Workers Vanguard No. 1062
20 February 2015
Down With Zionist Terror Against Palestinians!
For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!
SYC Defends Marxism at Finkelstein Talk
City College of New York
(Young Spartacus pages)
This last December, anti-Zionist historian Norman Finkelstein spoke at the City College of New York (CCNY) to kick off a “Palestine Awareness Week” organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). This came at the end of a semester that had opened with protests against a bloody bombing campaign and invasion of the Gaza strip by the Israeli army, which killed over 2,000 Palestinians.
Though mostly unspoken, there was palpable tension between the speaker and his hosts. Much of the crowd at the event stood for a “one-state solution”—that is to say, Israelis and Palestinians living in a single bourgeois-democratic state, supposedly with rights for all. Finkelstein argues that pro-Palestinians must stand for two separate states based on the 1967 borders.
The New York Spartacus Youth Club attended Finkelstein’s talk to present our revolutionary Marxist program for the Near East. We recognize that both the one- and two-state “solutions” of the SJP and Finkelstein are in fact impossible. The “two states” that Finkelstein proposes would deny the Palestinian people the right to at least a large chunk of their historic homeland, while “one state” as envisioned by its supporters would necessarily be governed by the Palestinian majority, thus denying the right to self-determination of Israeli Jews, who constitute a nation. In fact, what exists now is the sort of “one state” foreseeable under capitalism—one ruled by the Zionists with the Palestinians confined to increasingly smaller occupied areas whose fate is entirely in the hands of the Israeli military.
As one of our comrades said during the discussion: “Only through the establishment of a socialist federation of the Near East can the national claims of the Palestinians, as well as the myriad other oppressed peoples of the region, be equitably resolved. The peoples of the Near East will never know justice, peace or prosperity until a series of working-class revolutions overthrow bourgeois rule throughout the region. For this we need revolutionary workers parties in countries throughout the region linked to internationalist class struggle against capitalist rule. This is the only realistic solution.”
Despite the fact that Finkelstein and “one state” supporters engage in sometimes-heated arguments, their politics share key premises. Both place their faith in the capitalist rulers of the U.S., Europe and the Near East. Seeking answers within the framework of capitalist rule, neither have an answer to alleviate the truly desperate economic conditions in Gaza and the West Bank.
In fact, many in the SJP—including leading members of the Maoist Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC)—promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is organized to pressure various capitalist institutions, such as universities, local governments, corporations and the “international community,” to force Israel to act on behalf of the Palestinians. In particular, the BDS movement appeals to the United Nations and “international law,” which they, no less than Finkelstein, portray as the court of last appeal for the Palestinian masses.
Though Finkelstein has fallen out of favor among some activists for calling BDS a “cult” that seeks to “destroy Israel,” he was nonetheless sponsored for his long history of exposing Israeli atrocities and those who apologize for them. He has been targeted for persecution by Zionists because he is a Jewish historian, the son of Holocaust survivors, who defends Palestinian rights. His refusal to back down in the face of accusations of support to terrorism, censorship campaigns, and drives to have him fired have earned Finkelstein the respect of many activists. Over the years, we have defended Finkelstein and other academics that have come under attack for their anti-Zionist politics (see “Protest DePaul University Attack on Norman Finkelstein!” WV No. 895, 6 July 2007). The witchhunts against Finkelstein and others, duplicitously equating opposition to Zionism with anti-Jewish bigotry, have been conducted by a well-funded, well-oiled machine, supported on various levels from university administrations to state governments. These reactionary attacks are of the same mold as the recent campaigns against BDS supporters and SJP groups (see “‘Boycott Israel’ Campaign and Illusions in Democratic Imperialism,” WV No. 1045, 2 May 2014).
Marxism vs. Bourgeois Pressure Politics
Finkelstein’s talk included a highly compressed history of Zionism from the late 19th century to the present. To his credit he included the fact that many European Jews were opposed to the Zionist project, choosing instead to fight for the liberation of the Jews as part of the fight for socialism and the liberation of all humanity. The talk challenged the Zionist myth that Palestine before 1948 was a land without a people and also denounced how Zionists have used the horror of the Holocaust to justify the theft of Palestinian land and all manner of their own crimes enacted against the Palestinian people. However, when it came to proposing a way forward to end the misery of the Palestinians and address the myriad forms of national and ethnic oppression that plague the region, Finkelstein had nothing to offer except demoralization. He directed the assembled students to throw themselves at the feet of the bourgeoisies of the world in the form of the UN General Assembly, and pushed a two-state settlement as the only aim with a “connection with reality” because it is what the majority of UN member states have voted for.
During the discussion round, one speaker from the floor argued that a two-state solution was impossible at this point given the large and numerous Israeli settlements that divide the West Bank. He also observed that it would leave Arabs within Israel without any legal protections. In response Finkelstein admitted that establishing a separate Palestinian state would not solve the question of the settlements, nor do anything for the oppressed Palestinian citizens of Israel, and would in fact do very little to change the conditions of the Palestinians overall. Nonetheless, he averred that it would at least do something to relieve the enduring misery of the people of Palestine. An SYC comrade from the floor argued:
“As far as a two-state solution goes, in our opinion this solution means confinement in ghettos and ongoing terror at the hands of the Zionist rulers. No Palestinian state will ever be viable in the face of a nuclear-armed Israel. It can only be a cruel joke on the starving, suffering Palestinians.... There can be no just solution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict within the framework of capitalism. Two nations claim the same small piece of land, and under capitalism, the exercise of national rights for one necessarily comes at the expense of the other.... [Finkelstein] is building illusions in the UN, which is a den of imperialist thieves and their victims. The UN has only been a tool for the domination of the Palestinians—look at who presided over the 1947 partition of Palestine.”
Our speaker raised the 1917 Russian Revolution as our model for the overturn of capitalist rule. At this point Finkelstein cut in: “You’re not going to the Russian Revolution!” He insisted that the call for a socialist federation of the Near East was “nonsense” and “morally despicable” because it would never happen and therefore we would be responsible for prolonging the suffering of the Palestinians.
Emboldened by Finkelstein’s anti-communism, an Islamic fundamentalist got up to hail the reactionary, anti-woman, CIA-backed mujahedin forces who fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 1980s: “Last time socialists tried to suppress Muslims, we saw what happened to the Soviet Union. Don’t bring socialism on us when we don’t want it. We fought the Russians; we’ll fight socialists again if we have to.” Low murmuring and nervous laughter rolled over the crowd—heavily composed of observant Muslims, with men and women seated separately and many women in headscarves.
In the late 1970s, when a modernizing Afghan government moved to implement modest reforms for women such as lowering the bride price and instituting education, the tribal mujahedin (holy warriors) erupted in violence and terror. Faced with the threat of CIA-backed fundamentalists on its border, in late 1979 the Soviet Union sent its Red Army into Afghanistan at the invitation of the left-nationalist government in Kabul. The Soviets were not militarily defeated on the battlefield. Rather, in order to appease imperialist pressure, Mikhail Gorbachev criminally withdrew the Soviet troops in 1989. This was a huge betrayal of Afghan women, workers and leftists. It paved the way for the triumph of Washington’s woman-hating cutthroats, and for handing the Soviet Union itself over to counterrevolution two years later—a colossal defeat for the workers of the world.
In the face of the fundamentalist’s pro-mujahedin rant, Finkelstein could not resist a quip: “I’m afraid I may end up with the Spartacist League at that point.” Fat chance! In fact, another SYC member tried to respond to this anti-communist attack, but Finkelstein silenced him. The SYC comrade then appealed to the audience: “I have been on this campus defending the Palestinians at every instance, every massacre, every incursion by the Israeli state into the Occupied Territories, and I demand the right to speak right now.” This was answered with calls of “let him speak!” and we gained the floor. We received applause for standing up to Finkelstein’s demagoguery. But things took an abrupt turn when we addressed the fundamentalist and were met with a cacophony of heckling and shouting. Over the ruckus, our speaker explained: “It was the CIA who backed the Islamic fundamentalists and the Taliban and opposed the Soviet intervention there—so if that’s who you want to side with, then that’s your business, but we take a side with the international working class!”
On this point, he argued: “There’s going to be no justice for the Palestinian people until the Zionist garrison state is destroyed from within, and the only people who have the power to do that are the Israeli working class.” While we understand that nationalism and anti-Palestinian racism runs very deep in the Jewish Israeli working class, we also know that the interests of the Israeli workers are fundamentally counterposed to their exploiters, the Zionist capitalist class. It is in the interests of Jewish Israeli workers to unite in struggle with foreign-born workers in Israel, the oppressed Palestinian masses and the proletariat of the surrounding Arab states to overthrow their common oppressors. This possibility seems remote at present, but nevertheless joint working-class revolutionary struggle is the only way to cut the Gordian knot of the current conflict, and it is the goal to which fighters for liberation of the Palestinian people must set themselves. Furthermore, serious class struggle in a neighboring country, for example Egypt, could effect a change in consciousness very quickly.
Afterward, several people came up to us and said they had defended our right to speak and opposed those shouting us down. But what of the RSCC Maoists? True to form, these self-proclaimed revolutionaries reacted to the “spectre of Communism” at the event by joining the attempt to silence us. In fact, prominent RSCC member Taffadar Sourav came across the room in an attempt to do just that as our comrade was defending the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Perhaps such despicable antics are meant to assure its SJP cohorts that, when push comes to shove, the RSCC would prefer to embrace anything—from liberal illusions in the UN to religious fundamentalism—other than Marxism.
It is fitting that the new generation of Maoists made a bloc with Finkelstein, a former Maoist who now denounces his past, against the Spartacists. Finkelstein might have thrown away his little Red Book, but he shares with the Maoists a program of bowing before existing consciousness and making liberal appeals to the imperialists.