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Monday, 4 March 2013

Palestine solidarity and Jewish opposition to Zionism

Yitzhak Luden stands in the Yiddish community center(photo: Alon Aviram) 14th November 2012

First session on the Bund with Tony Lerman and David Rosenberg


Reem Kilani
Member of the audience contributing to debate
Panel for last session

 Jews 4 Boycotting Israeli Goods AGM & National Meeting

I have often found myself thinking, as I have another AGM or meeting to attend, that I’m doing it more out of a sense of duty than because I really want to be there.  And then having gone I wished I hadn’t!

 

Saturday was different and was one of the most enjoyable meetings I’ve been to for a long time.  It was the second annual conference that J-Big has organised since it was founded in early 2010 and it was packed to the rafters, with people standing.   Nearly a 100 people attended and the conference was filmed throughout.  A short AGM was also held in the morning.  In its 3 years, J-Big has made an impact far above its (increasing numbers) and is in constant demand to send speakers or attend a picket/demonstration with our banner.   Truly J-Big has come of age.
Naomi introduces Antony Lerman and David Rosenberg
Anti-Semites such as Gilad Atzmon have tried to portray us as being only concerned with anti-Semitism and Jews.  We are according him, only in the Palestine solidarity movement as gatekeepers to keep the non-Jews in line!  Yesterday would have been a sore disappointment to Atzmon and his declining band of supporters.  Yes we are opposed to all manifestations of anti-Semitism, and all other forms of racism within the Palestine solidarity movement, but our main priority is symbolised by our slogan ‘Koshering the Boycott’.  And to nail another lie, there were a number of non-Jewish people who attended as equal participants.
The film 'Bundayim' produced by Eran Torbiner
The Conference started off, nearly on time, with a showing of the film Bundayim¸ a film on the Israeli remnants of the The Bund.  After the holocaust, some of the remnants of the Bund, the General Jewish Workers Union of Russia, Lithuania and Poland, emigrated to Israel and mainly to Tel Aviv.  There they established a library and a meeting place.  Moshe Machover told me that when Matzpen was first established in 1962 they were welcomed and held their first meeting in the Bund premises.
Bund leader in Israel
The film was, for me, an incredibly sad and moving film.  Here we saw the remnants of the mass organisation of the Jewish working class in Poland, murdered in the holocaust, holding on to their socialist principles without conceding anything to Zionism.  Those who formed the Israeli section of the Bund were either anti-Zionists or non-Zionists and Eran Torbiner, who produced the film, is a member of Israel’s Boycott from Within.

The film showed a group of about 60 people who were steadily growing older and dying off, with very few young people joining them.  Zionist nationalism, the idea that the Jewish worker has more in common with  the Jewish capitalist and boss, the fundamental idea of the Zionist concept of the ‘Jewish people’ was antithetical to the idea of socialism.  The Bund in Poland had organised autonomously, because of the particular oppression suffered by Polish Jews, but they also worked closely with the Polish Socialist Party to tackle the common enemy.  The Bund in Israel kept the memory of socialism and international solidarity alive.

Today the Zionists friends are those such as Michal Kaminiski MEP for the Law & Justice Party whose was opposed to Poland apologising for the pogrom by Poles in Jedwabne in 1941 when up to 600 Jews were burn alive in their homes and synagogue.

Afterwards there was a panel consisting of Tony Lerman, founder of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, former member of the academic Jewish establishment and recent author of the Making and Unmaking of a Zionist. http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/review-making-and-unmaking-of-zionist.html and David Rosenberg, Secretary and founder member of the Jewish Socialists Group.
Audience discussion in first plenary
Tony gave a fascinating account of his own upbringing in the ‘socialist’ Zionist group Habonim-Dror and his own growing disillusionment with Zionism.  His recent book 'The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist' has been pilloried by the Jewish Establishment and its treatment in the Jewish Chronicle, where a hack Zionist Professor Hochauser, was wheeled out to make a personal attack on Lerman whilst ignoring the contents of the book itself, was par for the course.

David Rosenberg gave the background to the Bund in Poland describing how the Zionists and anti-Semites were agreed that Jews did not belong in the country where they had been born.  How in the fight against anti-Semitism, the Zionist groups were entirely missing with the exception of Left Poalei Zion, a group which I would characterise as non-Zionist.
Mad Mel P in all her glory
David described how, in the last municipal elections in 1938 before the Nazi invasion, out of 20 Jewish Council in Warsaw, the Bund won 17 (he said 16 but everything I’ve read says 17) compared to just one seat for the Zionists.  The Zionists and the Orthodox Jewish parties had simply become irrelevant as the Nazi menace loomed.

After a break there was a further panel discussion arising out of the production of a new 4 page pamphlet, Zionism and Antisemitism: Racist Political Twins which detailed how, ever since the Zionist movement was formed, it has worked hand-in-glove with anti-Semites.  Michael Deas of the Boycott National Committee was ill but his place as Chair of the discussion was taken by Michael Kalmanovitch of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Organisation.
John Rose, author of Myths of Zionism, speaking - Michael Kamanovitch of IJAN to his left
2nd plenary with speaker from Anarchists Against the Wall
The first speaker was John Rose, an academic, member of the SWP and author of The Myths of Zionism, a book which unpicks the Zionist myths used to perpetuate the idea that Israeli Jews confront eternal Arab hatred and Israel therefore has the right to "defend itself" by any means.  It is an important book because ever since its foundation, the Israeli state has used the ‘existentialist’ threat of the surrounding Arab states in order to maintain the fiction that it is perpetually under attack and to justify its permanent state of emergency.
Speaker from Anarchists Against the Wall
The next speaker was an Israeli speaker from Anarchists Against the Wall who described most the increasingly racist nature of Israeli society and the vital role that anti-Zionist and sympathetic Israelis play in trying to halt the demolitions.
Sue Blackwell speaking
Sue Blackwell, from BRICUP (British Committee for the Universities of Palestine) spoke about the attack by Zionists in her trade union, UCU and in particular the most recent employment tribunal proceedings for race discrimination initiated by a disaffected Zionist – Ronnie Fraser.  The tribunal  proceedings we were told, by Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead of Bricup, had been transcribed by a note-taker and Sue  described how the proceedings didn’t quite follow the reporting of the Jewish Chronicle.  For example one of the examples Sue gave of the terrible ‘anti-Semitism’ that Fraser gave was the fact that at one UCU conference, no one applauded his speech!  Truly on a par with the  pogroms of Kishinev.  Perhaps he hadn’t thought of the more obvious explanation.

Sue also explained that from its very inception, many Jewish academics had given their support to the campaign to boycott Israeli universities and how, when Fraser launched his tribunal proceedings, represented by Anthony Julius of Mishcon de Reya (whose main claim to fame was that he was the solicitor for the Princess Dianne trust fund – from which he trousered some £2m for professional services).

The financing of Fraser's litigation is murky.  Anthony Julius is, apparently, representing Fraser pro bono.  But a figure of £50,000 was also mentioned as having been paid to Engage, the 'left-wing' Zionists who were created to oppose the academic boycott.  According to Fraser this originated from the "Friends" of the various Israeli universities and was channeled through the Fair Play Campaign
Group, which was set up by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council to fight the academic boycott.  It is possible that all that money came from donors in the UK and only went through bank accounts in the UK.  David Hirsh in his evidence denied that the money came via the Fair Play Campaign Group, though he did not deny the figure of 50K - he estimated it was spread
over 3 years. 

I spoke last and began by noting that when I had ‘come out’ as an anti-Zionist at the tender age of 16, there had been no role models.  There were virtually no Jewish anti-Zionists around and none that I knew.  Today, as this conference demonstrated, Jews in increasing numbers were rejecting Zionism and the racism and chauvinism it stood for.
Tony Greenstein - speaking in the last session
I paid tribute to Les Levidow, to an enthusiastic round of applause, for having taken on the thankless task of producing our pamphlet.  It should be invaluable.  Next time you are accused of ‘anti-Semitism’ you can cite Israel’s first Minister of Justice, Pinhas Rosenbluth, that Palestine is an ‘Institute for the Fumigation of Jewish Vermin’.  Only the Nazis and their ilk referred to Jews as ‘vermin’ but the Zionists shared the anti-Semitic idea that Jews were strangers in other peoples’ lands and had developed ‘asocial’ characteristics as a result of their ‘exile’.  I also pointed out that the main friends of Zionism today were the establishment and right-wing.  It is no accident that the English Defence League marches with Israeli flags, that Nick Griffin calls the BNP the most pro-Israeli political party and that most European far-right or fascist parties support Israel.  As we know, Andres Breivik, the fascist mass murderer from Norway, was a devoted supporter of Zionism and Israel.
In the evening we had a cabaret act from Melanie Philips aka our very own Debora Fink and then the noted Palestinian musician Reem Kilani performed as did other Palestinian artists.

Audience members dancing to the band
I also cited, in an earlier contribution, the fact that the Zionists, when faced with a choice of saving Jews or building a Jewish state had without hesitation opted for the latter.  Even Shabtai Teveth, the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, had noted his complete indifference and worse to the holocaust.  He wrote in The Burning Ground 1886-1948 p. 851 that:
'If there was a line in Ben-Gurion's mind between the beneficial disaster and an all-destroying catastrophe, it must have been a very fine one.'  Ben-Gurion's whole philosophy had been to turn the disaster of the holocaust to 'positive' effect by erecting a 'Jewish' state.  Rescue was the last thing on his mind.  And if it be though that the first Prime Minister and Chair of the Jewish Agency was an aberration I referred to the President of the Zionist Organisation and first  President of the Israeli state, Chaim Weizmann, who remarked of William Evans-Gordon, who founded the British Brothers League, an anti-Semitic group dedicated to keeping the Jewish refugees from the pogroms out of Britain, that the Jews were sometimes hard on him!  [Trial & Error, Autobiography of Chaim Weizmann).

I also touched on the 'Zionisation' of the holocaust.  How according to Zionist ideologues like Anita Shapira, the 'Princess of Zionism', Jewish history could only be understood on 'national' ground.  So only Zionist historians based in Israel could understand the true meaning of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis, even though it had taken place in Europe not Palestine.
Reem Kilani - the noted Palestinian musician - was abled to come at the last minute and perform
Leila contributes to debate
 Despite its ritual accusations of 'anti-Semitism' Zionism is and  remains a Jewish mirror image of anti-Semitism.

Moshe Machover, a founder of Matzpen, gave a very moving and inspiring tribute to his late comrade Akiva Orr, who died on February 9th 2013.  Akiva who had been born in Berlin in 1931 and come to Palestine in 1934, was the child on non-Zionist parents.  Akiva had served in the Israeli navy during the 1948 war but see little action but he had later joined the Merchant Navy and been one of the leaders of the 1950-1 Seaman's Strike in Israel when the Israeli navy was deployed to defeat the strikers.  Their enemy was Histadrut, which owned both the main shipping line (Zim) and was also the workers' trade union.  The strikers were castigated as no different from the fedayeen (guerillas).  Akiva became a noted speaker and authored 'The UnJewish State'.
Leila and Mad Mel P
In the evening we had a variety of entertainers including Mad Mel Phillips aka Deborah Fink, a Palestinian band and a guess appearance from Reem Kilani, the noted Palestinian singer songwriter.
Entertainment in the evening
Entertainment was provided in the evening by a band
A number of us retired at 7.30 to a nearby restaurant after a thoroughly enjoyable day.  On Sunday there was a second conference, organised by Glynn Secker, with people like Ilan Pappe and Moshe Machover speaking.

Tony Greenstein

8 comments:

Brian Robinson said...

Tony, as you may recall, I bought a copy of Bunda'im from Eran Torbiner and like you found it a deeply moving and very sad document, beautifully and sensitively understated.

But of what use to their murdered comrades, and indeed to themselves, was their socialism? It failed them, just as assimilation had failed.

But this issue you often refer to, namely that both Zionism and antisemitism say that Jews cannot live in the societies in which they're born, that they're different and should go and live amongst their own kind, and that therefore Zionism is just another version of antisemitism.

Stated baldly there's a superficial similarity, at least as far as consequences go. But the motivation, intention and tone are totally contrary to each other.

In the case of the antisemite, the declaration is made out of hostility, with the aim to destroy, to eliminate: real antisemitism.

In the case of the Zionist, the underlying construct is something like, "We tried to join in, we really did, but they wouldn't let us", and so the declaration is made out of love, not hate.

As for Ben Gurion, sure, he knew 50 or 100 Jewish children could be saved by getting them to Britain, and don't you think he'd have welcomed that? He may have been mistaken in believing it necessary to think on a much larger and longer-lasting scale, but he was not motivated by callousness. He really wanted "never again".

The vital (in its literal sense) difference between the antisemite and the Zionist is that the former wants, ultimately, to eliminate Jews, the latter wants to save them.

The antisemite projects an agenda of death, the Zionist seizes life.

The Zionists might have been wrong, but what else, immediately post WW2 and in the aftermath of the indifference of the entire world, could they have done?

Yes, it's been said that Israel is in the wrong place, or that it happened too late in history, it's an anachronism, even that the whole project was fatally misconceived.

But that's history. Get used to it.

Brian Robinson
Milton Keynes, UK

Tony Greenstein said...

Brian

Zionism was a reaction to anti-Semitism. It was in fact politically a creation of Christian anti-Semites if u want to know.

The point I'm making and which you seem to be unable to grasp is that the Zionist movement was not concerned with saving Jews but building a state and was quite willing to block emigration opportunities for Jews under threat in Nazi occupied Europe. That and the undermining of the Boycott of the Nazis and the deals to rescue Zionist activists and discard the mass of Jewry.

How you can say that Zionism seizes life is beyond me. It wrote off 6 million. Probably 1 million fewer Jews would have survived if your life giving movement hadn't existed.

Stop making excuses for Quisling movements. Zionism is not interested in opposing anti-Semitism or saving Jews but building a Jewish racial state. All else is immaterial.

I see you are having one of your Zionist turns.

Les said...

Why discuss Jewish identity? The morning’s discussion centred on various efforts to create a Jewish identity and culture outside the Zionist project. I often did not understand the reasons or motives for such efforts.

Of great relevance are insights from Aki Orr, whose contribution was commemorated by Moshe at the conference. His books are now conveniently available online, e.g. at
and


In The unJewish State (1983), Aki analyses Israel’s early efforts to create a secular Jewish identity, as a common basis for a Jewish Israeli culture and legal framework: the ensuing contradictions instead led the new state to authorise Orthodox Rabbis to define ‘who is a Jew’, due special entitlements dispossessing Palestinians.

In his later book on Israeli Myths (1994), he analyses Western Jews’ widespread existential attachment to Israel -- as a substitute for a lost Jewish religious identity.
Those efforts and tensions are important for us to understand if we are to help entice Jews away from Zionist attachments.

Speaking personally, I am interested to explore Jewish identity and culture for a sole reason – to strengthen and enrich the Palestine solidarity movement. There are many possibilities. For example, we can show that the Zionist project historically has undermined Jewish culture, colluded with antisemites against Jews and even generated more antisemitism (as argued in the new J-BIG briefing on Zionism).

More creatively, we draw on Jewish cultural traditions when developing the boycott of Israeli hasbara cultural activities, e.g. by accompanying the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; likewise when satirising Zionists (Debbie’s Mad Mel). Likewise when joining in Palestinian music and dances. For me, all this activity extends the internationalist Bund tradition of my grandparents’ generation.

Mooser said...

"As for Ben Gurion, sure, he knew.../... He really wanted "never again".

Wow, you knew Ben Gurion? Gosh, I can't wait for your memiors. Ought to put it all in perspective. How's about an advance copy for a landsmann (We sold the Tolley years ago.)?
Please hurry, lest I go wrong and "choose death"

Mooser said...

"Why discuss Jewish identity? The morning’s discussion centred on various efforts to create a Jewish identity and culture outside the Zionist project

Gee, over two thousand years without Zionism, aqnd only about a hyndred with Zionism. We ought to be able to find something!

Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to know what you think should happen to all the Jews, living in Israel, if Israel were to be delegitimised and the land given back to the Palastinians.
Do you think they should be allowed to stay under Palastinians rule? Do you really believe that is possible or desirable for a people who have lived under a democracy. Do you honestly believe they would be allowed to live.
Or perhaps they should all go back where they came from. All those who came to Israel as young men and women and are now elderly. All those who were born there and know no other home?
Just what is your solution?

Do you

Tony Greenstein said...

Israel is illegitimate. It is an apartheid state and now they are organising separate bus services for Palestinians and Jews on the West Bank!

I believe in the right of return.

I also believe that Jews should be given the same rights that White South Africans were, i.e. they lose the right to superior privileges and ruling through force.

Jews in Israel, whether they like it or not, being settlers, are Jewish Palestinians. Israel a democracy?

Presumably rule over 4 million people in the Occupied Territories, who have never had a vote in their occupation is democratic? And maybe Hitler's election was democratic?

Having a vote does not a democracy make. It is about having the right to the people to control society, according equality to all citizens, not having perpetual discrimination of the Israeli Arab minority whereby their villages are subject to demolition in the cause of 'judification'.

As for going back to where they came from, I'm sure many of the settlers on the West Bank will do just that. Just as 1 million+ Israeli Jews already have returned back because they can't stand the artificial, militarist kind of society Israel is. I understand that over half Israel's professors are now no longer living in Israel.

Just as half of Ashkenazis have a foreign passport, including 100,000 German passports. Should they have to leave? Absolutely no, it is an individual choice. Some racists however find an equal society hard to adapt to though.

hotazhell said...

Well said Tony and those concerns raised by "anonymous" were the same concerns raised by supporters of apartheid in South Africa.