From working class militant to anti-Zionist writer
I only met Akiva Orr once, when he spoke at Sussex University in the 1980’s, to a sparsely attended meeting of the Palestine society on campus. His book on Israel – appropriately titled ‘The UnJewish State’ had just been published.
Akiva was an entertaining if not eccentric speaker who from distant memory, seized on various points to wander off on a tangent rather than develop a consistent theme. He was one 3 members of Matzpen who wrote an article, later to be republished by the International Socialists Group, on the Class Nature of Israeli Society. As someone aged 16, who could already see, without having read anything, that the universalism of socialism and the particularism of Zionism could not be reconciled, the article hit me like a bombshell. Everything began to make sense to me. Either it was unity of the working class internationally or unity of the Jews – rich and poor alike.
Schnews! The Brighton anarchist newssheet has an interesting review which describes him as the ‘godfather of Israeli anarchism’ Akiva Orr’s life spanned the whole of the Israeli state A child refugee from Nazi Germany, he came to see many of the things he escaped from being re-enacted in a different form, including a Law of Return which uses the same definition of ‘Who is a Jew’, as the Nuremburg Laws of 1935. Aki’s was a golden life of struggle, starting with his role as a militant in the Israeli seaman’s strike of 1950, which the state brutally attacked, calling the strikes terrorists on a part with the fedayeen (Palestinian guerilla fighters).
|Akiva Orr, political activist, writer and founder of Matzpen, posing for a journalistic interview. (photo: Sergio Yahni)|
Akiva Orr, an activist and writer, who helped form the Israeli anti-Zionist party ‘Matzpen,’ passed away this week. His ideas, which can be viewed in the documentary on the history of Matzpen (below), challenged Israeli society and influenced generations of activists.
Orr was born in Berlin in 1931. His parents left to Palestine when he was three years old after the Nazis rise to power. Orr grew up in Tel Aviv, and was drafted into the Haganah and later on the Israeli Navy during the 1948 war. He served in the navy until 1950, and then joined the merchant navy, where he participated in the Israeli Seamen’s Strike of 1951, an event which left Orr highly politicized as a result of being beaten by the Israeli Police. In the same year he joined the Israeli Communist Party (ICP).
Orr moved to London in the 1960s, where he remained until his return to Israel in 1990. He was invited to speak at the 2011 Israeli tent protests on Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv, where he delivered lectures on the Seamen’s Strike of 1951 and on direct democracy.
Several years ago, in response to a +972 Magazine article criticizing widespread social justice protests, Orr sent Joseph Dana his rather surprising take on the Israeli protest movement. Dana posted this analysis, along with a video interview with Orr.
For more on the organization that challenged Israeli society and influenced the radical left in Israel, watch the documentary on the history of Matzpen: