Emile Schepers’ Nov. 16 column about the relationship of Zionism and anti-Semitism presented some useful history that stopped just before the founding of Israel under a UN resolution the Soviet Union sponsored in 1947. The resolution took into account that on the territory of the British mandate colony of Palestine existed two numerically substantial peoples, the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews. The Soviets said the preferable solution would have been a single bi-national state with full equal rights for both peoples but in view of their inability to agree, partition and two equal states side by side was the only feasible just solution.
Given the existing situation of large numbers of both peoples in Palestine, deciding which of the two had a historically prior claim could not be the basis of a peaceful solution. Before the end of World War II, Jews from Europe began joining the long-resident small Jewish community in Palestine. Some new arrivals were influenced by the Zionist ideology that Jews could never achieve full equality where they lived, and required their own country. But most Jews came because the war and the holocaust had destroyed their homes and made them fearful and in need of a place to live. At that time the primary enemy of Jews and Arabs in Palestine was British imperialism, which had to be compelled to surrender its control. The British worked to pit the two peoples against each other and sought to end up with domination through local puppets.
Ever since, and especially during Ariel Sharon’s premiership, Palestinian Arabs have been prevented by armed force and ruthless repression from attaining their own state alongside Israel in accordance with UN resolutions 242 and 338. Sharon represents the most reactionary section of Israeli Jewish big capitalists which has been in cahoots with U.S. transnational capital, especially its ultra-right section, playing the role of regional gendarme to keep U.S. domination of Mideast oil.
Zionism was originally a particular form of Jewish bourgeois nationalism, conceived by Theodore Herzl in Austria. It argued the Jewish people would always be subject to anti-Semitism until they moved to a land of their own – originally Uganda, then Palestine. Zionists sought a deal with imperialism to secure such a homeland where the Jewish bourgeoisie would have a free hand to exploit its own people. There were other trends of Jewish bourgeois nationalism, including assimilationism – gaining equality and ending persecution by giving up being Jews. Marxists, particularly Lenin, argued that anti-Semitism was a form of national oppression of the Jewish people, in a religious garb. The way out was unity of Jewish, Russian and all other working people who did not benefit from national oppression, to end Czarism and capitalism, which did benefit from it.
Generally, Jews are no longer an oppressed people anywhere in the world, though they continue to suffer anti-Semitic actions in most capitalist countries, including the U.S., especially when the ultra right gets stronger. In Israel, the Jewish people under the Sharon government have become an oppressor people of the Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian Arab people. It is important to understand, however, that such oppression is not fundamentally in the interests of the Jewish working people, only the Jewish ruling class. In other countries, a very small top layer of Jews has become a small part of the ruling big capitalist class, while the masses of Jewish working people are in the same basic position as other working people.
For years, many groups of the Jewish big bourgeoisie and the Jewish right opposed the Zionist theory and organization that advocated that all Jews should move to Israel, but often joined Zionists in policies antithetical to the interests of Jewish masses and Arab peoples. For example, Chasidic and other Orthodox Jews in the U.S. and fundamentalist religious Jews in Israel, U.S. Reform Jews and the American Jewish Committee, and extreme right-wing Jewish political organizations in the U.S. and Israel opposed Zionism. Sharon still says his extreme right-wing bourgeois nationalist policies do not stem from either Zionism or religious belief.
Today, virtually none of the U.S. Jewish organizations that have “Zionist” in their name or self-description believe Jews should emigrate to Israel, yet they and some other national Jewish organizations support the Sharon government’s reactionary policies. Some major national groups, however, are somewhat critical of Sharon’s policies. Others say they do not feel bound to support the policies of any given Israeli government. And a growing number oppose Sharon’s policies and say they are for a two-state solution, including some small groups that consider themselves left labor and/or socialist “Zionist.”
Most U.S. Jews, if asked if they are Zionists, respond “we guess we are, if you mean by that ‘are you in favor of the right of Israel to exist free of violence?’” Many of the U.S. and Israeli Jewish groups that were anti-Zionist no longer would describe themselves that way and many, but not all, support the Sharon government policies to one extent or another.
In the fight to achieve two equal states, to make it easier for Israeli and U.S. Jews to oppose government policy and to compel the Bush administration to genuinely support that solution and pressure the Israeli government to do likewise, we need tactics that will help move U.S. Jews. The Bush administration has been playing to right-wing Jewish bourgeois nationalism. But 78 percent of Jewish voters voted against Bush in 2000.
In the U.S., broadside attacks on “world Zionism” make it harder to influence the mass of Jewish working people and non-Jews who support Bush’s policy of backing the Sharon government. Many Jews who are not Zionists identify with that label and feel they and the existence of the State of Israel are being attacked. They are sensitive because “world Zionism” recalls the old anti-Semitic charge of a “Jewish conspiracy to control the finances and politics of the world,” only substituting “Zionist” for “Jewish.” This echoes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which claimed that Jewish bankers and rabbis had been meeting secretly to plot such a takeover. The Czarist secret police added “Communist, socialist, and liberal Jews” to the supposed conspirators. In this form, Henry Ford published hundreds of thousands of copies of the “Protocols.” Hitler took the “Protocols” over from Ford, the man he admired so much.
Also, “Zionist conspiracy” lets transnational capital, headed by its U.S.-based dominant sector, off the hook.
Therefore it is not helpful for some on the left and in Arab liberation circles to use the label “Zionist” loosely. Other characterizations are more accurate. Pointing to right-wing Jewish nationalist groups as among those who caused the defeat of Cynthia McKinney in the Georgia Democratic primary is clearer than saying “Zionists” caused her defeat. We do not want to hand the bulk of the U.S. Jewish population and their many non-Jewish supporters over to U.S. and Israeli reaction.
Danny Rubin is a member of the National Education Commission of the Communist Party USA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org