Documents in: Bahasa Indonesia Deutsch Español Français Italiano Japanese Polski Português Russian Chinese Tagalog
International Communist League
Home Spartacist, theoretical and documentary repository of the ICL, incorporating Women & Revolution Workers Vanguard, biweekly organ of the Spartacist League/U.S. Periodicals and directory of the sections of the ICL ICL Declaration of Principles in multiple languages Other literature of the ICL ICL events

Subscribe to Workers Vanguard

View archives

Printable version of this article

Workers Vanguard No. 1089

6 May 2016

For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!

Defend the Palestinian People!

With the backing of its paymaster in Washington, Israel continues to unleash terror against the Palestinian people. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed since last October, the majority shot down by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. The destruction of Palestinian homes and buildings by Israeli authorities has displaced more Palestinians since the start of this year than in all of 2015. On April 7 alone, 54 structures were demolished in nine Palestinian communities across the West Bank, displacing 124 people, including 60 children. Meanwhile, almost two years after the last bloody offensive against Gaza by the Zionist state, life in Gaza remains a living hell.

Amid the ongoing anti-Palestinian terror, those contending for U.S. commander-in-chief are all staking their claims for who has the strongest bond with Israel. Democratic front-runner and all-purpose hawk Hillary Clinton vows to strengthen the Israeli military and denounces the Palestinian leadership for “celebrating terrorism.” While Bernie Sanders has provoked ire from U.S. and Israeli politicians for the (unremarkable) observation that Israel’s use of force during the 2014 carpet bombing of Gaza was “disproportionate,” he himself supported that war at the time.

Sanders appears to strike a more “balanced” approach on the Israel-Palestine conflict, including with his recent calls to end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. In reality, Sanders is merely playing to his liberal, youthful supporters, many of whom are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. But he knows the rules of this game. Just hours before the April 14 New York City Democratic debate, the Sanders campaign suspended its newly hired Jewish Outreach Coordinator, liberal Zionist Simone Zimmerman, because of a year-old Facebook post that aptly condemned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having “sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people.” Indeed, during the debate Sanders stressed that he is “100 percent pro-Israel”—a state whose very existence is premised on the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinian masses.

We reprint below a forum, edited for publication, by Spartacist League/U.S. Central Committee member Alan Wilde at City College of New York on March 15.

*   *   *

To understand the Near East, including the hell that so much of it has become today, requires at least a basic understanding of the long and bloody history of colonialism and imperialism in the region. The imperialist powers, beginning in particular with France and Britain and for decades now the U.S., have bled the region dry. They have played on every religious and ethnic division in the Near East, exacerbating these conflicts. Above all, imperialism has served to arrest and retard the Near East’s economic development and with that its social development, fomenting the growth of nearly every form of reaction throughout the area.

Today, U.S. imperialism, to defend its strategic interests in the oil-rich Near East, each year pumps over $3 billion in military aid to Israel and shells out another $1.3 billion for Egypt’s military, while relying as well on the despotic Saudi monarchy. As part of our opposition to U.S. imperialism, we oppose U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt.

For this talk, I want to focus on Israel, the U.S.’s central ally in the region, and start with our understanding of and programmatic conclusions for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. To begin with, we have a side, and it’s with the long-suffering and dispossessed Palestinian masses. We defend the Palestinians against the state terror of Israel, a highly militarized, nuclear-armed power.

The recent suicidal “lone wolf” stabbings by Palestinians are, in fact, a reflection of the intensity of that subjugation and the despair it breeds. Some of these attacks have targeted agents of the Israeli occupying force: soldiers, police and their settler auxiliaries. But the indiscriminate killings of Israeli civilians are, from the standpoint of the proletariat, criminal acts of terror, as are suicide bombings. We reject the notion that holds the whole of the Israeli population responsible for the crimes of its ruling class, just as we reject the notion that the American population is responsible for the far greater crimes of U.S. imperialism.

On a historical level, what is fundamental is the denial of the national rights of the Palestinians. But what is happening today is also the denial of people to simply live their daily lives.

The Gaza Strip is little more than a glorified, open-air prison, a concentration camp with more than 1.8 million people stuffed in a mere 140-square-mile area. Gaza’s borders are sealed off by Israel and Egypt, its Mediterranean coast is patrolled by the Israeli Navy, its airport and port are destroyed. For years, Gaza has been subjected to a blockade that costs its barely functioning economy some $2 billion per year. Nearly 15 percent of children born in Gaza are stunted from malnutrition; some 60 percent of preschool children in Gaza are anemic; more than 77 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. As if that were not enough, Gaza’s population is frequently slaughtered and terrorized through bloodthirsty Israeli bombardment and ground invasion. In “Operation Protective Edge,” launched in July 2014, Israel killed over 2,300 Palestinians and wounded over 10,000 more.

Then there is East Jerusalem and the West Bank, 60 percent of which is under direct Israeli military control. There are nearly 800,000 settlers in the area, representing some 12 percent of the Israeli Jewish population and over 17 percent of the total population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These heavily armed settlers, backed by the Israeli army, control 40 percent of the West Bank, including access to water, fertile lands and the “Jewish only” roads that lead directly to Israel and bypass the multitude of checkpoints.

The checkpoints are a particular source of humiliation for Palestinians: a trip from one village or town to another, which would normally take no more than 20 or 30 minutes, can now take many hours (or not happen at all) depending on the mood of the soldiers. The checkpoints must be seen in conjunction with the separation wall that runs along much of the West Bank. Together, they have added to the devastation of the economy. They prevent Palestinians from seeking work in Israel, historically one of the primary sources of income flowing into the area. It is also not unusual for the Israeli military to allow fruits, olives and other agricultural perishables, which have come to play an important part in the West Bank economy, to rot, sitting on trucks for days at a time. According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, there are about 100 “fixed” checkpoints in the West Bank and numerous other “flying” checkpoints—here today, gone tomorrow—that are randomly set up by the military.

We demand the immediate withdrawal of all Israeli troops and settlers from all the Occupied Territories. But we all know that the question runs far deeper than that. As noted earlier, what defines the Palestinian question above all is the denial of the national rights of the Palestinian people. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at bottom a conflict of interpenetrated peoples. There are two peoples—Palestinians and Israeli Jews—who lay claim to the same small sliver of land. Under capitalism, the exercise of national self-determination by one side necessarily comes at the expense of the other.

We are opponents of all forms of nationalism. We counterpose to nationalism the program of proletarian internationalism. At the same time, we are for the right of all nations to self-determination, for the complete equality of all nations. As Leninists, our defense of the right to self-determination stems from our internationalism—we seek to get the question of national oppression off the agenda in order to foster the unity of the proletariat of both oppressor and oppressed nations. The problem is that Palestinian national oppression, because it is a question of interpenetrated peoples, cannot be resolved under capitalism. As we explained in “Birth of the Zionist State, Part Two: The 1948 War” (WV No. 45, 24 May 1974):

“When national populations are geographically interpenetrated, as they were in Palestine, an independent nation-state can be created only by their forcible separation (forced population transfers, etc.). Thus the democratic right of self-determination becomes abstract, as it can be exercised only by the stronger national grouping driving out or destroying the weaker one.

“In such cases the only possibility of a democratic solution lies in a social transformation.”

The only program that can win the liberation of the Palestinian masses is one of socialist revolution throughout the Near East. That means a struggle by the working class of the region that combines the fight against imperialism with the struggle against the area’s bourgeois ruling classes, which are beholden to the imperialists. The many peoples of the Near East, including the Palestinians, will never know peace, prosperity or justice until capitalist rule is overthrown. Only in a socialist federation of the Near East will there be a full and equal place for all the peoples of the area—Sunnis, Shias and Christians as well as Kurds, Palestinians and Israeli Jews.

In fact, some 50 percent of the Palestinian population lives outside the Occupied Territories—in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel. That means the national liberation of the Palestinians cannot be achieved without a perspective of proletarian revolution in these countries as well, including Israel. Israel has a working class, mainly Jewish but also including the Palestinian minority in the country and an increasing number of migrant workers. We fight to win that working class to the understanding that it is in their interests to stand in defense of the Palestinians and to sweep away the Israeli capitalist rulers.

We have no illusion that this will be easy. But that is the only perspective that can lead to the national and social liberation of the Palestinian masses. What is necessary is the forging of revolutionary Marxist parties throughout the Near East to unite the proletariat in struggle against imperialism and against the Zionists, mullahs, sheiks and other capitalist rulers. There is no other way.

The Rise of Zionism

Zionism emerged in the late 19th century as a nationalist political movement in the face of anti-Jewish pogroms and persecutions in Europe. Its clarion call, the establishment of a “Jewish homeland,” represented a secularization of the Jewish faith captured well by the old line: God promised us the land, before he died.

Historically, Zionism had little support among European Jews, many of whom instead looked to the socialist movements of their respective countries for liberation. For example, the number of Jews in Palestine in 1919 was a mere 65,000 (compared to 500,000 Palestinians). The key event bolstering Zionism’s growth was the rise of fascism in Europe and the unparalleled crime of industrial murder, the Holocaust, in which the Nazis exterminated some 12 million people, more than half of them Jews.

Between 1930 and 1948, the number of Jews in Palestine multiplied by nearly four, growing to some 650,000. These were mainly desperate people, escaping the Holocaust and the aftermath of the Second World War. The U.S. and Britain sealed their borders to all but a tiny handful. In this, they had the support of the Zionists, who wanted to keep these borders closed so that the refugees would have no choice but to go to Palestine. This was captured in a 1938 statement by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion, who would go on to become Israel’s first prime minister: “If I knew it was possible to save all [Jewish] children of Germany by their transfer to England and only half of them by transferring them to Eretz-Yisrael [i.e., Palestine], I would choose the latter.”

Now, I want to digress here for a moment to mention what I think is an interesting fact. Zionism had even less support among Jews in the Near East. However, after the establishment of the state of Israel, the number of Jews there was vastly expanded by Arab Jews who migrated to the newly established country. In fact, the condition of Jews in the Arab lands was historically markedly better than in Christian Europe. But this changed with the rise of Arab nationalism in the mid 20th century. Coming out of WWII, there was a wave of pogroms and terrorist attacks against synagogues and Jewish public places in almost all Arab countries. It peaked during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War. This triggered—with the active help of the Zionists—a mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries, with many of them, especially the poorest ones, going to Israel. Not surprisingly, bitter at having been uprooted from their homes, these Jews and their descendants, known as Mizrahim, are typically among the most anti-Arab layers of the Israeli population, even as they suffer discrimination in Israel from the European-derived Ashkenazi elite.

The mass migration of Jews to Palestine served to compact a nation there on the basis of a Jewish ethno-religious identity, regardless of one’s actual religious beliefs, and the revival of a long-dead language, Hebrew, which was key to unifying a population coming from different parts of the world and speaking different languages. The underlying foundation for compacting this nation was the long-established policy that the Zionists called “the conquest of labor” and “the conquest of land.” The latter is clear; it is simply a land grab at the expense of the Palestinians. But I want to spend some time on “conquest of labor” because it is a vital issue that defines the situation to this day.

Zionist settlement policy in Palestine was not based on seeking to exploit the labor of the native Palestinian population. Rather, it was based on displacing that labor and replacing it with what the Zionists called Hebrew labor. The Zionist leadership understood that to compact a nation it was necessary to forge an industrial and agricultural proletariat drawn from Jews coming into Palestine. This was not easy, as Jewish capitalists in Palestine were often attracted to cheaper Palestinian labor. However, the mainstream of the Zionist movement at the time, the Labor Zionists represented by the likes of Ben-Gurion, understood the centrality of Hebrew labor and fought for it.

For example, the kibbutzim movement was founded in order to, in the words of Ben-Gurion, “guarantee Jewish labor” in the agricultural sector. In 1920, the Histadrut was founded. Today, it is the main labor federation in Israel—and it is thoroughly Zionist and chauvinist. Its initial purpose was not to be a trade union but to organize, including against Jewish capitalists as necessary, to ensure the predominance of Hebrew labor at the expense of Palestinian farmers and workers. Toward that purpose, it launched many of its own enterprises, such that it became the single biggest employer in pre-Israel Palestine—and, of course, it only hired Jewish workers.

If a key basis of Zionism was the displacement of Palestinian labor, the next obvious step would be the displacement of the Palestinians themselves. Shortly after the First World War, Palestine became a British Mandate, and would continue to be so until May 1948. The Zionist leadership always understood that to establish a state they would need the sponsorship of one imperialist power or another. They thus appealed directly to British imperialism to sponsor a “Jewish homeland.” The British rulers, anti-Jewish to the core, agreed; they saw it as a way to further their divide-and-rule schemes in the Near East at a time when the British Empire was in decline.

In 1947, the newly founded United Nations—an imperialist den of thieves and their victims—took the first step toward actually carving up Palestine and voted to partition the area. Compared to 650,000 Jews, there were over 1.3 million Palestinians, yet the smaller population received 55 percent of the land. Zionist mythology has it that the Zionists were willing to accept this partition and it was the Palestinians who opposed it and the regional Arab regimes that waged war against the newly founded state, which heroically fought off the invaders as it battled for its life. In the process, Palestinians fled of their own accord, or because the Arab armies told them to. It’s a neat and tidy story that has very little resemblance to reality.

Israel Founded on Palestinian Expulsion

The Zionist leadership in Palestine did accept the partition, seeing it as a temporary and necessary compromise. Their policy had long been the forcible expulsion of as many Palestinians as possible. Speaking in December 1947, shortly after the partition plan was announced, Ben-Gurion complained that “there are 40 percent non-Jews in the areas allocated to the Jewish state.” He concluded, “Only a state with at least 80 percent Jews is a viable and stable state.”

The Zionist mythology of a David standing up to the Arab Goliath is just that, mythology. What the Arab bourgeois regimes were interested in was not securing Palestinian rights but slicing up what remained of Palestine among themselves. To that end, King Abdullah I of Transjordan, as Jordan was still called at the time, made a deal with the Ben-Gurion leadership that gave him the West Bank in exchange for his forces staying out of the conflict. This served to take out of the 1948-49 war what was seen as the best organized Arab army at the time. It also served to turn the West Bank into a dumping ground for expelled Palestinians, like southern Lebanon and Gaza.

The Zionist leadership concocted what’s known as Plan D, or Plan Dalet in Hebrew, which systematized the expulsion of Palestinians and the demolition of their villages. By 1949, nearly 800,000 Palestinians, more than half of the native population, had been expelled, 531 villages had been destroyed and eleven urban neighborhoods had been emptied.

Israeli lore has it that the attacks on villages were in response to Palestinian aggression. While there were of course attacks by Palestinians, the majority of the Zionist assaults were not retaliatory but for the purpose of expulsion. As the Zionist leader Ezra Danin would later describe the policy: “Every attack has to end with occupation, destruction and expulsion.” To that end, massacres and other atrocities were carried out. In his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Israeli writer Ilan Pappé noted that in the May 1948 siege of the old Crusader city of Acre, whose exposed water supply was ten kilometers to the north, “typhoid germs were apparently injected into the water.”

The process of expulsion began in early December 1947. Between then and May 1948, as British forces either stood by or actively assisted, Zionist forces emptied one Palestinian village after another. By May 15, 1948, when the British withdrew and the actual war began, some 250,000 Palestinians had already been expelled. By the end of the war in March 1949, Ben-Gurion had precisely what he had projected: a state with an 80 percent Jewish majority. Today, if you go to Tel Aviv University, you will see beautiful ancient Roman ruins. But you will barely see any trace of the Palestinian village that sprawling campus was built on.

The Oppression of Palestinian “Citizens” of Israel

Israel boasts that it is the only democracy in the Near East, that it has given citizenship rights to the 20 percent Palestinian minority living in Israel. The very name given to this minority is revealing—“Israeli Arabs,” a name designed to deny their Palestinian identity. These “citizens” were subject to martial law until 1966. Travel permits, curfews, administrative detentions and outright expulsions were a fact of life for them.

At the most basic level, Israel does not define itself as a state of its citizens but rather the “state of the Jewish people.” Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), notes that Israel has some 80 laws that either implicitly or explicitly give privileges to Jewish citizens that are unavailable to non-Jewish ones. Most of these laws revolve around access to housing, benefits, welfare, loans, educational curricula, residency rights for non-citizen spouses, denial of the right of Palestinians to live in certain areas, and, perhaps most importantly of all, land ownership, which is all but denied to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Since the founding of the State of Israel, not a single new Palestinian village or town has been built within Israel to accommodate the Palestinian population, which has grown to more than eleven times its size in 1948. The phenomena of bulldozed homes and surrounded villages exist not only in the West Bank but also in Israel itself. It is routine for whole “illegal” Arab villages to be demolished—and the “unrecognized” ones that have yet to be demolished often do not have access to running water or electricity. Meanwhile, Palestinian villages and towns in Israel are often strategically ringed and squeezed by Jewish towns. Umm al-Fahm in Galilee, for example, is surrounded by several Jewish towns that literally pump their sewage onto its streets.

The Palestinian population in Israel is largely segregated, concentrated in the Galilee and along the northern West Bank border. This is in addition to a few Bedouin villages in the Negev and minorities in cities like Haifa and Tel Aviv. The reason for this segregation should be easy to understand: if Israel wants to expel its Palestinian citizens, it would find most of them concentrated in those areas. When then Prime Minister Ehud Barak made his offer of a “Palestinian state” in 2000 to Yasir Arafat, it included not only Gaza and disjointed Palestinian bantustans in the West Bank. Barak also mooted giving swaths of the Galilee to Arafat in exchange for land confiscated in the West Bank by settlers. The Palestinian citizens of Israel who live there would’ve lost their citizenship, becoming “citizens” of this new, impoverished “Palestinian state.” A poll released in early March found that 48 percent of Israeli Jews support the “transfer” (i.e., expulsion) of Palestinian citizens from Israel.

The unshakable position of the Israeli ruling class is that an overwhelming Jewish majority must be maintained at any cost. Indeed, any casual perusal of Israeli political literature today would bring up that famous euphemism, “the demographics problem,” which simply means that Palestinians (especially in Israel) are reproducing at a far greater rate than Israeli Jews. One partial exception is the ultra-religious fanatics of the Haredim (who are known for attacking eight-year-old Jewish girls for not dressing modestly). They number around 700,000, or nearly 12 percent of Israel’s Jewish population, and they’re the fastest growing population in Israel outside of Palestinians. Most of the men do not work (their vocation is to study the Torah), but the government fosters the growth of the Haredim because of their high birth rate. Yes, Israeli politicians stay up at night worrying about “demographics.”

Palestinian Nationalism: Dead End

Throughout their long history of oppression, the Palestinians have time and again been betrayed by their petty-bourgeois nationalist misleaders. Rejecting a Marxist working-class axis, Palestinian nationalists, such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), have instead sought to appeal to one imperialist force or another to act on behalf of the Palestinians, from the French and British imperialists, who carved up the Near East in the first place, to the U.S., which backs Israel to the hilt, or to the UN, which partitioned Palestine. Likewise, they have sought support from the surrounding bourgeois Arab regimes—venal regional powers that are no less enemies of Palestinian national aspirations than are Israel’s rulers.

The 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state that could act as a counterweight to U.S. imperialism, was a world-historic defeat for the working class internationally that has served to further deepen the oppression of the Palestinian masses. The collapse of the USSR deprived the late Arafat’s PLO of crucial diplomatic and financial support, paving the way for the 1993 U.S.-sponsored Oslo “peace” accords. These accords established the Palestinian Authority (PA) as Israel’s police auxiliaries in the Occupied Territories.

At the time, we wrote that this deal “does not offer even the most deformed expression of self-determination” and warned that it “would place the PLO’s seal on the national oppression of the long-suffering Palestinian Arab masses” (“Israel-PLO Deal for Palestinian Ghetto,” WV No. 583, 10 September 1993). If anything, this correct assessment was understated. Oslo and subsequent “peace” agreements have brought nothing but disaster to the Palestinians. It was starting with Oslo that Israel moved to completely cut off Palestinian laborers in the Occupied Territories from the Israeli economy. The settlement population has mushroomed more than threefold since 1993. Freedom of movement—within the Occupied Territories, between Gaza and the West Bank and to and from Israel—was qualitatively curtailed.

It was in the years after Oslo that Israel pursued its policy of hafrada, a Hebrew term that means separation (or, as the Afrikaners called it, apartheid), with the aim being complete segregation of Israelis from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Thus, in the early 2000s, Israel built its infamous wall, which has effectively annexed nearly 10 percent of the West Bank—this is in addition to East Jerusalem, which Israel officially annexed after seizing it in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Under the guise of “peace,” the Zionist rulers have created a whole generation of Israelis who have never encountered a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories and a whole generation of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who only encounter Israelis as soldiers, border police and fascistic settlers.

Petty-bourgeois Arab nationalism has shown itself to be the bankrupt and impotent dead end that it always was. The secular-nationalist PLO has delivered the Palestinians nothing but defeat and further immiseration, paving the way for reactionary Islamic groups like Hamas to pose as the only fighters against the occupation. These fundamentalist outfits are vile anti-Jewish and anti-Christian religious bigots who seek to enslave women and extirpate any manifestations of social progress. They preach—and, in the case of Hamas-controlled Gaza, enforce—the social segregation of women, the wearing of the hijab (Islamic headscarf) and anti-woman sharia law.

BDS: No Answer

The last several years have seen the rise and growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). We have many fundamental political differences with BDS, but before getting into them, I want to make clear that we defend BDS activists against the campaigns of smears and slanders that they have faced. Equating criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry is the leading tactic of a well-oiled Zionist propaganda machine, whose purpose is to suppress any expression of support to the Palestinians. We vigorously oppose all attempts, including those by campus administrators, to limit BDS supporters’ freedom to express their views.

Having made that clear, I want to speak to our criticisms. BDS looks to employ moral suasion to pressure campus administrations and American corporations to ditch Israel and put their money in presumably more ethical investments. Whatever the intentions of its committed young activists, the strategy of BDS is to appeal to the very same imperialist forces that are the historic occupiers, colonialists and oppressors of the peoples of the Near East, including the Palestinians. The website makes clear that BDS seeks to “encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights” and that BDS “aims to pressure governments and international organisations to impose sanctions and a military embargo on Israel.”

The argument is simple: the more that BDS popularizes the Palestinian cause and makes it mainstream, say, among Americans, the more Americans can put pressure on the U.S. government, which would then pressure Israel. This argument buys into the lie of American “democracy,” and has as its base the false notion that U.S. foreign policy is dictated by “the people.” Even admirable Israeli historians like Ilan Pappé, who has devoted himself to exposing Zionist crimes committed against the Palestinian masses, promote this myth.

To seek to pressure the imperialists to make more “socially responsible” or “ethical” investments is to build the dangerous illusion that they are somehow better than Israel’s rulers. It is no accident that advocates of boycotting the goods of “immoral” regimes like Israel do not propose boycotting U.S. goods—they believe that bourgeois democracies like the U.S. can be pressured to be a force for good in the world. But the economic and military force of the U.S. and the other imperialists is what keeps the whole world capitalist system in power. The U.S. supports Israel because Israel has served and continues to serve U.S. imperialism’s interests in the region.

We would support time-limited trade-union actions against the Israeli state, such as in response to a particular atrocity. But we are opposed to standing economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions. If such campaigns are successful, they would hurt the Jewish, Arab and immigrant working class, weakening its power, which must be mobilized to smash the Zionist state from within through socialist revolution.

As Marxists in the U.S., our starting point is opposition to our “own” ruling class. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. and other imperialist forces from the Near East. The same ruling class that wreaks death and destruction abroad gorges itself on profits while the workers it exploits have their jobs slashed and their health and pension benefits torn up, unleashes its cops to kill black youth on the streets and incarcerates over two million people in its prison dungeons. Our aim is the forging of a revolutionary workers party to win the multiracial American working class to the struggle for socialist revolution to destroy the U.S. imperialist beast from within.

The South African Analogy

Supporters of the BDS campaign draw parallels between their struggle against “Israeli apartheid” and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Leaving aside (for the moment) that the end of legal apartheid did not end the oppression of South Africa’s black masses, what the BDS campaign promotes is the liberal fiction that divestment ended apartheid in South Africa. They bury the mass social struggles of the black and other non-white toilers that helped bring an end to direct white-supremacist rule in South Africa. Those struggles were centered on the powerful, mainly black working class. Internationally, the key factor was the collapse of the USSR, which for decades had supported the African National Congress (ANC) materially and diplomatically. As the Moscow Stalinist regime disintegrated, ending the supposed “Communist threat,” South Africa’s capitalist rulers came to terms with Nelson Mandela and the ANC.

Furthermore, in pursuit of their argument, the BDS movement is forced to grossly prettify the reality of South Africa today. Nearly 25 years after the end of apartheid, with its legally enforced racial segregation, the economic and social foundation of white supremacy, based on superexploitation of overwhelmingly black labor, remains firmly in place. South Africa is today ruled by the same white capitalist class, with an added sprinkling of a few black faces, and the black masses continue to suffer horrific poverty under neo-apartheid. They have not won liberation and will not win it without working-class revolution.

The analogy is also false at another, in some ways deeper level. The deal that brought the ANC to power as the ruling party in South Africa cannot be replicated in Israel. South African capitalism, both under apartheid and since, is rooted in the brutal exploitation of black labor in the mines and factories. The white capitalists need the black workers, and thanks to its centrality to social production, the black proletariat has tremendous social power. In contrast, Israel, as already noted, is based on reliance on Jewish labor. It used to be that Palestinians in the Occupied Territories were used for the lowest paid unskilled work. But beginning in the 1990s, the Israeli ruling class replaced them with migrant workers from Asia, Africa and East Europe, who are themselves deeply exploited and oppressed. This underlines that Palestinian national and social liberation can only come through common class struggle against both the Israeli and regional Arab ruling classes.

The Need for a Socialist Perspective

If you follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you’ll often hear phrases like “two-state” solution or “one-state” solution. The two-state solution, initially formulated by the PLO in 1974, amounts to the creation of a Palestinian “state” along some variant of the 1967 borders, consisting of Gaza and the West Bank. This would be, at best, a very partial and deformed expression of Palestinian self-determination. It would be a ghetto under the stranglehold of Israel and the surrounding Arab regimes, a place where neighboring states could dump their unwanted Palestinian populations.

The one-state solution, originally postulated by the PLO in 1969, calls for the creation of a “secular, democratic” state in Mandatory Palestine, which would supposedly ensure rights to both Palestinians and Jews. Many Palestinian rights activists today are pushing this position, arguing, not without some justice, that increasing Israeli intrusions into the West Bank, especially through growing settlements, have made it virtually impossible to envision even a Palestinian statelet along the lines of the 1967 borders.

But this “secular, democratic” Palestine would, by definition, exclude the millions of Palestinians living in Jordan, which is a majority-Palestinian country. More fundamentally, it is a pipe dream that is premised on appealing to the imperialists and other bourgeois forces to make Israel stop being Israel. Politically, it envisions reversing the terms of oppression by denying that Israeli Jews constitute a nation with the right to self-determination. This was made clear by BDS leader Haidar Eid:

“A binational state by definition is a state made up of two nations. These two nations are historically entitled to the land. But Jews do not constitute a nation. Israeli Jews constitute a settler-colonialist community, not unlike the whites of South Africa or the French in Algeria. Settler colonists are not entitled to self-determination.”

—, 16 December 2013

We reject the doctrine that an oppressor nation forfeits its right to self-determination. As we explained in “The Birth of the Zionist State”:

“Out of the destruction of European Jewry by Hitler (without whose aid the Zionists would have gone the way of the Shakers and other utopian sects) and at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs, a settler colony was transformed into a nation.

“This Hebrew nation came into existence through force and violence, through the suppression, forced expulsion and genocide of other peoples. Communists must oppose this brutal national oppression. Yet once this historical fact is accomplished, we must certainly recognize that nation’s right to self-determination, unless we prefer the alternative, namely national genocide.”

If the struggle for Palestinian national justice does not also recognize the right of this Hebrew nation to self-determination, it will only drive the Israeli Jewish proletariat further into the arms of its rulers, ensuring the continued oppression of the Palestinians.

Looked at narrowly through the prism of that tiny piece of land called Israel/Palestine, the situation of the Palestinians is intractable. It is only the working class of Israel that has the capacity to destroy the Zionist citadel from within through socialist revolution. Yet Israeli society has moved sharply to the right in recent decades and the stranglehold of Zionism on the Jewish working class has only tightened. To break the Jewish proletariat from its allegiance to Zionism will likely take a cataclysmic event, such as the conquest of power by the working class in one of the other countries of the region, which would extend a hand of proletarian internationalism to the Israeli working class. The key lies in forging revolutionary, internationalist working-class parties throughout the region.

Israel is not a seamless mass of predatory colonialists. It is a class-divided society, with a capitalist ruling class and an exploited proletariat. What is necessary is to wage a difficult struggle to win that working class to the consciousness that the Zionist rulers are its class enemy, that its liberation lies in the fight for socialist revolution. The outcome of such revolutionary upheaval could be a binational workers republic, or it could be two or more states representing the self-determination rights of both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

If the Jewish working class is to fight for its own liberation from capitalist exploitation, it must champion the national rights of the Palestinians. In turn, the Arab workers will not be won to a perspective of proletarian revolution if they are not broken from nationalism, religious fundamentalism and anti-Jewish bigotry. And that will not happen unless the Arab proletariat upholds the right of Israeli Jews—as well as the Kurds and other peoples—to a national existence. In short, every other program, including that of BDS, rejects the only realistic program for social and national liberation in the region: a socialist federation of the Near East.


Workers Vanguard No. 1089

WV 1089

6 May 2016


For the Decriminalization of Drugs!

Capitalist Misery and Heroin Addiction


PT Popular Front Paved Way for Right-Wing Reaction

Brazil Impeachment: Workers Have No Side

Break with the PT—For a Revolutionary Workers Party!


For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!

Defend the Palestinian People!


Down With Zionist Witchhunt Against BDS Activists!


The Popular Front: Class Betrayal

(Quote of the Week)


Bolshevism vs. Stalinism on the Family

Greek Communist Party Pushes Anti-Gay Bigotry


Greek Trotskyists Launch Newspaper


Defend Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State!

Down With the Race and Class Purge of the Universities!

For Free, Quality, Integrated Education for All!

(Young Spartacus pages)