Demystifying left anti-Semitism

Much of the British Left comprehends anti-Semitism as the exclusive property of the Right: either as a phenomenon of the far Right (fascists) against Jewish people, or as a false accusation by the Israeli Right and its allies against the Left to silence political criticism of Israel, or as an ironic bedfellow of the Israeli Right to justify its existence as an expansionist and racist nation-state.

Antisemitism, by political cartoonist Carlos Latuff (Wikimedia Commons)

“Antisemitism” by the Brazilian left-wing political cartoonist Carlos Latuff (Wikimedia Commons)

"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" (by Latuff), referring to the Aesop's fable of that name (Wikimedia Commons)

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf” by Carlos Latuff (Wikimedia Commons)

In this blog post I endeavour to demystify left-wing anti-Semitism. Moreover, I define anti-Semitism, including historical and contemporary left-wing anti-Semitism, as anti-Jewish racism. Specifically, I present: a general history of racism and anti-Jewish racism; an overview of what has been defined as the anti-Semitic anti-Zionism of the Stalinist Left and New Left of the 1960s and 1970s; the consequences of a colonial model of racism, as developed in US and British academia since the 1960s, for enquiry into anti-Jewish racism and the framing of Zionism; and, contra to an absolute colonial model of racism, an understanding of the interrelationship between the capitalist mode of production, the nation-state, and racism. Within this context, I conclude by expounding the contemporary nature of left-wing anti-Jewish racism. I draw on a range of sources, but primarily upon the work of the sociologist and Marxist scholar Professor Robert Miles.

 

I. Racism and anti-Jewish racism: origins and evolving nature

“The specific content of racism should be expected to change temporally and contextually. A discourse ‘inherited’ from the past is likely to be reconstituted if it is to be used to make sense of the world in a new context, while new circumstances can be expected to stimulate the formation of new representations.” (Miles 1989: 133)

In the history of racism, a key transformation occurred with the epistemological shift from religion to science as the standard criterion to measure and evaluate the apparent nature of the social and material world (Miles, 1989). Miles (1989: 13-18) explains the early origins and evolution of (European) racism:

“prior to the fifteenth century, the geographical region that is now Europe had been subject to a variety of invasions from Asia (Baudet 1976: 4) and the ‘old continuous nations’ of Europe were haltingly emergent rather than extant (Seton-Watson 1977: 21-87). The notion of Europe as an entity began to emerge only in the eighth century (Lewis 1982: 18) and, until at least the twelfth century, it was subordinate to the economic and politico-military power of the Islamic world, its populations being in practice colonised (Kaye 1985: 61). Indeed, it was because the Islamic world constituted a dominant force, motivated and legitimated by a view of history by which ‘the Muslims were the bearers of God’s truth with the sacred duty of bringing it to the rest of mankind’ (Lewis 1982: 39), that a representation of Europe as a distinct entity expressed by the common religion of Christianity was to emerge. […] Before the interests of the feudal monarchies and merchant capital of Western Europe combined in order to colonise the Americas from the fifteenth century onwards, the main focus of external interest (and concern) was the Middle East, North Africa and India, collectively known as the Orient.”

As Edward Said (1995: 59-60) notes in Orientalism:

“Not for nothing did Islam come to symbolize terror, devastation, the demonic, hordes of hated barbarians. For Europe, Islam was a lasting trauma. Until the end of the seventeenth century the ‘Ottoman peril’ lurked alongside Europe to represent for the whole of Christian civilization a constant danger, and in time European civilization incorporated that peril and its lore, its great events, figures, virtues, and vices, as something woven into the fabric of life.”

Miles (1989: 20-24) continues:

“By the fifteenth century, the centre of economic and political power in Europe had consolidated in the emergent nation states of the north and west of the continent (Kiernan 1972: 12-13, Wallerstein 1974). Trade, travel, and exploration were interdependent elements in an attempt by the feudal ruling classes to resolve a major economic crisis (Fox-Genovese and Genovese 1983: 10) and together, they widened the European contact with populations elsewhere in the world. This resulted in a major change in the structural context within which representations of the Other were generated and reproduced. Up to this point, the non-Islamic Other was beyond and outside the European arena. Moreover, in the case of the discourse about the Islamic Other, it was for a long time a representation generated in the context of European subordination to a greater economic and military power. But once the emergent European city and nation states began to expand their material and political boundaries to incorporate other parts of the world within a system of international trade (Braudel 1984: 89-174), a system which was subsequently linked with colonial settlement, the populations they confronted in this exercise were within the arena of Europe in an economic and political sense, even though not spatially. And when colonisation became an objective, a class of Europeans began a new era of contact and interrelationship with indigenous populations, a contact that was increasingly structured by competition for land, the introduction of private property rights, the demand for labour force, and the perceived obligation of conversion to Christianity. Collectively, these were all embodied in the discourse of ‘civilisation’. […] The complexity of European representations was hierarchically ordered around the view that Europeans were superior by virtue of their ‘civilisation’ and achievements (of which world travel and trade were but one sign): the condition of the Other was represented as proof of that interpretation.”

From the late eighteenth century, with the secularisation of culture and the rising hegemony of science, a transformation in European representations of the Other took place, namely, “the emergence of the idea of ‘race’” – “an idea that was taken up by scientific enquiry and increasingly attributed with a narrow and precise meaning”:

“As a result, the sense of difference embodied in European representations of the Other became interpreted as a difference of ‘race’, that is, as a primarily biological and natural difference which was inherent and unalterable. Moreover, the supposed difference was presented as scientific (that is, objective) fact. This discourse of ‘race’, although the product of ‘scientific’ activity, came to be widely reproduced throughout Europe, North America and the European colonies in the nineteenth century, becoming, inter alia, a component part of common-sense discourse at all levels of the class structure and a basic component of imperialist ideologies (for example, Biddiss 1979b, MacKenzie 1984).” (Miles 1989: 30-31)

This scientific discourse of ‘race’ did not simply replace earlier representations of the Other, rather earlier ideas of “savagery, barbarism, and civilisation both predetermined the space that the idea of ‘race’ occupied but were then themselves reconstituted by it” (Miles 1989: 33). While the end of the Second World War marked an era in which the scientific establishment largely discredited the determining biological category of ‘race’, the idea of ‘race’ survives and continues to evolve as an everyday common-sense discourse, id est, as an ideological framework for making sense of the world and its social and material relations.

Vis-à-vis anti-Jewish racism, the historical shift from Christian anti-Semitism (which was religious-based) to racial anti-Semitism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries effectively fused religion with the idea of ‘race’ born from ‘racial’ science. Miles (1989: 36) observes that within Europe:

“representations of the Other as an inferior ‘race’ focused, amongst others, on the Irish (Curtis 1968, 1971) and Jews (Mosse 1978). This was sustained partly by claiming a biological superiority for the Nordic ‘race’.”

"The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History". In this book Madison Grant states the superiority of the Nordic 'race' and the case for a eugenics programme to enable this 'race' to survive. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History (Wikimedia Commons)

In The Passing of the Great Race (1916), Madison Grant describes the superiority of the Nordic ‘race’:

Homo europaeus, the white man par excellence. It is everywhere characterized by certain unique specializations, namely, wavy brown or blond hair and blue, gray or light brown eyes, fair skin, high, narrow and straight nose, which are associated with great stature, and a long skull, as well as with abundant head and body hair. […] The Nordics are, all over the world, a race of soldiers, sailors, adventurers, and explorers, but above all, of rulers, organizers, and aristocrats in sharp contrast to the essentially peasant character of the Alpines. Chivalry and knighthood, and their still surviving but greatly impaired counterparts, are peculiarly Nordic traits, and feudalism, class distinctions, and race pride among Europeans are traceable for the most part to the north.”

Grant argues for a eugenics programme – improving the population ‘stock’ via controlled breeding of advantageous ‘racial’ characteristics – to enable the survival of the Nordic ‘race’.

"The Passing of the Great Race - Map 4" by Madison Grant, 1916 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Map Four: Present Distribution of the European Races” from The Passing of the Great Race. This illustrates Grant’s vision of a status quo, with the Nordic ‘race’ in red, the Alpine ‘race’ in green, and the Mediterranean ‘race’ in yellow (Wikimedia Commons)

Campaigns for immigration controls in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century focused on Jewish refugees from eastern Europe:

“the notions of ‘immigrant’ and ‘alien’ became synonymous in everyday life with that of Jew […] Moreover, Jewishness was increasingly interpreted as a quality determined by blood, and therefore as hereditary and ineradicable. References to the existence of a Jewish ‘race’ became common. This ‘race’ was signified as an alien presence that had the potential to destroy civilised society through the promotion of an international conspiracy: consequently, the Jews became the racialised ‘enemy within’” (Miles 1993: 135-136)

British Brothers League poster, from 1902, aiming at stemming Jewish immigration to the East End of London (Wikimedia Commons)

A British Brothers League poster from 1902, which aimed to curb Jewish immigration to the East End of London (Wikimedia Commons)

Demands for immigration controls to the United States in the early twentieth century included pro-Nordic and anti-Jewish ‘racial’ components:

“In comparison with people of British, German and Scandinavian ‘stock’, Italian, Polish, Russian and Jewish immigrants were said to have naturally inferior intelligence and their increasing presence in the United States was considered to lower the average level of intelligence.” (Miles 1989: 58)

Within a wider economic and political crisis, it was in Nazi Germany “that the idea of the Jews as a degenerate, unproductive and criminal ‘race’, as simultaneously a ‘race’ of exploiters and revolutionaries (Mosse 1978: 178, 219)”, evolved into a state policy and practice of genocide (Miles 1989: 59).

"This picture shows me, Capt. Alfred de Grazia, in front of a pile of dead bodies at Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria Germany, two (maybe three) days after the liberation of the camp by the American army. I was then Commanding Officer of the Psychological Warfare Combat Propaganda Team attached to HQ, the Seventh Army." (Wikimedia Commons)

“This picture shows me, Capt. Alfred de Grazia, in front of a pile of dead bodies at Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria Germany, two (maybe three) days after the liberation of the camp by the American army. I was then Commanding Officer of the Psychological Warfare Combat Propaganda Team attached to HQ, the Seventh Army.” (Wikimedia Commons)

 

II. Stalinism, the New Left, and anti-Semitic anti-Zionism

In the USSR the period between 1949 and 1953 was marked by an officially-endorsed anti-Zionism that was anti-Semitic. This period concluded in a series of show trials, including the Slansky trial, which demonised the alleged collaborators of Zionism as bourgeois, cosmopolitan, Trotskyist, and conspiratorial enemies of the state (Crooke 2002; Rapoport 1990; Rodinson 1983; Vaksberg 1994; Wistrich 1979). Although the 1953 Doctors’ Plot, a planned show trial of five Jewish doctors accused of attempting to poison Stalin and his aides whilst ‘under the influence of Zionism’, was cancelled after Stalin’s death, by the end of this period Zionism was popularly depicted as the stalking horse of US and Western imperialism. Post-1967, another official anti-Zionism campaign began in the USSR and Eastern Europe (Ciolkosz 1979; Crooke 2002; Oschlies 1979). Oschlies (1979: 161) illustrates its anti-Semitism by referencing a letter published in June 1968 in the Prague evening newspaper Vecerni praha:

“During the last few years a tacit, but persistent, anti-semitism has informed official attitudes, and it will take a long time before it can be eradicated… In this context the word Zionism is invariably used. Please take your notebook and interview people; I am sure they will tell you what they always tell me: that (a) Jews are out to destroy the socialist countries; (b) Jews aspire to world domination; (c) They want to revenge themselves for the victims of the gas chambers.”

With anti-Semitic anti-Zionism becoming common currency in Stalinist Communist Parties worldwide, it is argued that the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s (pioneered by a number of ex-Communist Party members) inherited this tendency as part of a general leftist, anti-imperialist, third worldist, and ultimately dual campist outlook (Cohen 2004; Frei 1979; Forster 1979; Hearst 1979; Krämer-Badoni 1979). This New Left represented an orientation away from class-centred politics towards activism linked to broader protest movements and mass politics, with its proponents ideologically drawing from, notably, Debray, Fanon, Guevara, and Mao (Buhle 1991; Cohen 2004; Scruton 1998) and motivated by the national liberation struggle of the Viet Cong in North Vietnam and the national revolutions of Cuba and Algeria (Cohen 2004).

After the formation of the nation-state of Israel in 1948, general public opinion in the West, including on the Left, regarded Israel as a civilised country amid backward, barbaric masses who desired its annihilation (Rodinson 1968, 1983). As this opinion feared Israel’s destruction in the escalation to the Arab-Israeli Six-day war of June 1967, pro-Israeli demonstrations took place in, for example, London, New York, and Paris (Rodinson 1968, 1983). For Edward Said for example, these demonstrations were pivotal: “1967 in New York, was probably the most shattering experience in my life, because I was surrounded on all sides by people who identified with the Israeli victors” (Said, cited in Katz and Smith, 2003: 645). Indeed, the portrayal of Arabs in the media during this time spurred Said’s writing of Orientalism (Katz and Smith 2003). The turning point, in terms of general leftist opinion, came with outcome of the 1967 war. Post-1967, Israel’s right to exist as a nation-state was called into question by a new generation of Maoists, Trotskyists, and New Leftists (Bassi 2012; Cohen 2004; Crooke 2002; Wistrich 1979):

“the Israeli victory in the 1967 war and subsequent settlement of occupied Arab territories […] brought the younger generation of Western Marxists, the Trotskyist or Maoist ‘new left’, to an extreme anti-Israeli position. Israel, which from 1967 also developed close relations with the US, was condemned as racist, the oppressor of the Palestinians and the main progenitor of imperialism and colonialism in the Middle East (Halbrook, 1974; Ram, 1999; Rubinstein, 1982; Said, 1980; Turner, 1984).” (Golan 2001: 129)

The “militant anti-imperialism” of the 1968 Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Charter, including its call for a democratic secular Palestinian state in all of former British Mandate Palestine, situated the Palestinian cause “at the forefront” of the New Left’s broad revolutionary politics (Hassan 2002: 64).

Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati: Pro-Arab pickets at Israeli birthday celebrations in 1973 (Wikimedia Commons)

Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati, 1973: pro-Arab pickets at Israeli birthday celebrations (Wikimedia Commons)

For this New Left, Frei (1979: 260) concludes, “Israel is a colonial fact, a ‘spearhead’ created in the back of the Arab peoples to prevent their emancipation from imperialism; she is expansionist by nature, her ideology (Zionism) is racist and her politics fascist.”

 

III. Colonial model of racism and its consequences

Miles (1989: 67; 1993) is astutely critical of “much of the British and North American theorising about capitalism and racism since the 1960s”. Although such theorising acknowledges the immorality of racism which culminated in the Holocaust, it nonetheless:

“utilises a colonial model which has little scope to explain much of the European racism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and certainly not that form of racism which others label anti-semitism (for example, Cox 1970: 393-4); it does, however, have a relevance to the controversial debate about whether or not Zionism can be defined as an instance of racism (see Kayyali 1979). Consequently, we are offered definitions and theories of racism which are so specific to the history of overseas colonisation (that is, specific to the domination of ‘white’ over ‘black’ as so many writers express it) that they are of little value in explaining any other (non-colonial) context.” (Miles 1989: 67-68)

He offers a specific caution to the work of Stuart Hall and the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS):

“often implicit in their writing is the assumption that the only contemporary form of racism in Britain is that which has people of Caribbean and South Asian origin as its object. Even if this were the case during the 1970s (and I doubt that it was), it is not true for the late 1980s, a period which has witnessed the growth of an increasingly explicit racism against Jews […] The expression of anti-Irish racism is even more consistently ignored.” (Miles 1993: 85)

Miles insists that a theorisation and analysis of racism grounded solely in colonial history and which subsequently elevates the somatic characteristic of skin colour – such that racism is exclusively understood as a ‘white ideology’ created to dominate ‘black people’ – has “a specific and limited explanatory power” (Miles 1993: 148). Vis-à-vis the history of anti-Jewish (and anti-gypsy) racism in Europe, he explains:

“These instances demonstrate that, contrary to those who argue that ‘being black’ makes ‘black’ people especially vulnerable to racism in a ‘white society’, it is because visibility is always the outcome of a process of signification in a historical context that one can conclude that those who cannot be seen by virtue of their really existing phenotypical features are equally vulnerable to being racialized: their ‘non-visibility’ can be constructed by the racist imagination as the proof of their ‘real’ and ‘essential’ (but ‘concealed’) difference, which is then signified by a socially imposed mark (as in the example of the Nazi requirement that Jews wear a yellow Star of David: Burleigh and Wipperman 1991: 93-6).” (Miles 1993: 13-14)

"Frau mit Judenstern und Kind" (Wikimedia Commons)

“Frau mit Judenstern und Kind” (Wikimedia Commons)

Miles (1993: 14) continues:

“Otherness can also be constructed by means of a racism which signifies a wholly imaginary presence as real […] The very fact that there are so few living Jews can become socially accepted as proof of either the real extent of ‘Jewish power’ or of the continued success of Jews in assimilating themselves, of ‘hiding’ in order to continue their ‘destructive’ work. […] The racist imagination can be made to do its work not only with a real population as its subject (but transmuted through signification into an Other), but also with an absent, wholly imagined, subject (transmuted through signification into a ‘really existing’ Other).”

In sum:

“Many physical characteristics (both real and imagined) have been and continue to be signified as a mark of nature and of ‘race’ (cf. Guillaumin 1988). Moreover, cultural characteristics have also been, and continue to be, signified to the same end. The reification of skin colour therefore mistakenly privileges one specific instance of signification and ignores the historical and contemporary evidence which shows that other populations (Jews, Irish people, etc.) have been signified as distinct and inferior ‘races’ without reference to skin colour (Miles 1982, 1991b). Moreover, it restricts analysis of the nature and determinants of racism to a debate about the effects of colonial exploitation. […] The economic and social positons of Jews in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe cannot be understood as a situation, or a product, of colonialism.” (Miles 1993: 87-88)

Vis-à-vis anti-Jewish racism, the colonial model of racism, as prevalent in US and British academia (and indeed on the wider political Left), is not able to explain the combination of events, circumstances, and social relations in which certain populations have been racialised and excluded without being colonised; furthermore, this model offers intellectual credibility to the ahistorical notion of ‘Zionist racism’: of rich, colonial, white Jews oppressing poor, anti-colonial, brown Arabs.

 

IV. Capitalism, the nation-state, and racism

Contra the colonial model of racism, Miles (1993: 21) advances a theorisation and analysis of racism that focuses on:

“the articulation between the capitalist mode of production and the nation state, rather than between capitalism and colonialism, because […] this maps the primary set of social relations within which racism had its origins and initial effects. Colonialism was an integral moment of this articulation, but racism was not an exclusive product of colonialism […].”

Miles (1993: 61-62) recognises the distinct natures of nationalism and racism (including their potential overlap) and their developments amid European internal and external reorganisation of political economy:

“For much of the nineteenth century, nationalism was synonymous with a struggle for political sovereignty within defined spatial boundaries and for some form of representative government. […] By way of contrast, there was no single political strategy that emerged from the general theory of biological, hierarchical differentiation expressed in the idea of ‘race’. This was not only because there was little agreement about the boundaries between the supposed ‘races’, but also because scientific racism did not posit a single, coherent political object. The theorisation of ‘race’ and ‘nation’ took place at a time of ‘internal’ European political and economic reorganisation and ‘external’ colonial expansion, in the course of which the range of human cultural and physiological variation became more widely known to a larger number of people. The extension of capitalist relations of production increased the circulation of commodities and of people, and this increasing mobility, migration and social interaction provided part of the foundation upon which the ideologies of racism and nationalism were constructed. The increasing profusion of physiological and cultural variation, as recognised in western Europe, became the object of intellectual curiosity and, thereby, of the theoretical practice of scientists and philosophers. But it also became the focus of political attention and action as populations within and beyond Europe were nationalised and racialised by the state […].”

At the most extreme end of ‘racial’ science:

“‘race’ determined both cultural capacity and historical development, and it therefore followed that each ‘nation’ was the expression of a particular biological capacity. This was an articulation in which ‘race’ was ‘nation’.” (Miles 1989: 89)

Furthermore:

“Because ‘nations’ were identified as naturally occurring groups identifiable by cultural differentiae, it was logically possible to assert that these symbols of ‘nation’ were themselves grounded in ‘race’, that ‘blood or race is the basis of nationality […]’.” (Miles 1993: 62)

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

This was not, however, an articulation that happened in all historical instances – “there is no necessary reason why any particular ‘nation’ should be naturalised and identified by ‘race’” (Miles 1989; 1993: 64).

 

V. Contemporary left anti-Jewish racism

“An emphasis upon racism solely as a ‘false doctrine’ fails to appreciate that one of the conditions of existence of ideologies (which by definition constitute in their totality a false explanation, but which may nevertheless also incorporate elements of truth) is that they can successfully ‘make sense’ of the world, at least for those who articulate and use them.” (Miles 1989: 80)

I contend that operating in and through a mainstream current of leftist understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a particular ideological form of anti-Jewish racism which works to both ‘fix’ and ‘make sense’ of this conflict. This anti-Jewish racism has roots in the Stalinist Left and New Left of the 1960s and 1970s, and in the more general history of racism. What’s more, this anti-Jewish racism is compounded by the legacy of US and British academia’s colonial model of racism, which, one, provides limited to no recognition of racism beyond what ‘white people’ do to ‘black/brown people’ (and, within the recent discourse of Islamophobia, of what ‘white people’ do to ‘black/brown Muslims’) and, two, intellectually endorses an ahistorical notion of Zionism as an instance of racism. Leftists in this current argue that it is necessary for individual Jews to break from ‘them’ and assimilate to ‘us’ by becoming anti-Zionists who vocally denounce the existence of Israel. Indeed, the Left’s promotion of certain individual Jews who have done just this – for example, Ilan Pappé, Norman Finkelstein, Gilad Atzmon, and Tony Cliff (born Yigael Gluckstein) – is held up as proof of the Left’s tolerance and acceptance of Jews. And yet it is with critical qualification. Indeed, the evolving nature of racism has led to many instances in which its discourse accommodates the Other through a deemed necessary process of assimilation; take, for example, the Conservative Party general election poster from 1983: “Labour says he’s black, Tories say he’s British”. Perhaps the Left’s version could be stated as: “Israel says he’s a Zionist Jew, we say he’s a liberated anti-Zionist”.

Conservative Party 1983 general election poster (see here)

With racism in general, real and imagined somatic and/or cultural characteristics have historically been and continue to be signified as an innate mark of ‘race’. Indeed, there are historical instances in which representations of the Other have been based exclusively on cultural characteristics, notably, “European representations of the Islamic world”, which “extensively utilised images of barbarism and sexuality in the context of a Christian/heathen dichotomy” (Miles 1989: 40). Similar to all other manifestations of racism, with contemporary left anti-Jewish racism it is not difference per se that matters but the identification of this difference as significant (Miles 1989). Contemporary left anti-Jewish racism involves a process of signification that defines the Other by real and imagined cultural features – id est, it marks out a group of people in relation to Israeli/Zionist Jewishness – and assigns this categorised group of bodies with negative characteristics and as giving rise to negative consequences. This Jewish Other is generalised with a singular and static understanding of Israel and Zionism: that this Jewish collective has uniquely world domineering and tyrannical power.

Poster held by a protester at an anti-war rally in San Francisco on February 16, 2003 (Wikimedia Commons)

Poster held by a protester at an anti-war rally in San Francisco on February 16th 2003 (Wikimedia Commons)

The leftist demand (often implicit) that the Israeli Jewish nation-state must be undone because it is uniquely despotic (comparable only to fascist Germany and/or apartheid South Africa) – a judgement and a demand not made of any other nation-state worldwide now or in history – is racist. It is racist because real and imagined cultural characteristics have been and are signified as an innate mark of the nature of Israel and Zionism (and of the cultural ‘race’ of Jews associated with Israel and Zionism), which are deemed especially deplorable and negative in characteristics and consequences.

Protest in Edinburgh against Israeli war on Gaza Strip 10 01 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

Protest in Edinburgh against Israel’s war on Gaza, 10th January 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

Home-made placard from Melbourne protest about Israel's attack on Gaza, December 30th 2008 (Wikimedia Commons)

Home-made placard from a protest in Melbourne at the State Library against Israel’s attack on Gaza, December 30th 2008 (Wikimedia Commons)

Furthermore, the logic underpinning the leftist demand to boycott Israeli academia is an unprecedented denial and writing-off of any progressive role for the Israeli-Jewish working class now or in the future. This is racist since this working class is singled out and solidified like none other and is generalised as a cultural ‘race’ (of the collective Zionist Jews) that is especially wretched and negative in characteristics and consequences.

Miles (1993: 49) does well to remind us that:

“In so far as Marxism asserts that all social relationships are socially constructed and reproduced in specific historical circumstances, and that those relationships are therefore in principle alterable by human agency, then it should not have space for an ideological notion that implies, and often explicitly asserts, the opposite.”

 

Related posts:

Israel is not exceptional, look at Pakistan

The immorality of the One State idea in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a debate

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: what should the Left say?

Edward Said’s “Orientalism”: a critique through the spirit of Marx

Maxime Rodinson on Edward Said’s “Orientalism”

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Buhle, P (1991) Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left. London: Verso

Ciolkosz, A (1979) “’Anti-Zionism’ In Polish Communist Party Politics” in R Wistrich (Ed) The Left Against Zion: Communism, Israel and the Middle East. London: Vallentine, Mitchell and Co., 137-152

Cohen, B (2004) A Discourse of Delegitimisation: The British Left and the Jews, http://archive.jpr.org.uk/object-uk210

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Wistrich, R (Ed) (1979) The Left Against Zion: Communism, Israel and the Middle East. London: Vallentine, Mitchell and Co.

The immorality of the One State idea in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a debate

“There can be no doubt that the One State idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral, this is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. […] Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation.” (Uri Avnery, 2007)

Within the milieux of the academic and public Left, the idea of a two states settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has increasingly limited traction. Various forms of a one state or one shared space resolution are instead rapidly gaining intellectual dominance. The ‘two states solution’ is regarded as that of the ruling hegemonies of the West: an unjust, disingenuous, myopic solution with a rightist political agenda that favours Israel; and moreover, a solution that is more and more unrealistic given the ‘facts on the ground’.

Those of us on the Left who advocate a two states settlement – a diminishing minority both within Israel and worldwide – have an enormous responsibility and task to claim and distinguish, and to explain and debate, our own independent politics for a two states settlement. The edited extract below is from one such debate that took place in 2007 in Tel Aviv between Ilan Pappé and Uri Avnery (for a transcript of the full debate, see here “Two States or One State”).

A display of crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags with the word for peace in both Arabic (Salaam/Salam السلام) and Hebrew (Shalom שלום) (Wikimedia Commons)

A display of crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags with the word for peace in both Arabic (Salaam/Salam السلام) and Hebrew (Shalom שלום) (Wikimedia Commons)

Ilan Pappé commences the debate by presenting the following narrative. The moment that the nationalist movement of Zionism became an unequivocal colonial project was when the territory it sought became only and exclusively Palestine (home to an indigenous population). Moreover, the Zionist quest to become a democratic nation state was fundamentally and dangerously flawed since this was, and still is, bound together with the need for a Jewish majority, and a Jewish majority at all cost: up to and including the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Thus, the creation of Israel in 1948 should be recognised for what it is: a crime against humanity. The conflict comes down to a question of justice for the Palestinians against the Zionist Minotaur. The notion of justice for two sides is nonsensical. Even when all of Palestine has been given to the Jewish State (with its never-ending territorial hunger), this State will continue to drive for a democratic majority, i.e. a Jewish majority, and so to ethnically cleanse. The two states solution satisfies, rather than challenges and undoes, Zionist territorial hunger and maintains Israel as a Jewish majority state. Under the guise of the peace process for two states, there has been continued ethnic cleansing and imprisonment of Palestinians. Settlement building and ever greater ‘facts on the ground’ have resulted in a reality where no two states solution is actually (meaningfully) possible. Instead, the two states solution merely separates the occupier and the occupied. What is actually needed is redress for the crime and injustice of 1948. It is no wonder, Pappé concludes, that the heads of the Israeli and US states favour a two states solution, because the principle of justice can never be delivered through this formula. The way forward politically is to provide an alternative to two states – the call for one state – and to build an international boycott movement to ‘out’ Israel for what it is: a pariah state.

Uri Avnery responds with the following counter-narrative. Zionism committed a historical injustice to the Palestinians. The occupation must be terminated. On the question of ethnic cleansing, both sides in 1948 were guilty of this. This debate is not about the far future, but rather the foreseeable future. And on this, Israeli peace activists should not give up the fight for Israeli public opinion – to change the reality inside of Israel. The ideal one state project is borne out of despair and must not be made into an ideology, which consequently turns away from the real prospect of a genuine two states settlement (on pre-1967 borders). There is no such thing as a point of no return vis-à-vis the conditions needed for two states. But the one state solution is not at all realistic and its proponents should be open and honest about what they actually mean: the dismantlement of the nation state of Israel. It is necessary and critical to wage a struggle inside of Israel to change its historical narrative and the notion that it can be both Jewish and democratic – a struggle to end the occupation outside of Israel proper and to end the discrimination inside of Israel. One simply cannot ignore the overwhelming majority of Israelis who do not want to dismantle their nation state. Those who believe that outside pressure will achieve such a dismantlement, and that a campaign for one state might frighten Israelis into giving the Palestinians their own state, will (in reality) be driving the Israeli public further into the hands of the Right-wing and will awaken the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. The idea of a single state is a utopian idea because reality worldwide is a nationalist reality, in which it is nation states (and the demand for nation states) that are flourishing not multi-national states. There is a disturbing lack of elaboration as to what a one state would look like in practice and how it will come into being. However, when one imagines a one state not in its ideal form but in its most likely actuality then one sees a disguised and continued occupation, an Apartheid state, and a descent into civil war that plays out a new version of 1948. The two states solution is the only realistic solution and in the sphere of consciousness it is this idea that is winning. The obstacles to achieving a two states settlement are big, but nowhere near as big as those to a one state resolution.

Pappé responds to Avnery by insisting that calls for one state come from hope not despair – two states require politicians, one state, educators. What’s more, examples of Jewish-Arab cooperation already exist, as do Palestinian and Jewish partners of this idea. Pappé states that it is necessary to stand apart from Israeli society because Zionism is an ideology of dispossession not nationalism, which has reached a point of no return. The real danger of a two states solution, Pappé spells out, is the logical extension of ethnic cleansing into ethnic elimination. Avnery presses Pappé for not answering how he would bring about the dismantlement of the nation state of Israel and thus how a one state solution could be achieved in practice. He also notes examples of Jewish-Arab co-existence. Avnery offers Pappé a compromise: for two states now, so that one day we can have one state, voluntarily. Avnery again insists that the prospect of two states is stronger now than previously, and that reality is nationalist so we cannot avoid working with that. Pappé asserts that he is for the right of the Jews to a state but not Israel because Israel is a state that dispossesses the indigenous population. Avnery maintains that a solution to the conflict has to entail the consent of a majority of Palestinians and Israelis, otherwise it is not a solution at all. To this, Pappé makes plain that the story of the conflict is in fact very simple: white people who were persecuted in Europe committed a crime against black people in Palestine, and these white people should be grateful that now these black people are willing to accommodate them in a solution. Avnery holds that the story is not one-sided and that unless we engage with both peoples then there will be no peace. To which Pappé retorts, why should the occupied engage with the occupier who claims the crime they have committed is more complicated than it is. Only when the crime is paid for would it be reasonable for the oppressed party to listen. Pappé closes, it is the duty of an international boycott movement to tell Israel that it is a pariah state and will continue to be so until it stops its crimes. This will strengthen the chance of long term peace. Avnery finishes, the Israeli peace movement should engage with the Israel public of six million. Outside pressure can be helpful or it can cause grave danger. Gush Shalom calls for a selective boycott of settlement goods. A blanket boycott instead will push Israelis further to the Right. The one state proposal leaves dangerous space for the Israeli Right to say that there is no solution to this conflict, which then justifies further conflict up to and including ethnic cleansing. In the foreseeable future, it is two states that has a chance, whilst the one state solution has none.

To me, what is revealed most starkly from this exchange is Ilan Pappé’s writing off of the Israeli Jewish working class: this population has no meaningful and progressive role to play unless, and only unless, they renounce the nation state of Israel. Pappé places a great emphasis on an international boycott movement to shame Israel into dismantling itself. Uri Avnery insists: one, the nation state of Israel on 1948 borders exists and should continue to exist because a vast majority of its population wants it to; and two, we cannot have peace without bringing the Israeli Jewish working class – alongside the Palestinian Arab and Israeli Arab working class – with us.

Ilan Pappé (Wikimedia Commons)

Ilan Pappé (Wikimedia Commons)

Uri Avnery (Wikimedia Commons)

Uri Avnery (Wikimedia Commons)

The debate (an edited transcript)

Pappé: The moment it was decided that the only territory where Jews could be assured of a safe haven, the only territory where a Jewish nation state could be created was in Palestine, this humanistic national movement turned into a colonial project. Its colonial character became all the more pronounced after the country was conquered by the British in the First World War. […] But the problem – and the source of the Palestinian tragedy – was that the leaders of Zionism did not want only to create a colonial project, they also wanted to create a democratic state. And why was it a Palestinian tragedy that Zionism at its early career wanted to be democratic? Because it still wants to be democratic. Because if you put together Zionist colonialism, Zionist nationalism and the impulse for democracy, you get a need which still dictates political positions in Israel up to the present […]. It is the need to have an overlap between the democratic majority and the Jewish majority. Every means is fair to ensure that there will be a Jewish majority, because without a Jewish majority we will not be a democracy. It is even permissible to expel Arabs in order to make us a democracy. Because the most important thing is to have here a majority of Jews. Because otherwise the project will not be a democratic project. It is not surprising that not far from here, in the Red House on the seashore of Tel Aviv, eleven of the leaders of Zionism gathered in 1948 and decided that if you want to create a democratic state and also to complete the Zionist project, i.e. to take over as much as possible of the land of Palestine, and if you have no majority and you are only a third – than the only choice is to implement an ethnic cleansing, remove the Arab population from the territory you intend for a Jewish State. […] Had this act of the Zionist movement taken place now, no international body would have hesitated to label it a Crime Against Humanity.

The UN Partition Resolution of November 1947 and the attempts to effect a division of the land after the 1948 War were not based on the ideals of justice – i.e., there is justice and rights to the indigenous people, most of whom had been expelled, and there is justice to the new settlers. No. The basis for the impulse to effect a Two State Solution then, as at the basis of this impulse now, there was the idea that the Zionist Minotaur could be satisfied by letting the Jewish State have control over only part of Palestine – not the whole. The UN had proposed giving 50 percent of Palestine. For the Zionists that was not enough and they took 80 percent of Palestine, and there was a feeling that that would be enough for them. But we know that this territorial hunger did not end in 1948. When the historic opportunity came, a hundred percent of Palestine came under the rule of the Jewish State. But here the great Palestinian tragedy manifests itself once again. Even after 100 percent of Palestine became the Jewish State, there is still a real impulse to create and preserve a democratic state.

This is the background for the creation of a special kind of peace process, a peace process based on the assumption that the Zionist territorial hunger and democratic wishes can be assuaged by leaving part of Palestine – the West Bank and Gaza – out of Israeli control. This gives a double profit: on the one hand, the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs is not disturbed; on the other hand, the Palestinians are imprisoned where they would no longer threaten the Zionist project. […] Already in the 1980s, the mantra of the Palestinian State beside the Israeli State – as a good solution to the conflict or as a way to assuage the territorial hunger of the Zionist movement and preserve Israel as a Jewish State – this mantra was encountering increasing difficulties. One factor was that the ‘facts on the ground’ were steadily reducing the Palestinian territory, by creating and extending settlements. And from a different direction, there was the natural wish of the political movements to extend the ranks of those who supported the Two States Solution. Gradually, they found new partners, and these new partners gave new meanings to the term ‘A Palestinian State’. In fact, the connection gradually disappeared between the Two States idea on the one hand and the idea of solving the conflict on the other. Suddenly, the Two States Solution became a way of arranging some kind of separation between occupier and occupied, rather than a permanent solution which should have dealt with the crime committed by Israel in 1948, with the problems of the twenty percent of Palestinians inside Israel, and with the refugee population which has steadily increased since 1948. In the 1990s, and since the beginning of the present century, the Two States idea has become common currency. The respectable list of its supporters finally came to include, among others, Ariel Sharon, Binyamin Netanyahu and George W. Bush. When your idea gains such adherents, that is far from a bad historical moment to rethink the entire idea. […] Under cover of the Peace Process, you can say under the cover of the slogan of Two States for Two Peoples, the settlements were extended, and the harassment and oppression of the Palestinians were deepened. So far so that the `facts on the ground’ have reduced to nothing the area intended for the Palestinians. The Zionist racist and ethnic hunger got legitimacy to extend itself into nearly half of the West Bank. […] If the principle of justice be the basis for those who support the partition of this country, there is no formula more cynical than the Two States Solution, as it is now presented in the Peace Camp. 80 percent of the country to the occupier, and twenty percent to the occupied. That is, 20 percent in the best and utopian case. More likely, no more than 10 percent, a dispersed and surrounded ten percent, to the occupied. Moreover, where in this solution do you find a solution for the refugee problem, to where will return those who were the victims of the ethnic cleansing of 1948? […] If we trust in the international and regional balance of forces as the decisive factor we would give the Palestinians a tiny piece of land, hermetically enclosed with barriers and walls. Because we are not guided by moral principles, we are pragmatic people.

There will be neither reconciliation here, nor justice or a permanent solution, if we don’t let [the] Palestinians have a share in solving the questions referring to reconciliation and to defining the sovereignty, the identity and the future of this country. […] We will find an alternative model. All of us, including the old settlers and the new – even those who got here yesterday – including the expellees with all their generations and those who were left after the expulsions. We will ask all of them what political structure fits all of them, which would include the principles of justice, reconciliation and coexistence. Let’s offer them at least one more model, in addition to the one which failed. […] In conclusion: in order for this dialogue to start and flourish, let’s admit one more thing. Let’s admit that the occupation which they are increasing daily, we – with all our important efforts – can’t stop from here. The occupation is part of the same ideological infrastructure on which the ethnic cleansing of 1948 was built […]. The most murderous manifestation of this ideology occurs now in Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to stop the extension of these war crimes, the extension of this criminal behaviour, let’s admit that we need external pressure on the State of Israel. Let’s thank the associations of journalists, physicians and academics who call for a boycott on Israel as long as this criminal policy continues. Let us use the help of civil society in order to make the State of Israel a pariah state, as long as this behaviour continues. So that we here, everybody who belongs and who wants to belong to this country, could conduct a constructive and fruitful dialogue.

Avnery: There can be no dispute that Zionism, which had implemented a historical project, had also caused a historical injustice to the Palestinian people. There can be no dispute that ethnic cleansing took place in 1948 – though allow me to remark, in parenthesis, that the ethnic cleansing was on both sides, and that there was not a single Jew left residing in whatever territory was conquered by the Arab side. Occupation is a despicable condition which must be terminated. There is certainly no debate about that. We might have no debate about the far future, either, about what we would like to see happening a hundred years from now. […] We do have a debate about the foreseeable future.

Should we concentrate our efforts in the struggle for the Israeli public opinion, or give up the struggle inside the country and struggle abroad, instead? I am an Israeli. I stand with both legs on the ground of the Israeli reality. I want to change this reality from one side to the other, but I want this state to exist. Those who deny the existence of the state of Israel, as an entity expressing our Israeli identity, deny themselves the possibility of being active here. All their activity here is foredoomed to failure. A person might despair and say that there is nothing to do, everything is lost, we have passed the point of no return. As Meron Benvenishti said many years ago, the situation is irreversible, we have nothing more to do in this state.

It happens that you sometimes despair. Each one of us had such moments. Despair destroys any chance of action. Despair must not be made into an ideology. I say: there is no place for despair, nothing is lost. Nothing is irreversible, except for life itself. There is no such thing as a point of no return. I am 83 years old. In my lifetime I have seen the rise of the Nazis and their fall, the peak of the Soviet Union’s power and its sudden collapse. One day before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was not a single German believing this would happen in his lifetime. The experts did not foresee it – none of them. Because there are subterranean currents which act below the surface, and which nobody sees in real time. That’s why theoretical analyses come true so rarely.

There are three basic questions about the One State idea. First: Is it possible at all. Second: If it were possible, is it a good idea. Third: Will it bring a just peace. About the first question, my answer is clear and unequivocal: No, it is not possible. Anybody who is rooted in the Israeli-Jewish public knows that this public’s deepest aspiration – and here it is permissible to make a generalization – the far, far deepest aspiration is to maintain a state with a Jewish majority, a state where Jews will be masters of their fate. This takes precedence over any other wish and aspiration, it takes precedence even over wanting to have a Greater Israel. You can talk of a Single State from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, define it as bi-national or supra-national – whatever the term used, in practice it means the dismantling of the State of Israel, destruction of all that was built for five generations. This must be said out loud, without any evasions. That is exactly how the Jewish public sees it, and certainly also a large part of the Palestinian public. This means the dismantling of the State of Israel. I am a bit disturbed by the fact that these words are not said explicitly. We want to change very many things in this country. We want to change its historical narrative, its commonly held definition as “Jewish and democratic.” We want to end occupation outside and discrimination inside. We want to build a new framework in the relations between the state and its Arab-Palestinian citizens. But you cannot ignore the basic ethos of the vast majority of the citizens of Israel. 99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state. There is an illusion that you can achieve this by outside pressure. Would outside pressure force this people to give up their state? I suggest a very simple test. Think for a moment about your neighbours at home, colleagues at work, fellow students. Would any of them give up the state because somebody outside demands it? Pressure from Europe, even pressure from the White House? Short of a decisive military defeat on the battlefield, nothing will induce Israelis to give up their state. And if Israel is militarily defeated, our debate will become irrelevant anyway. The Palestinian people want a state of their own, too. This is needed in order to satisfy their most basic aspirations, the restoration of their national pride and the healing of their trauma. Even the Hamas leaders with whom we spoke want it. Those who think otherwise engage in daydreams. There are Palestinians who speak of a Single State, but for most of them this is simply a code word for the dismantling of Israel. And even they know it is a utopia. There are those who delude themselves that if they speak of a bi-national state, that would frighten the Israelis so much that they will immediately consent to the creation of a Palestinian State at the side of Israel. But the result will be the opposite. This frightens the Israelis, that’s true – and pushes them into the arms of the right-wing. This arouses the sleeping dog of ethnic cleansing. About this I agree with Ilan: this dog is sleeping, but it is still there. All over the world, the trend is opposite: not the creation of multi-national states but on the contrary the division of states into national units. […] There is no example in the world of two different peoples voluntarily agreeing to live in one state. There is no example in the world, except for Switzerland, of a really functioning bi-national or multi-national state. And the example of Switzerland, which has grown for hundreds of years in a unique process, is the exception which proves the rule. After 120 years of conflict, after a fifth generation was born into this conflict on both sides, to move from total war to total peace in a Single Joint State, with a total renunciation of national independence? This is total illusion.

How is this supposed to be implemented in practice? Ilan did not talk about it. This worries me. I suppose it should look like this: The Palestinians will give up their independence struggle and their wish for a national state of their own. They will announce that they want to live in a Single Joint State. After that state is created, they would have to struggle in its framework for their civil rights. Many good people around the world will support that struggle, as they did in the case of South Africa. Israel will be boycotted. Israel will be isolated. Millions of refugees will return to the country, until the wheel turns a full circle and the Palestinians assume power. If that was possible at all, how much time would it take? Two generations? Three generations? Four generations? Can anybody imagine how such a state would function in practice? […] There are those who say: It already exists. Israel already rules one state from the sea to the river, you only need to change the regime. So, first of all: There is no such thing. There is an occupying state and an occupied territory. It is far easier to dismantle a settlement, to dismantle settlements, to dismantle ALL the settlements – far easier than to force six million Jewish Israelis to dismantle their state. No, the Single State would not come about. But let us ask ourselves – should it somehow be erected, would that be a good thing? My answer is: absolutely not. Let’s try to imagine this state – not as ideal creation of the imagination, but as it might be in reality. In this state the Israelis will be dominant. They have an enormous dominance in nearly all spheres: standard of living, military power, level of education, technological capacity. Israeli per capita income is 25 times – 25 times! – that of the Palestinians, 20,000 dollars per year compared to 800 Dollars a year. In such a state the Palestinians will be “cutters of wood and hewers of water” for a long, long time. It will be occupation by other means, a disguised occupation. It will not end the historical conflict, but just move it to a new stage. Would this solution bring about a just peace? In my view, exactly the opposite. This state would be a battlefield. Each side will try to take over a maximum of land. Bring in a maximum number of people. The Jews would fight by all possible means in order to prevent the Palestinians from gaining a majority and taking power. In practice, it would be an Apartheid state. And if the Arabs do become a majority and seek to gain power democratically, there would start a struggle which might reach the scale of a civil war. A new version of 1948. Also those who support this solution know that this struggle would last several generations, that a lot of blood might be shed and that there is no knowing the result. It is a utopia. In order to achieve it, you need to replace the people – perhaps the two peoples. […] Precisely a beautiful utopia can bring about terrible results. In the vision of “The Wolf lying down with the Sheep” there would be needed a new sheep every day.

The Two State Solution is the only practical solution, the only one which is within the bounds of reality. It is ridiculous to say that this idea was defeated. In the most important sphere, the sphere of consciousness, it is growing ever stronger. After the war of 1948, when we raised that banner, we were a small handful, which could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Everybody denied the very existence of a Palestinian People. I remember how, in the 1960s, I was running around Washington, talking with people in the White House and the National Security Council. Nobody wanted to hear of it. Now, there is a world-wide consensus that this is the only solution. The United States, Russia, Europe, the Israeli public opinion, the Palestinian public opinion, the Arab League. You should grasp what this means: the entire Arab World now supports this solution. This has enormous importance for the future. Why did it happen? Not because we are so clever and talented that we convinced the whole world. No. The internal logic of this solution is what conquered the world. True, some of the declared adherents are only paying lip service. It is quite possible that they use it to distract attention from their true purposes. Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert pretended to be supporters of this idea, while their true intention was to prevent the abolition of the occupation. But precisely the fact that such people need to resort to such a pretence, that they are now outwardly committed to it, exactly that proves that they realize it would be futile to go on fighting it. When all peoples, the whole world, recognize that this is the practical solution, it would finally be implemented. The parameters are well-known, and about them too there is a worldwide agreement. One: A Palestinian State will be created, side by side with Israel. Two: The border between them will be based on the Green Line [pre-1967 border], possibly with agreed exchanges of territory. Three: Jerusalem will be the capital of both states. Four: There will be an agreed solution to the refugee problem – meaning that an agreed number will return to Israel, and the others will be absorbed in the Palestinian State or in the present places of habitation while getting generous compensations, for example like what the Germans paid us. […] Five: There will be an economic partnership between the two states, in whose framework the Palestinian Government will be able to defend the interests of the Palestinian People, unlike the present situation. The very existence of two states will to some degree diminish the gap in the imbalance between the two sides. […] Six: In the longer range, there should be a Middle-Eastern Union on the European model, which might eventually include also Turkey and Iran. There are big obstacles. They are real. Real obstacles can be overcome. They are as nothing – I want to emphasize this – they are as nothing compared with the obstacles on the way to a Single State. […] Opting for the One State since it is difficult to gain the Two States is like being unable to beat a lightweight boxer and therefore choosing to contend with a heavyweight; or failing to run a hundred metres, and therefore shifting to the marathon; or being unable to attain the peak of Mont Blanc, and therefore trying the Everest instead. There can be no doubt that the One State Idea gives its holders a moral satisfaction. Somebody told me: OK, perhaps it is not realistic but it is moral. This is where I want to stand. I respect this, but I say: this is a luxury we can’t afford. When we deal with the fate of so many people, a moral position which is not realistic is immoral. It is important to repeat this: a moral stance which is not realistic is immoral. Because the final result of such a stance is to perpetuate the existing situation.

Pappé: The One State idea does not proceed from despair. […] There is hope. You can see it, for example, in the Galilee – where Jews and Arabs live in a region relatively free from state interference. It is interesting to note that exactly where there is a demographic balance between Jews and Arabs, there are also business partnerships, joint schools, suddenly there is a budding common life of the two nationalities. It turns out that you can fight segregation. Why is it possible to fight it? Do you know why? Because the idea that nationalism is bound to win around here is the result of manipulation and education – not of human nature. You can educate otherwise. It’s true – there is an enormous difference between the Two State Solution and the One State Solution. For two states you need politicians, for one state you need educators. […] The real Two States formula […] is the one which we see being implemented in front of our eyes. It means fifty percent of the West Bank annexed to Israel, and the other fifty percent as a Bantustan surrounded by walls and fences, but with a Palestinian flag. That is the state, with apparently some kind of tunnel connecting it to the other concentration camp which is called the Gaza Strip. This is what will be signed in a ceremony on the White House lawn, about which the Zionist Peace Camp will come and say: nevertheless, this is a bit better than what we had until now. We have already seen the results of this kind of thinking.

There is a need for persons who struggle with their society. The kind of person who says to his society: I am sorry, the collective ideological identity which you have chosen is despicable and impossible to maintain. It does not stand the test of Judaism or of common morality. This idea that Jews have an ethnic preference, ethnic majority, ethnic superiority – for a state which is supposed to represent the victims of the Holocaust. Am I supposed to accept all this because the majority thinks so? Because this is the result of past education? Even if I am left as the only Israeli who thinks otherwise, I will go on saying it! What are you trying to say? That in the name of the collective consciousness as it was under the Apartheid regime, it was forbidden for a white person to come and say out loud what certainly did not sound realistic in the 1960s and 1970s – that Apartheid was a despicable ideology? Zionism is not the ideology of a national movement. It is an ethnic ideology of dispossessing the indigenous people and denying them the possibility of going on living here. If we do not start changing the discourse, the general public certainly will not. There ARE points of no return in history. Yes, there are points of no return in history. I am sorry to say, Uri, that genocide is a point of no return, an irreversible act. There is no lack of examples. Let me tell it to you as a historian, there is no lack of historical examples where ethnic cleansing turned into genocide. You should give a thought to the depths of this national consciousness, this Jewish consciousness from which you draw such hope for the implementation of the Two State Solution. I don’t like to contemplate these depths, the possible transition from ethnic cleansing to ethnic extermination. […] Is it possible? It is not possible tomorrow, nor is it possible the day after tomorrow. I am sorry to say that it is far more possible that the Zionist Project will succeed to create here a state without Arabs. This is far more possible. It is on the cards, among other things because of the mistake of the peace camp and the support for “Two States for Two Peoples”. Because with the help of the slogan of “Two States for Two Peoples” it is possible to start talking of a transfer of population, it is possible to talk of reducing the Palestinian territory, it is possible to cleanse the Israeli territory of Palestinians. “We are here and they are there” said Ehud Barak. They can also cleanse the Palestinian minority in Israel, in the name of the sublime idea of Two States. […]

Do we have no partners on the Palestinian side for building here a joint state? Are there no Palestinians in Israel with whom we want to build a joint state? Are there no Jews in Israel with whom we DON’T want to build a joint state? So let us already make the division as between normal Jews and Arabs on the one hand and Jews and Arabs who are bastards on the other side. Let us stop dealing with the nationalist discourse which perpetuates occupation, alienation and oppression.

Avnery: I am in a bit of an embarrassing situation – because in the debate between emotion and logic, it is always emotion which gets the applause. In the debate between absolute morality and relative morality, absolute morality gets – and rightly so – the applause. I have listened attentively to what you said, Ilan, but I also listened attentively to what you did NOT say. You did not say how you can bring about the dismantling of the State of Israel. You did not say how the One State will come about. You did not describe how it will look in reality. You have described ideal things. […] There are many good people in Israel. Many, who do good things. There are a hundred peace organizations and more, each one of which does important things in its own way. There are teachers who educate for Jewish-Arab coexistence, there are kindergartens which start this even earlier in life, all true. But you yourself said that the solution which you propose will not come about in their lifetime. You propose planting an almond tree of which your grandchildren will get to eat. But God Almighty, all this frightens me terribly. You talk of ethnic cleansing, of the terrible danger of ethnic cleansing. You talk of the terrible dangers which threaten the Palestinian people in the present reality, and I see this situation as darkly as you see it. I am even more sombre than you. In this reality, we have no fifty years to wait for a solution! I said that there can be no compromise between our positions. But let’s offer you a compromise anyway: work with us for the creation of the two states. After the two states will be there, after these dangers would be averted, go on struggling to get them united into a single state. I say this seriously. Struggle for it that the two states will become one, voluntarily. […] It is absolutely true: On the ground we see that reality is terrible, that it is even getting worse – if that is possible, and we know that it is always possible. We deal with all that every day. But below the surface other things are happening. There was a time when 99% of the Jewish-Israeli public denied the very existence of the Palestinian People – now, nobody speaks like that anymore. Once, the big majority opposed the idea of creating a Palestinian state. Now, according to all opinion polls, the great majority in Israel accepts this idea as part of the solution. When we said that Israel should talk with the PLO, they said we were traitors. Afterwards, the government made an agreement with the PLO. Now we say that there should be talks with Hamas. I am sure that Israel is going to talk with Hamas, and that it will not even take too long before that happens. We said that Jerusalem was going to be the capital of two states. That was terrible, unacceptable. Jerusalem is the Eternal Undivided Capital of Israel, blah, blah, blah. But when Ehud Barak proposed a kind of partition of Jerusalem – and it does not matter whether he meant it or not, and precisely what he meant – what was the public reaction? The public was silent. […] It is not easy, the obstacles are enormous. But I am not mindlessly optimistic. I am optimistic on the basis of reality. I think that we will get to the creation of a Palestinian state, side by side with Israel. And I think that Palestine will be a proud national state. I know that for many people the word “national”, the word “nationalism”, are dirty words. You can open a big additional debate on that, and take up a whole new evening with it, but I will say only this: anybody who ignores the enormous power of national feeling lives in an unreal world. Reality is nationalist. […] Ignoring the irrational element in politics is not a rational behaviour. Irrationality exists. It is rational to take the irrational into account. We need to think how, despite this irrationality, we can reach a solution which can be lived with.

Pappé: I do not deny the right of the Jewish People to a state, as I do not deny the right of the Palestinian people to a state. I do deny the right of the Jewish People to dispossess the Palestinian people of their homeland. If the political solution which is being proposed would enable the Jewish people to continue dispossessing the Palestinian people, this is not only morally unacceptable – it also means that the conflict would be perpetuated. Therefore, what I seek is a solution which in the final account will enable everybody who lives here to feel that their historical rights are respected, and that their civil and human rights are respected, too. If this sounds like absolute morality, I shudder to think what relative morality would consist of.

Avnery: The solution which you propose like the solution which I propose have one thing in common: neither could be implemented except with the common consent of Israelis and Palestinians. Anything but that would mean either the destruction of Israel or the perpetuation of Israeli occupation. This solution or that, the one you consider realistic and the one I consider to be such – both need the consent of both peoples. And if you want to include the refugees in the decision, too, I am certainly not opposed to that.

Pappé: Uri, the story is not complicated – unlike what you say and what is written in this brochure prepared by Gush Shalom. The story here is a simple story, a story of white people who were persecuted in Europe and who drove away the black people who used to live here. It happened in many places. The difference is that here the white people stayed, and surprisingly the black people who are left here are willing to build a single state together with them. So, we should be grateful to them for that, rather than start accusing them again and look for ways of locking them into impossible enclosures.

Avnery: Here, the Palestinian People found itself faced with a formidable movement which progressively took over the country. I define this historic, tragic and painful conflict (to whose Jewish side I am also sensitive) as a collision between an unstoppable force and an immoveable mass. It is, in my view, not a completely one-sided story. When you, Ilan, show high sensitivity to the injustice done to the Palestinians, I accept this fully and more than fully. But when you completely ignore the fact that there is a Jewish side to that story, I don’t think this is true. And it is also not useful. You could not affect the Jewish-Israeli public if you have no sensitivity to what this public thinks, to its fears and anxieties. All this exists. It exists, and you must take it into account, if you want to influence these people. Also to influence in your direction, also to bring six million Israelis to dismantle this state and accept a common state with another nation – a nation which they now hate and fear. If you want to influence the Israeli public, you must understand these fears, understand where they come from. Only if we look at both peoples, see them at every moment of our struggle, see their anxieties and aspirations – only then do we have a chance of succeeding.

Pappé: It is always the occupier, the dispossessor, the oppressor who claims that the story is complicated. The victim always says: In fact, it is not so complicated. You have taken my home, you imprison me, you don’t let me breath – all this does not sound complicated to me It is hard, it is terrible and horrible, but it is not complicated. The occupier says: it is complicated, it is far more complicated, you have to understand also my side. The side of the occupier is something to which we will show understanding when the occupation is over – not a minute before. […] There is only one way to deal with a regime like the Israeli regime, which is based on an ideology which creates a separation between the Jewish population and the local population – a population whose cleansing started in 1948 and never stopped for a single day since then. There is only one way of conveying that the message that this ideology does not pay, that the occupation is too expensive to sustain. The only way is a clear message from conscientious people, of peace movements all over the world. Israel should get the same message which was delivered to South Africa: “You will stay a pariah state as long as you continue committing these crimes”. This is an important message, a message which should be supported. It does not contradict the Palestinian struggle, it does not contradict the peace struggle. On the contrary, it strengthens these struggles, it gives it a chance. Without that, the first victims will be the Palestinians but we too will be victims, everybody in this room.

Avnery: The question is where the Israeli peace movement should direct its main thrust, its main effort. Where is its main battlefield. I say, unequivocally: that is here, in this country. As to outside pressures: there are pressures which can help, and there are pressures which might cause damage, even grave damage. If the outside pressure would be of such a kind as to make normal, sane Israelis feel that the entire world is ganging up on us because we are Jews, this pressure will bring an opposite result. If the pressure will be selective, if the boycott will be focused on bodies which support the occupation and take part in it, then it would be excellent. I am all for that. In fact, Gush Shalom pioneered this way, calling already ten years ago for boycott of settlement products. Occupation will not end without peace. We have to see that in the most clear way possible: there is no way of putting an end to all this injustice, of ending the occupation, except in the framework of peace. […]

Let me tell you what I find most frightening in your proposal, more than anything else. You say that the Two States Solution is inherently bad and should be rejected. Your alternative is a solution which 99 percent of Jewish Israelis do not want, and which has no chance to be accepted. What does that leave? It leaves the slogan of the Israeli right wing: that there is no solution to this conflict. That is what I am afraid of: of those who say that “There is no solution to the conflict”, the conflict will last forever, that it is our fate to suffer an eternity of it. This is what I am afraid of, because it can serve as justification to all horrors, up to and including ethnic cleansing. To sum up: I am not pessimistic. I am optimistic. I think that nearly everything is possible. The one thing which is not possible to convince the Israelis to dismantle the state of Israel. This simply will not happen, not under any conceivable set of circumstances, even in situations which go beyond the most wild imaginations. It will not happen in the foreseeable future. Well, it might happen beyond the foreseeable future. […] A single state means the dismantling of the State of Israel. The adherents of this idea should say this loud and clear. You cannot walk around on a tiptoe and wrap it in a million disguises. What is up for discussion on the table is the existence of the State of Israel. Nothing else. If anybody here has found the way of how to convince six million Israelis to dismantle the State of Israel for which five generations had fought, I raise my hat to them. There is no such way.

Expounding racial hatred before and after the Brexit vote

In this post I present, first, a brief overview of the current period in Britain vis-à-vis racism and hate crime; second, the limitation of a dominant academic understanding of racism; and third, a historical exposition of the nature of racism which offers explanatory power for our contemporary era.

I. Hate crime post the EU referendum

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Anti-Polish propaganda which was posted through the doors of immigrant residences in Cambridge during the EU referendum campaign (source: YouTube)

Britain’s EU referendum cannot simply be regarded at its face value as a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. More than this, it was a noxious campaign on immigration, which was preceded by years of political and media discourse that has mainstreamed anti-immigration sentiment. The Brexit vote legitimised racism: it took the shame out of racial hatred and unleashed waves of its verbal and physical expression. The Economist (2016) reports hate crime data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council of 3,076 incidents of harassment or violence between June 6th and 30th 2016, a rise of 915 on the same period the previous year. More recent figures, from between August 5th and 18th, indicate 2,778 cases, an increase of 14% on the same period in 2015. The stark reality behind these statistics can be seen through the following summary by The Independent (2016) of hate crime incidents since the EU referendum:

“Gangs prowling the streets demanding passers-by prove they can speak English

  • Swastikas in Armagh, Sheffield, Plymouth, Leicester, London and Glasgow.
  • Assaults, arson attacks and dog excrement being thrown at doors or shoved through letter boxes.
  • Toddlers being racially abused alongside their mothers, with children involved as either victims or perpetrators in 14 per cent of incidents.
  • A man in Glasgow ripping off a girl’s headscarf and telling her “Trash like you better start obeying the white man.”
  • Comparisons with 1930s Nazi Germany and a crowd striding through a London street chanting: “First we’ll get the Poles out, then the gays!””

This provides a critical backdrop and climate to the horrific fatal assault on a Polish man, Arkadiusz Jozwik, in Harlow, Essex, on 27th August 2016. The question addressed by this article is: why and how have we arrived at this moment? To answer this, we need to adequately understand the history and nature of racism in Britain.

II. Dominant academic framing of racism

The UK Independence Party's "Breaking Point" poster that was launched during the EU Referendum campaign

The UK Independence Party’s “Breaking Point” poster that was launched during the EU referendum campaign

Sociologist Gurminder K. Bhambra (2016), in a blog post written soon after the EU referendum result, states that what was “unleashed in the weeks prior to the vote was the most toxic discourse on citizenship and belonging, and the rights that pertain as a consequence”. She questions the idea of Britain as an ‘independent’ nation, given its history as part of wider political entities: notably, the colonial Empire and Commonwealth, and the European Union. Bhambra continues, the idea of the British nation has long been dependent on “a racially stratified political formation” of its making and, decisively, it has been:

“the loss of this privileged position – based on white elites and a working class offered the opportunity to see themselves as better than the darker subjects of empire […] – that seems to drive much of the current discourse. Austerity has simply provided the fertile ground for its re-emergence and expression.” (Bhambra, 2016)

Thus, she argues, to understand ‘Britain’ one needs to understand its colonial and imperial Empire and governance. The 1948 British Nationality Act was a turning point, for previously Britain’s colonial subjects were defined as British subjects but with the Act they became Commonwealth citizens. And as the bodies of these Commonwealth citizens migrated into the space of the British nation-state, “mythologies of the changing nature (or, perhaps more accurately, face) of Britain” developed:

“Mythologies that continue to reverberate in the present and have taken on a renewed political vibrancy in light of the debates regarding our continued EU membership. […] The transformation of darker citizens from citizens to aliens over the 1960s and 1970s was based on a visceral understanding of difference predicated on race that brought into being two classes of citizenship – full citizenship and second-class citizenship. […] immigration into the country was increasingly managed by the passing of Acts to discriminate among citizens on the basis of race.” (Bhambra, 2016)

From this twentieth century history, Bhambra concludes that the “common-sense position” on what it means “to be British or English is to be white”, as based on the “mythology of a white Europe or a historically white Britain”. The consequence of this (racist) common sense is a grave misrepresentation of Britain’s “multiracial political formations”. As such:

“we must rethink our analyses to take into account the imperial configuration of Britain and all those who were subjects within it and subject to it. If this is not done, then that demonstrates a commitment to a racialized national history that has no space for its darker subjects.” (Bhambra, 2016)

For me, this academic narrative leaves unexplained the present-day racism against Eastern Europeans, for example. Without a doubt, racism before and since the EU referendum affects Britain’s darker subjects, but what has evolved is not simply or only a racism that targets those of different skin colour. Other markers, both visible and invisible, are also at play as signifying negative racial difference and inciting hatred. Helpful here is the work of the sociologist Robert Miles (1993), who makes the point that proposing (or indeed assuming) the ideology of racism has its historical origins in colonialism can lead to a conclusion that racism is an ideology created exclusively by ‘white’ people to dominant ‘black’ people. However, “in part, the origins of racism can be traced back to pre-capitalist social relations within and beyond Europe” and “its reproduction is as much determined by the rise of the nation state as by colonialism” (Miles, 1993). From the highly cited and regarded work of Stuart Hall and the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) collective, a dominant academic understanding of racism has problematically developed, as Miles observes, “often implicit in their writing is the assumption that the only contemporary form of racism in Britain is that which has people of Caribbean and South Asian origin as its object”. Yet:

“Many physical characteristics (both real and imagined) have been and continue to be signified as a mark of nature and of ‘race’ […]. Moreover, cultural characteristics have also been, and continue to be, signified to the same end. The reification of skin colour therefore mistakenly privileges one specific instance of signification and ignores the historical and contemporary evidence which shows that other populations (Jews, Irish people, etc.) have been signified as distinct and inferior ‘races’ without reference to skin colour […]. Moreover, it restricts analysis of the nature and determinants of racism to a debate about the effects of colonial exploitation.” (Miles, 1993)

I turn now to detail Miles’ exploration of the history of racism, which, I will illustrate, provides astute explanatory power to the contemporary era surrounding Brexit.

III. On the history of racism and its reverberations in the present

Miles’ explanation of the historical interrelationship between nationalism and racism vis-à-vis capitalist development is instructive:

“In the context of its formation, nationalism was […] a revolutionary doctrine because it sought to overturn monarchy and aristocratic government by an appeal to the popular will of ‘the people’ who were the ‘nation’ […] For much of the nineteenth century, nationalism was synonymous with a struggle for political sovereignty within defined spatial boundaries and for some form of representative government. […] By way of contrast, there was no single political strategy that emerged from the general theory of biological, hierarchical differentiation expressed in the idea of ‘race’. This was not only because there was little agreement about the boundaries between the supposed ‘races’, but also because scientific racism did not posit a single, coherent political object. The theorisation of ‘race’ and ‘nation’ took place at a time of ‘internal’ European political and economic reorganisation and ‘external’ colonial expansion, in the course of which the range of human cultural and physiological variation became more widely known to a larger number of people. The extension of capitalist relations of production increased the circulation of commodities and of people, and this increasing mobility, migration and social interaction provided part of the foundation upon which the ideologies of racism and nationalism were constructed. The increasing profusion of physiological and cultural variation, as recognised in western Europe, became the object of intellectual curiosity and, thereby, of the theoretical practice of scientists and philosophers. But it also became the focus of political attention and action as populations within and beyond Europe were nationalised and racialised by the state […]” (Miles, 1993)

Mesocephalic indexes - an illustration of racial science from the Popular Science Monthly Volume 50, 1896 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Mesocephalic indexes of different ‘races’ – an illustration of racial science from the Popular Science Monthly Volume 50, 1896 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

While distinct ideologies, nationalism and racism can overlap: the construct of the ‘nation’ as based on cultural differentiae is compatible with the notion that the nation is founded on a biological ‘race’. Miles continues to demonstrate that first the feudal aristocracy’s, and later the bourgeoisie’s, ‘civilisation’ project became fused with racism – a civilisation project which was central to emergent and developing capitalist social relations within and outside Europe:

“In France, notions of politesse and civilité were used by the feudal aristocracy to contrast the refinement of their behaviour with that of the ‘inferior’ people whom they ruled. […] the bourgeoisie became its leading exponent once it had displaced the aristocracy as the ruling class. By the early nineteenth century, the bourgeoisie, conscious of its material achievements and more firmly in political control in at least certain parts of Europe, began to assert that its values and manners were more a matter of inheritance than a social construction. In these circumstances the notion of civilisation (Elias 1978: 50): “serves at least those nations which have become colonial conquerors, and therefore a kind of upper class to large sections of the non-European world, as a justification of their rule, to the same degree that earlier the ancestors of the concept of civilisation, politesse and civilité, had served the courtly-aristocratic upper class as a justification of theirs.”” (Miles, 1993)

Depending on conjuncture and interests, the boundaries of blood have been mapped and remapped:

“Hence, during the nineteenth century, in certain circumstances the English working class, or fractions thereof, were signified by the dominant class as ‘a different breed’, an uncivilised ‘race’, but in other circumstances, as a constituent part of the English (or British) ‘race’, a ‘breed’ which contains ‘in its blood’ civilised and democratic values. […] The result was a racialised nationalism or a nationalist racism, a mercurial ideological bloc that was manipulated by the ruling class (or rather by different fractions of it) to legitimate the exploitation of inferior ‘races’ in the colonies, to explain economic and political struggles with other European nation states, and to signify (for example) Irish and Jewish migrants as an undesirable ‘racial’ presence within Britain.” (Miles, 1993)

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This 1862 song, “No Irish Need Apply”, was inspired by No Irish Need Apply [NINA] signs in London (source: Wikipedia)

Thus for over two centuries the signification of racial difference has been a central aspect of class relations and class struggle both inside and beyond Europe. To maintain domination:

“Europeans in different class positions have racialised each other, as well as inward migrants and those populations that they colonised beyond Europe. During the twentieth century, there have been further examples of the racialisation of the interior of European nation states (as in the case of the Jews), as well as a racialisation of larger-scale inward migrations, including colonial and non-colonial migrations, since 1945.” (Miles, 1993)

We might productively consider the present period in Britain as an extension and evolution of this history, in which racism vilifies an internal European Other and an Other from outside Europe.

It was by the close of the nineteenth century that the political economic domination of the global capitalist system by Britain came under threat from sources inside and beyond Europe, and as such, by the final quarter of the nineteenth century:

“a new, right-wing English patriotism, which was simultaneously royalist and racist, was created […] the whole world was racialised, including Europe, in an attempt to comprehend the rise of competing European capitalisms, each embodied in a separate national shell, and each seeking its ‘destiny’ on the world stage” (Miles, 1993)

A nineteenth century British cartoon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

A nineteenth century British cartoon (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Irish immigration into Britain during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was racialised, as was immigration from Eastern Europe and Germany. There was widely perceived to be an ‘alien’ problem in the country:

Commencing halfway through the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century, a political campaign against the settlement of immigrants from eastern Europe achieved prominence […] Those involved in the campaign consistently exaggerated the scale of immigration […] and demanded the introduction of an immigration law which would permit the state to control and limit the entry of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe. […] the notions of ‘immigrant’ and ‘alien’ became synonymous in everyday life with that of Jew […] legislation regulating the entry of aliens into Britain was introduced immediately preceding and after the First World War. […] Assertions about the existence of a German conspiracy multiplied, and myths about the German ‘national character’ which signified Germans as having certain (negatively evaluated) natural attributes were widely articulated […] The categories of ‘German’ and ‘Jew’ were often used synonymously” (Miles, 1993)

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The Daily Mail, 1938 (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The political debate surrounding the Aliens Act of 1905, and the subsequent Aliens Restriction Act of 1914 and Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Bill and Act of 1919, identified the problematic presence of three population groups:

“First, there was a lingering desire to find additional ways of punishing the defeated foe, the ‘Hun’. In addition, two ‘new’ enemies were found. These were trade union radicals or ‘Bolshevik sympathisers’, and Jews, including those who had arrived as refugees in the late nineteenth century as well as the longer-established Jewish community, a proportion of which formed part of the British bourgeoisie […] Collectively, this Other constituted the quintessential ‘alien’” (Miles, 1993)

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An anti-immigration poster from 1902 (source: Wikipedia)

Nonetheless, confronting major shortages of labour, the Labour government reluctantly opted for large-scale foreign-sourced labour. By the close of 1946 a system was in place for the resettlement of Polish people and the European Volunteer Scheme (EVW) came into being. The political discourse underpinning this immigration was one of ‘assimilation’ and (as it later transpired) a problem of lack of ‘integration’:

“the concern was to find the most suitable ‘races and nationalities’ that would not only provide labour power but also possess the kind of ‘vigorous blood’ that could be expected to benefit ‘our stock’. […] As evidence accumulated showing that the Poles and the EVWs were not learning the English language, that they continued to identify themselves with the nation states from which they originated, and that they were forming ‘exclusive communities’, official concern increased.” (Miles, 1993)

A stark comparison can be made here with the present-day racism against Polish people, who are accused of failing to integrate and assimilate to the so-called British way of life. Across Europe, including Britain, integration has become a state objective: “‘they’ are expected to learn to behave like ‘us’ because cultural homogeneity is considered to be a necessary precondition for the survival of the nation” (Miles, 1993).

Miles identifies a shift vis-à-vis immigration to Britain during the years 1945-1951, from Europe as the major source of labour migration to that of the British colonies and ex-colonies:

“because the British state proved unwilling to realise its racism in law at this time, the rights of British colonial and ex-colonial subjects to enter and settle in Britain were not withdrawn. Migration from the Caribbean (as well as from Ireland) continued and increased through the 1950s, and was paralleled by migration from India and Pakistan. It was not until 1962 that the British state imposed controls on the entry of British subjects from what had become known as the New Commonwealth.” (Miles, 1993)

Decisively, “by removing the right of entry to, and settlement in, the United Kingdom from certain categories of British subject, the state established new (racist) criteria by which to determine membership of the ‘imagined community’ of nation” (Miles, 1993). A critical aspect of this post-1945 era has been the response of the British state to political agitation for immigration controls against ‘coloureds’: such immigrants have been “simultaneously racialised and signified as the cause of economic and social problems for ‘our own people’” (Miles, 1993). Similarly, in recent times, both European and non-European migrants to Britain have been racialised and signified as the cause of the social and economic problems of the British people; it has become (racist) common sense that immigration is a problem and must be severely controlled.

The development of the European Union has brought with it a new specificity of tensions vis-à-vis immigration, nationalism and racism. What isn’t new is the political debate about immigration – framed as alien populations flooding in to threaten the identity and existence of the nation. However, what is distinct is that:

“the effects are refracted through a novel international conjuncture, one in which the reality of the nation state, and the power of the individual state to regulate social relations within its ‘sovereign territory’, is being transformed in Europe as a result of the interplay between the power of international capital and the political reorganisation embodied in the evolution of the EC as a supranational political unit.” (Miles, 1993)

From the early 1950s through to the early 1970s there was large-scale labour migration into Western Europe which (with some exceptions) the state promoted as an economic necessity. But since then this political discourse has been replaced by one of the need for stricter and stricter immigration controls. And so:

“Every official statement expressing support for the ‘principle’ of increased [immigration] control […] legitimates political opposition to immigration within the electorate in circumstances where the state faces structural constraints on its ability to deliver what it promises: this contradiction will ensure that immigration remains at the centre of political conflict within most European nation states and within the European Commission during the 1990s and beyond. The contradiction is overdetermined by the reality of the EC as a political entity: because of the attempt to create a European immigration policy, the politicisation of immigration as a problem in one member state can have immediate repercussions in the others. Moreover, in so far as a consequence of continuing immigration is a magnification of political opposition to it, and in so far as that opposition is grounded in, or expressive of, racism, the intervention of the state reinforces that racism.” (Miles, 1993)

One response that has emerged on the Left defines the European Union as a ‘Fortress Europe’, which “prevent[s] ‘black’ people from entering its borders and […] sustain[s] a common ‘white’, Judaeo-Christian heritage by repelling or subordinating alien (non-European) cultural influences (such as Islam)” (Miles, 1993). During the EU referendum, this was what Lexit campaigners such as the SWP raised in their incoherent arguments. What is indeed rampant in the contemporary era surrounding Brexit is a pan-European racism – reflected in the growth of far Right parties across the continent – against, for example, an African Other, an Islamic Other, a Syrian Other, et cetera. That said, Fortress Europe racism is not the whole picture. As observed by Miles of the late twentieth century:

“For geo-spatial and ideological reasons, the greatest apprehension originally concerned migration from the southern edge of the EC. The fear was, and is, that the Mediterranean Sea will become Europe’s Rio Grande, no more than a minor obstacle for the ‘millions’ of Africans seeking to enter the EC illegally […] Since 1989, new fears have been articulated: speculation has increased about a large-scale migration from eastern Europe, one that places Germany (and Austria) in the front line against an ‘invasion’ from the east.” (Miles, 1993)

Alongside then a Fortress Europe which negatively racialises an external (non-white and/or non-Christian) Other, what has also become prevalent is a negative racialisation of an internal (white) Other, most notably, Eastern Europeans. These racialisations and their associated racial hatreds have historical origins in capitalist (and pre-capitalist) social relations and the nation state, with colonialism one integral moment within this; in this context, “theories of racism which are grounded solely in the analysis of colonial history and which prioritise the single somatic characteristic of skin colour have a specific and limited explanatory power” (Miles, 1993).

 

References

Bhambra, Gurminder K. (2016) “Viewpoint: Brexit, Class and British ‘National’ Identity”, http://discoversociety.org/2016/07/05/viewpoint-brexit-class-and-british-national-identity/, last accessed 10th September 2016

Editorial (2016) “Hate crime: Bearing the brunt”, The Economisthttp://www.economist.com/news/britain/21706477-rancid-post-referendum-rise-bearing-brunt, last accessed 10th September 2016

Lusher, Adam (2016) “Racism unleashed: True extent of the ‘explosion of blatant hate’ that followed Brexit result revealed”, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-racism-uk-post-referendum-racism-hate-crime-eu-referendum-racism-unleashed-poland-racist-a7160786.html, last accessed 10th September 2016

Miles, Robert (1993) Race after ‘race relations’. London: Routledge

Israel is not exceptional, look at Pakistan

Gush Shalom

Gush Shalom

At the age of nineteen, soon after I joined the organisation Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, I remember entering the students’ union at Newcastle University while being heckled by a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, who called me “a fucking Zionist”. I confess, at that moment, I had no idea what the word Zionist meant, but I gathered immediately that it was a left-wing slur: the delivery felt just as venomous in its derogatory intent to being called, by racists, “a fucking Paki”. Soon after, I learnt more about my organisation’s ‘two nations, two states’ position on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a stand-alone position in relation to the majority of the rest of the British revolutionary Left.

Over the years since, the unease I have had with much of the revolutionary and academic Left vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict stems from their historical and contemporary representation of Israel as a uniquely demonic state. There are several features of this, which I have observed:

  • The conflation of the Israeli state and military to the entire population of Israel;
  • A writing-off of the Israeli working class;
  • A litmus test for sections of Israeli society (take, for instance, Israeli academics) to prove themselves as properly critical of Israel (a test not required of any other academics in any other nation-state);
  • A definition of Jewish nationalism, i.e. Zionism, as colonialism, imperialism, and racism;
  • An equivalence of the nation-state of Israel proper to apartheid South Africa;
  • An equivalence of the Israeli state and military to Nazi Germany;
  • A proposal to ‘logically undo’ the existence of the nation-state of Israel (cloaked under the demand for one secular Palestinian state / one shared space, or the right of return).

This singling out, this conflation, this testing, this writing-off, and this equivalence of exceptional barbarity, all signify a particular, left-wing anti-Semitism: is no other nation-state in the world racist and exclusionary? Is no other nation-state in the world guilty of oppressing minority groups inside and/or outside of its territory? Is no other nation-state in the world expansionist and imperialist? Is there any other working class in the world which is dismissed as non-existent or too-far-gone? Is there no other working class in the world that succumbs to the reactionary ideas of their hegemonic state? Is there any other nation-state in the world that is demanded to be undone?

The following two sections offer an interesting juxtaposition. In section I, I identify the dominant leftist narrative on the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as found in the academic social sciences literature. In section II, I quote extracts of two articles (one from India’s The Hindu newspaper and the other from The Washington Post) that compare Pakistan to Israel. There is no room for section II in the narrative of section I since Israel as a modern nation-state is deemed exceptional.

The crimes committed by the Israeli state and military against the Palestinians, the colonial occupation and expansionism outside of Israel proper into the West Bank and Gaza, and the perpetual denial of a meaningful ‘two nations, two states’ settlement on pre-1967 borders by the Israeli ruling class (and its growing religious fundamentalist wing) must be condemned, and solidarity with the secular Palestinian plight for their own nation-state must be made. All of this is possible without exceptionalising Israel.

 

I. ‘Israel is exceptional in its unique equivalence to South African apartheid and Nazi fascism’, so says the cross-Atlantic academic Left…

The cross-Atlantic academic Left offers a particular history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that has much in common with a dominant section of the revolutionary Left. A central theme is that of a premeditated Zionist ethnic cleansing. This takes up and develops the new historian Pappé’s (2006) call for the paradigm of war to be replaced with a paradigm of ethnic cleansing in scholarly and public debate on 1948, in order to redress the erasure of this Zionist crime from global memory and conscience. In other words, Pappé (2006, page 9) rejects the notion that the exile of three-quarters of a million Palestinians was an outcome of the 1948 war itself, but rather “the result of long and meticulous planning” by the Zionists to ethnic cleanse the Palestinian population. He reveals the objective of a Zionist “Plan D” as the systematic elimination of Palestinians from Palestinian territory in order to make possible the nation-state of Israel, with the 1948 war providing the means to carry this out (Pappé, 2006, page 6). Following Pappé’s call, Finkelstein (2002) argues that the 1948 war was exploited by the Zionists in a manner similar to the Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo during the 1999 NATO intervention. Falah (2003, page 206) characterises this “ethnic cleansing” as part of a pre-1948 Zionist ‘enclaving’ of Palestinian land that combined immigration and land purchase, military terrorism, a strategy of creating ‘facts on the ground’, and a settlement frontier, wherein the early Zionist settlers, Said (1985) contends, either totally overlooked the Palestinians or actively plotted to get rid of them.

On the character of Zionism and the nation-state of Israel, the cross-Atlantic academic left narrative asserts, “[t]he Zionist dream of uniting the diaspora in a Jewish state was by its very nature a colonial project” (Gregory, 2004a, page 78; see also: Anderson, 2001; Falah, 1996, 2003, 2004; Khalidi, 2003; Piterberg, 2001; Said, 1985). The assessment of the pre-1948 relationship of British imperialism to Zionism ranges from that of “an unambiguous product of inter-imperialist calculation” (Anderson, 2001, page 7) to that of “Janus-faced” collaboration (Gregory, 2004a, page 80). Anderson (2001, page 15) claims that “the imperial baton” passed from Britain to the United States in 1948, whereas Gregory (2004a, page 77) suggests “fitful” interest on the part of US imperialism until the 1967 war. Nonetheless, consensus exists on the post-1967 era, in which the link between the Israeli nation-state, the US Zionist lobby, and US imperialism is given high significance: particularly in “the unprecedented munificence that the United States bestows on Israel”, that is, “the moral equivalent of a blank cheque to do what it likes” (Said, 1986, page 79; see also: Said, 2000). Given the Zionist intention to expel on a mass scale was “inherent” long before 1948 (Piterberg, 2001, page 34), the nation-state of Israel is thus defined as originating in “racist national ideals” cloaked “often in ‘socialist’ guise” (Falah, 2003, page 187) – a semblance made of the early kibbutzim settlement (see: Said, 1985), for instance. It is claimed that, while many Israelis continue to desire the expulsion of Palestinians, ethnic cleansing is now no longer a politically viable option so apartheid takes its place (Finkelstein, 2002). Israel’s legal foundations (specifically, the Law of Return, the Nationality Law, the status of present-absentees, and the prevention of the right of return for Palestinian refugees) are seen as a continued part of a pre-1948 quest for national and racial purity which is “tantamount to organized discrimination or persecution” akin to apartheid South Africa and/or Nazi Germany (Said, 1985, page 41; see also: Falah, 2003; Finkelstein, 2002; Piterberg, 2001). [For further comparison of the ideology and practice of Israel (including the Israeli Defence Force) with that of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, see, for instance, Graham (2002, 2003); Gregory (2004a); Jamoul (2004); and Roy (2002). On the unique ‘democratic fascism’ of the Zionist state and military, see Falah (2001).]

In conclusion, for Gregory (2004a, page 138), echoing Said (1985), the Palestinian-Israeli conflict comes down to a question of “justice” for the Palestinians. Gregory (2004b, page 602) argues that “the key date” for “many on the Israeli Left” is not 1948 (like for the majority of the Palestinians) but 1967, yet this latter war (occupying, to date, the West Bank and Gaza Strip) was merely further military advance by Israel. In other words, the outcome of the 1948 war, the al Nakba, was and remains a colonial occupation of Palestine (Falah, 2003; Gregory, 2004b; Sidaway 2000; Young 2001), and the ultimate issue on the conflict is one of redress and liberation for the injured, oppressed, and occupied side. Because Israel is historically based on a principle of return and non-return for Jews and Arabs respectively, if this disappeared, Piterburg (2001, page 36) postulates, the Zionist nation-state of Israel would “lose its identity”. Or, as put by Karmi (2007), one should question why this nation-state continues to exist at all.

 

II. Israel is not exceptional, take, for example, a comparison to Pakistan…

900px-Flag_of_Pakistan.svg

Flag_of_Israel.svg

From “Separated at birth” by Saif Shahin, published in The Hindu newspaper in 2012:

Violent partition

Both Pakistan and Israel were carved out through partitions of historically and culturally unified territories within a year of each other: Pakistan in August 1947 and Israel in May 1948. Pakistan was created by splitting the Indian subcontinent, tearing asunder people who, while belonging to different religions, shared a common cultural heritage and had together fought their war of Independence. It created fissures even within ethnic communities – Punjabis in the west, Bengalis in the east and, a year later, Kashmiris in the north. The same happened when Israel was carved out of historical Palestine, dividing Arabs to the west of the Jordan river for the first time.

Two, neither partition was peaceful. Hundreds of thousands of people had to leave their homes in both instances to become refugees in what, just days earlier, had been their own land. Pakistan’s creation saw more than 10 million people migrate on either side of the border, many driven away by their neighbours. Nearly a million are believed to have died in the pogroms that ensued. While eloquent espousals of nationalism and patriotism poured out of leaders at bully pulpits, the slit throats of citizens spattered blood in the streets.

Israel’s creation was similarly gory. More than 700,000 Palestinians were hounded out of their homes by Zionist militias in what the Arabs have since called the Nakba, or catastrophe. Thousands perished. Many migrated to West Bank, Gaza and the refugee camps of Lebanon, Jordan and the Sinai; many others fled to Europe and the United States – places from where harried Jews had been moving to Palestine in preceding decades to escape persecution. One diaspora replaced another, and Arab became the new Jew of the West. The irony was profound.

Three, neither Pakistan nor Israel has clearly defined its borders since its creation. It’s not just that their neighbours don’t agree with them, but both these nations have themselves stopped short of stating precisely where they want their borders to be. While India categorically specifies the borders it claims in Kashmir, Pakistan’s position is ambiguous at best. It calls the portion it conquered in 1947-48 “Azad Kashmir” (Independent Kashmir), but Pakistan’s army exercises even more control over the lives of Azad Kashmiris than over the average Pakistani. It even has an Azad Kashmir Regiment – headquartered in Punjab.

Israel has also desisted from stating exactly how large or small it intends to be. For more than 20 years, even the Palestinian Authority has recognised the so-called Green Line – which defined Israeli territory until the 1967 war – as the international border subject to a two-state solution (that would create a Palestinian state). Israel itself, however, does not recognise the Green Line anymore. Nor does it say where it would draw its own Line, all the while grabbing more land in the West Bank for Jewish settlements.

Four, both Pakistan and Israel have fought wars of aggression against neighbours. The India-Pakistan conflicts of 1947-48, 1965 and 1999 were the result of Pakistani aggression. It also waged a proxy war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, a misadventure from which it is yet to dissociate itself. Israel’s wars are still more numerous. It attacked Egypt in 1956, Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on numerous occasions. Gaza remains under Israeli siege even today.

Dominated by religion, military

Five, being born in blood and bred in wars, both Pakistan and Israel have developed societies and polities that are dominated by religion and the military. The green uniform has been at the helm of Pakistan’s affairs for nearly half its independent history, and lords over politicians even when not formally in charge. Its hand has been strengthened by the appropriation of Islam as a political ideology, and the nation is effectively run by a nexus of generals and mullahs.

Israel’s military has similarly clawed its way into the heart of the nation’s society and politics in the name of protecting its Jewish character. Making a name for yourself in wars is the surest way to a successful political career, ministerial posts and prime ministership. Just like Pakistan, Israel seems to be run by a league of generals and rabbis.

Six, both Pakistan and Israel nurture exclusivist national identities, concerned more with who does not belong to them than with who does. Created as a homeland for Muslims, Pakistan has always treated Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims as second-class citizens. But that isn’t all.

Various categories of Muslims – migrants from India, Ahmadis, Shias, Baluchis and so on – have also found it difficult to integrate into Pakistani society and are perpetually blamed for all its social and political ills.

Israel was created as a homeland for Jews, and it treats Arabs as second-class citizens. But many Jews too – black Jews, Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Russian-origin Jews and so on – face rampant discrimination. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Jewish ancestry are simply not considered Jews by law and struggle to be a part of Israeli society.

Benedict Anderson has called nations “imagined communities,” comprising people who share a deep bond of unity even with those they have never met or do not personally know. But Pakistan and Israel exhibit an extraordinary lack of imagination in the construction of their nationhood. Exclusivist identities, religious chauvinism, military dominance and a history of belligerence have rendered them societies that are perpetually at war – with their neighbours and with themselves. Their own uncertainty over their borders betrays this existential insecurity.

From “The Pakistani origins of the Israeli state” by Ishaan Tharoor, published in The Washington Post in 2014:

“Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state,” said then Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq in 1981. “Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.” It’s a strange thing to think about now. Pakistan and Israel are, on the face of it, not kindred spirits. […] But Zia, an instrumental figure in the Islamization of Pakistani society, was saying something quite obvious: Pakistan and Israel are historical twins.

They emerged as independent states one after the other – Pakistan in 1947, Israel in 1948 – following the retreat of the British empire. They were born in blood: Pakistan in the grisly Partition that cleaved British India in two, Israel in the battles of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. And ideologically, as Zia noted, they were both states whose raison d’etre was religion, or at least religious identity. Pakistan was dreamed up as a haven for Indian Muslims, a state that transcended geography itself with a western and eastern wing suspended in between thousands of miles of India. […] Israel was the product of decades of Zionist activism, brought into being after the horrors of the Holocaust as a homeland for Europe’s tormented Jewry. Even this cause had an echo in South Asia. Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah was well-versed in the Zionist plight, since he too wanted to make a nation out of a religious community. As the Oxford historian Faisal Devji writes in his book “Muslim Zion: Pakistan as a Political Idea,” Jinnah “seems to have possessed more books on the problems of European Jewry than on any Muslim people or country.” That’s not too surprising, given that Jinnah was not particularly religious and envisioned a Pakistani nation that, while defined by Islam, was not necessarily governed by its laws. A similar secular theme ran through the Israeli state.

More tellingly, Pakistan made a direct impression on Israel’s rulers in the first years of the country’s existence. In a Haaretz article excerpting work from a new book on Israel and the question of apartheid, South African-born author Benjamin Pogrund explored how Israel followed Pakistan’s lead when it came to administering lands and property captured from the Palestinians who had lived there before. Pogrund writes of the challenge that faced David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, in 1948:

“In the government debates to decide what to do with the Arab “abandoned property,” the prime minister’s special adviser on land and border demarcation, Zalman Lifshitz, argued for the permanent use of refugee property for the political and economic benefit of the new state. He said that countries in similar situations, such as Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia, had taken on vast powers to liquidate refugee property for state use and he urged the Israeli government “to proceed in a similar manner” as “there is no shortage of precedents.””

The laws Lifshitz got enacted in 1949, Pogrund writes, were “based squarely” on Pakistani precedent. During Partition, millions of Hindus and Sikhs had fled what became Pakistan, leaving behind property and assets that could be appropriated on behalf of the millions of Muslim refugees streaming in from the other side of the border. For Lifshitz, Pogrund explains, a similar solution made sense for Israel’s Jewish arrivals.

“It cannot be said if Lifshitz was aware of the irony of the new Jewish state using the legal techniques of a new Muslim state to deprive its own mainly Muslim refugees of their properties. Whichever, he proposed “a new law, similar to the… Pakistani regulations and based on the principles they contain.” Pakistani lawmakers, he noted, had drawn on Britain’s Trading with the Enemy Act, but had also introduced new elements to assist expropriation and transfer of ownership: they had created a mechanism for seizing Hindu and Sikh refugee property in Pakistan and its reallocation for the settlement of Muslim refugees from India.”

This curious irony could be chalked off as a quirk of history. But both Israel and Pakistan are still grappling with their fragile ideological identities to this day. Jinnah’s dream has so far proved illusory: in 1971, East Pakistan split away following a brutal revolutionary war and became the independent state of Bangladesh. Ethnic and linguistic nationalism trumped a pan-Islamic identity. Subsequent Pakistani governments have both encouraged rampant Islamism and then struggled to contain its extremist, militant off-shoots. In Israel, the question of how to reconcile with the Arabs on its borders and in its midst remains as potent and vexing now as it did more than half a century ago. As WorldViews has written about before, the right-wing government of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown little will to enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Some of Netanyahu’s allies have specifically ruled it out. And Netanyahu himself is attempting to push through a controversial law that would cement Israel’s status as a “Jewish nation-state,” privileging the collective rights of Israeli Jews over the interests of Israeli minorities. It’s a proposal that plays well among Israel’s right-wing, including communities of settlers living in the West Bank. But it has its critics, too. “Israelis not in the thrall of settler fanaticism need to decide whether they want to be part of the democratic Western world or not,” wrote Israeli intellectual Bernard Avishai in the New Yorker this week. He then offered this tidy comparison: “The Jewish nation-state law puts the choice starkly: a globalist Hebrew republic or a little Jewish Pakistan.”

 

Acknowledgement

My sincere thanks to comrade Omar Raii for alerting me to the Tharoor article.

Further recommended reading / listening by me (Camila Bassi)

Bassi C, 2011, “The inane politics of Tony Cliff.” Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism 3(2), 1601-1610 

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: what should the Left say?

Workers’ Liberty resources

Is Israel like apartheid South Africa?

Zionism, anti-semitism and the left

Boycott Israel?

Israel-Palestine: Two Nations, Two States!

Blog post references

Anderson P, 2001, “Scurrying Towards Bethlehem”. New Left Review 10 5-30

Falah G W, 2004, “Truth at War and Naming the Intolerable in Palestine” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 36(4) 596-600

Falah G W, 2003, “Dynamics and patterns of the shrinking of Arab lands in Palestine” Political Geography 22 179-209

Falah G, 2001, “Guest Commentary: Intifadat al-Aqsa and the Bloody Road to Palestinian Independence” Political Geography 20 135-137

Falah G, 1996, “The 1948 Israeli-Palestinian War and its Aftermath: The Transformation and De-Signification of Palestine’s Cultural Landscape” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 86(2) 256-285

Finkelstein N G, 2002, “An Introduction to the Israel-Palestine Conflict” Global Dialogue 4(3) 1-17

Graham S, 2003, “Lessons in Urbicide” New Left Review 19, http://www.newleftreview.net/Issue19.asp?Article=04

Graham S, 2002, “Bulldozers and Bombs: The Latest Palestinian-Israeli Conflict as Asymmetric Urbicide” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 34(4) 642-649

Gregory D, 2004a, The Colonial Present (Blackwell, Oxford)

Gregory D, 2004b, “Palestine Under Siege” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 36(4) 601-606

Jamoul L, 2004, “Palestine – In Search of Dignity” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 36(4) 581-595

Karmi G, 2007, Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine (Pluto Press, London)

Khalidi W, 2003, “The Prospects of Peace in the Middle East” Journal of Palestine Studies XXXII(2) 50-62

Pappé I, 2006, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” Journal of Palestine Studies 36(1) 6-20

Piterburg G, 2001, “Erasures” New Left Review 10 31-46

Roy S, 2002,  “Living with the Holocaust: the journey of a child of Holocaust survivors” Journal of Palestine Studies 32(2) 5-12

Said E, 2000, “America’s Last Taboo” New Left Review 6 45-53

Said E, 1986, “On Palestinian Identity: A Conversation with Salman Rushdie” New Left Review 160 63-80

Said E, 1985, “An Ideology of Difference” Critical Inquiry 12 38-58

Shahin S, 2012, “Separated at birth” The Hinduhttp://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/separated-at-birth/article3836661.ece

Sidaway J, 2000, “Postcolonial geographies: An exploratory essay” Progress in Human Geography 24(4) 561-612

Tharoor I, 2014, “The Pakistani origins of the Israeli state” The Washington Posthttps://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/12/03/the-pakistani-origins-of-the-israeli-state/

Young R, 2001, Postcolonialism: A Historical Introduction (Blackwell, Oxford)

Cultural victory over children’s human rights? The ritual circumcision turn

My deliberation on the question of the ritual circumcision of male minors on this blog (Scandinavia’s ritual circumcision debate: a socialist response and Ritual circumcision of male minors, and the political befuddlement of Eric Lee) started with a comment that I’d read by Frank Furedi, in which he tosses into a wave of European anti-immigration, anti-gay, and anti-abortion reactionarism: “In Norway and other parts of Scandinavia, a cultural crusade against the circumcision of boys…”

A_Portugese_Jewish_circumcision_ceremony._Engraving,_1741,_a_Wellcome_V0016781

(Wikimedia Commons)

Below is a timeline of key events and forces in this debate. Conclude for yourselves on whether this story is one of a cultural victory over the far-right in Europe, who foster anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism, or a cultural victory of religion over children’s human rights fought for by medical professionals, children’s rights advocates, and secularists.

  • Norway, May 2012: a two-week old baby boy dies in Oslo after complications arising from circumcision, fuelling a debate on the practice.
  • Germany, May 2012: in response to a case of ritual circumcision in which the male child had to be hospitalised, a Cologne district court ruled the circumcision as “grievous bodily harm”.
  • Germany, 2012: a number of children’s rights organisations and doctors petitioned for a consideration of the law on this issue, questioning the interference of a child’s bodily integrity.
  • Germany, December 2012: a national law was passed that legitimates the parents’ right to ritually circumcise their male children.
  • Norway, September 2013: a statement was released titled “Let the boys decide on circumcision” signed by the Ombudsmen for Children from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland, and eleven paediatric experts from Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. An interview in 2012 with the Children’s Ombudsman of Norway, Dr Anne Lindboe, explains her position:

  • Finland, October 2013: the Nordic Association of Clinical Sexology released “A statement on the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys” supporting a ban.
  • October 2013: the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution against the non-medical circumcision of boys as “violation of the physical integrity of children.”
  • Norway, 2014: 72 per cent of a public opinion survey state that they are against the practice of the ritual circumcision of male minors.
  • Norway, February 2014: the Norwegian Nurses Organisation joined the call for a ban on non-medical circumcision of boys under the age of 15-16. Its director, Astrid Grydeland Ersvik, stressed the need for boys to be able to decide for themselves, and drew parallel to female genital mutilation.
  • Norway, June 2014: the parliament passed Act on Ritual Circumcision of Boys, by the ruling right-wing Conservative-Progress coalition, which permits non-medical circumcision of male minors in the presence of a medical supervisor although the procedure itself can be carried out by someone else.

Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: what should the Left say?

The following podcast is based on my speech presented in a debate with Marcus Halaby of Workers’ Power at the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty Summer School in July 2010. Also, below this link, is a brief photo essay of what happened when Sheffield Workers’ Liberty comrades participated in a Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally in January 2009.

Sheffield demonstration against the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, January 2009.

Sheffield Workers’ Liberty comrades at a demonstration against the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, January 2009.

The demonstration was organised by the Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The demonstration was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

With a struggle, one of our placards was grabbed off us.

With a struggle, one of our placards was grabbed off us.

Our placard that expressed political opposition to both the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas is deemed so offensive that it is ripped up and stamped upon.

The placard expressed political opposition to both the Israeli Defence Force and Hamas. It was deemed so offensive that it was ripped up and stamped upon.

I was left to pick up the pieces while the crowd looked on.

I was left to pick up the pieces while the crowd looked on.

In sum, Sheffield Workers' Liberty was, literally, pushed to the margins for our politics.

Our politics was pushed to the margins.

Ritual circumcision of male minors, and the political befuddlement of Eric Lee

I am grateful for Eric Lee’s response piece to my article here and in the socialist newspaper Solidarity. On his website there are a number of end comments that I recommend people read.

Here I expose what I consider to be Eric’s confused notion of politics, or rather, the lack of politics that Eric considers politics.

At the start of his rejoinder, Eric declares: “Camila Bassi’s “basic socialist demands” regarding male circumcision have no foundation in Marxist tradition”. So I am guessing that Eric missed the footnote in Marx’s Grundrisse that demands: “non-therapeutic, ritual circumcision only be carried out when the person to be circumcised is mature, informed, and able to consent to the procedure”. Okay, seriously then, let’s do away with this sense of clunky Marxist doctrine, because, for me, Marxist tradition is about autonomous, self-governing critical thought and practice, hence I ask in my original article: as socialists, feminists, and labour movement activists, what do we ‘independently’ think about the practice of ritual circumcision amongst male minors, and how does this relate to the Scandinavian debate and the political trends and forces involved?” At no point does Eric address this question.

Eric suggests that I soften the blow of my article by reference to Scandinavia; he sarcastically notes, “Scandinavians, after all, are modern, progressive people”. What’s he getting at here – as against Jews and Muslims? Eric incorrectly states that “Bassi writes that the correct socialist position would place the Left in opposition to [Jewish and Muslim] communities”. And, “[a]lmost as an afterthought, she adds opposition to racism, support for socialism, whatever”. This is not true. It is him not I that homogenizes ‘communities’ of people on the basis of their ‘race’ / ethnicity and religion (stripping people of their differential social, economic, political, and cultural positions, ideas and practices, and individual agency), and it is he not I that panders to the status of so-called ‘community leaders’. I don’t assume, as he does, that all people who might fall under the category of ‘Jews’ and ‘Muslims’ are opposed to a discussion on the question of informed consent for ritual circumcision. Moreover, before I arrive at my end set of demands, I both emphasise and reference the ascent of the populist Right in Europe, and a rising tide of anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism, including in Scandinavia, as critical context. Marxism is about analysing given material realities, the forces and relations involved, and the actualities and the potentialities from and through this. The Scandinavian debate of 2013 and 2014 on the ritual circumcision of male minors is simply that, a given material reality to engage with.

As I was aware, Eric points out that a previous debate on banning ritual circumcision for male minors occurred in Germany. However, he fails to provide and assess the details. As noted in DW, in May 2012 a ruling from the Cologne district court – on a incident of ritual circumcision in which the child was subsequently hospitalized – deemed the circumcision as “grievous bodily harm”. From this, as Reuters reports:

“Some doctors and children’s rights associations submitted a petition in September [2012] calling for a two-year moratorium and a round-table of medical, religious and legal experts to study circumcision fully. “In the clear opinion of experts, the amputation of the foreskin is a grave interference in the bodily integrity of a child,” Georg Ehrmann, chairman of the child protection group Deutsche Kinderhilfe [states].”

The outcome? In December 2012, Germany went on to approve a national law to legitimate parents’ right to ritually circumcise their male children. What Eric chooses to accentuate about the German case are the Jewish and Muslim leaders across the European continent who condemned the ban.

When Eric challenges my position that non-therapeutic, ritual circumcision should only be carried out when the person to be circumcised is mature, informed, and able to consent to the procedure, on the basis of a child’s right to bodily integrity and to later sexual autonomy, he retorts:

“Using the same reasoning, why not also support the ban on kosher and halal slaughter? After all, socialists like all right-thinking people oppose cruelty to animals, right? And while we’re busy banning these things, why not close down all faith schools, because after all, they’re not teaching children what we’d like them to be taught, and they’re forcing children to accept their parents’ religion? Shouldn’t that decision be reserved for adults who are “mature, informed and able to consent”?”

But what is his political reasoning? What is his political method? He surely doesn’t mean what he actually says, which is “using the same reasoning”, i.e., on the basis of a child’s right to bodily integrity and to later sexual autonomy, why not ban the ritual slaughter of animals and faith schools? Eric fails to politically engage with some of the key forces involved in the discussion in Scandinavia. What about the statement – “Let the boys decide on circumcision” – signed by the Ombudsmen for Children from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland, and eleven paediatric experts from Norway, Sweden, and Iceland? What of the Nordic Association of Clinical Sexology’s “A statement on the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys”?

And, of course, one cannot crassly bundle together the ritual circumcision of male minors (and therein the crucial question of consent), with the ritual slaughter of animals, with faith schools, and (I’ll add to Eric’s list) with schoolgirls wearing Islamic headscarves. Why not? Because the Marxist tradition I am applying is about arriving at an independent class position based on a theoretical analysis of the specific empirical realities, and their forces and relations, and the actualities and the potentialities from and through this, and each of these cases are different.

Eric asserts that moves to ban ritual circumcision amongst male minors is “closely linked to” moves to ban the ritual slaughter of animals – all of which are “rightly seen by Jews and Muslims as racist attacks on their communities”. Is it that simple? I certainly don’t deny that there might be some forces involved that are racist motivated, but there also appears to be forces involved that are not racist motivated. If Eric wants an empirical reality to build a case for his claim, I suggest he examines the Danish social and political scene, and asks: what are the nature, composition, and balance of forces? Eric concludes that “[s]ocialists have always defined religion as a private matter. Socialists defend the freedom of religion, and of course the right of people to have no religion”. What he misses is this: on the question of the ritual circumcision of male minors there is a distinct intersection of religious freedom for parents with the right of the child to bodily integrity, and to later sexual autonomy.

Eric Lee’s befuddlement can be explained by what he does, which is to respond to a debate on ritual circumcision among male minors by not responding to it at all and instead conflating it to a European climate of anti-Muslim racism and anti-Semitism, and thus cancelling out politics. He says, defend religious and ethnic minorities from racist attack, and fight anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across Europe”, and ignores the question in hand: again, as socialists, feminists, and labour movement activists, what do we ‘independently’ think about the practice of ritual circumcision amongst male minors, and how does this relate to the Scandinavian debate and the political trends and forces involved?”  I stand by the basic socialist demands from my original article:

  • The right of children to bodily integrity
  • The right of children to the sexual autonomy of their adult life
  • Non-therapeutic, ritual circumcision only be carried out when the person to be circumcised is mature, informed, and able to consent to the procedure
  • Opposition to the rising intolerance of immigration across Europe
  • Opposition to anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism, and all forms of racism and xenophobia
  • For an internationalist and independent working class culture and politics