Israel seems to do all sorts of strange things to many Jewish-American intellectuals. Alex Portnoy is not the only one, but in the case of others it is their critical faculty that is unstiffened by the Holy Land. And so it happens that nice compassionate Jewish radicals, who react quite normally to any other colonial situations, suddenly sink into sweet self-pity when Israel is concerned. They simply refuse to believe that Jews can – like anybody else – play the role of baddies and aggressors; in their collective consciousness, tortured by the search for self-identity and haunted by memories of persecutions, ancient and recent, the role of baddies is reserved exclusively for the Goyim.
Incredible – but nevertheless true; in his long, rambling apology for “left wing” Zionism (“My Jewish Problem – and Ours”, Ramparts, August 1971) Sol Stern evades the central theoretical issue, without which one is inevitably left wading in shallow sloppy value-judgement. He never tries to define and analyze the precise nature of the Zionist-Arab conflict. Most of the time his thesis on this cardinal question remains a concealed assumption, which only peeps out when he condemns the Left for not “seeing the Palestine-Israel struggle as a tragic and destructive struggle between two nations fighting over the same turf, a collision that requires healing by compromise and mutual recognition”.
Now, if someone were to hint that the battles between settlers and Amerindians in American history were just a case of nations “fighting over the same turf”, or that what is happening in southern Africa (and, for that matter, in America) is merely a “tragic collision” between two races, then Sol Stern would probably be one of the first to dismiss such definitions with disgust as hypocritical cant. Why? Because those formulas try to dress up in symmetric language issues that are strongly anti-symmetric. They gloss over the question, who is the colonizer, the oppressor, and who is in the given historical situation – the victim.
One must stress “in the given historical situation”, for the fact that in other situations it was the Jews who were the victim must not be allowed to obscure our realization that in the Middle-East situation their role has been reversed. Political Zionism is not just another “national movement”. It is a colonizatory enterprise, intrinsically directed against the indigenous population (primarily and most directly against the Palestinian Arabs, but also against the whole of the Arab nation); inherently and necessarily aligned with world imperialism. The State of Israel in its present – i.e. Zionist form is by its very nature a ‘settlers’ state, exclusivist, expansionist and discriminatory.
Before “colonization” came to be regarded as a dirty word, the Zionist movement unabashedly used it to describe its own aims. Later, it preferred to use Hebrew equivalents; “hityashvut” or “hitnahalut”, but the meaning is precisely the same.
The major premise of political Zionism is that anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish persecution are inevitable so long as the Jews constitute minorities among the Gentiles. No amount of social progress would solve the conflict between the majority and (ethnic, racial or religious) minorities, which Zionism regards as inherent in human nature. The only solution for the Jewish problem is then to concentrate all, or at least most, of the Jews in a nation state of their own, where they would be the dominant majority. Since there did not exist a country where the Jews already constituted a majority, the only way to create it would be by colonizing some country. For emotional and religious reasons the choice fell on Palestine. (But not without internal struggle; Herzl, the founder of Political Zionism, strongly believed that East Africa was more suitable. It is interesting to speculate what form the Zionist-Maumau conflict would have taken had Herzl had his way.)
But Palestine was not empty. In 1891 Ahad-da’am (a prominent Jewish thinker, who believed in creating a Jewish spiritual centre in Palestine, but opposed Political Zionism) reports after his voyage to Palestine:
“We, abroad, are used to believing that Palestine is now almost entirely desolate, an uncultivated desert, and whoever wants to buy land there can come and do so at will. But this is not so. In the whole country it is difficult to find arable land that is not already cultivated…
“We, abroad, are used to believing that the Arabs are all savages of the desert, people that are like unto asses, and that they do not see or understand what is happening around them. But this is a big mistake… The Arabs, especially the town dwellers, see and understand what we are doing and what we are aiming at in that country, but they do not regard what we are doing as dangerous for their future… But if the time comes when the life of our people in Palestine will develop so much that they will displace, to a lesser or greater extent, the indigenous people, then the latter will not give way easily…” (Collected Works, Hebrew Edition, 1947. pp. 23-24).
By 1895 Herzl had it all worked out. On 12th June he writes in his diary:
“The poorer section of the (indigenous) population we shall try to transfer across the border, without raising noise, by giving them employment in the transit countries, but in our own country we shall deny them all work” (The Diaries of Th. Herzl, Hebrew Edition, p. 86).
He then goes on to describe how lands would be acquired through secret agents from the local land-owners, but once a piece of land has been acquired by the Jewish settlers it would never, never be sold back to a native. Herzl was even very worried about his own dignity as a white colonizer. An entry of the same day (12th June 1895) contains a reminder to prepare a “special helmet, like Stanley” for the inauguration ceremony of the colonization process.
Needless to say, when Zionist colonization really got under way, all these directives about not giving jobs to the natives, about acquiring land from the land-owners by means fair or foul, about prohibiting re-sale of land to Arabs – all these became official rules of the Zionist movement, and were fanatically enforced. Only the white colonial helmet à la Stanley was missing; by that time it had gone out of fashion. The actual Halutzim (pioneers) came dressed in embroidered Russian peasant-style shirts.
It isn’t as if the Zionists were evil, wicked people. Many of them were sincerely worried about the obvious moral issue involved. But the logic of the situation was inexorable; if you want to colonize Palestine and transform it into a Jewish nation-state, with a predominant Jewish majority, then the indigenous people will simply have to go. (This is what Sol Stern chooses to euphemize as “two nations fighting over the same turf”.)
One of the nicest Zionists who were worried about all this was Dr. Ruppin, one of the architects of the Zionist venture, who was in charge of Zionist colonization during the twenties and thirties. He really tried to face the issue, and not just gloss it over in the manner of latter-day apologists. But by 1928 – “it became clear how difficult it is to realise Zionism and still bring it continually into line with the demands of general ethics”. And in 1936 he had to admit that it was not only “difficult” but simply impossible:
“On every site where we purchase land and where we settle people, the present cultivators will inevitably be dispossessed.”
And he concluded:
“The Arabs do not agree to our venture. If we want to continue our work in Eretz Israel against their desires, there is no alternative but that lives should be lost. It is our destiny to be in a state of continual warfare with the Arabs. This situation may well be undesirable, but such is the reality. (For the quotations from Ruppin see The Jerusalem Post Weekly, 30th Sept., 1968).
Ruppin saw clearly that there can be no compromise between Zionist colonization and its victims. The choice then, as now, was between Zionism and “general ethics”. Being an ardent Zionist he chose for Zionism and the “continual warfare” that it implied and still implies. Every decent Zionist – from Ruppin to the members of the Siah (New Israeli Left) group who like to regard themselves as oh, so revolutionary – is sooner or later impaled on the horns of the same dilemma and becomes anti-Zionist or a cynic.
Some Zionists of course start off being cynics. No moral self-torment for them. Ruppin’s successor as the man in charge of Zionist colonization, Joseph Weitz, reports (in the official Histadrut daily Davar, 29th Sept., 1967) that in 1940 he and other Zionist leaders (including Berl Katzenelson, who was Ben-Gurion’s predecessor as leader of the main Zionist “workers’ party” and of the Zionist settlers’ community as a whole) had come to the conclusion that “among ourselves it should be clear that in this country there is no room for both peoples together… With the Arabs we shall not achieve our aim to be an independent nation in this small country. The only solution is Palestine, or at least Western Palestine, (i.e. the territory west of river Jordan – M.M.) without Arabs … and there is no other way, but to transfer all the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries. To transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe should be left behind… For this purpose money, plenty of money can be found. And only after such transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brethren”.
At that time (1940) the Arabs still constituted the overwhelming majority (over 2/3) of the population of Western Palestine. This is the Zionist concept of self-determination. But as Sol Stern rightly remarks, “If the Jews had been willing to accept minority status, there could have been a settlement with the Arabs 30 years ago. But then, what was the point of coming to Palestine in the first place?” What indeed! However, let us return to Weitz’ reminiscences:
“Years later, when the UN resolved to partition Palestine into two states, the War of Independence (of 1948 – M.M.) broke out, to our great good fortune (sic!) and in it there came to pass a double miracle: a territorial victory and the flight of the Arabs. In the Six Days War there came to pass one great miracle, a tremendous territorial victory, but the majority of the inhabitants of the liberated (sic!) territories remained ‘stuck’ to their places, a fact that may undermine the very foundation of our state.”
Mind you, Comrade Weitz is not a member of some lunatic fascist fringe, but a venerated “left” Zionist. And Gen. Moshe Dayan (that half-blind who is leading the blind) summed it all up as follows:
“During the last 100 years our people have been undergoing a process of building up the country and the nation, of expansion, of getting more Jews and settlements and of colonization (“hitnahalut“) in order to expand the borders here. Let there be no Jew who says that this is the end of the process. Let there be no Jew who says that we are near the end of the road” (Quoted by the Israeli evening paper Ma’ariv, 7th July, 1968).
Ominous words, especially when uttered in a mass youth rally on the “liberated” Syrian Golan Heights. But let there be no mistake about it; this is the only kind of Zionism there is. There has never been and there cannot be any other kind. What we have plenty of, though, is self-pitying hypocrisy that tries to plaster over the ugly facts with talk about “tragic collision”, by talking about a war of colonization as if it was a “civil war” for which “the Arabs at least bear a share of the responsibility”.
There can be no “compromise and mutual recognition” which does not pre-suppose a total rejection of Zionism. Zionism must be overthrown because it is an absolute negation of self-determination. The only kind of “self-determination” consistent with Zionism is that according to which the Zionists, all by themselves, determine the fate of the Palestinian Arabs. Even those “left-wing” Zionists who in 1946 proposed a “bi-national” solution were careful to include the proviso that there would first have to be a period of 25 years of ‘international trusteeship’ over Palestine, during which time Jewish immigration would be encouraged so that the Jews would become the absolute majority. Then, the preservation of the Jews as a majority would be built into the constitution of the “bi-national” state.
If this seems an odd sort of bi-nationalism, we only have to remember Sol Stern’s comment that otherwise “what was the point of coming to Palestine in the first place?” At which unanswerable rhetoric question the Arabs presumably have to shut up and be happy with whatever Zionism is pleased to offer them.
It is by no means an accident that Israel is governed by the principle of Jewish supremacy. It is no accident that any Jew, no matter where he is or where he was born, is automatically entitled to Israeli citizenship, which is denied to most Arabs who were born there and whose fathers and forefathers had lived there for generations. It is not (as Sol Stern seems to suppose) just the stupidity of Israeli bureaucrats that is responsible for the project according to which Arabs are to be brutally evicted from parts of Jerusalem to make room for architectural monstrosities where Jews are to be housed. It is not just the wickedness of this or that Israeli government that is responsible for the oppression of the Israeli Arabs during the 23 years of Israel’s existence and for the cynical methods of legal robbery by which most of their lands were taken away from them and given to Jews (including, of course, the oh, so socialist kibbutzim). Israel’s refusal during 20 years to repatriate “substantial numbers of refugees” is not (as Sol Stern would have us think) just “one of the most serious blights on Israel’s record”. From the viewpoint of Zionism all these things are inevitable and absolutely necessary.
The Zionist state was never meant to belong to its inhabitants, whoever they may be. Zionism did not base its claim over Palestine on the right of self-determination and it could hardly do so, because during most of the period when it was colonizing the country the Arabs were the majority. Its claim is based on the Divine Right of the whole of the Jewish people over the Promised Land to which they should eventually immigrate. This, from the Zionist standpoint, is necessary in order to solve the Jewish problem of Sol Stern and others. As for the Arabs, they may at best be tolerated, and even then only in small numbers. Otherwise, who knows if they might not one day become the majority – the Zionists are terrified by the Arabs’ relatively high rate of natural increase – and then “what was the point of coming to Palestine in the first place?”.
To justify the State of Israel in its present (Zionist) form in terms of self-determination is a cynical mockery. The only context in which self-determination for the Hebrew-speaking nation makes any sense is that of a socialist revolutionary Mashreq which presupposes the overthrow of Zionism as well as that of Arab reaction.
Now, it is quite true that the biggest Palestinian guerrilla organization, Fatah, does not accept the idea of Hebrew self-determination even in that context. Much worse, the Palestinian movement is dominated not by socialists but by lower middle-class nationalists. True, their propaganda is often very crude and sometimes chauvinistic. Sol Stern goes at length into all this. But before we let ourselves be hoodwinked by this way of justifying Zionism, let us pause to realize that we are in effect asked to take the inadequacies of the victim as an excuse for his oppressor. The most misguided dispossessed Palestinian Arab is many times better than a nice, progressive and cultured colonizer who merely defends his Divine Right to maintain his “socialist” settlers’ state.
We, in Matzpen, have often criticized the political positions of the leadership of the Palestinian movement. We believe we have won the right to do so by our total and uncompromising opposition to Zionism, by being internationalist socialists. In return for which we get – and expect nothing better – repressions from the Israeli authorities (directed particularly against our Arab members) and supercilious derision from the likes of Sol Stern.
While I am at it, let me answer some of the allegations that Sol Stern makes about Matzpen. I do not have to refute his substantive arguments against us, because he has none. His arguments amount to no more than saying that we should be dismissed because we – as well as the forces in the Arab world that hold similar positions – are numerically small. I freely admit that we are very small. But what kind of argument is this anyway? Let me remind Sol Stern that just a few years ago the “Movement” to which he seems proud to belong was smaller (relative to the size of the US) than our extremely militant group in Israel.
Sol Stern calls us a “Trotskyist sect”. I do not regard being called a “Trotskyist” an insult. But as a founding member of Matzpen I would like to put the record straight: neither the group as such, nor the majority of its members are Trotskyist, although some of our members are and they are as welcome as everyone else.1 With us, it is true dedication to internationalism and socialism that counts, not labels. As for being a “sect”, let me mention that one of the main charges made against us by the two splinter-groups that split from us in 1970 was that we are too liberal in accepting people with rather varied views about the general theoretical issues of socialism.
The only thing we are really very fussy about is a rigorously revolutionary-socialist position on the problems of our part of the world. True, this condemns us for the present to being a small and persecuted group. But I challenge Sol Stern to find any other settlers’ state in which there is a revolutionary group that draws its membership, like us, both from the settlers’ community and from the indigenous people, and is, unlike us, very numerous. Of one thing we are really proud; we are the only group in Israel that has a comradely dialogue with our counterparts in the Arab World. Sol Stern’s friends from Siah, who dabble in radical activity (when they are not busy “in the occupied territories patrolling against the guerrillas”, as he proudly puts it) cannot boast of such a thing. In fact, they do not even have Arab members inside Israel, which is not surprising, in view of Siah’s self-confessed Zionist position. But since we cannot choose Sol Stern’s friends for him, let us leave this somewhat distasteful topic and pass to a more interesting one.
When you colonize a country, the indigenous people may not like this at all (they usually don’t, though Sol Stern may think it terribly mean of them). Even if you try to show them that the Bible says the country was actually promised to you by God, you will probably not get very far; for one thing, they are likely to be illiterate, or to believe in a different religion, or both. Eventually, they will turn nasty – ignorant savages that they are – and even use violence against you. Your obviously superior moral stature is not enough; you need some real force as well. If you are an Englishman or a Frenchman, for instance, then you don’t have much to worry about, because the old country will naturally send a few gunboats to defend you against the vicious attacks of those bloody-minded savages. But if you yourself are a member of a hitherto persecuted race – a Black or a Jew say – then you are in a fix. The only way for you to become a colonizer is to become a sub-contractor to one of the Big Boys. You make a deal with a Big Power; you get a charter entitling you to colonize the place under the Big Power’s protection, and in return you promise to help maintain order in that part of the world.
Marcus Garvey tried to do it on behalf of the American Blacks, but failed to get a commission from the Big Boys – they didn’t like his black face and suspected that instead of keeping the African natives down he might actually have the wrong kind of influences on them. (Thereby the Black movement was saved from the terrible fate of an oppressed turned oppressor.) The Zionists also tried it, and succeeded for one thing: they were reasonably white and besides they seemed to be much better at this game.
Sol Stern admits that “Israel has often made unscrupulous alliances with imperialist powers like the US when it has been in her interest”, but then Israel is not the only country to have done this, so what is so special about Israel?
What he refuses to see is that in the case of Zionism and the Zionist state this kind of alliance is not a matter of a policy of this or that wicked government, but is in the very nature of things. Zionism always “found it in its interest” to make “unscrupulous alliances” with imperialist powers, because this followed inexorably from the very essence of the Zionist venture.
In his programmatic book, The Jewish State, (1896) Herzl promises that “for Europe we shall serve there as part of the fortified wall against Asia, and function as the vanguard of civilization against the Barbarians. As a neutral state we shall keep our ties with all the European nations, who will guarantee our existence there.” (Hebrew Edition, 1944, p. 30.)
It was left to his successors in the Zionist leadership to obtain the longed-for charter from British imperialism. The marriage between the imperialist bridegroom and the Zionist bride, consummated in 1917 in the Balfour declaration, was a marriage of convenience. Sir Ronald Storrs, who was instrumental in the arrangement of it all and became the first British Governor of Jerusalem, explains that the Zionist enterprise was to be “one that blessed him that gave as well as him that took, by forming for England ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of hostile Arabism” (Orientations, 1933 Edition, p. 404).
After about thirty years the partners began to quarrel. One of the reasons was that the Zionist settlers’ community had in the meantime expanded and grown in bulk and confidence, and felt that it needed more sovereignty. Besides, by the end of the second world war Britain had lost its dominant position (in the Middle East as elsewhere) and was yielding its place to the US. But from the Zionist viewpoint it only makes sense to be aligned with the real Big Boss, not with a has-been. So, as a “socialist” Zionist political pundit approvingly says, “In those very years of struggle (between Zionism and British imperialism – M.M.) there took place a process of a beginning of a new attachment: instead of England-Zion, America-Zion – a process which relied on the fact that the US was penetrating the Middle East as a decisive world power” (Michael Assaf, in the Histadrut daily, Davar, 2nd May, 1952).
To talk of this, as does Sol Stern, as if it was an “anti-imperialist” struggle is nearly as farcical and as mystifying as to depict the differences that Rhodesia’s Ian Smith has with H.M. Government as an “anti-imperialist” struggle. A settlers’ state remains a settlers’ state even when it wants more sovereignty or a new boss, or both.
Sol Stern really gets carried away. He grows eloquent telling us that “Israel was, after all, made of a revolution in the streets against a colonial occupying power”. The fight “against imperialism” was, according to him, waged mainly “by two underground military organizations, the Irgun, and its smaller offshoot, the Stern Group”.
In actual fact, these two groups were on the extreme right-wing. What they demanded was immediate Jewish minority rule over Palestine, while the official Zionist leadership was a bit more cautious. The Irgun later transformed itself into the fascistoid party Herut, noteworthy for its extreme expanionism and militarism. The Stern Group had no continuation after the State of Israel came into existence. But in the pre-state years it was, if anything, more right-wing. True, some rank-and-file Sternists did believe their fight to be against “imperialism” and hoped to get some Arab support. But one must surely distinguish between such vague sentiments and the programme of the group.
Now, Abraham Stern, the founder and first leader of that group, was a real right-wing fanatic. In 1940, he split away from the Irgun (which was too soft for his taste) and published a programme consisting of 18 points. (This document has recently been published by his nephew in the Jerusalem students’ paper Pi-Ha’aton, 24th Feb., 1971.) The first three points are:
“1. The People of Israel is a Chosen People, creator of monotheism, legislator of the ethics of the Prophets, founder of the world’s culture, great in tradition and dedication, having the will to live and the strength to suffer, in this lies its confidence in salvation.
“2. The fatherland is Eretz-Israel within the boundaries stated in the Bible – ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’ (Gen. 15, 20). in this country of life the entire Hebrew People will dwell securely.
“3. Eretz-Israel was acquired by the Israelites by the sword, in it they fought and in it alone the People of Israel will be resurrected. Therefore the People of Israel alone has exclusive right of property over Eretz-Israel. This right is unalienable forever”.
Now, between the river of Egypt and the Euphrates there are of course a lot of Arabs. What do we do with them? In the 14th point it is revealed that their “problem will be solved by means of population exchange”. The 16th point demands: “Aggrandizement of the Hebrew People so that it becomes a first-rate military, political and economic factor in the East and on the Mediterranean shores”.
That’s quite a bit of Zionism, but no anti-imperialism. Quite the contrary.
By the way, has Sol Stern asked his friend Amos Kenan, the Sternist veteran (who, we are told is “Israel’s most widely read left-wing journalist”) to tell him about the Deir-Yassin massacre, where in 1948 the Irgun and the Sternists applied their anti-imperialist theories by butchering an entire Arab village, including old people, women and children? No? What a pity! The story is very interesting, if a bit gory.
So much for anti-imperialism.
Sol Stern is right in saying that Israel is no” imperialist power” and “has no access to the oil and raw material in the Arab World”. Except, of course, for the mini empire which it has recently set up and for the Arab oil which it cheerfully pumps out of the Sinai. But this is really just peanuts in comparison to the Big Boys.
Israel is not an imperialist power in its own right; for the real imperialists, the Americans, it is just the local caretaker mainly. Or, as the Editor of most respectable Israel’s daily, Ha’aretz, put it as long ago as 30th Sept., 1951:
“…Israel has been assigned the role of a kind of watch-dog. It is not to be feared that she would apply an aggressive policy towards the Arab states if this would be clearly against the wishes of America and Britain. But if the Western Powers will at some time prefer, for one reason or another, to close their eyes, Israel can be relied upon to punish properly one or several of her Arab neighbour-states whose lack of manners towards the West has exceeded permissible limits.”
In return for this, Israel is economically (as well as politically) maintained by imperialism. The internal saving of the Israeli economy is zero, or even slightly negative. Yet, it is one of the fastest growing in the world. Israel’s balance of payments deficit, which was about $500 million per year before 1967 – an astronomic figure for such a small country has now quintupled. This means that every Israeli – man, woman or child – needs a daily external subsidy of two to three bucks. This is covered by a huge flow of money from the West, mainly from the US, which Oscar Gass has rightly described as “a circumstance without parallel elsewhere” (Journal of Economic Literature, December 1969, p. 1177). For additional detailed data see “The Class Nature of Israeli Society” by Hanegbi, Machover and Orr in New Left Review, 65, Jan-Feb. 1971.
What do you think, Mr. Stern, maybe American imperialism gives all this money just for the sake of Golda Meir’s beautiful eyes? And don’t come telling us that a lot of this money is privately donated by American Jews. Because we all know that the American administration agrees (and if it had not wanted to, it would disagree) to regard this schnor as “charitable donations”, which makes them income-tax deductable; so that the American Jews don’t mind giving so much, since a large part of it is at Uncle Sam’s expense anyway.
Now how about Sol Stern’s opinion that Israel is “dependent ultimately not on big-power support, but on its own willingness to fight for its survival”? And what should the Israelis eat while” fighting for their survival”? Maybe sand?
No Mister Stern; sand is not edible. The only use you can make of it is to throw it in our eyes which you are trying very hard to do. But it isn’t so easy, because facts are tougher than schmaltz.
- Since the time of writing the Trotskyist members have split away from Matzpen and formed their own group. The split was caused by matters other then those discussed in this article. On the questions of Zionism and the Israeli-Arab conflict both Matzpen and the new Trotskyite group have similar positions. ↩