force millions of Tibetans into refugee camps and then used the idea of Chinese national self-determination to justify keeping out all the Tibetans perhaps granting them a mini-statelet under the military and economic control of the Chinese.

In the context of what actually happened in Palestine/Israel supporting the right of all of the peoples of Palestine/Israel means campaigning for a unitary secular workers' state of Palestine - if a aprticular ethnic group such as Jewish people want to secede then that is their democratic right- in order to defeat the current stooge of imperialism though the Arab masses - workers and small farmers will need to enter into a class struggle against the racist zionist state that oppresses them- calling on all sections of the Israeli Jewish working class who can be won from supporting the racist oppression of their Arab sisters and brothers.

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Debate Part 1: A Letter from the Editors of Against the Current: Nakba One, Two, Three?

Submitted by Anon on 26 October, 2007 - 3:33

The Jewish-Palestinian Arab conflict is one of the most complex political questions that confront the serious Marxist left. We publish an editorial from the US publication May-June 2007 issue of Against The Current, and a response from Sean Matgamna.

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Debate Part 2: Reply — Pandering to the “absolute anti-Zionists”

Submitted by Anon on 26 October, 2007 - 3:32 Author: Sean Matgamma

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