Socialist Worker

Is it racist to oppose Israel?

Issue No. 1720

Is it racist to oppose Israel?

By Matthew Cookson

THE NEW Palestinian uprising is leading some commentators to claim that it is anti-Jewish to oppose the state of Israel. This is a fundamental misunderstanding both of the nature of the state of Israel and of the roots of anti-Semitism, or hatred of Jews. It is not true that the majority of Jewish people have always looked to a homeland in the Middle East.

The movement that promoted a separate state for Jews, called Zionism, only developed amongst Jewish communities in Europe in the late 19th century. This was a response to growing anti-Semitism, as the ruling classes of Europe attempted to scapegoat Jews for an economic crisis. Zionism reflected the hatred towards Jews by putting forward the notion that Jews and non-Jews could never live together. The Zionists wanted to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, claiming that the Old Testament gave them the right to do so.

Even so, only a small minority of Jews looked towards Zionism as a solution. The vast majority of Jews supported the socialist movements. They realised that the only way to get rid of anti-Semitism was through collective struggle with non-Jewish workers against the capitalists who exploited them both.

Left wing Jewish organisations had mass support. The Bund organisation in Russia had 40,000 members in 1903. Jews such as Leon Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev were leaders of the country's revolutionary movement.

In Germany the socialist SPD had around one million members. Its leading figures included Eduard Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky, all of whom were Jewish. All of the socialist organisations of the time argued against the creation of a Jewish homeland.

Nobody at the beginning of the 20th century would have argued that being anti-Zionist meant you hated Jews. When Jews did flee bloody pogroms against them Palestine was the last place most headed for. Almost four million fled Europe between 1880 and 1929. Nearly three million moved to the US. Only 120,000 settled in Palestine. It was only after the horrific slaughter of the Holocaust between 1939 and 1945, when Nazi Germany systematically exterminated six million Jews, that Zionism became a majority trend amongst Jews.

When the US made it clear that it backed a Jewish state in Palestine some Jews felt they could go there to escape the persecution they had suffered in Europe. But most Jews still moved to the US. The creation of the state of Israel meant that some Jews swapped being the oppressed in Europe for being the oppressor in the Middle East. In 1948 Zionists massacred between 200 and 300 Palestinians in the village of Deir Yassin. Israel then used this to drive over 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland.

It has continued to oppress the Palestinians ever since. It is the violence of Israel towards the Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states that is the cause of the anti-Jewish sentiment that exists today amongst some Arabs.

Israel's invasion of Egypt and Jordan in 1967, the treatment of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 have all created huge bitterness. Before the First World War anti-Semitism was confined to Europe. It didn't exist in the Arab countries where large numbers of Jews lived in peace with the majority population.

The first attacks by Palestinians on Jews took place in 1920 and 1921. They were a response to a promise by the British to back Jewish settlements in the region. The setting up of an ethnic Jewish enclave that is surrounded by peoples hostile to its existence has pushed many Jews to the right.

War criminals such as Ariel Sharon, who organised death squads to kill Palestinians in the 1950s, and in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, have mass support in the Israel of today. But despite the propaganda pumped out in support of Israel by its Western backers there are still many Jews who are disgusted by its treatment of the Palestinians and its support for US interests.

This has led them to reject Zionism as a false hope and to look to an alternative to the anti-Semitism that many Jews still face. They, like the Jewish socialists of the early 20th century, see a collective struggle against oppression as the only way to remove the disease of anti-Semitism from society.

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Sat 28 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1720
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