Shlomo Sand and Jewish Identity: Crystallisation of Hope

Shlomo Sand’s new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew (Verso, 2014), as he says, an extended essay (of just over 100 pages), is something that may come to be seen as very significant in years, maybe even decades to come. This Israeli writer and academic is someone of considerable courage who has braved death threats and opprobrium in Israel, not just for support for the rights of the Palestinian people, but also for his attempts to analyse the history and myths that provide the ideological, and insofar at those ideologies grip people and social classes, material basis for the oppression of the Palestinians.

Sands has written scholarly works that question in historical terms the idea that Jews were seen as in any sense a nation prior to an attempt to create a nation-like mythology for them during the mid-to-late 19th Century. His work The Invention of the Jewish People resurrected from obscurity several facts that are very inconvenient for Zionist ideologues – such as the fact that there was no exile of Jews from Palestine in late Roman times, andthat the so-called Jewish diaspora around the Mediterranean, later spreading throughout Europe and the Middle East/North Africa and even wider, was the product of widespread proselytism and conversion, not exile.

He reiterated the long-known, but historically buried understanding that many, if not most, Jews of East and Central European heritage had their ultimate origin, not from the Levant, but rather from Khazaria, an early medieval kingdom and empire of Turkic origin in the far Eastern fringe of Europe, roughly coinciding with today’s Ukraine and Caucasus region, that was converted from above by its monarchy around the 8th Century. He therefore concluded, in a manner that is really very devastating to the entire Zionist project and the racist myths that justify it, that the Palestinians were much more certain to be descendants of the ancient population of Hebrews, whose state Israel claims to be the resurrection of, than the Jewish population whose armed settler movement created Israel. This resurrection of facts at least some of which were once acknowledged by many, including by many early Zionists, turns the entire rationale for Israel upside down.

He was also the author of a sequel, also highly regarded but perhaps less well-known, titled the Invention of the Land of Israel, as well as a number of shorter essays on similar topics.

The historic importance of his new book, How I Stopped Being a Jew,  is that is a part of the crystallisation of a trend among radical intellectuals of Jewish and often Israeli origin that offers the potential to provide an opening whereby the Israel-Palestine conflict can be resolved in a democratic manner. This means as a matter of democratic principle that it has to be resolved through the restoration of the full rights of the Palestinians. Sand represents a part of this broad trend, with some differences, whose most prominent representative up to now has been the Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, representing people of Jewish origin who have come to recognise that the secular Jewish identity, which was the basis of the Zionist movement that created Israel, and which is still the mainstay of Israel’s ruling class, is empty and self-contradictory, and insofar as it has a political manifestation, harmful.

Third Category

At first sight, the title of Sand’s book seems impossible – no one can ‘stop being’ a person of Jewish origin, any more than someone can stop being black, European, Chinese, or of any other ethnic background. But for Sand, it is not his ethnic origin that he is renouncing, but something else. One weakness of his book is that it is not entirely clear what, if it is not an ethnic origin, Sand is renouncing and ceasing to be.

Fortunately, the theoretical basis of this has already been worked out by Gilad Atzmon in his writings,  both before and in his 2011 work The Wandering Who , where he divided people of Jewish origin into three non-mutually exclusive ‘categories’: Religious Jews (Category 1), those of Jewish origin who regard themselves as no different to others of whatever origin (Category 2), and finally those who regard their Jewish traits as being more important than any other of their traits (category 3). Individuals in these categories may overlap, but nevertheless it is only the third category that is directly political, and which has the capacity to behave in an oppressive manner to non-Jews, as most obviously demonstrated in Israel. Though Sand does not explicitly say this, obviously what he has ‘stopped being’ in his own concept is a ‘third category’ Jew.

Another way of looking at this, from my point of view as a Marxist, is from the point of view of chauvinism. Someone who has a chauvinistic attachment to a particular identity, particularly a national or communal identity, and considers that entity either superior, or in other sense more important, than others, is a national or communal chauvinist. This feature, or symptom, would seem to be as characteristic of those who proudly, in this day and age, proclaim themselves ‘Jewish’, as e.g. English chauvinism is of those who proudly proclaim themselves to be of ‘English’ identity.

The problem is that with the former, guilt about some of the terrible crimes that have been committed against people of Jewish origin means that Jewish chauvinists get a much easier ride than the latter kind of chauvinists particularly on the Western left, and the more subtle varieties of such chauvinism are often not noticed at all, or are even the object of deference. However, Atzmon’s distinctions have value because in dealing with the secular Jewish identity we are not dealing with a national identity, but with something slightly more problematic and more difficult to define.

Sand’s elaborations have a different emphasis to Atzmon’s in several ways. Indeed, both he and Atzmon have complementary strengths and weaknesses over some of the most controversial aspects of this subject matter, as I address later in this review. His own narrative of how he reached his conclusion, when combined with Atzmon’s clearest material, throws new light on the nature of the Jewish secular identity.

Secular Jewish identity

Sand focuses both on the specific ’emptiness’ of the secular Jewish identity, and its exclusivity, in a manner that complements and fills out Atzmon’s material. Jewish secular identity is for him an artificial construction, which, having no real history or tradition, uses similar political tools to define itself as were used by the Nazis themselves. Thus he says that “in certain respects, Hitler was the victor of the Second World War”; his ideology survived and prospered in the shape of a belief in ‘DNA’ and a ‘direct lineage down the generations’, inducing ‘fears, guilty consciences and ignorance’ among non-Jews, combined with ‘victimisation, narcissism, pretentiousness and … crass ignorance’ among the ‘new Jews’ – meaning secular Jews (p5-6). He continues on the same theme:

If, until a recent past, and despite all persecutions, being a Jew continued to mean worshipping a particular god, stubbornly following a host of religious commands … history was now to bring surprising illusions in the field of modern identity politics. From now on, in the eyes of both anti-semites and philo-semites alike, a Jew would always be a Jew, but not on account of the cultural practices and norms that he or she followed. The individual would be perceived and considered a Jew not because of what he did, what he thought or what he said, but on account of an eternal and mysterious essence inherent in his personality. Indeed,  Zionist scientists in Israel and elsewhere even introduce genetics..” (p15)

Such myths are for Sands meant to bolster something that is inherently weak and incoherent:

“Knowing that there is no specific mode of everyday life that could bind together secular individuals of Jewish origin across the world, it is impossible to assert the existence of either a living, non-religious Jewish culture, or of a possible common future, apart from vestiges handed down from a declining religious tradition.” (p22)

However, the derivation of the Jewish identity from the Jewish religion (it has no origin independent of this) means the creation of a unique kind of identity. Those who fail to maintain the core beliefs of other religions do not tend to identify strongly with those religions – they simply become atheists and ex-Christians, Muslims, etc. The secular Jewish identity is something that Zionists flatly claim is a key part of a national identity, or even arguably the whole of it. Other Jews, including some militant ‘anti-Zionists’, do not make this claim, but nevertheless cling tenaciously to this identity and express extreme antagonism to any ‘traitorous’ people of Jewish origin who renounce and denounce it. Sand points out the extremely exclusive nature of this secular identity:

“You can, for example, become an American, British, French or Israeli citizen, just as you can cease to be one. You can become an activist in a socialist movement, leader of a liberal current, or member of a conservative party; you can also resign from any one of these. All churches welcome proselytes. Anyone can become a fervent Muslim or Jew.

“But how can you become a secular Jew if you are not born of parents considered to be Jews? That was the question that struck me, and that I could not manage to resolve. Is there any way of joining secular Jewry through a voluntary act, in the form of a free choice, or is this instead a closed club whose members are selected as a function of their origin? In other words, are we not dealing with a prestigious club that, by accident but not by chance, sees itself as comprising the descendants of an ancient tribe?” (p90).

This is why all those apologists for Zionism who claim that Israel is simply an expression of ‘self-determination’ of a Jewish ‘nation’ like all the others around the world, are engaged in a mendacious falsehood. For the non-Israeli, overseas bearer of this purely hereditary identity is in a legally privileged position vis-a-vis even actual Israeli citizens of non-Jewish origin, as well as all others without a deep religious commitment to Judaism (which is what conversion requires; it is a long and arduous process). As Sands explains, for a foreign-born Jew:

“It is enough to make a short visit to Israel, readily obtain an identity card, and acquire a second residence there before returning immediately to their national culture and their mother tongue, while remaining in perpetuity a co-proprietor of the Jewish state – and all this for simply having been lucky enough to be born of a Jewish mother.

“The Arab inhabitants of Israel, on the other hand, if they marry a Palestinian of the opposite sex in the occupied territories, do not have the right to bring their spouses to live in Israel, for fear that they will become citizens and thereby increase the number of non-Jews in the promised land..[…].. If an immigrant identified as Jewish arrives from Russia or the United States along with his non-Jewish wife, the latter will have the right to citizenship. However, even if the spouse and her children are never considered Jews, the fact that they are not Arab will prevail over their not being Jewish…” (pp 84-85)

The crude ethnocentric (i.e. racist) nature of the very concept of ‘Jewish’ nationhood is shown with reference to the question of language, which in most of even the imperialist nations, plays a major role in determining who is part of the nation. Not so in Israel:

“… in everyday life, cultural Israelisation has reached a high level of maturity (even Israeli Palestinians have undergone acculturation and speak perfect Hebrew). But instead of recognising this identity, enshrining it, and seeing it as the melting pot of an inclusive republican and democratic consciousness, the opposite has occurred, with the state becoming ever more Judeocentric.”

Even as a non-Marxist, he is able to notice that this element of social being affects the social consciousness of prominent Jewish establishment and ruling class figures outside Israel, though if anything his analysis is somewhat understated:

“According to the spirit of its laws, the State of Israel belongs more to non-Israelis than it does to its citizens who live there… Various nabobs of Jewish origin from around the world thus feel the right to intervene in Israeli life; through massive investment in the media and the political apparatus, they increasingly seek to influence its leaders and its orientation.

“Intellectuals who know well the state of the Jews is their own also figure among the ranks of the ‘new Jews’. Bernard-Henri Levy. Alan Dershowitz, Alexandre Adler, Howard Jacobson, David Horowitz, Henryk M. Broder and numerous other champions of Zionism, active in various fields of the mass media, are quite clear about their political preferences. Contrary to what Moscow meant for Communists abroad in former times, or Beijing for the Maoists of the 1960s, Jerusalem really is their property.” (p84)

And he draws his conclusion thus:

“How, in these conditions, can individuals who are not religious believers but simply humanists, democrats and liberals, and endowed with a minimum of honesty, continue to define themselves as Jews? In these conditions, can the descendants of the persecuted let themselves be embraced in the tribe of new secular Jews who see Israel as their exclusive property? Is not the very act of defining yourself as a Jew an act of affiliation to a privileged caste which creates intolerable injustices around itself?” (p87)

And in dealing with the reflection of this in the Jewish diaspora, he also points out how even those who oppose Zionism in the name of some ‘Jewish’ authority in fact play into the hands of the Zionists, irrespective of their intentions:

“But if those who call themselves anti-Zionist Jews without having lived in Israel and without knowing its language or having experienced its culture claim a particular right, different from those of non-Jews, to make accusations against Israel, how can one criticise overt pro-Zionists for granting themselves the privilege of actively intervening in decisions regarding the future and fate of Israel.” (p94)

Holocaust – rights and wrongs

 In his review of Sand’s book, Gilad Atzmon, asks the question “Shlomo Sand decides to stop being a Jew – but has he succeeded?” and raises a number of criticisms, summarised in the view that Sand’s book is

“saturated with endless caveats inserted to disassociate the author from any possible affiliation with anyone who may be viewed as an opponent of Jewish power, critical of Jewish identity politics or a challenger of the mainstream historicity of the Holocaust.”

He goes on to make several expanded criticisms, which reflect his own conceptions, which I will summarise briefly and make my own views clear. One thing that is clear is that Atzmon, as is well-known, speaks plainly and does not care about Western squeamishness about polemical assaults on current Jewish-Zionist behaviour using the most tragic elements of Jewish history as a polemical cudgel. This can be an engaging and provocative method of argument; however in some cases it can be counterproductive. He justifies it as follows:

“Unlike Sand, I am convinced that the ‘progressive’ is but a secular extension of Jewish tribal ‘chosen-ness’. After all, if you are a ‘progressive’, someone else must be a ‘reactionary’. In other words, progressiveness is in itself a non-universal intolerant discourse.

“Drifting away from Jewishness towards true and genuine universalism can be realised as the emergence of a unique critical sensitivity towards every possible aspect of Jewish tribal operation. Such an act involves a certain amount of self-loathing rather than merely ‘despising’ the ‘Jews around you’. Sand is not there yet. Instead of hating himself, he actually perfects his argument against his Jewish neighbours. In practice, he is still engaged in an internal tribal debate.”

The problem with this technique is that, while it may bring about important insights when breaking free of lifelong indoctrination in a pathologically racist cultural environment, it is still individualistic, psychological, and highly subjective. The racist depravity of this indoctrination Atzmon broke from should not be underestimated, by the way… such underestimation among well-meaning gentile leftists is why Atzmon’s purple prose produces such unease in those circles, as well as such apoplexy among ‘left’ Jewish chauvinists and purveyors of ‘progressive’ identity politics. The subjective aspects of this psychological method of analysis can lead to, not just a ‘critical sensitivity’ to ‘tribal operations’, but also to an over-sensitivity, and ‘seeing’ things that are of doubtful, if any, significance.  There are some weaknesses in Sand’s book as compared with Atzmon’s work, but there are also important elements that are stronger. I will spell this out here.

In terms of where Sand is stronger, there is the question of the Nazi genocide, Holocaust or Shoah (I generally use the term ‘Nazi Genocide’ because of the abuses of history that are associated with those other terms). Sand explains pretty well the workings of the Israeli Holocaust cult, and does not fall into a great big elephant trap that the Zionists’ misuse of this historical event in a cynical manner has created for their principled opponents, breaking from Zionism and political Jewish-ness. Sands lays out the mechanism of the cult pretty well:

“From the final quarter of the twentieth century onwards, the memory of almost all the victims not designated by the Nazis as Semites has disappeared. The industrialised crime has become an exclusively Jewish tragedy. Western memory of the Nazi concentration camps and exterminations has been more or less emptied of other victims: Roma, résistants and other opponents, Communists and socialists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Polish intellectuals, Soviet commissars and officers, and so on. With the relative exception of homosexuals,  all those exterminated by the Nazis, in parallel with the systematic assassination of Jews and their descendants, have also been wiped from the hegemonic network of memory. “

He notes that in Western culture generally, and also in Israel, for the first two decades after the Second World War, the Nazi Genocide was if anything underplayed, and relegated to a marginal position in history. This was partly for pragmatic reasons, as Western imperialism sought to reintegrate West Germany, whose ruling class was massively complicit with Nazism, into NATO and its alliance against the USSR. It was also because in Israel the particular way that large numbers of Jews died, without much apparent resistance, was seen as embarrassing, and was therefore played down.

The turning point came with the 1967 war, the victory of Israel against the Arab states, and the conquest of more Palestinian and other Arab territory. This gave birth to a need for a more aggressive ‘national’ myth: “The Jewish victim, hidden yesterday on account of his or her weakness, now culminated in the Jewish martyr” (p62). He goes on

“The marginal position that the Judeocide had occupied until then in the memory of Judeo-Christian civilisation was clearly intolerable.”

But:

“To be sure, this mattered far more for Zionist and pseudo-Jewish politics. It was not enough that the memory of the victims should be engraved in the consciousness of the West. What was demanded was the specificity, exclusiveness and total national ownership of suffering…

“All other victims were therefore dismissed, and the genocide became an exclusively Jewish matter. Any comparison with the extermination of another people was now forbidden. That is why, when Armenian descendants in the United States demanded a day of recognition to commemorate the massacre committed by the Turks, the pro-Zionist lobby joined with the latter in an attempt to block the demand. All past and present crimes were necessarily minuscule in the face of the gigantic massacre of Jews during the Second World War…

“Hitler’s desire to exclude Jews from the ranks of ordinary humanity has found a perverse form of expression in the memorial policy adopted by Israel and its supporters across the Western world; Zionist rhetoric, in fact, has increasingly insisted on the eternal specificity of the victim rather than the executioner, of the Jew and not of the Nazi. In other words, there are hosts of murderers like Hitler, while there have never been and will never be victims like the Jews. Gamal Abdul Nasser was the first to be called the ‘New Hitler’, before being replaced by the Palestinian Yasser Arafat and the Iraqi Saddam Hussein; most recently, the role fell to the Iranian Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In this view of the world, and this construction of memory, the singularity of the European continent’s history, from the Enlightenment on, does not lead to the Nazi organisers of the death industry but solely to the dead and persecuted of Jewish origin.”  (pp62-3)

This is the concrete form that is taken today by the cult of the Holocaust. It is a systematic distortion of a real historical event, designed to make it exclusively a Jewish affair, to provide the justification for the confiscation of Arab land to create Israel, and all that followed from it. However, the great big elephant trap that I was speaking of is the understandable assumption, because this historic event is used in a mendacious manner in the here and now to justify racist crimes, that there must be something exaggerated about it, or even something fundamentally false. People who are too young to have direct experience of the events of the 1940s, and been exposed to concentrated indoctrination in the Israeli holocaust cult, are prone to draw angry but not necessarily historically lucid conclusions from the existence of this cult.

Actually, though there are elements on the fringes of the historical body of material about the Nazi genocide that are problematic and even false, the overwhelming bulk of the charges against the Nazi regime were true, and testified to people of a wide range of backgrounds and political standpoints, from left and right, on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. As Sand notes, there was a time when in both Israel and the West, discussion of Nazi crimes was frowned-upon from above, and discouraged. Being a ‘premature anti-fascist’ or a ‘premature anti-Nazi’ was a allegation that was used to destroy the careers of those with leftist politics during the McCarthy era in the USA, for instance.

It is a fact that half-truths are more insidious than outright lies. What is even more insidious is something that is overwhelmingly true, but from which elements have been subtracted and distorted to give a false picture that one group, and one group only, was criminally massacred, when in fact a variety of different populations were similarly, and brutally, killed. That truth with mendacious subtractions is even more insidious than an ordinary half-truth, let alone an outright lie, and to mistakenly write off the matter as unreliable, as  Gilad Atzmon sometimes seems to do, or as an outright pack of lies, as does Paul Eisen, is to fall into a political trap laid by those who exploit the Nazi Genocide to justify racism today. All this does is help the Zionist propaganda machine to demonise them.

Cult of victimhood

Atzmon’s material on the ‘Holocaust religion’ is not entirely wrong, however. In particular, his analysis of the Book of Esther, the biblical basis for the Jewish festival of Purim,  in the Wandering Who, is insightful. It notes the significance of this fictional account of a supposed attempt at genocide of the Jews in Persia, which points to the fact that the exploitation of Jewish suffering, whether alleged or real, did not begin with the Nazi Genocide but goes back possibly thousands of years. It also points to a practice that many Zionists, in particular, take pride in: the perspective of seeking to maximise Jewish influence in the corridors of power and thus get others to do their bidding.

Such behaviour is not unique, indeed a cult of victimhood is also part of Catholic Christianity and Shi’a Islam, for instance, where in extreme cases severe and bloody self-punishment is practised out of ’empathy’ with the martyred. What is unusual is the incorporation of such things into a secular culture, and thus the birth of a secular cult of victimhood. This could throw some light on how this baleful and retrograde trend could interact with reactionary and warped trends in other cultures, for instance that of ‘Volkisch’ Germany in the late 19th/early 20th century, and help to create the political conditions where a genocidal anti-Jewish movement could come into being and grow to be a decisive force.

Though we should be opposed to all restrictions on political debate of matters such as the Nazi genocide,  a stance of hostility to those who support the programme of fascism and Nazism, and thus deny the facts of the genocide in order to defend a programme of genocide, is completely justified, just as much as hostility to apologists for Zionist crimes. The Nazi genocide, as Sand is quoted above as noting, was not an exclusively Jewish matter at all. Jews were the numerically largest group of victims, but this reflects the fact that Jews were more numerous than say, Roma, in the territories conquered by Hitler’s regime. If the Roma had been more numerous, they would have been the main victims.

More to the point is that confused criticisms of the Zionist Holocaust cult, are an inevitable and natural consequence of the existence of the existence of that cult. Free discussion of questions relating to this is a legitimate part of defeating Zionism politically. Attempts by Zionists and other purveyors of Jewish identity politics to target and witch-hunt those raising questions about, or even making errors concerning,  the Zionist cult are chauvinistic acts in themselves, and should be firmly opposed.

‘Jewish Power’

One criticism raised by Atzmon of Sand’s work is correct though, and that over the question of what Atzmon calls ‘Jewish power’ internationally. I do not use that term. I discuss this in materialist terms as the power of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie. Ordinary working class and middle-class Jews have no more real power than working class and middle-class gentiles, in American and British society, for instance. And Sand’s book does not contain any analysis of such organisations as AIPAC (in the USA), the ‘Friends of Israel’ factions in all major UK-wide political parties in Britain, CRIF in France, etc. These organisations wield considerable power in mainstream politics within their respective countries, and have been particularly effective at smearing and damaging the careers of mainstream politicians who are deemed too critical of Israeli crimes.

The material basis for their power is not in the ‘lobbying’ power of atomised Jewish people (who are a tiny percentage of the population of all these countries) but rather the fact that Jews are represented in the ruling classes of these countries far beyond their numbers in society as a whole, and many such Jewish bourgeois have a high degree of loyalty to Israel based on a kind of a nationalist consciousness. Even though Jews, in whose interests these overseas Jewish bourgeois claim to act (largely openly through these organisations) are not a nation, this consciousness, derived from loyalty to Israel as the supposed nation-state of the Jews, is a material force to be reckoned with in the world, and can be called a kind of semi-national consciousness, brought into solid existence by Israel and Zionism. The historical reasons for this power of the Jewish bourgeoisie are addressed in my theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism (on this website here), and are derived from some of the early insights of Karl Marx on the Jewish question, as well as later Marxists such as Abram Leon.

Sand actually shows some real confusion in trying to address this question: He writes about Marx:

“Charles Fourier and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon were not alone in the sacrifice to historical stupidity that consists of characterising Judaism as the worship of a money-god: the young Karl Marx himself slipped in that direction for a while. The fact that Jews and their descendants distinguished themselves as bankers and businessmen was indeed not due to chance, but the causes of this phenomenon were socio-historical, not ideological. The latter explanation was attempted by Werner Sombart, but he went astray in several of his hypotheses.” (p68)

Sand is mistaken in believing that Marx said that Jews worshipped a money-god. The key passages Sand is referring to are the following:

“Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.

What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.

Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.” (On the Jewish Question, 1844)

The use of obscure terminology and metaphor, derived from Hegel’s mode of expression, make this less clear than perhaps it ought to be to contemporary readers, but Marx is here talking about “socio-historical, not ideological” causes. “Not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew” means exactly what it says: the ‘real Jew’, that is, the Jew as determined by socio-historical causes is primary, the ‘religion’ – including the ‘secular’ elements –  is derived from those causes. The “worldly god” Marx is talking about is again, “secular”, i.e. based in the material world, not religious ideology. At the point Marx wrote this famous essay, he was already a firm materialist, and had rejected Hegel’s idealism, which would have placed ‘ideology’ or ‘spirit’ as primary, but he was still using Hegel’s mode of expression in a polemic against those who still followed Hegel’s idealism (such as Bruno Bauer).

Sand cites Werner Sombart as having “gone astray” in his hypotheses in attempting to explain the overrepresentation of the Jews in banking and business in social and economic terms, but he does not seem to be aware of the work of Abram Leon in The Jewish Question:  A Marxist Interpretation (1950), where he put forward his famous theory of the Jews as a medieval trading ‘people-class’ in a natural, non commodity economy. Leon criticised many of what he felt were failings in Sombart’s work at some length in this book. Unfortunately Leon was murdered in Auschwitz, and did not survive WWII;, his book was published posthumously and obviously he did not live to see the foundation of the state of Israel and the post-WWII evolution of the Jewish Question in general. I am attempting to use Leon’s approach to produce an updated analysis of the post-WWII reality, which is the basis for my draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, referred to earlier.

When Sand talks, accurately and indeed with great perceptiveness and courage as far as he goes, about how “the State of Israel belongs more to non-Israelis than it does to its citizens who live there” he has yet to properly elaborate the implications of this, which is necessary to deal with the fact that partisans of Israel do not merely exercise power in Israel … but also play a major role as part of the parallelogram of forces that determines policies in major imperialist world powers, most importantly the United States, and have influenced them in Israel’s favour, including in situations outside the narrow parameters of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, such as wider wars in the Middle East, Iraq etc.

Sand is at this point a heroic, but liberal figure, though with something of a Marxist past, which he now appears to regret. However, the advent of a social movement that can weaken the hold of Israeli racism to the point of allowing a democratic solution to the Israel problem will take a widespread ferment among the most far-seeing intellectuals. Serious social change is often preceded by such ferment. As part of my conclusion, I quote Gilad Atzmon on why the opportunity now exists for such a development to take place:

“Departing from Jewish-ness, Jerusalem and any other form of Judaic tribalism, and leaving ‘Chosen-ness’ behind. This is probably the only type of secular Jewish resistance to Zionism one can take seriously.

[…]

“Nowadays, biological determinism is – hopefully – behind us, and people are free to escape their so-called ‘fate’. Nowadays, hardly anyone thinks in terms of blood – except Zionists, Israelis and, embarrassingly enough, some of the so-called Jewish ‘socialists’.” (The Wandering Who, p 87)

While I would not concur with Gilad Atzmon that the alternative to this tribalism is ordinary nationalism and ties to ‘the land’ – that seems to me replacing one form of exclusivism with another – I would concur with the above sentiments. What Sand’s evolution, following on from Atzmon’s and others of the same trend, portends is a crystallisation of hope, that the conflicts in the Middle East can be resolved in a progressive manner, that a break can be made by significant sections of the Israeli Jewish population with all kinds of Jewish exclusivism, and that they can make common cause with the Palestinian people to restore them to their homeland on the basis of equality between Jew and Arab in a genuine melting pot, a single democratic polity.

This requires genuine universalism, not the phoney, tainted ‘internationalism’ of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie, in Israel and elsewhere, but genuine internationalism, which is most of all represented by the programme of Marxism and communism, with the demand for ‘Workers of the World Unite’. That is the real logic of Sand’s rejection of the secular Jewish identity, not the mere liberal humanism he espouses, which does not have the tools to do the job he wants to do. The most treasured aspirations of Sand, and those who will no doubt follow him, can only be achieved by an internationalist, communist programme that attacks capitalism and imperialism itself, in which the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie plays a key political role. Socialists must engage with this progressive trend among intellectuals and radicals of Jewish origin in a sustained and fraternal manner to be able to influence them to deepen their critique. We have things to learn from this process, as well as positive things to contribute.

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5 comments

  1. Ian

    Gilad Atzmon sent me the following comment on this article:

    “One mistake… I do not support ordinary nationalism but instead an egalitarian realization within state borders.. You can see it as Patriotic socialism ala Orwell .as opposed to cosmopolitan Marxism. I do believe in belonging and the bond between the man and the land.. Like Soral I see it as an inclusive setting that leads to self respect but also entails respect to others” …

    Like

  2. Sheldon Richman

    How can a universalist assign importance to national borders? They are the product of ruling classes.

    Like

  3. Ian

    Well, that is Gilad Atzmon’s view, not mine, as should be clear from the article. I agree with Karl Marx’s view that ‘the working man has no country, you cannot take from him what he has not got’. Imperialist capitalism is a reactionary system that has long outlived its utility to humanity. It is the case however that the attempt of the bourgeoisies to roll back history by attacking all social gains of the working class made in the past, is leading to the objective growth of a global proletariat that will in time bring Marx’s vision to life. Because their system is obsolete, whatever the bourgeoisies do to counter the working class on national levels rebounds against them on the international level, as in different forms the socialist society of the future invaded the present. Privatisation and deregulation, which as refusniks of Jewish origin such as Atzmon have pointed out, has been done under the political leadership to a very large extent of Jewish bourgeois, has led to the globalisation of capital.

    Unfortunately, as a non-Marxist of generally socialist intent, Atzmon sees nationally-based egalitarian politics as the only alternative to the ‘cosmopolitan’ globalised politics of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie. I have a different view of this, as should be clear from my draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism. In my view, today when the bourgeois trend has completely triumphed among the Jews, the non-national element in Jewish consciousness has been put at the disposal of the bourgeoisie, and allowed the nationally-limited imperialist bourgeoisie’s to partially transcend national particularism. But it is only partial, and the conciousness of the Jewish component of the imperialist bourgeoisie is not genuinely internationalist, but tribal. It does, however, give the bourgeoisie an additional political weapon against the nationally limited workers movements of the imperialist countries.

    In my view, it is self-defeating to propose, as Gilad Atzmon does, to propose that the working class retreat behind national borders to counteract that. This is not a strategy. The correct strategy to counter this pseudo-internationalism is genuine proletarian internationalism, as summed up in Marx’s watchword quoted above. Concretely, this means solidarity with the full achievement of Palestinian rights and the dissolution of Israel, with all its currently Jewish inhabitants following Atzmon’s excellent and clear example, which Sand is also following, albeit less explicitly (so far) and joining with the Arabs to become ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinians’. If this came to pass, the pseudo-internationalism of the Jewish bourgeois would collapse for lack of a unifying focus, and the Jewish bourgeois element would simply be assimilated into their respective national ruling classes. Thus reasserting the genuine internationalism of the working class movement on a much higher plane, and restoring the strategic advantage of the international working class against the nationally limited bourgeoisie. Thus world socialism would appear on the immediate agenda again.

    That, not nationally limited politics, is the real alternative to Jewish-Zionist ‘globalisation’ politics.

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  4. Sheldon Richman

    “it is self-defeating to propose, as Gilad Atzmon does, to propose that the working class retreat behind national borders….”

    As a non-Marxist free-market socialist somewhat in the tradition of Proudhon and Tucker, I agree. Atzmon’s approach would require state oppression. No thank you.

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  5. Pingback: Anti-Marxist fulminations in ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt: A reply | Socialist Fight

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