In my last post I went into a bit of detail about what I dislike about the Palestinian solidarity movement and also Jewish groups around it. During a conversation on twitter (yeah i know!) somebody made the point that expecting zionism to be overthrown by a slight alteration to Jewish theology is absurd, moreover, while pressure on Israel from diaspora Jewish communities could have an impact in changing it’s behaviour ultimately it is completely naive to expect that Jewish self hate and self flaggelation about how bad they are for not doing xyz will have any impact on Israeli policy and do anything other than alienate people from their cause, people who quite rightly do not see why they should “hold themselves accountable” for the actions of Israel, which the individual citizen has very little control over. There is also no reason why people who have no influence over Israel’s actions should “hold themselves accountable” especially since, as the same organisations repeatedly point out, zionism and Israeli policy are not the same as Judaism.And by the same token condemn those who do not “hold themselves accountable”.
Since a lot of the rhetoric about this (Jewish activists holding themselves accountable for the occupation of Palestine and that sort of shit) is coming from Jewish organisations I would not say that anti-semitism is involved. Rather I would say that its a particular kind of identity politics and quite a bizarre one. I would also say that it is quite damaging, it should be enough to explain the basics of israeli policies and its injustices against palestinians, the history of violence in Israel, etc, rather than laying it out in terms of “we’re guilty everyone look how guilty we are”. It is a gut reaction when thinking about israel for many jewish people, to feel ashamed etc, but you cannot base your entire worldview on that reaction.
too many people do not do that.
The IWCA and the SP have recognised the fact that it is a bad idea to say, dismiss everyone as a racist who opposes mass immigration and that it is both wrong, and counterproductive, to equate the fact that somebody has voted BNP with them being a paid-up nazi due to the dismal alternatives on offer and the failure of large parts of the left to engage properly with working class people and that it is a bad idea to parachute people into areas they dont know anything about and deliver leaflets about how bad the BNP are come election time without tackling any of the reasons why people would want to vote for them, and while these views are still bitterly opposed by some on the left, it has become a much more mainstream view than it was a few years ago. Trying to send people on guilt trips does not work and it certainly will not get them to take you seriously especially when it comes from people who have no little or no involvement with you personally or politically, who dont know about your life, your concerns, etc
A similar approach is needed here I think and the answer is not in my opinion to come across as some sort of finger wagging liberal. A lot of people who are unsettled by campaigns such as BDS and what they see as a disproportionate criticism of Israel in the media, are actually very critical of Israel themselves. The reason that they dont get behind these campaigns isn’t usually because they’re massive zionists it is because they are (quite rightly in my opinion) anxious about what would happen if Israel did not exist, alot of them have friends or family in Israel, etc, or simply that based on some of the placards and messages on palestine demos they are quite rightly worried about it especially when, like the majority of the left’s approach, to many of the people the IWCA members knew or ended up campaigning alongside, little or no attempt is made to engage with the jewish community except for a few groups like for example Neturei Karta who believe in an extreme fundamentalist version of Judaism which says zionism was a heresy (it was) but it says among other things that the holocaust was a punishment from god for the Jews not being religious enough. Hardly the most reassuring group of people if you’re worried about anti-semitism.
In terms of the question of israel’s right to exist, i would say (and this may be controversial) that it was 75 years ago and the majority of people there were born there and have known no other home. In my opinion the creation of Israel should never have happened. But it has, and it is now 75 years later, and you cannot say that the entire group of people in that country should just leave, as otherwise you are making a whole other refugee problem to replace the first one. Some of the rhetoric about this is completely unhelpful, and again I would not say that anti-semitism was involved all of even much of the time, but it shows that people have not thought about what they are saying. Actually sometimes it is involved, and even when people are not personally anti-semitic they are often unwilling to say anything. There is an idea that because criticisms of Israel are not always anti-semitic it means that no criticisms of it EVER are.
Now I want to get to the next part of my criticism. Like all single issue movements there is not a class analysis involved. Recently I saw a headline about how the BDS movement has managed to get the ANC to endorse BDS as part of its official policy. The ANC today is not the organisation that it was, which helped to overthrow apartheid in South Africa. Today the ANC is a deeply undemocratic organisation which has ruled South Africa since the fall of apartheid which was in 1994. Recently the government shot several miners who were on strike and used apartheid-era laws to try to try the remaining survivors for murder. Several of its leading figures have made inflammatory remarks against gays and lesbians in what is already a deeply homophobic environment. I do not think that that kind of endorsement is something to be celebrated and like many single issue campaigns it makes the assumption that the fact that governments or important people make those kind of statements it adds a legitimacy to the campaign which it does not.
As for the BDS campaign itself I do not agree with it and will say why. This is not to say that I think nothing should be done about Israels activities. I am not a zionist. Ido not and will never support Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians and I will happily do what I can to oppose them. I just don’t think that the things I described are things that I want to be part of.
The whole idea that zionism is wholly a “spiritual” problem or a problem to do with guilt (i was told once on a demo that the reason why Israel was supported by western countries is because of guilt over the holocaust) is part of it. The real reason why this and many other wars continue is because of the fact that people make money out of war and they also use war as a distraction from economic problems, as a way of “unifying” the nation etc. Israel’s leaders certainly do this and they are not the only ones. Reducing it to a moral problem or a problem thats uniquely jewish aint gonna solve it, all it will do is annoy people. Cosying up to bourgeois leaders even if they share your political views on a single issue will not stop the conflict it will not help the working class in either country and only trying to work alongside people in israel and palestine, trade unionists etc will do that
the israeli/palestinian conflict DOES receive a disproportionate amount of attention from many activists on the left. there are many reasons for this. anti-semitism might be part of it, but it is not the only reason. I would say perhaps one of the most important reasons is because of the historic importance of the region in Christian culture and the fact that some of the places (Bethlehem etc) are so familiar to us all, and also the fact that Israel has been an ally of the US for so long. Most people in the western world have hardly heard of what has been taking place in Western Sahara since the 70s which in many ways is almost identical, there are settlements, a huge fuck off wall, massive control of water and other resources etc. As I said there are reasons for the lack of coverage of these places. I dont think that the way to talk to somebody who should bring this up is to seem to confirm their fears.
I just do not believe that socialists and marxists should be campaigning for the leaders of the ruling class to impose sanctions on Israel any more than they should campaign for sanctions to be imposed on any other state, when sanctions only end up harming the working class and those who they are supposed to be aimed at carry on doing exactly the same thing, and leading even more of a life of luxury. In the case of North Korea for example sanctions have not harmed the government they have allowed the north korean government to use food and allocation of resources as a weapon to control the population, and as you can see the Kim dynasty are hardly suffering from a lack of food. In addition Israel’s political discourse is completely paranoid and apocalyptic with the government and it’s propagandists portraying every war as a battle for its survival. Austerity measures have already been imposed on the w/c population (with the impact falling on already marginalised groups like israeli arabs etc) for a long time. Much is made of the fact that sanctions helped to defeat the apartheid gov’t in south africa, but in fact it had more to do with the armed wing of the struggle within South Africa and the actions of workers which made the regime untenable, and where boycotts did help they were targetted, for example, trade unionists not loading shipments of weapons destined for that country.
(the south africa comparison is also, in my opinion, very flawed, if i was to compare it to anywhere it would probably be Serbia in the late 80s and 1990s, but that is another post).
It does not trouble the ruling class at least in the EU to impose these types of measures there is a section of them which already views Israel as something of a liability.
In any case the people at the UN security council and the leaders of governments who would be responsible for implementing the boycott, divestment and sanctions policy are not exactly blameless, having supplied many regimes including israel’s with weapons and the technological expertise to make them over the years (and have also benefited from israeli, among other, military expertise). in the case of divestment it gives the impression that there is an “ethical” way for capitalism to invest its money (by not investing in a particular company) whereas we all know that companies are often delighted to to give the appearance of being ethical, such as the “costa foundation” and initiatives like that, which end up driving further privatisation initiatives within those countries. Starting schools etc seems like a really good idea until you consider that what is happening is actually deepening the dependence of those communities on the company which will probably control what they are taught, as well as degrading the quality of state education. The british state has committed atrocities that make Israels look like a picnic in the park but it is (and not just with Israel) to that state that liberal single issue campaigners turn rather than trying to build working class solidarity which really could end this conflict and many others
Even in the case of sanctions on Burma in the case of tourism etc, some Burmese socialists made the point that it was better for Burmese people to encounter foreigners for work, tourism etc rather than be completely isolated from the world and dependent on what the government told them. And of course many companies found ways around the boycotts anyway, such as TOTAL.
I am sure that there are some things I’ve missed out but these are the basic points, other criticisms I know have been covered elsewhere but I’ll be happy to go into them in the comments