The Middle East, Zionism and the Jewish Question
The following is the second reply to the RCIT referred to in the introduction to ‘Party, Programme and Practice’ earlier. The letter from the RCIT being replied to is again included as an addendum.
Thank you for your letter on Israel and the Jewish Question, and my apologies for not replying to you earlier. I replied to you on other matters earlier, and hopefully we can discuss those matters and indeed these when the opportunity arises, …
I do appreciate your anti-Zionist positions and had no intentions of saying anything against them. [Particularly your position] on the nature of Israel in denying that it can be called a real nation, despite some features in common with nations in the classic sense, because of its denial of its own nationhood. That seems to me to be correct.
However, I do not think that you fully understand my position and my arguments. I do not think it makes sense to take what in effect was Theodore Herzl’s sales pitch about the future Jewish state being a “rampart of Europe against Asia” to the Western imperialist powers too much at face value. This was a piece of political propaganda for a movement that had its own agenda, and at the time that Herzl’s book was written, he had high hopes of convincing a powerful Western sponsor.
In fact, however, it proved rather more complex than Herzl originally hoped. Herzl was also driven to seek other sponsors because of the initial failure of the endeavour of convincing the British to sponsor the creation of a Jewish state. He also met Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Russian anti-semite Tsarist minister Von Phleve, and Abdulhamid, the Ottoman Sultan. His objectives were the same : to secure a sponsor for the venture of the Jewish state. One expects the sales pitch would have been somewhat modified for these putative sponsors.
I disagree that the Balfour declaration was such a simple matter for either side. My understanding is that Herzl was rebuffed by the British at the beginning of WWI when he approached them as potential sponsors, as the British then considered they had no need of the Zionist project as they were going to win the war, and win it quickly. It was only when they got bogged down in a prolonged war of attrition in the Somme etc. by 1916, that they reassessed this judgement, realising that they needed the United States to enter the war on their side to guarantee victory.
The perception of the British imperialists was that they needed support from within the US for this endeavour, and that there was a powerful Jewish component of the US ruling class that could be of use for this. Whether or not this perception was accurate is not entirely clear at this point, but it does appear to be true that some prominent US Jewish bourgeois personages, including Chief Justice Louis Brandeis, played an important role in a process where drafts of what became the Balfour declaration were sent back and forth across the Atlantic until something was mutually agreed. See Alison Weir’s work: Against Our Better Judgement, the Hidden History of how the US was used to create Israel for a great deal of historical detail on this.
It is quite useful to consider the implications of some of the arguments in Yossi’s article on the 1948 War and the Fourth International, In Revolutionary Communism no 10. For instance, on p3 he writes that “the Zionists were made in the same mould as the South African Afrikaners”.
On page 12, as part of an extensive and useful critique of the centrism of the Cliff group in Palestine, he writes:
“In his autobiography Cliff was aware of the fact that the Zionist project was very similar to the white colonisiation of South Africa”
and then, on this point showing that Cliff sometimes had a realistic view, cited Cliff positively as saying:
“The Zionists who emigrated to Palestine at the end of the 19th Century wanted its whole population to be Jewish. In South Africa, by contrast, the whites were the capitalists and their hangers-on while the blacks were the workers…”
These comparisons are all very well, but there is one important difference. At the end of the 19th Century, the Zionists had no imperialist sponsor, let alone a ‘mother country’ for their project. But the whites in South Africa had at least two ‘mother countries’ – Holland and Britain, and its settler population came pretty straightforwardly from those countries, with a smattering of others. The colonial character of South Africa was therefore clear.
But there was no mother country of the Zionist movement. If the Zionist settlers were then similar to the Afrikaners, it was the Zionist movement, and not any imperialist sponsor, that made them so. They had no solid imperialist sponsorship until 1917.
In South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, even the USA, and all the other colonial-settler states, the origin of the settlers was pretty straightforward. But that is not true of Israel; the settler movement was not a secondary product of colonialism. On the contrary, the settler movement used and manoeuvred among both colonial powers, and other forces, for its own pre-determined objectives. And by ‘other forces’, I mean also the Stalinist forces which supplied them arms for their ‘war of independence’, who were not a colonial power at all in that region (if they ever were at all, which is also a controversial question on the left).
Thus I disagree that Zionism was a colonial movement in the classical sense, and that Israel is a colonial settler state. It is a settler state, created by a settler movement, but not a colonial settler one, that used colonial powers and others for its own objectives, and was qualitatively more independent of colonialist powers than any real colonial-settler movement, even those who later rebelled. If Israel had a mother country, it was the Zionist movement itself, not Britain, or America, or even Stalin’s Russia, all of whom gave it some help and whom it used for its own purposes.
I think your statement that
“It is primarily the political interests of Western imperialists which drive their pro-Zionist policy – and not the power of Jewish capitalists among these Western ruling classes.”
overstates the situation. I would not make the assertion that if the existence of an overlap between a Jewish-Zionist layer caste within the Western ruling classes, and the Israeli ruling class, hypothetically did not exist, that there would be no alliance between the Western powers and Israel. It is obviously that there would likely be such an alliance, just as there is an alliance between the US and Britain, or between the US and Germany, or the US and France.
However, to take one example, throughout the entire history of the alliance of Britain with the United States, it was never so slavish that some US politicians would not dare, for instance, to condemn British rule in Ireland. In fact, it was possible for US politicians to make political careers from criticizing the Brits over this: one thinks of Ted Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, just to name a couple.
There are no US politicians I know of (and no British or French either) who have made a profitable career out of criticizing Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. On the contrary, to speak out of turn on this is very dangerous to the political careers of bourgeois politicians of both major parties in the US. It is also pretty dangerous for the careers of politicians in major parties in the UK, or France, or Germany, for that matter.
This signifies that the relationship between not just the USA and Israel, but also many of the USA’s allies and Israel, is significantly different from the relationships of those older imperialist powers with each other. There is much more room for dissent within bourgeois politics about the way those other allies treat those who they oppress, than is possible with Israel.
I also disagree with the emphasis of your contention that:
“capitalists of Jewish origin in the US and EU primarily invest their capital in their own or other Western countries or in the semi-colonial world. Hence they do not have any particular economic reason to identify their interests with Israel.”
The problem with this is it is in a way economistic, in that it identifies material interests too simply with economic interests. I think you are right to reject, for instance, the notion that Israel is a nation-state because neither the ruling class, or the population at large, has a national consciousness, even though Israel does appear to have an economy remarkably similar to that of an imperialist nation-state.
But the converse is also true on the international arena. Just because the different Jewish elements of the ruling class of Israel, and those Jewish elements in the ruling classes of other imperialist counties who identify with Israel as the Jewish state, do not have a common national economy, does not mean they cannot have a common quasi-national project. It is correct to reject the Zionist notion that “the Jews” are in an objective sense a nation. But that does not mean that such a common consciousness, with a solid material element in terms of a piece of solid territorial real estate with a productive base and a powerful armed force, is a nothing either.
In my view, the project of cohering the Jewish people into a kind of national entity was a reactionary piece of social engineering, wrong in principle and ruinous in practice. Shlomo Sand’s work The Invention of the Jewish People shows very clearly the artificial nature of this, which pre-dated Zionism in a way, in the form of the historical work of Graetz and others in devising a historical narrative that tried to parallel the narratives that underpin other national projects. But to do this for a ‘people’ that did not possess a territory of its own was a qualitatively different kind of project, that indeed had the character of artificial social engineering.
That does not mean that the creation of an actual territorial state by the partisans of such a project, had no material impact, and did not change reality. It did not change the fact that the Jews are not a nation. Nor did it make the speakers of the artificially-revived Hebrew language in the Levant into a nation either. But it created a situation where both subsets of Jews, those in Israel, and those (including in Israel) with common loyalty to Israel in the wider world, had some elements of nationhood or nationality, both without constituting the real thing. The semi-national entity in Israel exists in a kind of unstable dynamic equilibrium with a wider semi-national pan-Jewish entity elsewhere. Those are changes in consciousness, which is a material force if it grips masses of people, made by the conquests of Zionism in the material world. But neither are viable nations; both are unstable semi-national formations. One built entirely on land taken by force from a proper, viable nation. The other still without a proper territory, though it does have a territorial asset, the very same one as the first.
The problem with your contention regarding the Balfour declaration that “we see it as having been in the interest of British imperialism itself, which sought to settle Jews in Palestine or the Sinai as a means of controlling the Suez Canal” is that Britain in 1917 had no reason to believe that enough Jews would settle there to viably control Palestine, let alone the Suez Canal.
Where were these Jews supposed to come from at that point? Did the British make any effort to encourage Jews to settle there? Did they pay British Jews to settle there, or even attempt to persuade them to do so, or Jews from anywhere else that was under their control? There is no evidence of this.
When you question the following, you get it exactly wrong:
“… if the Jewish bourgeoisie throughout the world were in fact so powerful, how do you explain that the US and Canada closed their gates to Jewish immigration both before and during WWII?! For us, this prohibition of immigration clearly demonstrates that the North American Jewish bourgeois was not particularly powerful in the years following the Balfour Declaration.”
An equally strong argument could be made that it was precisely Zionists that fought very hard in favour of these restrictions, and that actually neither Britain nor the US, abstracting from the influence of the very conscious Zionists who were lobbying for exactly these restrictions, had any particular interest in funneling Jewish refugees to Palestine. This is borne out by the fact that British reticence and failure to live up to the hopes of the Zionists in this regard was a major factor in leading to armed conflict breaking out between the Zionists and the British towards the end of the mandate. I think it is clear that the British were in fact balancing between an aggressive Zionist movement with its own agenda, that wanted to take over the whole country (and indeed more), and the Arab population that was in a situation of weakness after the wholesale suppression of its armed uprising in 1936, but was nevertheless still a potentially potent force dangerous to the British – particularly if other Arabs became involved in conflict, which was highly possible.
Also, if Israel is simply a tool of traditional imperialist-colonialist interests (British and American), it shows a remarkable degree of independence and defiance of both. From the attack on the King David Hotel in the 1948 war, and the assassination of the UN envoy Bernardotte by the Zionists, to the destruction of the USS Liberty after the six day war, this tool of imperialism has shown a remarkable, serial ability to attack its sponsors. In fact, the British Governor of Palestine, Ronald Storrs, 1926 statement that Israel would be a ‘loyal little Jewish Ulster’ in the Middle East was an incredible piece of self-delusion, in hindsight. I think the British Troops killed at the King David Hotel might have disagreed with this assessment.
“But look at the examples of Germany and Austria. In these two countries, following WWII, the Jews constitute an extremely small minority – both in the general population as well as among the bourgeoisie – as a result of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, pro-Zionist sentiment within the ruling class and bourgeois “public opinion” is extremely high, as our Austrian comrades have themselves experienced. The reason for this pro-Zionist sentiment is not any sense of guilt among the ruling class due to the Holocaust – they clearly don’t care much about the Roma people who were also genocidally murdered in WWII. Rather, the source of this pro-Zionist sentiment is in political strategic reasons, i.e., the role which Israel plays in the Middle East to help the US and EU to control that region.”
In a sense, you are right, but not in the sense you yourselves mean. It is indeed ‘strategic reasons’ that guide the German and Austrian bourgeoisie to publicly appear to ‘atone’ for their crimes against the Jews by obsequious pro-Zionism, but not for their crimes against the Roma. Roma have very little power in the world, but that is not true of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie of the USA and its WWII imperialist allies, particularly since their power was qualitatively upgraded though the formation of Israel and then its strategic consolidation in the six-day war. The German (and Austrian) bourgeoisie lost a world war against the United States and its allies, and has been purged and subordinated to them. So they are constrained to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States, and therefore to its most crucial ally, Israel.
In strictly material, state-to-state terms, one would think that Germany is a much more important ally of the USA than Israel, with its much larger population, its much larger economy and its much larger potential field of operation economically, which potentially includes much of Russia – equally if not more strategic than the Middle East. Why then is Germany (and Austria, its mini-appendage) compelled to be obsequious to Israel, and not the other way round? Why again, should its interests in a bloc with the USA mean slavish approval of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians? Why should it not adopt a more distanced policy, with room for difference, like the differential attitude of US politicians towards Ireland during the ‘troubles’ and before?
Then also you write:
“You seem to believe that those who are strongly pro-Zionist are necessarily Jewish. We don’t believe that this is in fact the case. Take all the Christian fundamentalists in the US, the pro-Zionists at the head of all parties in Germany and Austria, etc. Furthermore, how do you explain that various extreme right-wing parties in Western Europe – like the French Front National or the Austrian FPÖ – who have traditionally supported anti-Semitism and who definitely have had no “Jewish influence” during their entire histories, strongly support Zionism and the Israeli state?! Again, this is because of political and strategic imperialist interests, not because of some sort of hegemonic “Jewish caste” within these countries’ bourgeoisies.”
I have already dealt with the question of the bourgeoisie in Germany and Austria – see above. But regarding the Christian Zionists in the US, I believe it is the case that Christian Zionists are ideologically dependent upon Jewish Zionists and cannot exist without them. The entire concept of ‘return’ of the Jews to Zion heralding the supposed Second Coming of Christ, depends upon the existence of a substantial number of Jews willing to do just that. Without that precondition, that is simply a eschatological, theological fantasy that cannot be acted upon. This element has existed as an undercurrent in Protestant theology for centuries, but it was doomed to remain a forlorn hope so long as no Jews wanted to ‘help’ implement it. So as I see it, Christian Zionism, far from being the master of Jewish Zionism, bears a subordinate relationship to it.
As for the far right, I consider that this proves the opposite – the Jackal elements who use the dominant bigotries in capitalist society are adapting to the new situation where Jews have ascended today’s hierarchy of ‘races’ (more accurately, of racisms). Their aim is to focus the most relevant and active forms of bigotry and incorporate it into their programme of smashing the working class movement and the movements of the oppressed. In France and the UK, such movements have begun to pick up Jewish support, this reflects the change in the hierarchy again.
“Precisely because there is no such thing as a global “Jewish nation,” Jews in their respective countries are first and foremost a part of their respective native nations, and not of a separate “Jewish nation.” Similarly, Jews who played an influential role in the history of the workers’ movement did not necessarily advance “Jewish” interests per se. As you certainly know, such false accusations were exactly the reactionary view cultivated against “Jewish Bolshevism” which deduced this Anti-Semitic slander from the prominent role of Jews among the party’s leadership. Similarly, it seems nonsensical to us to derive from the Jewish roots of American politicians or capitalists their constituting a joint ruling class with the Israeli bourgeoisie.”
I actually think this is a wrong analysis of the source of anti-semitism. Though Jews were certainly not a nation, It was never true that Jews were simply part of their respective nations. Their relative estrangement from the nations they lived in meant that Jewish working class radicals were less inclined to become social-imperialists and social-chauvinists, though they were not always completely immune. This relative immunity from chauvinism did not come from advancing ‘Jewish’ interests, but it certainly did come from that estrangement from the bourgeois nationalism of the conventional nations. That was a good thing, profoundly progressive.
But the politics of fusing the Jews into a distinct people certainly did result in a concept of ‘Jewish’ interests. Even more when such a movement formed up around the demand for a state, and still more if it acquires a territorial asset. Today, in the USA and other countries like Britain and France, Israel has the overwhelming loyalty of most Jews, which see it as in some sense ‘their’ state. Even opponents of Zionism who seek an alternative form of Jewish identity in opposition to Zionism (which I think is an illusion) concede that this is the objective and subjective situation. Of course, these are not just atomized ‘Jewish people’ in general, they are led by a bourgeoisie, as Zionism, both in Israel and elsewhere, is a bourgeois movement. It is not therefore the ‘Jewish roots’ of American politicians or capitalists that make them constitute an overlapping (not strictly ‘joint’) ruling class layer with the Israeli bourgeoisie, but the existence of that consciousness.
I have made this point in response to bourgeois critics of the influence of the ‘Israel lobby’, or the ‘Jewish lobby’, or even the ‘Jewish vote’ in US and Western politics. Why should such a ‘lobby’ be particularly powerful? Why should the ‘Jewish vote’ be powerful in US politics (it is only 2%; in the UK 0.5%). The answer, it is not powerful at all. What is powerful is the overrepresentation of Jewish bourgeois in the US, and some other (including the UK and French) ruling classes. This is what allows even bourgeois critics of Israeli irrationalities to be treated as if they were communist subversives, and often actually witch-hunted.
I do not have a great deal of confidence or regard for the token statements for the Palestinians in parliament in the UK or anywhere. They do not commit any government to anything, as I see it. Regarding the Obama administration’s prospective deal with Iran, as I see it this is a gamble of a President who cannot stand for election again, and hence whose career is effectively over. It is not only clear that it is opposed by the Republicans: it is also highly doubtful if it would be carried on by Obama’s successor either. Whether or not Clinton etc. openly denounce now it is a matter of tactics, it would not be smart to be seen to openly denounce an initiative of a President of your own party so close to an election year. But on the other hand, Hillary Clinton did not add her name to those condemning Netanyahu’s invitation to speak to Congress either, which I think says a lot.
I also have to say that the Netanyahu incident, even though it has proved divisive among supporters of Israel, is quite astonishing, and speaks for a servility of the United States, on paper an enormously more powerful state, before Israel. Can you really imagine a British prime minister or a German Chancellor attempting to so brazenly and openly undermine an American president in the way Netanyahu attempted? The very idea of such a thing would produce a chauvinist backlash against arrogant ‘Limeys’ or ‘Krauts’ telling ‘us Americans’ what to do, that it would be political suicide for all mainstream parties and politicians not to join in. The fact that this did not happen with Netanyahu’s speech shows that Israel’s relationship with the USA is qualitatively different to that of America’s other imperialist partners.
I disagree with this statement of yours:
“…once Israel will no longer be able to function for the Western imperialists as their main guardian in the Middle East, there could very possibly be an increase of Anti-Semitism in the West, sanctioned by sectors of the ruling class.”
This does seem to me to share an element of the Zionist view, an echo of the Zionist argument that Israel provides some kind of protection for Jews from an outside world that is universally racist against them, and that Jews will always face oppression.
Why should Jews become oppressed again? Actually, apart from perhaps in some parts of Eastern Europe, where some old prejudices have survived as in suspended animation due to the Stalinist ice-age, where elsewhere they had died out, the only anti-Jewish hostility these days seems to derive from Israel’s behavior in the Middle East, and from hostility to those who witchhunt critics (including even bourgeois critics) of these crimes in the Western countries. But that is not comparable to real anti-Jewish racism. Capital has plenty of other scapegoats, why should it need to drag Jews out of their now privileged position in the West to provide another one?
What pro-capitalist ideologues say about the abstract model of capitalism is in a sense true, there abstractly is no inherent economic reason why capitalism should be racist. But this abstract model of capitalism can never exist in the real world. In terms of the concrete development of capitalism, its growth through first primitive accumulation and old-style slavery, and then through colonialism and the more modern forms of composite super-exploitation and and semi-slavery associated with modern imperialism, the real, concrete, ‘actually existing capitalism’ could never in a thousand years overcome racism against peoples whose origins are in semi-colonial countries.
But the Jewish question is pretty rare in that it is not linked to a colonial question. It is a complex question bequeathed to capitalism by unresolved contradictions resulting from the history of European feudalism, that spans the bourgeois revolutions of the 18th and 19th Century, overlapping with the early period of proletarian revolutionary upheavals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is not linked to colonial or semi-colonial oppression or any of the features of imperialism that cannot melt away. There is no concrete reason why there should be a resurgence of bourgeois anti-Jewish racism even if Israel were to be dissolved in some way under capitalism. Jews in the advanced countries no longer are linked organicially to a pariah population elsewhere. Nor does the Jewish artisan proletariat, which was once the target of reactionary hatred for its working class radicalism, even exist anymore. So why should such a thing happen again? It seems to me as historically unlikely as a resurgence of the late absolutist French persecution of the Huguenots.
In fact, in my view the connotation that ‘anti-semitism’ has acquired today, having expanded its definition from racialized hatred to include criticisms of oppressive behavior by Jews, means that the term ‘anti-semitism’ itself has become, ironically, a racist cipher used to stigmatise and even ban such progressive criticism. There is such a thing as anti-Jewish racism, but in the words of Gilad Atzmon, the Israeli exiled Jazz Musician, ‘anti-semitism’ has become an empty signifier. Either you are a racist, or you are not.
On your final point, I also see no reason why Jews must always support Israel’s wars. It is true that the ‘Jewish vote’ in America is generally more socially liberal and aligned to the Democrats (this is not true in the UK, however, a recent survey showed that around 68% of British Jews support the Tories). But it appears to me, as I said earlier, that Jewish-Zionist influence is not really expressed through voting, or even though lobbying in the same, relatively atomized sense that other ‘lobbies’ exercise their influence. The ‘lobbying’ is only so effective because of the relative weight of the Jewish bourgeoisie in the US, which is way beyond the weight of American Jews in US Society as a whole. You can actually find many Jewish sources from the US that actually boast about this.
Certainly there have been significant numbers of religious Jews for whom Israel is contrary to Judaism and to be denounced. I also see it as highly likely that many non-religious Jews, who see their identity as associated in some way with Israel (which is how things have historically evolved today) will tend to lose their identification with Jewishness as and when Israel’s authority declines. I do however endorse the view of thinkers such as Gilad Atzmon and Shlomo Sand, that the concept of secular ‘Jewishness’ separate from the religion has become a racist, exclusive construct, and that conscious renunciation of this identity is today a progressive act. See How I Stopped Being a Jew by Shlomo Sand, and The Wandering Who by Gilad Atzmon.
Although these are by non-Marxist authors who have emerged from Israel, I have come to respect thinkers such as these more than most ‘Marxists’ today on the question of the Middle East, for their defying the concrete form of the nationalism of the oppressor in the Israeli society they originated in, and their embrace of the Palestinian cause. What is also true is that Atzmon, in particularly, has exposed the intolerance and conciliation towards Zionism of many on the Jewish left who claim to be anti-Zionist, and who uphold the paradigm of the ‘colonial-settler state’ explanation for Israel. I note that your position that Israel is an imperialist power in its own right partially contradicts the dominant thrust of that theses, which implies that it is the USA and its allies, not Israel or its Jewish bourgeoisie and ‘national’ entity, that is most culpable in Israel’s crimes.
I was pleased to see references to the Palestinian Shoah website among the footnotes within your articles on the Middle East, which is a website to which Gilad Atzmon has himself contributes (and indeed some of my own material has appeared a couple of times). But I do regard the defence against witchhunting of ex-Jewish radicals such as Atzmon, Israel Shamir, etc. who are regularly accused of ‘anti-semitism’ by not just Zionists, but others who are usually advocates of a supposedly progressive ‘alternative’ Jewish identity, as something of a touchstone of real anti-Zionism. I am hopeful that you will agree with me on this.
Addendum: Letter on Israel/Jewish Question from RCIT:
In this letter we … would like to express our thoughts on your conception of the Jewish question. Let us first state where we agree with you. As you might know the RCIT (and our predecessor organizations) share with you a position of intransigent Anti-Zionism. As you can see from our numerous publications on this issue, we have always been for the unconditional right of return of Palestinian refugees, the destruction of the Zionist state, a single state from the river to the sea, and for the military victory of the Arab states and the Palestinian resistance in all wars from 1948 until today. We also agree in our opposition to the right of national self-determination for settler “nations” like the Israeli Jews.
From your letter, we got the impression that you fully appreciate what it means to take such position not only from within Europe but also in the heart of the beast itself, i.e. Israel. Comrade Yossi, and the groups he has led, have publicly taken such a consistently vehement Anti-Zionist position for decades, and have combined it with concrete practical work in support of the Palestinian people. It hardly needs to be explained why comrade Yossi has become such a hated figure for many Zionists. Another leading Jewish ISL comrade, Boris Hammerschlag, was injured last summer while defending a mostly Palestinian anti-war demonstration in Haifa when it was attacked by Zionist fascists during the Gaza war. (http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/fascists-attack-pro-gaza-demo-in-haifa/). A young Jewish ISL woman comrade was also harassed while at home by Zionist fascists during the last war. Another Jewish ISL comrade was in prison for refusing to serve in the army during this war. (http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/report-israeli-prisoner/)
Workers Power/LFI also always took an Anti-Zionist position. A brief Google check will show you that comrade Michael has also become a hated figure for the Zionists as well as reformist and liberal bureaucrats in his country, Austria, and has been sentenced by a court for breaking up a Zionist meeting in March 2005. (See e.g. http://www.hagalil.com/archiv/2006/08/proebsting.htm) Another leading RCIT comrade in Austria, Johannes Wiener, was also the victim of Zionists who (futilely) tried to bring him to court for a pro-Palestinian “hate-speech” during the Gaza war in November 2012. (See e.g. http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/solidarity-with-wiener-won/)
We mention all this because we want to demonstrate that Anti-Zionism is nothing new to us but rather our longstanding historical position, and that we do not only hold such positions in theory but also implement them in the practice of class struggle. We also recall these details here to show how fully aware we are, from our own experience, that the Zionist forces are leading a hate-campaign in Western countries against revolutionary opponents of Israel.
We also agree with your assessment that support for Israel and Zionism plays a very important role in the policy of the ruling classes in the imperialist US and EU.
However, where we seem to disagree with you is in our understanding of the reasons for the pro-Zionist stand of Western imperialism. It appears that you see the primary reason for such support in the disproportionally influential position of Jewish capitalists among the ruling classes of the US and EU. We, on the other hand, don’t observe the existence of a united Jewish ruling class which both controls Israel while also forming a special and influential caste within the US and EU ruling classes. To the contrary, we see the primary reason for the strong support of US and EU imperialism in the overlapping of strategic interests between the US and EU bourgeoisies (which contains relatively few Jews) on the one hand and the Israeli bourgeoisie on the other hand. Throughout its history Israel functioned as a bridgehead of Western imperialism – a role which Theodor Herzl already envisaged in his book The Jewish State: There, he wrote: “We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.”
It is primarily the political interests of Western imperialists which drive their pro-Zionist policy – and not the power of Jewish capitalists among these Western ruling classes. Naturally, there are some capitalists of Jewish origin among the US and EU ruling class. But usually their profits are not made by means of their activities in Israel – Foreign Direct Investment in Israel forms only a very small portion of overall FDI of US and EU capitalists. Rather capitalists of Jewish origin in the US and EU primarily invest their capital in their own or other Western countries or in the semi-colonial world. Hence they do not have any particular economic reason to identify their interests with Israel.
Let us examine a few examples. You write in your letter:
“Though it has its roots in events going back as far as the early years of the Zionist movement, when a degree of bourgeois support and competition of the European imperialist powers for the support of influential Jewish bourgeois in the United States led to Britain to issue the Balfour Declaration, the blueprint for Israel.”
From our perspective, the Balfour Declaration was not issued because of the power and influence of the international Jewish bourgeoisie. Rather, we see it as having been in the interest of British imperialism itself, which sought to settle Jews in Palestine or the Sinai as a means of controlling the Suez Canal. If this were not the case, and if the Jewish bourgeoisie throughout the world were in fact so powerful, how do you explain that the US and Canada closed their gates to Jewish immigration both before and during WWII?! For us, this prohibition of immigration clearly demonstrates that the North American Jewish bourgeois was not particularly powerful in the years following the Balfour Declaration.
“The imperialist formation that is Israel has a unique form, since part of its ruling class resides outside the country and overlaps with the ruling class of other imperialist countries – most importantly, but not confined to, the United States. This is a historical product of the development of the Jews from a trading/moneyed people class under feudalism, to a situation where part of that people have become a distinct caste within the bourgeoisie of several advanced Western imperialist nations. The Zionist movement, which was initially led by a radical petty-bourgeois ‘Jacobin’ vanguard, solidified into something that embraced most, though not all, of the overseas Jewish bourgeoisie” (https://commexplor.com/2015/03/01/palestine-western-culture-tropes/)
But look at the examples of Germany and Austria. In these two countries, following WWII, the Jews constitute an extremely small minority – both in the general population as well as among the bourgeoisie – as a result of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, pro-Zionist sentiment within the ruling class and bourgeois “public opinion” is extremely high, as our Austrian comrades have themselves experienced. The reason for this pro-Zionist sentiment is not any sense of guilt among the ruling class due to the Holocaust – they clearly don’t care much about the Roma people who were also genocidally murdered in WWII. Rather, the source of this pro-Zionist sentiment is in political strategic reasons, i.e., the role which Israel plays in the Middle East to help the US and EU to control that region.
Of course American and European capitalists (Jews and non-Jews) do invest in Israel and for the last two decades there has also been an increase in Israeli foreign investment in Western countries. In this sense these capitalists become, to a certain extent, part of the national ruling class abroad. But this does not make Jewish capitalists a special, influential caste among the Western bourgeoisie.
We fear that you, to a certain degree, may have unwittingly adapted to Zionist ideology which claims that Israel is the state of all the Jews (or even all the capitalist Jews). Again, this is Zionist ideology, but not in fact the reality. The ruling class of Israel is essentially made up of the country’s Jewish Tycoons.
You write in your letter:
“For instance, how else does one explain the obvious power of AIPAC and other Zionist lobbying groups in the United States, which dominate both the twin parties of capital and can easily destroy the political careers of dissident bourgeois politicians of either party who speak out of turn, even in a tepid and inadequate way, in favour of some kind of Palestinian rights? How else do you explain the hegemony in the UK of the Conservative Friends of Israel, which boasts that 80% of Tory MP’s are its supporters, or the comparable level of influence that the Labour Friends of Israel has in Labour? The Lib Dem Friends of Israel have also made their presence felt in recent years, not least by witch-hunting outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights within that party, such as Jenny Tonge and David Ward.”
You seem to believe that those who are strongly pro-Zionist are necessarily Jewish. We don’t believe that this is in fact the case. Take all the Christian fundamentalists in the US, the pro-Zionists at the head of all parties in Germany and Austria, etc. Furthermore, how do you explain that various extreme right-wing parties in Western Europe – like the French Front National or the Austrian FPÖ – who have traditionally supported anti-Semitism and who definitely have had no “Jewish influence” during their entire histories, strongly support Zionism and the Israeli state?! Again, this is because of political and strategic imperialist interests, not because of some sort of hegemonic “Jewish caste” within these countries’ bourgeoisies.
Precisely because there is no such thing as a global “Jewish nation,” Jews in their respective countries are first and foremost a part of their respective native nations, and not of a separate “Jewish nation.” Similarly, Jews who played an influential role in the history of the workers’ movement did not necessarily advance “Jewish” interests per se. As you certainly know, such false accusations were exactly the reactionary view cultivated against “Jewish Bolshevism” which deduced this Anti-Semitic slander from the prominent role of Jews among the party’s leadership. Similarly, it seems nonsensical to us to derive from the Jewish roots of American politicians or capitalists their constituting a joint ruling class with the Israeli bourgeoisie.
We maintain that the power of the pro-Zionist lobbies is rooted in the role which Israel has played for the imperialist domination of the Middle East, and not the power of the Jewish capital in these countries. Why is this important? Because once Israel will no longer be able to function in this capacity, support from the US and the EU will become more limited. One can already see this in small cases like the primarily symbolic vote for a Palestine state in the British, French, and Spanish parliaments which so infuriated the ruling class in Israel. Similarly, the Obama administration is looking for a deal with the Iranian regime against the tremendous opposition of Israel. How can they do this if the “Jewish caste bourgeoisie” is so influential in these countries?!
To this you might reply t that the Republicans recently organized a huge media appearance for Nethanyahu in the US Congress. This is, of course, true but the main reason for this was not that the Republicans are dominated by Jewish capitalists (in fact US Jews tend in their overwhelming majority to support the Democrats), but rather that the Republicans desperately wanted to humiliate the Obama administration. Similar campaigns of the Republicans are organized around other issues totally unrelated to Israel (like the agreement on the annual budget, etc.)
Furthermore, once Israel will no longer be able to function for the Western imperialists as their main guardian in the Middle East, there could very possibly be an increase of Anti-Semitism in the West, sanctioned by sectors of the ruling class.
Finally, it is also wrong to believe that American Jews all support Israel and its wars. In fact, there are numerous polls which show that a growing number of American Jews are actually distancing themselves from Israel, and may even feel that Israel’s policies constitute a threat for them.
We conclude our response to your letter with these remarks and look forward to your reply.