Palestine Update No. 390, Progressive Jewish Opposition to Zionism 7/25/20
* Progressive Jewish opposition to Zionism *
Zionism was a minority movement throughout the Jewish-inhabited world for many years. Before the Holocaust, his political notoriety was minimal. Poland was thought to be the Zionist heart. But even there, only 25 to 30% of Jews supported Zionism during the decades between the two world wars. In the United States, only 88,000 of the 4 million American Jews pledged to support Zionism in 1933. In fact, the American Zionist Federation has shrunk a lot since the late 1920s. In countries where Zionism was once a powerful ideological tool, such as Hungary and Romania, it was viewed very cynically: as an extreme movement with utopian, if not dangerous, political objectives. The rejection of Zionism was generally ideological in substance. The first source of their rejection was religion. Many Reform Jews tended to see their Jewishness in religion and not in their ethnic identity. On the other hand, Orthodox Jews believed that the Jewish homeland would only emerge with the coming of the Messiah. This became a point of contention. A second issue was the question of nationality. Jews have realized that Zionism is an obstacle to national identity and a threat to natural civil rights in their existing homeland. The liberal Jews also rejected Zionism because it would exclude them from secular tradition and leave them isolated. Finally there was the Jewish-socialist political paradigm, that challenged classical and ethnic identity. Jewish socialists saw Zionism as a diametrical opponent of socialism and a reactionary departure from the task of fighting anti-Semitism and defending Jewish rights in the diaspora.
In the attached interview, Sarah Lazare speaks to Benjamin Balthaser, a professor of multi-ethnic literature. He looks at the lost history of anti-Zionism among the Jewish working class that was put aside in the 1930s and 1940s. Balthaser discusses with Lazare the colonial origins of modern Zionism and the quarreling of the Jewish left on the grounds that "it is a form of right-wing nationalism, is fundamentally against the internationalism of the working class and is a form of imperialism". This political tradition, Balthaser argues, "undermines the claim that Zionism reflects the will of all Jewish people and offers signposts for today."
... For us Jews in the United States who are trying to think about our relationship not only with Palestine but also about our own place in the world as a historically persecuted ethno-cultural diaspora minority, we need to think: which side are we on and with which global powers let's join forces ... "If we don't want to line up with the right wing executioners, colonialism and racism, there is also a Jewish-cultural ability for us to activate - a political ability to activate".
This is a long text for readers. But in times when Zionism rises politically above standards that it has never reached, the interview helps to understand the connections between Zionism, which has its roots in colonization, and that which is racist ideology . Please read and share widely.
* The Forgotten History of the Jewish Anti-Zionist Left *
The roots of modern Zionism lie in colonialism. That was the bedrock of the Jewish left's opposition to Zionism in the 1930s and 1940s because it was a form of right-wing nationalism and imperialism that were fundamentally against the internationalism of the working class.
The impetus for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to forcibly annex up to 30% of the occupied West Bank is the disclosure of internal violence to impose a Jewish ethnic state on the indigenous Palestinian population. While this plan has now been postponed, human rights organization B'Tselem reports that Israel began demolishing Palestinian homes in the West Bank as early as June and demolished thirty of them this month, a number that doesn't include demolitions in East Jerusalem!
However, the theft and destruction of Palestinian homes and communities is only part of a much larger - and older - colonial project. As the Palestinian organizer Sandra Tamari writes, "The Palestinians were forced to endure Israel's deportation and land expropriation practices for more than 70 years." Today this reality has evolved into an open apartheid system:
Palestinians within Israel are second-rate citizens - and Israel is now officially codifying that "self-determination only applies to Jews". Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to military occupation, siege, blockade and martial law - a system of violent rule made possible by political and financial support from the United States.
Anti-Zionists argue that this brutal reality is not just a product of a right-wing government or the failure to effectively produce a two-state solution. Rather, it comes from the modern Zionist project itself, one that was created in the colonial context and is fundamentally dependent on ethnic cleansing and the violent domination of the Palestinian people. Jews all over
Welt are among those who call themselves anti-Zionists and who loudly oppose the demand that the State of Israel represent the will - or interests - of the Jewish people.
Sarah Lazare spoke to Benjamin Balthaser, a professor of multiethnic literature at Indiana University in South Bend. His recent article "When Anti-Zionism Was Jewish: Jewish Racist Subjectivity and the Anti-Imperialist Literary Left from the" Great Depression "to the" Cold War "
examines the erased history of anti-Zionism among the surviving Jewish working class of the 1930s and 1940s. Balthaser is the author of a volume of poetry about the old Jewish left called "Dedication" and an academic monograph entitled "Anti-Imperialist Modernism". He is working on a book on Jewish Marxists, socialist thought and anti-Zionism in the twentieth century.
He spoke to Lazare about the colonial origins of modern Zionism and the dispute among the Jewish left over that it is a form of right-wing nationalism is fundamentally in opposition to working class internationalism and as a form of imperialism. According to Balthaser, political tradition undermines the claim that Zionism reflects the will of all Jewish people and is a sign of the way for today. “As Jews in the United States trying to consider their relationship not only to Palestine, but also to find our own place in the world as a historically persecuted ethno-cultural diaspora minority, we need to think about which side we are on stand and with what forces in this world we team up, ”he says.
* SL *: “Can you please explain what the ideology of Zionism is? Who developed it and when? *
* BB *
There are a few things that need to be crumbled apart. First of all, there is a long Jewish history that predates the ideology of Zionism, which looks to Jerusalem, the ancient Kingdom of Judea as the seat of a cultural, religious and, one might say, messianic desire. If you look at the Jewish liturgy, you will find clues that go back thousands of years to the land of Zion, to Jerusalem, the ancient kingdom that the Romans destroyed.
There have been attempts - unfortunately - to "return" to the land of Palestine throughout Jewish history; Sabbatai Zevi became most famous in the seventeenth century. But most of the time "Israel" was understood as some kind of cultural and messianic desire for most of Jewish history, and there was no desire to physically wander there - except for small religious communities in Jerusalem and, of course, the small number of Jews. who continued to live under Ottoman rule - around 5% of the population.
Contemporary Zionism, particularly political Zionism, actually falls back on this vast reservoir of cultural desire and religious text for self-legitimation, and hence the confusion.
Modern Zionism emerged in the late 19th century as a European nationalist movement. And I think that's the way to understand it. He was one of the many nationalist movements of oppressed minorities who tried to build ethnically homogeneous nation states from the diverse cultures of Western and Eastern Europe. And there were many Jewish nationalisms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, of which Zionism was only one.
There was the Jewish “Bund”, which was a movement of the socialist left and which became prominent in the early 1920s and expressed a cross-border nationalism in Eastern Europe. This movement felt that their place was Eastern Europe, their country was Eastern Europe, and their language was Yiddish. And they wanted to fight for freedom in Europe, where they actually lived. And they felt that their liberation struggle was directed against the oppressive governments in Europe. If the Holocaust hadn't wiped out the Bund and other Jewish socialists in Eastern Europe, we would be talking about Jewish nationalism today in an entirely different context.
Of course, there were also Soviet experiments to create Jewish autonomous zones within areas where Jews lived or could live within the Soviet Union; the most famous of these is probably in Birobidzhan *), but a very short-lived one was in Ukraine. These refer to the Yiddish idea of “doykait”, being at home in the diaspora, in the Yiddish language and culture.
*) Wikipedia: Birobidzhan is today with 275,413 inhabitants the capital of the "Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Federal District Far East, Russia. It is located on the Amur tributary Bira, 172 km west of the city of Khabarovsk.
Zionism is one of those culturally nationalist movements. What made him special was that he implanted himself in British colonialism, a relationship that explicitly went back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and which was currently trying to create a country outside a British colony - Mandate Palestine - and British colonialism as one To use help to arrange yourself in the Middle East.
The Balfour Declaration was essentially a way of using the British Empire for its own ends. In a sense, Zionism can be said to be a poisonous mixture of European nationalism and British imperialism, transplanted into the cultural environment of Jewish imagery and mythologies that come from Jewish liturgy and culture.
* SL *
One of the self-understandings of modern Zionism is that it represents the ideology that represents the will of all Jews. But you argue in your paper that, in fact, criticism of Zionism was fairly general even among the Jewish left of the 1930s and 1940s, and that this story is largely lost. Can you say what this review was about and who took part?
* BB *
The funny thing about the United States, and I would say it is true of Europe too, is that before the end of World War II and even a little after it, most Jews scorned Zionists. And it didn't matter whether you were a communist or a reformist Jew, Zionism was not popular. There were a ton of different reasons for American Jews not to like Zionism before the 1940s.
There is the liberal criticism of Zionism, which Elmer Berger and the American Council for Judaism are very fond of. These people's fear was that Zionism was basically a kind of double loyalty, that it would make Jews available for believing that they were not really Americans, and that their attempts to hook into mainstream American culture were actually frustrating.
Elmer Berger also came up with the idea that being Jewish is not a culture or a people, but simply a religion, and therefore one has nothing to do with one another outside of religious belief. That, I would assume, is an assimilationist idea that comes from the 20s and 30s and is an attempt to resemble the Protestant notion of “religious communities”.
But for the Jewish left - communists, socialists, Trotskyists and left-wing Marxists -
her criticism of Zionism came from two sources: a criticism of nationalism and a criticism of colonialism. They understood Zionism as a right-wing nationalism and in this sense as a bourgeoisie. They saw it in line with other forms of nationalism - as an attempt to align the working class with the interests of the bourgeoisie.
So this is a criticism of Zionism. The other criticism of Zionism, which in my opinion is more topical for today's left, says that Zionism is a form of imperialism. If you look at the pamphlets and magazines, and the speeches that the Jewish left gave in the 1930s and 1940s, you can see these Zionists aligning themselves with British imperialism.
They were also very much aware of the fact that the Middle East was colonized, first by the Ottomans and then by the British. They saw the Palestinian struggle for liberation as part of the global anti-imperialist movement.
Of course, Jewish communists did not see themselves as citizens of a nation-state, but as part of the worldwide proletariat: part of the worldwide working class, part of the world revolution. And so the idea of “homeland” in view of the narrow strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea - regardless of any cultural proximity to Jerusalem - would be exactly against everything they believe in.
When the Holocaust began to get serious in the 1940s and Jews fled Europe in all directions they could, some Communist Party members voted to allow Jews to go to Palestine if they escape extermination wanted, and it was natural that Palestine should be the only place to go.
But that doesn't mean you could found a nation state there. You have to get along with the people who live there - as well as you possibly can. There was a Communist Party of Palestine which campaigned for Jewish and Palestinian cooperation to drive the British out and create a binational state which, for a number of reasons - including the Jewish settlement project - proved to be tougher in practice than in the theory.
In any case, the Jewish left understood critically in the 1930s and 1940s, the only way Zionism was able to take effect in Palestine was a colonial project and the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians from the country. Earl Browder, leader of the Communist Party, said in a speech at the Manhattan Hippodrome that a Jewish state could only be formed by the displacement of a quarter of a million Palestinians, which shocked the audience at the time - but in fact the number estimated at the time was dramatically lower in the end than the real one.
* SL *
You recently wrote in a newspaper article, “Perhaps the most haunting narrative about Zionism, even among scholars and writers who knew its pre-war marginal position, is that the Holocaust changed the minds of Jews and recognized it as necessary.” You ask notes that there are some major gaps in this narrative. Can you explain which ones they are
* BB *
I would change that a little to say that I am really talking about the communist and Marxist left in this context. I grew up in a left-wing family where opinions were precisely divided on the issue of Zionism - but none the less there was the pervasive idea that the Holocaust changed minds in general, and everyone would join in when details were on The Holocaust became known to Zionists and anti-Zionists alike.
It is undeniably correct to claim that without the Holocaust, Israel would probably not have come about, if only because of the one fact that there would have been no massive immigration of Jewish refugees after the war because they would undoubtedly have remained in Europe. Without this immigration of Jews who were able to fight the 1948 war and populate Israel immediately afterwards, it is doubtful whether an independent State of Israel would have succeeded.
One thing I found very surprising, however, when looking at the left press in the 1940s - publications by the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party, and the writings of Hannah Arendt. Even after the scope of the Holocaust was largely understood, its official position still remained anti-Zionist.
They may have called for Jews who were allowed to resettle with full rights and citizenship in those countries from which they were expelled or massacred, or who were allowed to immigrate to the United States or even to emigrate to Palestine when they had nowhere else to go (which they often did). But they were still totally against division and the establishment of a "state only for Jews".
What is important to understand about this moment: Zionism was a political choice - not only for the imperial western powers, but also for the Jewish ruling class. They could have fought harder for Jewish immigration to the United States. And, in fact, much of the Zionist leaders fought against immigration to the United States.
There are a number of stories reported by the Jewish communist press
how Zionists worked with the British and Americans to force Jews to go to the (British) Mandate of Palestine when they would have preferred to go to the United States or England. There is a famous quote from Ernest Bevin, the British Secretary of State at the State Department, who said that the only reason the US sent Jews to Palestine was "because they didn't want more of them in New York." And the Zionists were okay with that.
While this may seem like an ancient story, it is important nonetheless because it rips apart the common sense that surrounds the formation of Israel. “Yes, there could have been peace between Jews and Palestinians, but the Holocaust made all of that impossible.” And I would say that this debate after 1945 shows that there was a long auspicious moment there, in the other would have been possible and another future could have occurred.
Perhaps (it sounds) ironic, but the Soviet Union did more than any other single power to change the way the Jewish Marxist Left viewed Israel in the late 1940s. Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Union's ambassador to the United Nations, appeared in 1947 and supported participation in the United Nations after declaring that the Western world had done nothing to stop the Holocaust and suddenly it was on the table. All of these left-wing Jewish publications that made Zionism bad were - literally the 'next day' - for the partition and formation of the nation-state of Israel.
You have to understand, for the crowd of Jewish communists and even socialists, the Soviet Union was the promised land - not Zionism. That was the place where - according to the propaganda - they had eradicated anti-Semitism.
The Russian Empire was the place with the most anti-Semitism prior to the 'appearance' of Nazism during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the members of the Jewish Communist Party or their families were from Eastern Europe and they had vivid memories of Russia as the melting pot of anti-Semitism. For them, the Russian Revolution was a break in history and an opportunity for a fresh start. And that, of course, happened after World War II, after the Soviet Union had just defeated the Nazis.
That the Soviet Union would adopt Zionism went like a shock wave through the left-leaning Jewish world. The Soviet Union changed its policy about a decade later by openly turning to anti-Zionism around the 1960s. But for this brief turning point, the Soviet Union made a firm decision to partition, and that seems to be what actually changed the Jewish left.
Without this kind of legitimation, we are all in the process of seeing the Jewish left, as it now appears, on an important path return to positions it originally took, which means that Zionism is, and so is, right-wing nationalism is racist and colonialist. We see the Jewish left return to its first principles.
* SL *
This is a good explanation of some of the questions I wanted to ask you about the significance of anti-Zionist history to this day. For many people, Israel's plan to annex very large swaths of Palestinian land in the West Bank - even if it has now been postponed - makes clear the violence of the Zionist project to place Jewish law on the Palestinian people. And we see some prominent liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart publicly declare that the two-state solution is dead and that a state based on equal rights is the best way forward. Do you see now the important moment to reconnect with the history of Jewish anti-Zionism? Do you see openings or opportunities to change people's attitudes?
* BB *
In its kind, Beinart's letter comes 70 years too late *). But it is still a very important one
cultural swing to the extent that it is part of a liberal Jewish institution. I would also say that we are in a completely different historical moment. In the 1930s and 40s you could really talk about some kind of global revolutionary sentiment and a real Jewish left that was located in organizations like the Communist Party, the Socialist Workers' Party and the Socialist Party. And you can see that again in the late 1960s. (Translator's note: Pal. Update Nr.386)
Students for a Democratic Society, which also boasted very sizeable Jewish membership, formally backed anti-Zionism in the 1960s with the Socialist Workers' Party and forged alliances with the Student Coordinating Committee on Nonviolence, which became official in the late 1960s held anti-Zionist position.
You may be thinking about a global revolutionary framework in which the liberation of Palestine was an integral part, you may also be thinking about the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as part of making a global revolutionary movement.
Today we live in a much more fragmented space. At the same time, however, we are seeing the rebirth - or perhaps continuation - of the Palestinian civil rights movements, and Palestinian civil society loudly calling for decolonization -
both from their own liberation traditions, but also by using the models of the South African liberation struggle as an example.
For contemporary Jews, who are progressive and see themselves on the left, the realization suddenly comes that there really is no center anymore, that the liberal Zionist position no longer exists. The center has really disappeared!
And we are facing this very strong decision: either go to the side of liberation - or you go to the side of the Israeli right, which has always represented exclusive and genocidal endeavors here - but now these seem to be completely naked! And that's why I think people like Beinart wake up and say, "I don't want to be with the executioners."
The history of the old Jewish left and the new Jewish left of the 1960s show us that this is not new.
Every liberation struggle emanates from the oppressed themselves, and so the Palestinian liberation movement is setting its dates for struggles. But for Jews in the United States trying to reflect on their relationship not only with Palestine, but also to find their own place in the world as a historically persecuted ethno-cultural diaspora minority, we need to ponder which side we are on stand, and with which global powers we want to cooperate.
If we don't want to go along with right wing executioners, colonialism and racism, there is still a cultural ability for us to move us there - a political ability to give us direction. This story of the anti-Zionist Jewish left shows that an important historical role in the diaspora is solidarity with other oppressed people.
This is the place from where historically we have gained the most strength. That is not how I look at it by saying, "We do not want to restore the Communist Party of the 1930s and 1940s". We say, "We want to create something new, but the past can be a cultural skill that we can use today."
* SL *
Who or what is responsible for eradicating this history of Jewish left anti-Zionism?
* BB *
I don't want to attribute the annihilation just to the Soviet Union or Zionism, for we also need to consider the Cold War and how the Cold War destroyed the old Jewish left and really drove them underground and shook their organizations. So, I think we must also look at how the turn to Zionism was understood as something that would normalize the Jews in the post-war era.
With the execution of the Rosenbergs, the Red Scare *) in the late 1940s and 1950s and the practical banishment of the Communist Party, half of which was Jewish during the 1930s and 1940s, many in the Jewish establishment became part of American imperialism Way to normalize their presence in the US. And hopefully that moment has passed to some extent.
*) Red Scare is the representation of the widespread fear of a potential uprising or anarchy of communism by a society or a state. (Comes from the red flags for 2 periods in US history denoted by this name)
We can see the emptiness and sterility that would come with joining an American imperial project with people like Bari Weiss and Jared Kushner. Why would someone like Bari Weiss, who describes herself as liberal, ally with the most reactionary forces in American life?
It's a bloody matrix of assimilation and whiteness that emerged from the bourgeoisie of the Cold War in the 1950s. Israel was part of that pact with the devil. Yes, you can become real Americans: you can go to good US universities, you can live in the suburbs, enter the mainstream of American life as long as you do one little thing for us: back up the American empire.
Hopefully, with the emergence of new grassroots organizations in the United States among Jews and non-Jews who question the United States' role in supporting Zionism, that bill may begin to change. With the emergence of JVP (= Jewish Voice for Peace), IfNotNow (= If not now), the Democratic Socialists of America, and the Black Lives Matter movement, who oppose US support for the Zionism, common sense in Jewish society has begun to move in a different direction, especially among the younger generation. The battle is far from over, but it all makes me a little bit about the future