The Left in Israel

10 February 1972

in Articles, The Nature of Israel, The Other Israel

The first part of this chapter consists of a document submitted for discussion among the members of the ISO in January 1968. The second part, written in September 1971, discusses developments since the 1967 war. It should be noted that at the time the first part was written, the Mapai and Achdut Ha’avoda parties, which united to form the Labor Party, were still distinct organizations.

 

The left-wing parties existing in Israel today were all founded before the establishment of the state. Apart from splinter groups that enjoyed a brief existence before joining another party, no new left party has been formed since 1948. In order to understand these parties, it is necessary to analyze their history prior to 1948. This history, with the exception of the Communist Party, is the history of the Zionist left; i.e., the history of a nationalist left.

All Zionist parties, from the rightist Heraut (Freedom) to the leftist Mapam (United Workers Party), whatever their enmity in the political arena, are members of the Jewish Agency. This agency is the organizational backbone of Zionism. One of its primary activities is fund raising among Jewish communities all over the world. (Although we do not possess exact figures, it is not an exaggeration to say that it raises sums on the order of $112 million annually.) This money finances all Zionist activities; a considerable part goes to subsidize the Israeli economy – mostly in the agricultural sector, the kibbutzim, etc. Another part finances the various Zionist parties.

In Tsarist Russia and Poland during the closing decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, Russian Jews participated actively in all anti-Tsarist parties – Social Revolutionary, Menshevik, Bolshevik and others. Martov and Dan, Radek and Zinoviev, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg are a few of the revolutionaries of Jewish origin who participated in the revolutions of 1905, February 1917 and October 1917. (These revolutionaries were, of course, anti-Zionist.)

The percentage of Jews among the revolutionaries was always greater than their percentage in the population. This was the result of several factors:

  1. Jews tended to concentrate in urban areas,
  2. a large Jewish proletariat existed in Poland (mostly in the textile industry),
  3. there was a large Jewish intelligentsia in Russia, and
  4. the Jews were oppressed by the Tsarist regime not only as proletarians, but also as a national minority.

The persecution of Jews gave rise to social and economic interests which eventually gave birth to a number of political parties. A whole spectrum of left-wing parties came into existence, all seeking to alleviate the plight of the Jews as proletarians as well as members of a (national) minority group. The main difference between these parties was between Zionists (a minority) and non-Zionists.

The largest of these parties was the Bund (Fraternity). This was basically a Social Democratic party of the Second International which, under the conditions of Tsarist Russia, was driven to the revolutionary side. The Bund never aimed at acquiring political power, only at improving the lot of the Jewish proletariat Lenin waged a long ideological struggle against the Bund, insisting that the proletariat must be organized on a territorial basis (i.e., all proletarians living and working in the same region or country, irrespective of their nationalities), whereas the Bund claimed that existing circumstances of national persecution forced the Jewish proletariat to defend its rights as a national minority, especially since considerable numbers of the Polish proletariat participated in anti-Jewish riots. The Bund, however, never accepted the Zionist principle that only in an independent national Jewish state could the Jewish proletariat be free. The Bund was nationalist, but not Zionist.

When Hitler exterminated East European Jewry, the Bund was exterminated too. Remnants still exist in the United States, Latin America and Canada, however, as a result of mass immigration of Jewish proletarians in the first decades of this century.

Ber Borochov, the leading ideologist of the Zionist left 1, contested the ideas of the Bund as well as those of Lenin. Following Borochov’s “Theory of Steps,” the Zionist left preached and practiced emigration. After a period of training and indoctrination recruits were sent to Palestine, mostly to the agricultural settlements. Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Lavon and many other prominent Zionist socialists who later became leaders in Israel came from these left Zionist parties. Some of these groups continue to exist today – Habonim (the Builders, affiliated with Mapai) and Hashomer Hatzair (Young Guardians, affiliated with Mapam).

There was sharp conflict between the left Zionist parties and those that sought to transform their own societies. Holding to the Zionist ideology, they upheld the principle that no transformation of society can ever overcome anti-Semitism and considered the persecution of national minorities to be a permanent feature of mankind (a view the revolutionaries strongly opposed). Politically, they diverted many people from participating in revolutionary politics by advocating emigration to Palestine.

Today the primary division in Israeli politics is between the Zionists and non- or anti-Zionists. The division into right and left is of secondary importance, both subjectively and objectively.

The division inside the Zionist left is a family affair. Once, there was a considerable gap between the Social Democrats (Mapai) and those who considered themselves revolutionaries (Mapam), but in the last decade it narrowed so much, and the whole political spectrum of the left shifted so much to the right, that ideological and political feuds have all but given way to a squabble for economic benefits.

Mapai (Palestine Workers’ Party) has, for the last three decades, been the central party in Israeli politics. Originally it was a Social Democratic party advocating gradual and peaceful transition to socialism. About two decades ago it dropped this aim in order not to antagonize the United States, on whose direct and indirect support Israel depends for its existence. Of the three major power structures in Israel (the Jewish Agency, the Histadrut and the official government), Mapai has always held the largest representation in the first two and hence also in the third. Its main asset is the fact that it is in power. Its voters are mostly people who might lose their jobs, salaries, health insurance or even homes by voting otherwise.

Mapam is the second largest party of the Zionist left. It was formed in the 1940s as a united bloc, of which the most important element was Hashomer Hatzair. It is torn between nationalist Zionist practices (e.g., expropriating fellahin, as in the case of the village Biri’m in 1952) and internationalist slogans. This is reflected in the slogan that appears in the heading of Mapam’s daily paper, Al Hamishmar (The Guardian): “To Zionism, Socialism, and Friendship between Nations.” The order is significant. Whenever Mapam was forced to choose between Zionism and socialism, or between Zionism and internationalism (and this happened quite often in Palestine), it has chosen Zionism – justifying the choice by reference to the “uniqueness of the Jewish case.” One must keep in mind that the internationalism of a party like Mapam has to be tested not by its policies toward the United States, but first of all by its policies and practices toward the Palestinian Arabs.

On paper Mapam supports socialism, the USSR, Cuba and the people of Vietnam. Once in a while it organizes a demonstration; but the nearer the issues come to Palestine, the more nationalistic it becomes. Mapam supported the Suez campaign to the fullest, its ministers stayed on in Ben-Gurion’s Suez Cabinet and justified (as they still do!) the Israeli aggression. Later, when Ben-Gurion was forced to withdraw from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, Mapam organized mass demonstrations against the withdrawal, insisting on annexation. Mapam refuses to recognize the Palestinian Arabs’ right to self-determination or the right of the Palestinian refugees to repatriation. Recently it went so far as to oppose a UN proposal to hold a referendum among the refugees to find out whether they prefer restitution payment to repatriation.

In Israeli politics Mapam does not play an independent role but instead follows the lead of Mapai, sometimes reluctantly but always submitting in the end. It does, however, play a significant role in presenting Zionism to socialists and left-wing intellectuals abroad. Mapam publishes a special periodical in English (New Outlook) for the West; Israeli ambassadors to Eastern European countries like Poland or Yugoslavia are often Mapam leaders, while for negotiations with right-wing elements the government sends a right winger; delegates to Afro-Asian conferences are often dark-skinned Jews.

Mapam is often thought of in connection with kibbutzim, although most other parties (including the extreme rightist Herut and the religious parties) run a few kibbutzim of their own. On the kibbutz, a communal agricultural settlement whose members join voluntarily and are free to leave at any time, the land belongs to the Zionist organization, as do the means of production, but it is donated to the kibbutz. All labor is carried out communally; decisions on policy, development, investment, election of officers, etc. are made by the general meeting of all members. These elements of “free socialism” have fascinated many intellectuals and socialists in the West, and are much advertised by Mapam all over the world. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals some basic flaws:

  1. The kibbutz is usually a one-party affair. People voting Communist were expelled from kibbutzim of Hashomer Hatzair and those voting Mapam from kibbutzim run by Mapai, etc. There is little political tolerance on the kibbutz.
  2. The kibbutz is part of a whole ideological setup, namely, “From the Commune to Communism.” Let us fill the country with kibbutzim (communes), the refrain goes, and eventually the majority of the population will live communally and the economy will switch over, too – i.e., there will be a peaceful transition to communism. Reality has proved this to be a fallacy. All the kibbutzim are in debt to the government; private firms and the banks. Without constant subsidies from Zionist organizations they would be unable to exist. Fuels fertilizers, water, electricity, machinery have to be bought outside the kibbutz, and kibbutz products have to compete on the market with goods produced by others – sometimes by Arab fellahin. In short, the kibbutz has proved to be economically unfeasible and must be kept alive by private enterprise.
  3. Faced with this reality, many kibbutzim have turned to industrialization, at first processing their own agricultural products and then gradually moving into other fields such as plastics, crockery, furniture and a host of other light and medium industrial products. But the small population of the kibbutz (normally only a few hundred) cannot provide the labor force for both agriculture and industry. Since giving up agriculture would mean betrayal of the principles of Zionist socialism, the kibbutzim have been forced to employ hired labor from nearby towns. Thus the communal kibbutz society becomes a communal exploiter of labor. Usually the kibbutz members act as overseers in their factories while the hired men do the less professional jobs. When work is over, the hired men go back to town. For them the kibbutz is an employer like any other capitalist, except that capitalists don’t preach socialism. At present about half of the workers in kibbutz enterprises are hired from the outside. (This does not include hired labor in enterprises jointly owned by several kibbutzim with or without other owners.) 2

When a strike occurs in a kibbutz factory, the owners do not hesitate to call in the police.

The slogan “From Commune to Communism” has proved doubly false. It did not bring about a transformation of Israeli society to socialism, let alone communism. Instead, the communes themselves were transformed from phalansteries into collective exploiters, profiting from hired labor. The history of the kibbutz (indeed the history of the whole Zionist left) is the history of a social democracy corrupted by nationalism and the harsh realities of capitalist economy.

A point often overlooked is the significance of the kibbutz for Zionist colonization. A spirit of pioneering, collective, organized labor, a social structure especially suited to absorb newcomers, to defend itself, to carry out (through great personal sacrifice) unprofitable economic tasks in order to establish the Zionist presence in hostile areas – these are the reasons why Zionist institutions financed the kibbutzim, whether they belong to Mapai, Mapam, Herut or the religious parties.

Though the kibbutzim have played a significant Zionist role, today only slightly more than 3 per cent of the Jewish population is involved in them. 3 The Zionist left contains another organization whose importance, power and wealth exceed by far that of all the kibbutzim together. This is the Histadrut, which owns a giant industry, banks, shipping, airline companies, the largest construction firm and the largest health insurance system in Israel (there is no national health insurance). In short, it controls a major piece of the Israeli economy. One out of every three Israelis pays membership fees to the Histadrut (those who do not lose their health insurance). Ninety per cent of the Jewish workers are members of trade unions that are run by Histadrut.

Although the Histadrut calls itself a federation of workers, thus calling up the familiar image of a federation of trade unions, it is unique in its aims and its structure. Its Zionist characteristics outweigh by far its trade-unionist ones, and go back to its early days some four decades ago.

When the first Zionist socialists came to Palestine, they discovered that most of the previous Jewish settlers (noticeably in the colonies established by Baron Edmund de Rothschild before the founding of the Zionist organization) employed Arab labor. How, they asked, was it possible to transform the Jews into peasants and workers when Jewish landowners and capitalists preferred to employ Arabs? As an answer they launched the kibbutzim movement and, somewhat later, the Histadrut. Moreover, they started a nationalist campaign against Jews employing Arab labor. “As Zionists you ought to create a Jewish working class in Palestine,” they cried, “and not employ Arabs.” All through the 1920s and ‘30s their slogan was “Jewish labor,” and they terrorized both Jewish employers and Arab workers.

The main instrument of this campaign was the Histadrut. The organization was “for Jews only,” as the name (General Federation of Hebrew Workers in the Land of Israel) in Hebrew clearly stated. Arab workers were not accepted as members. Jewish workers were called upon to make sacrifices, work harder, earn less for the sake of establishing and strengthening the Jewish state. When the capitalists complained that Jewish labor was more expensive than Arab labor, the Histadrut often paid the difference out of its own funds. With other Zionist organizations it launched a “Buy Jewish” campaign and implemented a boycott on Arab products. When some socialist Zionists feebly objected to this negative policy toward Arab workers, they were reminded that Arab workers were unorganized and it was the duty of a trade union to fight against employment of unorganized labor.

It is not often that the Histadrut behaves like a trade union. It does not defend the class interests of the Jewish workers, but rather calls upon them continually to make sacrifices for the sake of the state. The membership card of every Histadrut member reminds him of his duties, not the least important of which is to teach Hebrew to new immigrants – hardly a task for a common trade union, but typical for a nationalist organization. The Histadrut is probably the only trade union that has a “Department for Trade Unions,” necessary because its activities as owner and employer outweigh its activities as a trade union. Actually the Histadrut owns the trade unions much as it owns the health insurance program. In many unions Histadrut officials appoint union officers. Where they are elected, they must first be approved by Histadrut officials before they can be recognized by the employers as official representatives.

As an extra precaution, all membership fees (amounting to about 7 per cent of the income of a member) are collected directly by the central organization; local unions receive their allotments from the central authorities. In this way the Histadrut maintain; firm control over the entire Israeli working class. When an “unauthorized” strike occurs, the strikers find themselves without a strike fund, facing the possibility of losing their jobs (if the employer happens to be the Histadrut itself) and sometimes – as in the 1951 seamen’s strike – up against every element in the country that the Histadrut can mobilize against them. The only analogue to such a state of affairs is, paradoxically, an “unofficial” strike in a Stalinist regime where in the same way the strike comes into conflict with the official ideology, challenges the foundations of the “Establishment” and often causes the regime to mobilize all its resources (including sometimes the Army) to swiftly crush the strikers. Usually the strikers are very surprised by such a reaction because they are rarely aware of the hidden implications of their action, and only meant to defend their economic interests, which the trade union had failed to do. Considering that the Histadrut is the largest employer in Israel and, simultaneously, the “federation of trade unions,” it is easy to see that it has enormous power. It is a state within a state, the backbone of Israeli society and economy. Historically, it is the legitimate father of the state of Israel, as socialist Zionists claim. It preceded the state and by means of its policies created a Jewish working class.

Whoever controls the Histadrut, controls Israel, and Mapai has controlled the Histadrut for thirty years. It is not an accident that the most influential premier in Israel’s history, Ben-Gurion, was one of the Histadruts founders and at one time its secretary-general. Levi Eshkol and other leaders such as Lavon and Namier all have similar ties to it, The right wing of Zionism has never achieved significant power. It has never constructed an organization that could approach the Histadrut in power and has never even mounted a serious challenge. Only the state itself has enough potential power to constitute a threat, but a struggle between the state administration and the Histadrut would require either a schism in Mapai or an election victory for the right. Considering the enormous resources, both financial and political, of the Histadrut, the right has a very slim chance in any electoral contest A military dictatorship by generals of the Mapai (which consolidated its control of the Army during Ben-Gurion’s regime) is a more likely possibility.

The question of whether the Histadrut can be transformed from within into a revolutionary tool or at least a normal trade union, or whether it must be overthrown like any other institution of the existing Zionist state apparatus before any essential change can occur, has been a serious problem for revolutionary-minded Israelis.

Even the Israeli Communist Party has failed to rise to the challenge. The CP vehemently rejects any suggestion of a struggle against the Histadrut, recognizing it as purely a trade union and refusing to acknowledge its essentially Zionist character. The Communists have even opposed the establishment of a national health insurance (which Ben-Gurion, as Premier, tried to organize in order to transfer some power from the Histadrut to the government) because they see this as transferring an asset from the working class (i.e., the Histadrut) to the bourgeoisie (i.e., the government).

Of the three Zionist socialist parties – Mapai, Achdut Ha’avoda (Unity of Labor) and Mapam – none advocates revolution. Mapai ceased talking about socialism a decade ago, sometimes muttering to Social Democrats or trade unionists from abroad that Israel is “of course” a free socialist society. In order to demonstrate this, visitors as a matter of routine are taken to some kibbutz. They are normally convinced. John Foster Dulles, of course, was not taken to a kibbutz when he paid a visit to Ben-Gurion.

Mapai is viciously anti-Soviet, supported French imperialism in Algeria, supports the United States in Vietnam and initiated as well as actively participated in the Suez campaign. It is the mainstay of Zionism in Israel. The struggle between its two factions – Ben-Gurion and some of his followers split off in 1965 – is a family affair, neither ideological nor political.

Achdut Ha’avoda split off Mapai over personal and ideological trifles. It hardly differs from Mapai in its foreign or domestic policies, but since it runs a few kibbutzim and is financed as an independent Zionist party, it can go on vegetating.

Mapam is the traditional left extreme of Zionism. At one time it advocated a revolutionary ideology, and for the unique case of the Jewish community in Palestine, peaceful coexistence between classes until a Jewish state could be created. As it happened the state came into existence, the revolutionary ideology dissipated, the peaceful coexistence remained.

Mapam advocates friendship with the USSR and denounces US imperialism. In Zionist and Israeli issues of defense, labor, etc., it trails behind Mapai and occasionally utters leftish noises. When it happens to be outside a coalition government the reason is usually not that it opposed some Mapai policy so strongly that it refused to join the coalition, but simply that it preferred different partners. It refuses to join a “Popular Front,” which the CP has repeatedly suggested, on the grounds that the CP is non-Zionist. (Recently, however, one faction of the CP crossed the ideological barrier into Zionism.) On the other hand, Mapam has never considered the anti-socialist policies of religious or right-wing Zionist parties an obstacle to coalition in the Jewish Agency or the government.

The main role assigned to Mapam is to mobilize the good will of socialists and left intellectuals in the West for Zionism.

Outside the Zionist camp entirely sits the Israeli Communist Party, Rakah. The history of the Israeli CP (as yet unknown to most of its present rank and file) is the history of its splits over the question of Jewish-Arab relations. It has been torn between Zionism and Arab nationalism ever since Stalin imprinted his nationalist policies on the Communist movement.

The CP was born out of a split that occurred during the 1922 conference of the Zionist Workers’ Party. At issue was whether to join the newly formed Communist International or the Zionist Congress. Those who chose Zionism (Lavon) eventually became leaders of Mapai. Those who chose communism later founded the Palestine Communist Party (PGP). Some of these leaders such as W. Averbuch were deported by the British in the twenties and thirties to Russia, where most of them were exterminated by Stalin.

The difficulties of the CP can be summed up briefly. The founders of the party, the cadres, were Jewish immigrants from Russia and it was on the Russian experience that then-ideology and politics were based. The very fact that they had arrived in Palestine meant that at some time or another they had been Zionists. When they realized that they were part of a nationalist, colonialist society that constituted a minority in Palestine and had little sympathy for their internationalist, anti-imperialist policies, they directed their efforts toward recruiting Arab members and influencing Arab society. But there was not much more opportunity to spread internationalist, socialist, revolutionary ideology in the Arab community than there had been in the Zionist Not only did they have little knowledge of Arab language, history, customs, etc., but under the impact of Zionism the Palestinians became more nationalistic and fell under the influence of reactionary religious leaders.

Faced with the reality of two hostile, nationalistic communities combating each other by mass movements (general strikes, rebellions, armed underground organizations, etc.) which the CP could not ignore, it was forced to shape a policy toward two conflicting nationalist movements. In 1936, it supported the Arab rebellion; in 1948, it approved the establishment of the state of Israel. On both occasions it suffered a split.

The last split occurred in 1965, again on the issue of policy toward Arab nationalism and Israel. The Mikunis-Sneh faction (Maki), whose membership is 100 per cent Jewish, has undertaken to criticize the policies of Arab nationalist leaders with regard to Israel. It objects to identifying Israel as an ally of imperialism, accepts the facts established by Zionism as final, accepts the territorial status quo and undertakes “constructive” criticism of Israeli policies. It considers any fundamental critique of Zionism irrelevant. It justifies the 1967 war as a “struggle for survival” and refused to vote against the annexation of East Jerusalem. This faction relieves Mapam of its duties as the extreme left of the Zionist camp. Maki is tired of being unpopular and is trying to become “respectable,” hoping in time to be accepted as the mediator between the Zionist establishment and the USSR (which, however, prefers to deal with the Zionists directly). Although it has usurped the official daily paper of the party and its name, Maki, it hardly has any influence in Israel.

The other CP faction, the Vilner-Tuby group, known as Rakah, continues the old line and refuses to be modernized. It is reluctant to criticize Arab nationalist reactionary tendencies since it considers this to be the duty of Arab internationalists. It maintains the earlier “unconstructive” criticism of Israeli policy. It does, however, insist (like the Mikunis-Sneh) on “transforming the Histadrut from within.” (The Vilner-Tuby group is the only party that voted against the 1967 war and later against annexation of East Jerusalem. But the courage displayed in these moves is a poor substitute for independent, revolutionary policies.)

Both factions vie for recognition from Moscow; both denounce Peking; both are headed by old Stalinists who pursue Stalinist policies without, alas, the guiding hand of Stalin. The Communist parties are clearly and irrevocably caught between two antagonistic nationalisms. One part leans toward Jewish nationalism, the other toward Arab. Both factions fail to recognize that Zionism is the major cause of the Israeli-Arab conflict but they cover this up by referring to the “right of the Jews and Arabs in Palestine to self-determination.” The CP has always recognized the right of the Palestinians to self-determination and of the refugees to repatriation. Yet, following Moscow, it opposes changes in the territorial status quo, thus sanctioning annexations made by Ben-Gurion in 1948. Suppose that these rights were granted and the self-determined Jewish state chose Zionism (as happens to be the case). What then? The CP has no answer.


 

The Left Since The June War 4

The June 1967 war and the situation prevailing in Israel since then have vindicated our main thesis onthe Israeli left: namely, that the deepest division in Israeli politics is not between left and right, doves and hawks, but between Zionists and anti-Zionists. This was highlighted by the fact that on the eve of the war, on June i, a “national unity” government was formed.

The “socialist” Mapam – which translated and published Lenin’s works in Israel and founded the communally most devout kibbutzim – shared its ministerial portfolios with Herut, which in the 1930s openly called itself fascist and in 1948 was responsible for the massacre of two hundred Arabs in Deir-Yossin.

Not only did Mapam join the national unity government, it later supported the annexation of East Jerusalem. Its members settled in semi-military kibbutzim in the liberated territories” and on newly confiscated land near Latrun, where villages were razed to make room for the new settlements. At the time demonstrations were held to protest the confiscation of land to allow Jewish settlement in Hebron, Mapam leader Yaakov Hazan declared, “Everyone who demonstrated against the settlement of Jews in Hebron is a traitor to the nation.” The Mapam leadership also condemned the demonstrations around the Goldmann affair and called them ”subversive.” In short, Mapam’s internationalist principles exist only for foreign consumption. In Israel, there has never been a single instance of Mapam voting against a decision taken by its senior partners on matters of Zionist policy or on military questions.

One of the most striking examples of Mapam’s methods of reconciling its principles with its real politics occurred just prior to the October 1969 elections. The Alignment, a bloc of workers’ parties led by the Labor Party and including Mapam, adopted a platform that included support of Zionist colonization in the occupied territories. Mapam objected to that point and insisted that its objection be mentioned in the platform. The Mapai leadership would have none of this. Finally, what Ha’aretz on September 12 called “an honorable way out” was found: The disputed point would remain in the platform and be binding on all parties, including Mapam, to the Alignment; Mapam, however, would be permitted to speak publicly against that particular point.

Mapam’s record in defending the interests of the Israeli workers is on a par with its record regarding the Palestinians. This workers’ party frequently makes noises about the rights of workers, but it has voted with the other parties in the Knesset and the Histadrut for anti-labor laws and policies. A recent example of this hypocrisy occurred on June 18, 1971. During the intensive strike wave that encompassed so many industries, but mostly in the government sector, Ben Moshe, Mapam’s secretary general, declared that the government should not use anti-labor laws and the Emergency Regulations to ”solve” the problem of striking workers. An editorial in Al Hamishmar warned that “It is a dangerous illusion to believe it possible to break justified social struggles of the workers by decrees and State laws.” 5 On the same day, Shem-Tov, the Minister of Health and Mapam’s representative in the government, signed “restriction orders” for the non-medical staff of government hospitals, thus breaking the staffs walkout by using the Emergency Regulations and forcing the striking workers to return to work under threat of criminal charges and prison terms.

The reality that the political differences among the various socialist groups had practically disappeared was formally acknowledged when, in 1969, the Israeli Labor Party was formed through a union of Mapai, Achdut Ha’avoda and Ben-Gurion’s Rafi. This new Labor Party then proceeded to form a bloc with Mapam, the extreme left of Zionism. The permanent conflict with the Arab world forces Zionism to depend increasingly on imperialism, and this creates a permanent pressure shifting the Zionist left to the right On its long road from its origins in the Russia of 1905 the Zionist left has one by one shed its slogans of revolution, socialism and anti-imperialism. Each shift to the right leaves behind it a splinter group loyal to the abandoned slogan.

The latest offspring of this kind is Siah (Israeli New Left). It was formed after the 1967 war by members of Mapam and Maki who were opposed to their parties’ collaboration with the Dayan-Eshkol-Begin bloc, and their main emphasis is on the lack of a peace initiative in Israeli policy.

Siah has a general commitment to a none-too-well defined leftist ideology and it attempts to identify in style and tactics with the world-wide “new left” It has attracted a number of young people whose experience of profound discontent with Israeli society as a whole has led them to criticize sharply many aspects of government policy, but who at the same time have not yet been able to transform this uneasy consciousness and criticism of particular policies into an understanding that these policies are an inevitable consequence of Zionist theory and practice. Siah spokesmen are generally anxious to clearly differentiate themselves from new left attitudes in one crucial respect. Everywhere in the advanced capitalist world the new left has revived the old and honorable slogan “The enemy is at home”; but Siah is much more concerned with national security. Its leaders characterize the June 1967 war as a “justifiable defensive” war and attempt to base their opposition to annexation of the occupied territories precisely on the ground that the war would have ceased being defensive if Israel had annexed the conquered areas. This remarkable logic demonstrates clearly the basic Zionist commitment of Siah. Its leaders try to find arguments opposing a specific Zionist policy which do not question the fundamental moral presupposition of Zionism – that Jewish settlers had and still have a right to dispossess an Arab population in order to form an exclusively Jewish society and state.

The editor of one of their publications recently stated:

“Our struggle to change the image of Israeli society and to consolidate a peace policy must be based, whatever happens, on principled and consistent affirmation of the state of Israel and of the Zionist principles on which it is founded. Any departure from this will lead Siah astray from the aims it set itself when it was founded.” 6

If Siah has any future at all, it will probably be to play the historic role of Mapam – an “extreme left wing” of the Zionist movement.

Another critical group that formed after the June war was the Movement for Peace and Security. It was formed by a group of professors and young faculty members at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, among whom were the philosopher Y. Bar Hillel, the historians Y. Talmon and Y. Arieli, and A. Levantin of the Law School. They sought to counteract the influence of the Greater Israel Movement, whose dream was an Israel stretching from the Euphrates to the Nile, and to develop forces of moderation. They opposed total annexation of the occupied territories, but not one of them came out in favor of immediate withdrawal.

In the 1969 elections, they formed the nucleus of the Peace List, headed by two young professors, C. Yatziv and S. Vogel, and by N. Yalin-More, who before 1948 had been the commander of the Stern Gang, and later, a co-thinker of Uri Avnery in the Semitic Federation group. The Peace List failed to win even a single seat in the Knesset, and this defeat at the polls, combined with sharp chauvinist attacks, led to a quick decline. Some of their leaders succumbed to the temptation to prove themselves “good patriots” by joining the defamation campaign against the ISO. The Peace and Security Movement regained some lost ground during the Goldmann affair, but its activity has since consisted of little more than placing a few ads in newspapers that oppose certain government policies such as the confiscation of Arab land in Hebron to build a Jewish settlement

Despite the Peace and Security Movement’s somewhat critical stance, it is firmly within the Zionist camp. In fact, its leaders are the first to insist on this and they loudly declare their Zionist loyalty. None of them is for total and immediate withdrawal from the occupied territories, and the organization supports the Rogers peace plan.

A group with more influence in Israeli politics is Uri Avnery’s Haolam Hazeh-Koach Hadash (New Force Party). Avnery’s list won two seats in the Knesset out of 120 in the 1969 elections. Ha’olam Hazeh, which Avnery edits and publishes, is one of the largest circulation magazines in Israel, and his views have influenced a sizable section of the leftist and liberal press in the West. Avnery’s book Israel Without Zionists – a Plea for Peace in the Middle East has brought his views to a substantial English-speaking audience. In it, Avnery voiced some criticisms of Israeli policies and presented his alternative – the Semitic union.

Typical of Avnery’s approach to politics are certain differences between the English and Hebrew editions of his book. An exact translation of the Hebrew title would be The Seventh Day’s War. And while the English edition ends with a long quotation from Ecclesiastes “… A time for war and a time for peace …” and Avnery’s comment: “The time for peace is now,” the Hebrew edition contains an epilogue absent from the English – appropriately entitled “Glory to the Israeli Army.”

Despite the anti-Zionist noises that sometimes emanate from Avnery, he is a nationalist. “Nationalism will reign supreme in our generation in all the countries of the region,” Avnery assures his readers, “and nothing will stop it … I am a Hebrew nationalist and I want to deal with Arab nationalists.” 7

Avnery’s position on certain concrete political questions – his position at the time, not as he recalls it years later – may give some insight as to how he might really “deal with Arab nationalists.” While in his book, Avnery piously refers to the ”1956 Sinai war to which we strongly objected,”8 in an editorial written nearly a year before the 1956 war he entoned: “The war is facing us and its eyes are red and hot … It is our duty to annihilate the fighting forces of our strongest adversary – Egypt – before it is too late.” 9

And immediately after the Israeli regime had followed his advice, when the United States was putting pressure on the Zionist state to withdraw from its newly occupied territories, Avnery vigorously opposed evacuation of the Gaza Strip, arguing, “From a political standpoint the absorption of Gaza will strengthen the State enormously … It will solve part of the refugee problem, which, serves as the main instrument for defaming Israel abroad.” 10

Avnery’s reaction to the preparations for the June 1967 war was somewhat different Shalom Cohen, Avnery’s co-editor and the other member of the Knesset’s New Force Party, argued that war against Egypt would not really be to Israel’s advantage. 11 But once the national unity government launched the war, Avnery became one of its militant supporters. Today he characterizes it as a “defensive war,” 12 and he voted in the Knesset for the annexation of East Jerusalem. In his book, Avnery evokes his Semitic federation scheme as justification for that vote:

“Jerusalem as a unified city would become the federal capital, as well as the capital of both states, thus finding a solution – the only practical one, I believe – to an issue charged with emotions, both religious and nationalist, which make retreat for either side impossible.” 13

Today, Avnery attempts to evade the entire issue of Zionism. He explained, for example, in a speech before the Knesset:

“We live … in the post-Zionist era. Zionism with its glorious achievements and its mistakes belongs to the past. It was the scaffolding for building the State, and now there is a new reality, there is a State. I speak in the name of a post-Zionist movement, post-Zionism, not anti-Zionism, because you cannot be anti something that belongs to the past” 14

Nonetheless, even in the most basic matters, Avnery’s post-Zionism is strikingly like the old Zionism. He complains, for example, that the Zionist establishment is not effective enough in encouraging young Jews to immigrate to Israel, and he insists that his approach is far more efficient When he speaks to students in Paris, Rome and New York, he explains, he appeals to them: “Come to Israel and help us build a society that we like.” 15

Avnery’s Semitic federation envisages the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“In the present circumstances,” Avnery writes, ”it would mean that the government of Israel would offer the Palestinian Arabs assistance in setting up a national republic of their own, this offer being conditional upon a federal agreement between such a Palestine and Israel. Hie Palestinian Republic would comprise the West Bank of the Jordan and the Gaza Strip. Trans-Jordan could join it if its inhabitants were able and willing to decide.”

Having thus graciously granted the Palestinians “their” territory, Avnery goes on to describe the character of the independence of this Palestinian state:

“The federal agreement,” he writes, “should be preceded by an economic, political and military pact. It should safeguard the military security of Israel by forbidding foreign armies to enter the territory of Palestine, guaranteeing this in a practical way by a system of military coordination between the armies of Israel and the Arab republic of Palestine on the lines of NATO or the Warsaw Pact It should unify the economy of the area, which had been one economic entity from the dawn of history to 1948, including the two hundred years of the Crusader States …” 16

This, for Avnery, constitutes self-determination for the Palestinian people. In reality, such a solution would be equivalent to the South African Bantustan “solution” to the problems of relations between whites and Africans. Avnery cannot deny that this danger is inherent in his Semitic federation. But, he argues, it is a danger that would be actualized only if an anti-Arab regime should exist in Israel. A regime headed by Uri Avnery, he seems to be assuring his reader, is a necessary and sufficient condition for averting this danger. In view of this Israeli nationalist’s record, it is not surprising that very few Arabs find his assurances convincing.

From the beginning Avnery was an enthusiastic supporter of the Rogers “peace initiative,” which does not recognize the Palestinians as a national group, but merely as refugees, and which implied the physical annihilation of the Palestinian guerrillas, particularly the leftists among them. He applauded King Hussein’s attempts to liquidate the fedayeen, and greeted acceptance of the Rogers plan by the parties involved as a “great courageous and revolutionary step.” 17

Although from time to time Avnery has questioned the arbitrary manner in which Israeli military authorities deal with Arabs, he has never upheld the elementary democratic principle that a human being is to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. The furthest he has ever gone is to propose that before a military commander signs an order of administrative detention, there should be – not a trial – but a “clarification” procedure presided over by a judge. 18

Part of Avnery’s solution to the refugee problem involves allowing Palestinians to return – but only in numbers equal to that of Jews emigrating from the USSR so that “the general character of Israel will be preserved.” 19

In brief, all these so-called left-wing and radical parties stand together in their basic adherence to Zionism. None of them demands the de-Zionization of Israel. None demands immediate and complete withdrawal from the territories occupied since June 1967. For all of them the June war was a defensive one. It is very appropriate that at the moment when most liberal and left-wing opinion in the world expressed its profound suspicion of the US-inspired “peace” efforts in the Middle East, these groups all heartily welcomed the American initiative.

  1. For a critical discussion of Borochov’s theory, see Borochovism, Chapter 9.
  2. Source: New Outlook, May 1971 (Tel Aviv).
  3. Or approximately 100,000 kibbutz members in 1971; Ibid.
  4. The remainder of this chapter was written in Sept 1971.
  5. Hamishmar (the Mapam daily newspaper), June 18, 1971.
  6. J. Amitai, editor, in Siah, No.5, Aug. 1970.
  7. Israel Without Zionists, New York: Macmillan, 1968, p.210.
  8. Ibid., p. 16.
  9. Ha’olam Hazeh, Dec. 12,1955.
  10. Ha’olam Hazeh, Dec. 26, 1956.
  11. Ibid., May 24, 1967. Cohen split from Avnery on personal grounds in 1971.
  12. See, for example, Ha’olam Hazeh, Supplement, Dec. 3, 1969.
  13. Israel Without Zionists, p.188.
  14. Ha’olam Hazeh, July 15, 1970.
  15. This proclamation of Avnery’s own effectiveness in stimulating Jewish immigration is contained in the same speech that defines the post-Zionist epoch and movement
  16. Israel Without Zionists, pp.187-88.
  17. Ha’olam Hazeh, Aug. 12, 1970. This may be the only time the US initiative has been called “revolutionary.”
  18. Ibid., June 17, 1970.
  19. Ibid., June 3, 1970.

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