RMT Conference votes for Two-States, Anti-Boycott position on Israel/Palestine

Submitted by AWL on 25 June, 2008 - 4:29 Author: RMT Delegate

The 2008 Annual General Meeting of the RMT transport union voted by a more than two-thirds majority for a two-states, pro-solidarity, anti-boycott, anti-Hamas position on Israel/Palestine, overturning existing pro-boycott policy.

More than forty of the 60 or so delegates to conference voted for the motion with 7 votes against and 9 abstentions. The conference accepted the parts of the motion calling for a democratic national settlement for both Israelis and Palestinians (two states for two peoples) and supported the criticisms of Hamas - neither of these positions are common currency on the British 'Left'. The sole bone of contention was the proposal to remove pro-boycott policy.

That an overwhelming majority of conference delegates voted against a boycott of Israel is significant. The SWP in particular have waged a long battle inside the University and College Union (formerly the AUT and NATFHE) for an academic boycott and have made similar moves in other unions.

Supporters of the RMT motion - including Workers' Liberty members - worked hard to explain the political situation in Israel/Palestine, argued for the union to recognise the plight of the Palestinian people, organise meaningful solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and explained the negative impact of boycott policies on such efforts at solidarity.

In contrast to UCU conferences and discussions the debate within RMT was conducted without resorting to abuse and allegation. Nobody was called a "Zionist" or a "supporter of imperialism".

This victory should be a lesson to all trade unionists: when you prepare the political ground, marginalise reactionary opinion and work hard to promote the message of socialist internationalism it's possible to get your politics across and secure the argument.


Submitted by Janine on Thu, 26/06/2008 - 22:10

I proposed the successful resolution at RMT's AGM.

I've posted my speech, plus reply to the debate, here.

You can read the resolution here.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 30/06/2008 - 13:55

There are some good suggestions in this motion and it is cleverly worded.

Obviously meaningful solidarity with Palestinian trade unions, student unions, other working class organisations and indeed Israeli groups opposing the occupation is something worthwhile. This is the good part.

However, it is not necessarily counter-posed to a boycott of Israeli goods. This is the part of the motion that is confusing- conflating tow separate issues.

In my opinion, general boycotts are not a particularly sharp weapon- better are targeted campaigns e.g. against Caterpillar directly involved in supplying goods to the Israeli occupation forces. However, given the long standing suffering of the Palestinians and the growing popularity of the idea of boycotting Israeli goods then I think it is perfectly feasible to have solidarity with Palestinian and Israeli workers’ organisations and as a union refuse to buy Israeli goods and promote actions that oppose the occupation including campaigns to boycott goods produced by companies and organisations involved in the occupation of Palestine and the systematic denial of rights for Palestinians.

The idea that a boycott makes it impossible to make links with activists in Palestine/Israel is specious. For example, was it impossible to make links with South African trade unionists and workers’ organisations whilst simultaneously promoting the boycott of South African goods? No. Neither is it here.

Submitted by Tubeworker on Mon, 30/06/2008 - 20:52

And shame on the RMT too, right?!

Submitted by DR_SEUSS on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 10:25

It is hard to join in this debate without knowing what Bill and Jason meean when they say apartheid. For many people this has a general meaning of a state based on racism,and segregation but to end the oppression of palestinians we need to more fully understand what we are trying to destroy. This is the marxist tradition, to study things as they are.

for me the south africa comparisons are not useful. Apartheid was a state based on the exploitation of black africans. Apartheid was as much an economic system as a racist philosophy. The oppression of palestinians is very different, it is based on their displacement rather than their economic exploitation. Of course the palestinian workers who travel daily to israel are exploited, but the israeli state would not at the moment collapse without this exploitation, South African apartheid would have, and did.

There are other issues relating to the south Africa comparisons and attitudes to boycotts generally worth exploring to. But for now it would be good to agreee on a defination of Apartheid, or know what the disagreements are .

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 10:30

Jason, The comparison with South Africa is interesting. Three points:

Firstly, I think that the role of the boycott in overthrowing Apratheid in South Africa is overstated. The boycott started in the early 1960s, so it took 30-odd years to win! In fact, the turning point in South Africa was not in the early 60s with the boycott but in the 1970s and 80s with the uprisings in the townships and the growth of black-majority trade unions.

Secondly, there was no big movement of white South Africans fighting Apartheid - although there were, obviously, principled and honourable white individuals who fought Apartheid - so no risk that the boycott would cut us off from them. So this was not an issue in South Africe, whereas it is in Israel. For example, some of the first victims of the cultural boycott of Israel were films opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, boycotted because they were made by Israelis!

Thirdly, there was no risk that the boycott of South Africa could be hijacked or used by people wanting to stoke up a dangerous wave of anti-white racism; there is, however, a risk that a generalised boycott of Israeli goods could become tainted by antisemitism.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 13:57

Of course comparisons are often inexact. Some of the points Janine makes are valid. Certainly the boycott in South Africa was only one trend- far more important was the class struggle in South Africa. In particular the struggle of the youth, the boycott of schools, and the Black workers in the trade union movmenet was decisive in bringing apartheid to an end- and the limitation and disarming of this struggle was decisive in allowing capitlaism a new lease of life in South Africa and not bringing about the possibility of social revolution. Overall though the boycott did bring some pressure to bear and was an important communicator of solidarity to the movement. It was woefully inadequate and only began to pose the necessary questions- of active solidarity and fund raising for South African trade unions and fighters. But it began to pose the questions.

Apartheid was of course a specially intense form of capitalist domination combining political oppression on the basis of racism with intense economic exploitation of the Black majority working class. This was a brutal dictatorship over the Black majority with systematic racism and colonial overtones combined with an alliance with the Afrikaner working class, petit bourgeois and farmers who lived in a form of imperialist democracy. There are some telling parallels with Israel/Palestine where those in 'Israel' enjoy relative propsperity (though there is of course huge disparity with migrants often living in appalling conditions) and bourgeois democracy with the Paekstinians in the occupied territoreis suffering war, oppression and econiomic devastation. But it is not an exact parallel. Clearly there are differences and one point would be to be clearly against all forms of anti-semitism and racism. In the sense that Jewish workers in the imperialist heartlands are still politcally oppressed through anti_Semitism in society it is especially important to undertake solidarity and practical defecne against all racist attakcs and discrimination for Jewish workers as well as Black workers and other oppressed social groups.

In the sense that the RMT motion is a step back from the position of bringing economic pressure ot bear on the Israeli ruling class at the behest of workers' organisations in the struggle it is a setback. For socilaists to argue for this position is certainly disappointing. We need to fight to revesethe position whilst also taking active steps of solidarity and fund-raising for working class organisations in Paklestine and that minority of the Jewish working class who accept the right of Palestinians to live side by side (and united front action with a greater section of the Jewish working class who oppose the occupation of the so-called occupied territories, though this term seesm to suggest that Palestine should be partitioned along racial grounds a position we should reject in favour of a home for both natioanlisties with equal national status in language and certainly rights to autonomy if particualr groups of workers demand it). The AWL have unfortunately played a role in sowing confusion on these issues, though we would support them on other issues such as the importance of rank and file action, and solidarity with working class organisation.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 17:20

We should be for a bi-national united workers' state with equal rights including the right of autonomy for communites who wish to exercise that right. Jewish and Arab workers share far more in common with each other than the ruling class.

Submitted by Mark on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 20:12

OK I followed Bill J's Olmert link to the Guardian article. In fact if you read it - and I advise Bill J to do so - the meaning is plain: Olmert is trying (according to the Guardian) to scare the Israeli public into accepting renewed peace talks (leading to a version of Two states). In other words Olmert understands that the Israeli Jews need Two States to exercise their right to self-determination. The complete opposite of Bill J's claim "that [Olmert understands] the only way Israel can exercise self determination is by oppressing the Palestinians".

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 21:09

Whilst I would never be so rude to suggest someone is dim (in fact it's pretty meaningless and unuseful category more redolent of elitists than socialists) Mark misunderstands I feel.

Bill clearly says 'If the two-state solution collapsed, he said, Israel would "face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished".'

In other words Olmert supports the partition into a strong capitalist state and a subordinate Palestinian territory because any acknowledgement of equal rights for Jews and Arabs would lead to an anti-apartheid like struggle. Olmert of course is (seemingly with the AWL majority- not sure if the slightly more sensible monority have a more pirncipled position) against equality and revolution. Socialists should be for both.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 21:50

Haggle over an interpretation of what Olmert said if you like. I don't particularly care. There are people in the upper-echelons of Israeli politics with far worse politics than him. We have no brief or responsibility for comments made by ruling-class Israeli politicians in interviews with the bourgeois press. But the simple, empirical facts of the structure of Israeli society clearly show it does *not* match up with South African apartheid; Israel's economy is not based on the exploitation of a working-class Arab majority by a tiny Jewish settler-caste. Maybe Olmert wishes it was. Who knows?

But this casual overlooking of the facts is not Bill's worst crime. He plays his usual trick of sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming at the top of his voice that the AWL are racists/Zionists/imperialists/whatever (it's a wonder you haven't set up a campaign to drive us out of the labour movement, frankly) without paying the blindest bit of attention to anything we've ever said or written.

Whatever Olmert's project for the region... (get ready for this, Bill, and read it carefully) ... THE AWL DOES NOT SUPPORT IT. I don't know where Bill gets this shit from. Interestingly (well, I say "interestingly", I actually mean "fucking irritatingly but entirely predictably") Bill doesn't even bother trying to respond to the points Janine and Sacha have made on this point, nor does he try to point to anything in the RMT motion (or any other material AWL members have written, endorsed or spoken to) to back himself up. His thought-train simply chugs along the tracks of bullshit left common-sense; Israel is a racist state...the AWL don't believe Israel should be wiped off the map and its people driven into the sea...the AWL must support this racist state...the AWL are racists...

Time to derail that train I think, Bill. All capitalist states are racists states. Some - America, Australia, Argentina (fuck it, that's just the A's) - were founded specifically because of the dispossession and oppression of particular ethnic groups. But to simply read off from this that the socialist attitude should be that they are historically beyond the pale, ought to be smashed, that their people have no rights is crazy. (And this, of course, is to say nothing of the fact that the existence of a significant Jewish population in Palestine is in very large part the result of the disposession and oppression of the Jews as an ethnic group in Europe and the simple fact that many had nowhere else to go.)

The AWL supports the existence of the Israeli state as the expression of the right to national self-determination of the Israeli Jewish nation. It's as simple as that. We do not support state-sponsored racism, immigration controls or any of the socio-racial weapons employed by capitalist states. If you want to argue against us, convince us that the Israeli Jews do not represent a national group. Don't just shout "Olmert is a bastard and you support him!" over and over again. Apart from being a lie it's getting fucking boring.

Jason's position, as usual, seems to be a more nuanced, "workerised" version of Bill's. He says he's for a bi-national workers' state; fine, that's a perfectly legitimate demand and one that may well become a demographic necessity as the Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab populations become increasingly enmeshed (due, for example, to migrant labour). But it is a position based on the assumption that the Israeli Jews are a national group with national rights - which is not, as I understand it, how PR sees things at all. So does Jason hold a minority view or is he trying to "third-campify" his politics to make them more palletable for this debate?

Finally on South Africa and the boycott; I'm sure it's been pointed out already, but workers' struggle inside South Africa had a far more profound impact in terms of challenging apartheid that any amount of boycott-based pressure from outside. Notwithstanding the complete inadequacy of the Israel/South Africa comparison, socialists should learn the lessons of that campaign; workers' struggle gets results, ergo direct links with workers' organisations should always and in every situation be privelidged above any campaigning tactic that diverts people into believing that their social power derives from their position as consumers rather than workers. (Remember that it was campaigns dominated by the Stalinist politics of the ANC and its supporters which argued against direct links with South African workers. That should tell you something.)

I say nothing here of the obviously anti-Semitic implications any large-scale "boycott Israel" campaign would have (despite, I'm genuinely sure, the best efforts of people like Jason); but even for socialists like PR who don't accept the reality of left anti-Semitism, boycotts should be kicked into touch on a tactical basis if nothing else.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 02/07/2008 - 22:31

Not that I know of- one of our theses says this.

"A workers’ state would grant absolutely equality to all peoples and languages in political and cultural life making state facilities available to fully develop and protect cultural expression in both the Hebrew and Arab languages with full rights for minority languages (Yiddish etc).

This equality and absence of all coercion would extend to the Israeli/Hebrew speaking people themselves once the national oppression of the Palestinian Arabs had been ended and the Zionist state destroyed. Revolutionaries would of course not advocate separation. Quite the contrary. But it would be far better for the Palestinian Arabs to freely facilitate a democratic and equal separation where the Israelis wished it than to exert the slightest coercion themselves. Of course, there could be no question of yielding to an undemocratic minority of hardened Zionists in collusion with imperialism who were acting as a vendée against the Palestinian workers’ revolution."

I agree with this. I would agree with this even if others in PR didn't though I would certainly listen patiently to arguments and discussions. As far as I am aware though it is our agreed position.

Submitted by Janine on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 09:07

"equal separation"?! Don't tell Bill that, he'll have you marked as an Olmert-loving, Apartheid-worshipping, redneck racist scumbag.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 10:53

up to and including equal seperation- we do not advocate it but support the right. But there is an important caveat- in Israel/Palestine as now constituted we need to adsvocate national rights for the Palestinians including the right of return, social equality, right to education etc.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 12:04

Sacha, thanks for your comments.

The point really is very simple. We support the rights of Jewish workers and other ethnic groups to their own culture and self-determination- of course. The current situation- which is far from fantasy- is that over a million Palestinains live in 'Israel' ; some four million live in the 'Palestinian territory'; 3 million in Jordan and several other million also in exile. These people have their right to self-determination crushed, are brutally oppressed as well as economically exploited.
"Why *shouldn't* the Israelis have self-determination up to and including separation "if they wish" (which they do)? And why not now?"

Well they do now but only by denying Palestinians the right to live in the country they also claim. It is theoretically conceivable that there could be some kind of equal seperation within the context of a successful revolution but the siutation now is one group is brutally oppressed by the israeli ruling class. We should be for complete political and legal equality including the right to autonomy but not the right of one section of the population to brutally oppress another.
""Jewish and Arab workers share far more in common with each other than the ruling class."

Come on, comrade, this is cheap demagogy. We all believe that - and we believe it in every case, even where we advocate separation. National liberation struggle is not counterposed to international working-class unity - it is part of the fight for it."

It is not wrong, surely, let alone chape demagogy (reminds me of the old faction fight :)) to appeal to class solidarity for a united fight against the Israeli ruling class.

It is not fantasy to call for the overthrow of the Israeli ruling class, the dismantling of the bourgeois state: it is along way from happening but so are many things socialists advocate. it is possible to imagine a different world and take concrete steps in the here and now towards it.

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 14:47

"Well they do now but only by denying Palestinians the right to live in the country they also claim."

Who "claims" this? Olmert? Should socialists allow bourgeois politicians to speak for entire national groups?

"We should be for complete political and legal equality including the right to autonomy but not the right of one section of the population to brutally oppress another."

Exactly. Which is why a two-states programme - based entirely on the above principle - is the only currently feasible one for class struggle in Israel/Palestine.

"It is not fantasy to call for the overthrow of the Israeli ruling class, the dismantling of the bourgeois state: it is along way from happening but so are many things socialists advocate. it is possible to imagine a different world and take concrete steps in the here and now towards it."

None of PR's agitation around the colonial or imperialist projects of other nations (America, Britain, wherever) includes demands to "dismantle" or "overthrow" their states (even though that's presumably what we'd all advocate in a general programmatic sense). A programme for Israel/Palestine which makes an ultimatum out of "the overthrow of the Israeli ruling-class" and "the dismantling of the bourgeois state" will not gain any hearing amongst any number of Israeli workers. At best, it says to them "until you're ready to make socialism we do not believe you are entitled to any national rights." At worst, it simply says "you have no rights at all."

Submitted by Clive on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 18:21

A nation won't just voluntarily disband itself, though. If it *wasn't* a nation, if all it was was a dominant caste, well then, too bad. But that isn't the case with the Hebrew-speaking Israeli Jews. To repeat: abolish all their privileges, and they would still not be Arabs; they would be a national minority. This pretty strongly suggests they are a privileged nation, but still a nation.

Incidentally that means that, Olmert notwithstanding, if you did have the framework of a single state tomorrow, the Israeli Jews could and would still dominate it.

If you seriously have a programme for Palestinian nationhood now, it can't depend on the Israeli Jews self-abolishing as a nation. They are not going to do that. We want them - and every other nation - to do so eventually. But they're not going to do it now. Either therefore you want the Palestinians to wait until the Israeli Jews are ready to self-abolish, whenever that will be, to achieve their own self-determination. Or you think the Israeli nation should be forcibly abolished - which would not be very likely to result in peace and democracy for anyone, even if it were possible.

It would be good if we could programmatically magic inconvenient national identities out of existence. But we can't.

Submitted by Clive on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 22:26

No we're not nation-builders. But we are in favour, aren't we, of self-determination as a democratic demand in the here and now. National self-determination which is impossible until the oppressor nation chooses (or is forced?) to abolish itself is not a democratic demand which can be fought for now.

The AWL does not 'embrace Israel's racist immigration controls'. But the demand for full Palestinian Arab control over all of historical Palestine, ie, whether the Jews agree or not, is simply the demand for the Israeli Jews to abolish themselves.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 22:58

" But the demand for full Palestinian Arab control over all of historical Palestine, i.e., whether the Jews agree or not, is simply the demand for the Israeli Jews to abolish themselves."
Who's demanding this? Certainly not socialists such as Permanent Revolution

We are saying that Jewish and Arab workers should fight for political and social equality against the confinement of Palestinians to camps and restricted areas. For full social, political and legal rights for Palestinians (and Jewish people as if we would be against that!) For class struggle politics.

"The AWL does not 'embrace Israel's racist immigration controls'."

Good. So you do support the right of Palestinians to move freely, to organise self-defence? This will mean a fight against the Israeli state and in all likelihood it's overthrow. Overthrowing a reactionary ruling class in social revolution is not destruction of a nation. That rhetorical turn seems quite Daily Mail like to be honest.

Submitted by Clive on Thu, 03/07/2008 - 23:20

Of course we support the right of Palestinians to move freely! And to organise self-defence... Of course we support a 'fight against the Israeli state' - and the overthrow of its ruling class. Where on earth do you get this stuff?

But the 'rhetorical turn' is one which confuses the overthrow of a state - in the sense of an apparatus of power - with a state in the sense of a nation state. If the Israeli Jews are a nation, and have the right to self-determination, which I think they are, and do, they means they have a right to a state - meaning, the right not to be compelled to abandon it. And a precondition for a 'fight against the Israeli state' in the sense of an apparatus of power is that the Israeli Jews understand they are not required to abandon their right to a state in the other sense.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 04/07/2008 - 16:59

Where do we say suppress the nation of Israal or suprress a national group's self-determination? We don't. We say support the self-determination of Plaestinians- that no more implies suppressing the rights of Jewish workers than supporting the rights of Black people means taking away the rights of white workers.

Your continual elision of social revolution and uprising to smash the bourgeois state with smash the nation and self-determination of a people is your mistake not ours. We are for social and political equality and aunited struggle to get there.

Got to rush now- family do.

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 04/07/2008 - 19:15

The two-state solution as currently peddled by imperialsim, the Israeli ruling class and indeed some of the Israeli and other left is not something worthy of support becuase it is based on systematic denial of Palestinian rights- circumscribing where they can move, work, study etc.

We should be for a united Palestine/Ireland with the equal rights for all nationalities including autonomy. This meams fighting for full social equality for Arab and Jewish people. It is not just for Israelis to decide certain areas are out of bounds to Arabs using arguments about national rights. Of course if Israeli Jewish people wanted autonomy, self-determination up to and including independence without sytematic oppression of Palestinians then of course this would be their right but runs the risk of it being used by the imperialists as a base in the Middle East. The truth of course is that the issues of Palestine/Iraq cannot be solved in isolation formt he rest of the Middle East social struggle and ultimately revolution. if within that Jewish workers wanted an independent state as socialsits we would support their right to that whilst of course arguing for a federal socialist united states of the Middle East. Of course though advocating the right of Kurds, Jews, other ethnic groups to autonomy and self-determination up to and including independence is the best way to achieve unity and fight racism. Can't write anymore tonight as family do on.

Submitted by Clive on Fri, 04/07/2008 - 19:28

" if Israeli Jewish people wanted autonomy, self-determination up to and including independence without sytematic oppression of Palestinians then of course this would be their right..." "Of course though advocating the right of Kurds, Jews, other ethnic groups to autonomy and self-determination up to and including independence is the best way to achieve unity and fight racism..."

Fine. We agree, then.

But a programme which seems to say - a single state with autonomy, then if you want independence you can have it as a right - seems to me really confused. If it's their right, it's their right before the single state with autonomy, ie now.

Of course there is an imperialist-sponsored version of two states; an Israeli ruling class one - etc. And we want one based on working class unity and overthrowing capitalism; and one based on consistent democracy, which of course means an end to Palestinian oppression.

Two other points - there's another question of how far you might welcome, critically, 'half measures' - actual agreements in the here and now (like Oslo was). And second, I think it's a bit disingenuous to suggest that two states is only put forward imperialism, the Israeli ruling class and 'some of' the Israeli left. A pretty large number of Palestinians support some version of two states or other. So do a great many sharp critics of Zionism, like Chomsky.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 05/07/2008 - 07:19

It is of course good to clarify where we agree. Where we disagree though is advocating a two state solution now. We see this as at best a cul-de-sac which will end up with one state subordinate to another and at worst a justification for the status quo.

We support the rights of Palestinians to return (do you? I tend to think you do but it is rarely emphasised) and a unitary state with equal rights for all citizens- of course states and nations are fluid and in the context of a social revolution it may well be that some kind of autonomy or even seperation is poosible not based on the systematic oppression of the other.

Of course we do advocate a united front with those groups who support a two state solution on specific points- withdrawl of Israeli troops, settlements, equal rights for all ethnic groups etc. This of course is also including some Palestinians (who you rightly point out I left out - e.g. the PLO in those who advocate a two state solution- something that played a large role in their marginalisation to Hamas by the way).

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 05/07/2008 - 11:36

1. If you are advocating a unitary state now, then all the objections to that - the Israeli Jewish nation self-abolishing as a precondition for a solution to the national question - are valid.

2. Of course our objective is social revolution, and one purpose behind proposals on the national question is to help move in the direction of social revolution, by uniting the working class. But the national question exists, clearly, right now. United working class action is needed to solve it. But a solution which basically says absolutely nothing is progress short of socialist revolution isn't, it seems to me, much of a programme. It's one of the problems with 'unitary state': I think it dresses up a solution to the national question in a coded formula for socialist revolution.

It's true, I think, that a full solution, so to speak, requires a radical transformation of the whole region, etc. But there have been, and will be (hopefully!) negotiated steps short of such transformation, and we need to be able to assess them. 'It's not socialist revolution so we oppose it' will not, I think, be a good guide. (I don't mean we shouldn't be critical. Personally, for instance, I was very critical of Oslo).

3. I'm not sure it's true that the PLO's advocacy of two states was what allowed the growth of Hamas. General corruption, and the more specific failures of Oslo - mass impoverishment of the Palestinians, etc - are more to the point, I think.

Submitted by Jason on Sat, 05/07/2008 - 13:45

We are saying that Palestinians should be given rights whether they are in the Palestinian authority or Israel. In that sense we are against the two state solution as imposed now with one strong state where Arabs are oppressed and another much smaller territory which is more or less controlled by Israel anyway.

We are for - as I said before- for any concrete steps towards these aims. i said quite clearly "withdrawl of Israeli troops, settlements, equal rights for all ethnic groups etc." and indeed for united fronts around specific action points including with those advocating two states, e.g. Palestinain groups, the Isralei peace and human rights movement- but this is maximalism?

We advocate a unitary state- but that doesn't mean without the right of dfferent nationalisties to autonomy or even secession as long as they don't oppress another group's rights. The current state of Israel does so we are for the overthrow of its ruling class. You continually equate that with the suppression of the nation of Israel. But overthrowing a ruling class or advocating it is not suppressing a nation or a people.

On the PLO the corruption and lack of fight and general lack of improvement in ordinary people's lives were clearly big factors. Its compromise over Oslo was a big factor in that though but by no means the only one. Anyway off out to enjoy any sunshine that may be left today.

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 05/07/2008 - 14:23

"You continually equate that with the suppression of the nation of Israel. But overthrowing a ruling class or advocating it is not suppressing a nation or a people." But then (or rather before) you say "We advocate a unitary state- but that doesn't mean without the right of dfferent nationalisties to autonomy or even secession as long as they don't oppress another group's rights."

This seems to me to simply not make sense. If the Israeli Jews are a nation, they don't only have the right to their own state after they've agreed to be in a unitary one.

It seems to me it's you who's failing to grasp the point. A unitary state is a denial of Israeli Jewish national rights unless they have already agreed they don't want them. No amount of saying it's the ruling class you want to overthrow changes the fact that the programme for a unitary state in fact is a demand for the self-abolition of a nation. (That's assuming it comes about by voluntary agreement; there are others who want to bring it about by force - meaning, Arab force, against the will of the Jews). Adding that after self-abolishing they can reconstiitute if they like, even setting up their own state, just makes the whole argument incoherent.

Of course we are against Israeli oppression. And for any two states achieved democratically we are for, clearly, the greatest possible integration, equality, etc.

I agree with your immediate demands, but I don't think they're controversial. It's what you put forward as *an answer to the national question* which seems to me maximalistic. And you try to avoid the maximalism by not thinking through what you are actually saying about national self-determination.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 07/07/2008 - 09:39

It's perfectly feasible to be for the right of seperation whilst arguing against it e.g. Wales. I'm Welsh but I don't support independence for Wales- in a referendum if I still lived there I would campaign against independence for a no vote but I'd certainly support the right for Wales to be independent and if a majority voted for it then I'd argue that this should be respected. But the Welsh are not oppressed as Welsh though many are of course suffering from poverty and exploitation.

In Israel/Palestine the oppressed nationality is not the Jewish working class though I do as it happens know some Ethiopian Jewish people in Israel who perhaps are oppressed (or know of- through my extended family) through racism and extremely exploitative employment (to be fair though this is not to do wioth being Jewish but Ethiopian)but on the whole it is Arab people who are systematically denied rights. of course we support the right of Jewish workers including autonomy etc. but we would advocate unity. Surely not too hard to understand?

The controversial point in Palestine/Israel is the denail of national rights to the Palestinians. if you say you are for the right of return for all Palestinians to klive throughout the land of Palestine/Israel then fine.

However, every time this issue comes up the AWL position seems to be to defend Israel- not the irght of Jewish people to autonomy or self-determination which is not at issue but Israel as it currently is with withdrawl from ther occupied territories. We of course agree on that immediate demand. But there is a much wider issue. Why shouldn't Palestinains be free ot return to the land their fathers, mothers, grandparents lived in?

Submitted by Clive on Mon, 07/07/2008 - 10:32

I don't think it's comparable to Wales. Sure, the immediate issue is Palestinian rights. But the rights of the Jews are a real issue in a region in which the Arab bourgeoisies (if hypocritically, often) have vigorously denied Jewish national rights, and in which various shades of Islamist, including, for instance, the Iranian government, vigorously deny them.

I am for the free movement of people, including, obviously, Palestinian Arabs. But the 'right of return' as a slogan means something else. It is wrong to interpret it through the filter of our own demands - against immigration controls and what have you. It is a demand for the 'full' restoration of the land to the Arabs. (If it's a *right* it doesn't depend on the Israeli Jews' agreement. But - without repeating the whole argument already had here - I think a solution to the national question requires agreement).

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Mon, 07/07/2008 - 13:51

1) First you said you supported a bi-national state. ("We should be for a bi-national united workers' state with equal rights including the right of autonomy for communites who wish to exercise that right.") I support this demand; in fact, I support a cross-national workers' federation of the entire Middle East. We would differ, I imagine, on the question of exactly how and when this demand is posed but there's nothing wrong with it in principle. But you've since back-tracked from this and are now saying you favour a "unitary state", which doesn't actually necessarily fulfil the desire for self-determination of either national group (Israelis or Palestinians). So which is it?

2) The AWL does *not* support *any* of Israel's immigration laws. None. Not one. Nor the immigration laws of any other capitalist state anywhere in the world. Is that clear enough for you, Bill? What we do say, however, is that we do not believe the rights of national groups to self-determination can be abrogated until they have developed internationalist consciousness. The fact that Israel (like every other capitalist state on the planet) has racist immigration laws does not undo the right of its people to self-determination.

3) In what sense does the AWL "defend" Israel, beyond the basic defence of Israeli-Jews to self-determine against the fuckwitted politics of most of the left which is either indifferent or positively hostile to their rights?

4) Jason asks "Why shouldn't Palestinains be free ot return to the land their fathers, mothers, grandparents lived in?" The answer is that of course, they should - just as I should be free to return to Poland, the land that my family was forcibly expelled from by the Nazis. We fight for the opening, or - beyond this - the abolition, of borders to facilitate such a situation. I shouldn't, however, have the right to go to Poland and reclaim my grandparents' old house from people who've lived in it all their lives, had no hand in my grandparents' expulsion from the country and simply have nowhere else to go. This is, I think, where our perspectives on the "right of return" question differs; we believe in abolishing immigration controls to allow any Palestinian refugee or their descendants to re-settle either in Israel or in an independent Palestine. However, we divest strongly from the more common usage of the demand on the left - which is basically to crudely use the Palestinian refugees as a tool to undermine the rights of Israeli-Jews. This position is both ludicrous (are millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees simply going to up and leave the countries where they have settled? Should we demand it of them? Shouldn't we actually be putting pressure on the governments of those countries to give them full rights, just as we do with asylum seekers and refugees in the UK?) and unprincipled; it subordinate the real need to secure justice for the Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the idiot "anti-imperialist" project of "wiping Israel off the map" (to use Ahmadinejad's term).

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 08/07/2008 - 13:31

"Meanwhile, the governments of a number of Middle Eastern states want to do precisely that - not in order to realise a secular, democratic state of Palestine, but in order to crush the Israelis and deny them their rights (ie they are more realistic than you!)" Sacha

Actually I think they pose like this to divert attention from the fact that they are vicious dictatorships who do nothing for the Palestinian working class and peasantry nor any other working class or peasantry.

We of course support the rights of Israeli Jews and actually if there was any chance of their rights being denied would fight for them- but it does seem a bit topsy-turvy when it is the Palestininians being cruelly oppressed- as you recognise.

Palestine cannot be liberated except through social convulsions which would mean revolution as much against the Arab bourgeoisies of the surrounding states as the Isreali Jewish bourgeois. It is essential that the revolution is explicitly anti-chauvinist- against oppression of Kurds, Africans (many of whom exist in semi or actual slavery both in Israel and the Arab nations) and other oppressed minorities- as well as pro-gay, anti-sexist and for complete freedom and equality.

Hey Sacha a lot of people are more realistic than me. But sometimes the semingly impossible becomes realised.

In the Sukula campaign some people said it was impossible to win, some it was impossible to have mass pickets outside the house, that it was impossible to gain support on the basis of being against all immigration controls.

But we did it. Many others have done things on much grander scales.

Be realistic- demand the impossible!

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 19/07/2008 - 22:47

If a people has the right to self-determination, that isn't dependent on them first having laws we approve of. The same goes for a Palestinian state. Even if they have lots of laws (now, or as proposals for the future) we would like to see repealed, they still have the right to a state.

What I regretted, by the way, Bill, was thinking it might be possible to have a rational debate with you.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 20/07/2008 - 01:30

Debate is perfectly possible. However, if as you say you oppose Palestinians being forcibly prevented from entering Israel/Palestine then this is good and means fighting the Israeli ruling class. That in no sense is to advocate not having equal rights for Jews and Arabs. We should fight for this. It is however Arab workers who are cruelly oppressed by the racist state- that is why we should support Palestinians rights. This does not imply being against Jewish rights any more than supporting the rights of Black people means we are against white people.

I posted what I thought was a perfectly reasonable post on left unity- any response? Not one bit of it. Perhaps I should indulge in name-calling to get a response? I won't as it happens but it's prety hypocritical that if someone says something you mildly diasgree with there's host of responses but if a reasonable debate is attempted it is met with a wall of silence.


Submitted by Clive on Sun, 20/07/2008 - 09:34

Jason, I hardly think Bill's comments can be considered mild on any level. It's in the nature of these online discussions that some things get more traffic than others. All you can conclude from it is what works up the individuals who participate - in this case, mainly, me. The rational part of my brain tells me to keep quiet in a debate about Israel but for some reason on this occasion I couldn't. For myself I know nothing about the ins and outs of the latest left unity proposals. If that, for you, constitutes hypocrisy - what can I say? I certainly have no intention of wasting my time with bill again.

Submitted by Jason on Sun, 20/07/2008 - 09:49

then and of course to some extent it is the nature of web boards etc that annoying comments can excite more response than less annoying ones.

My point though was to say that I posted something here

There was no response at all from any member of the AWL and I think my point is about how we can and should work practically together where we agree and of course discuss where we don't and that this isn;t just some kind of truism bt an urgent need- e.g. to build solidarity on working clas sestates, with migrants, with white workers to win them from fascism or racism, to defend people against eviction, to begin to take control in our communities etc etc.

so may be have a loom there though I warn you now there is a comment from Bill- I suggest ignoring that and engaging with mine but is it likely?

Sacha- you've been involved in revolutionary politics since the age of 18. Good. Many people make it their lives work- well ok not very many but a fair number and that's good. I've known people who've given their lives or all their comrades have been killed around them. In other words it can be tough and being called a few names and having some inaccuracies printed is (whilst not in any way defensible) not really worth getting annoyed about. Let's save our passion for the class enemy and show that we can keep our cool even with those with whom we disagree even when they provoke us. Worth a go, eh? I'll buy you an iced coffee next time I see you.

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