Examining the Palestinian Left at SOAS: Episode II
Anti Zionist left parties in Israel
This section focuses on the different anti Zionist personalities or political parties inside Israel, whether Arab Israeli or Jewish. Those very courageous individuals or groups have to confront in their daily activism an Israeli society becoming increasingly intolerant and racist, as suggested by many of the speakers and as observed with the composition of the current Israeli government.
Firstly, Ilan Pappe, an anti Zionist Israeli from Exeter University, and author of the famous book “Palestine: ethnic cleansing”, started speaking about the contradiction in the narrative history of the Zionist left. He analyzed the two paradigms evolving around the Zionist Left:
– The incremental paradigm, which maintains that the Zionist Left wanted to build a socialist or communist state despite its essential colonial nature. This program was unfortunately deflected and it became an oppression mouvement from 1967. This year was considered as the “annus mirabulus” for the Zionist left, which changed radically the direction of the party and its nature.
– The essentialist paradigm, which maintains that from the beginning this was a colonial project and therefore no possible socialist or equal state was possible, the submission or the expulsion of the indigenous people could have been projected.
In Ilan Pappe’s opinion, the essentialist paradigm clearly dominates, as we see with the current situation in Palestine, which has been “de-arabised”, and the rest of it brought to heel. He also stated that there is no credit to Jewish Zionists in the emergence of the Palestinian Left. He ended his speech by reminding the audience that the leftist Zionist history is a story of manipulation. Very few Palestinians actually became part of the Mapai (socialist group) during the mandate, which thus didn’t enable a possible alliance between Jewish and Arabs. They went on strike and worked together on certain occasions, but the small number of Palestinians that were part of the Mapai during this time were used by the Zionists, to keep Palestinians out from the Labor market. This history of manipulation, which has repeated itself several times, is unfortunately a hard heritage for any future collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ahmad Sadi, from the Ben Gurion University, brought another historic dimension on the troubled legacy between the Israeli Communist Party (ICP) and Zionism, which infuriated Issam Makhloul, Member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI). He claimed that Communists and Zionists relations are based on a basic common trust for ideological and historical reasons going back to 1948. At this period, the USSR actually supported politically and militarily the creation of a Zionist State, while describing the Palestinian national movement as racist and of being an agent of foreign powers. The PCI ,on its side, accepted the Israeli state, characterized by its racist infrastructures, but wanted to create a notion of class struggle in Palestine against Fascism and they had not in mind a colonial project. Since this period, according to Ahmad Sadi, Communists have built a relation of trusts with the Zionist State allowing it to pursue its activities without any repression from the authorities. On the other side, Arab political parties have not experienced the same freedom of practice. The main difference between the Communists and the other Arab political parties in Palestine is centered around the peace process: while the PCI supports the two state solution, the others are more in favour of the one state solution.
This brings us to Areen Hawari, co-founder of Tajamu’ and former Member of the Politburo. She introduced her political party Balad, which was headed by Azmi Bishara before he was exiled outside of Israel, after being accused of treason against the State. The party was created in 1995 following the Oslo agreement, to show among other things the opposition of many Arab Israelis towards it. The party Balad considers until now that any agreement in relation to the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict should include the interest of the1948 Palestinians inside Israel. They also reject the Jewish nature of the State, condemning Zionism as an exclusionary project made at the expense of the Palestinians. Injustice and inequality are actually reflected in Israeli laws, the State’s infrastructure, etc… The lack of rights granted to the Arab Israelis is a good example of the discrimination in place in Israel.
Balad, as well as the other Arab parties in Israel, asks for equality in an integrationist way. They request amongst other things civic rights for the Arab minority, independence in educational and cultural life.
Areen Hawari concluded in reminding that they are also in the process of building a framework for a new state based on the one state solution.
The next speaker was Issam Makhloul from the Israeli Communist party, who presented the traditional position of its party for a resolution of the conflict based on the three following pillars:
– Recognition and self-determination of the Palestinian people in the framework of a 2 states solution based on the 1967 boundaries
– Recognition of the right of return of the Palestinians Refugees
– Recognition of the civic rights of the Palestinians in Israel
He also condemned the complicity between the US imperialism, Zionism and reactionary Arab regimes, which is still going on today and is the reason why Palestinians suffer. He emphasized the need of collaboration between the Arab national minority and Israeli progressive parties to achieve a democratic society in Israel.
Then, Issam Makhloul accused the supporters of the one state solution of having no clear program, therefore surrendering to Israel occupation and accepting to live under neo colonialism. In his mind the one state solution could only be put forward after the establishment of two states.
These individuals represented political parties in Israel with an important Arab dimension in the composition of their members, while the following one are leftists Israelis Jews struggling against Zionism and in favor of Palestinian rights. Moshe Machover, from Kings College in London and Matzpen founder member, firstly described socialism in Israel as a struggle to get rid of Zionism and its effects, namely denouncing the racist structure of the State, its colonial project and its imperial policy. In Machover’s opinion, Israel is indeed a capitalist state, with a colonial project and acting as a local actor in support of imperialist policy. The resolution of the conflict requires a de-zionisation of the state, as any decolonization process the infrastructure of the colonizer state should be removed. Socialists have a key role in this process of de-zionisation that he understands as a regional struggle. He also explains that the analogy with South Africa can’t be done so easily, using Marx’s distinction of colonialism in terms of structural functions. In the case of South Africa, we have Settlers (the minority) who exploits the indigenous people (majority), while in the Palestinian case the settlers have expulsed the far majority of the indigenous masses like the USA with the Indo-Americans. Therefore, in the first case, powers of force and numbers was not in favor of the settlers and this domination was not viable on the long term. In the second case, it’s a more complicated struggle that includes a defensive struggle against the worst effects of Zionism. This war can be waged on its own as a series of one-issue campaigns, by single-issue groupings; but Zionism cannot and will not be overthrown in this way. In his opinion, it can only be overthrown as part of a socialist transformation of the entire region, the Arab East and it requires an organisational set up in accordance with this strategy. In his conclusion, he said his wish was to see a united Arab nation lead by workers and socialists which would change definitely the nature of the region and draw Israelis workers to ally with them in order to put an end to Zionism.
Sami Shalon Chetritt, from Queen’s College, CUNY, brought a entirely different perspective Machover’s, based essentially on cultural differentiation. He underlined the fact that Mizrahi/Oriental Jews are equally as oppressed as Palestinians by the Ashkenazi Jews in Israel and that this could possibly offer future alliances between the two oppressed actors. The problem lies in that lack of explanation regarding explaining the actual implementation of the strategy. Mizrahis are facing true racism from European Ashkenazis, who besides have accused Mizrahis of arabizing the Jewish culture in Israel, which should be understood as a real danger for the Israeli society by these commentators. In his mind, the political paradigm left and right is too disconnected from the reality, there is a necessity to rethink our arsenal to understand Israel politics. They have been some anti Zionist Mizrahis in the past that joined the Communist Party or were intellectuals and writers struggling against the Israeli Zionist State. He quoted an anti-Zionist Mizrahi website: Kidma, which has been created outside Israel. Mizrahis are victims of Zionism, a European racist ideology.
He concluded that we should look in the tensions between the Mizrahis and Ashkenazis for any future hopes. He repeated a few times during his speech that the fates of the Palestinians are in the hand of Israeli society.
M. Wachwarski, director of the Alternative Information Center and ex member of Matzpen, exposed the way Matzpen contributed to the Anti Zionist struggle:
– Matzpen’s active opposition to Israel as a Zionist and colonial state. It always affirmed clearly that Israel was a colonial product and that without the end of Zionism no peace or normalization in this context was possible.
– From 1962 to1967, Matzpen rejected the philosophy of separation; it stated that normalization is homogenization. The party participated to the opposition against the wall and denounced the ethnic cleansing policy of the different Israeli governments. They always claimed the need for partnerships in the struggle and in the building of a new future. They wanted, since the beginning, to meet members from the PLO and the Palestinian left. They actually considered that no progressive policy in Israel was possible without a political partner.
– Matzpen’s profound internationalism: the party was part of a world movement. Matzpen was anti colonialist, anti-separation, anti-Zionist, and pro-internationalist.
He concluded by reminding the audience that the Alternative Information Center was composed of Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians from the Golan’s and activists from different political parties. This allowed the Center to distance itself from Israeli common newspapers and give a wider perspective of Israeli realities.
Following the interventions of M.Wachwarski, we had a handover between generations with the new speaker: a young anti Zionist woman, Adar Grayevsky, from the organization Anarchists against the Wall. She explains the way the joint struggle between Palestinian and Israelis has grown considerably over the last years. Many joint popular movements began after the outbreak of the 2nd Intifada. There was a need for many activists to clearly distance themselves from the Zionist leftist who participated in the severe repression against the Palestinians. The building of the wall was also a great incentive for many to adopt more radical positions against the Israeli policy. Popular resistance in the occupied territories grew in villages and some anti Zionist Israelis joined them. The movement Anarchists against the Wall was notably created in 2003 and they have led many joint or direct action from the West Bank to Tel Aviv.
Joint struggle movements were sometimes successful in their actions such as in the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court requesting the rebuilding of the wall in taking into account some of the Palestinians requests in the village of Nili’in after years of mobilization. The Israeli participation in the struggle raised awareness within the society as a vast majority of Israelis did not know that the wall was not builz on the Green line, which is the International recognized border of 1967.
Israel’s participation showed them the negative reality of the wall. We were also able to access Israeli Medias to spread the information, which was very often not possible for Palestinian activists. She adds that their presence side by side with Palestinians made the Israeli army changed their way of intervening during the manifestation. They were more precocious when Israelis activists participated in demonstration. She concluded in saying that this was of course not an equal partnership between theses young Israelis and Palestinians. These latter created the popular comities and Israelis only joined them in their struggle in the villages, but it was nevertheless a necessary move from the radical left in order for the Israeli society to hear more the Palestinians. The dialogue is indeed very difficult with the Israeli society, many radical left members feeling increasingly alienated because of its growing racist tendency.
The Palestinian left in Resistance
This session was very interesting and showed the importance of literature in a resistant struggle. Literature is actually very often used as a way to resist against oppression, to express the frustrations of the oppressed people and the refusal of occupation, as well as the desire to shout the thirst for freedom and hope. Suheir Daoud from Coastal Carolina University claimed that literature was a fantastic tool to express ideas and demands just like the the Black civic movement in the USA did, or as Gramsci in his cell during the Fascist period in Italy. She explained the way literature has a global role to play in the struggle for liberation, on the internal and external level.
In her opinion, any form of communication such as blogs, which opposes oppression and try to gather people against it is a literature characterized by resistance. Ghassan Kanafani, who was writing against western imperialism and Israel’s oppression, was moreover assassinated by Israel. We should recall that Moshe Dayan emphasized the importance of poetry and literature in resistance, leading notably to the assassination of Ghassan Kanafani and many others such as Kamal Nasser.
She also talked about the utility of literature in the fight against tradition and social backwardness. She cited Reem Najar’s experience, a teacher in the American University of Jenine, who was forced to leave the occupied territories because she included in her English literature class Marjan Satrapi’s book. She was accused of being an infidel and she had no help whatsoever from any organization and especially not from the left. The left should have taken position in such events. Oppression is indeed a key word, not only from the Israelis but also from internal actors. In the struggle for liberation, she reminds us that this journey is a global one that should include for example women’s and workers rights, as well as other rights.
She finally expressed her admiration towards the Palestinian caricaturist Naji al Ali, creator of the character Handala, witness of the Nakba. He himself became a refugee in Lebanon in Ain el Helwe in 1948.He was often accused of being too bold, in relation to his numerous critics against Arab regimes. The Lebanese government besides imprisoned him a few times because of his membership to the Arab national Movement (future PFLP).
Following the powerful presentation of Suheir Daoud, Pr. Sabry Hafez, from Qatar University, exposed the way the Communist Party in Israel played a great role to keep vivid the Arabic literature inside Israel. The communist Party in Israel was firstly the only one to accept Arab members during a long period of time. They also were the only political party to publish an Arabic newspaper: Ittihad. Emile Habibi was a great actor of the Communist Party and he had an important role in raising awareness of the Arabic language. He was the editor of the Ittihad.
Mahmoud Darwish also joined the Communist Party and worked with Emile Habibi since 1958. In 1961, M. Darwish was for the first time imprisoned for his poetry.
Prfosser Sabry concluded his speech by reminding everyone that in no books or works of M. Darwish the word Israel appears, somehow fantastic. The Oppressor is indeed denied existence, what they, the Israelis, have been trying to do since decades against the Palestinians.
Bashir Abu Maneh from Barnard College, as the last speaker presented Kanafani and its Revolutionary Morality. Kanafani’s interesting characteristic is that he lived and wrote simultaneously the different events and the Revolution experience from 1967 to 1973. He was less Palestino-centralist than certain Palestinian writers and more turned towards Arab nationalism. This nevertheless did not prevent him of being a true Universalist and of promoting a real humanist project and idea for Palestine. He did not deny the necessity of arm struggle, but he also affirmed that a moral struggle is better. In his mind it was a humanistic struggle over a national one.
Kanafani wanted a Universalist project, a Palestine for all.
In conclusion, this conference was a very inspiring one at all level and I let you be your own judge to observe if you share my opinion following these two articles. I would like to end this paper with this remark made by Edward Said, with which I totally agree:
“Palestinians are not only victims of Zionism, but also an alternative to Zionism, to free Israel”.
 For a brief Résumé: Matzpen (“ The Socialist Organisation in Israel”) was founded in 1962 by ex-members of the Israeli Communist Party. As an organisation it committed itself to a socialist revolution based on councils elected by the workers, was opposed to Zionism and called for recognition of the Palestinian people’s national rights. It ceased to exist as a group in the 1980’s, but many of it’s members are still actively campaign against Zionism