Skip to Content

Ye Daughters of Israel Weep

The State of Israel, now thirteen years old, has, by Jewish custom, come of age. It is timely, therefore, to attempt an assessment

(i) The Zionist Movement

The assumption underlying the Zionist movement was that to establish a "national home for the Jewish people” was the only way to end their age-old persecution, especially under the yoke of the Tsars. This closely mirrored the aspirations of other thwarted nationalities such as the Poles, the Czechs, the Finns and the like. There were, of course, workers who were taken up with this cause but very few of them prior to the first world-war. Cramped into a narrow strip of the vast Russian Empire, the Jewish millions lived almost entirely in the towns, where they formed the majority of the population. They were skilled and unskilled workers; some on the land, more in the factories and workshops; they were porters and cart drivers. Only a minority were merchants of any substance, bankers and factory owners. In this background it was the idea of Anarchism and Social-Democracy that gained the greatest acceptance. The Jewish Labour League, the Bund, which was affiliated to the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, had as its purpose Jewish cultural autonomy within a Social-Democratic Russia. They saw that on the principle of divide and rule the Tsars had actually fostered anti-semitism. They were convinced that the Jewish problem was a by-product of the private property system and would end with the end of that system. They did not think in terms of a return, to “the promised land” as a solution to their problems. Neither did the Anarchists.

Emigration to the freer and relatively more prosperous West, the Russian Revolution, and the rise of Nazism, affected Jewish opinion overwhelmingly. In the new conditions Anarchism died a natural death. Faith in a Social-Democratically reformed Capitalism withered in the face of the anti-semitic mass hysteria that was being harnessed to the needs of the German ruling-class. Faith in Bolshevism, on the part of others, was likewise to vanish when the Soviet reality became clear. The end of the second world-war saw Zionism reaping a harvest of disillusionment and despair.

Out of the ruins of war, emerged the Jewish survivors. Despite the brutally callous turning back of their ships by the British Labour Government, many joined with the pioneers to oust the British and set up the Jewish State, under a Labour Government strangely enough. Few who had witnessed the holocaust of the Jews could fail to be moved by the determination of the survivors to have a home of their own, to live in a land where they could walk with heads held high, where they could till the soil and make the desert bloom and little by little heal the wounds of two thousand years. But national ideals and political reality have never been compatible and never can be. True to form, the territorial demands of one set of Nationalists were diametrically opposed to the demands of the other set. The “solution” of the Jewish problem turned out to be its transference from Europe to the Middle-East.

(2) The Arab States

The Arabs, too, had national aspirations that had been thwarted by Turkish domination in the first instance and by an Anglo-French carve-up of the region subsequent to that. The Arabs were divided into several different states each of which was subservient to external forces. They were puppet states, mandates and protectorates. In order to weaken Germany’s ally Turkey, Britain had deliberately cultivated an Arab sense of national identity during the 1914-18 war. Once victory was won, this policy no longer served British Capitalism and it was dropped. Henceforth, playing off one oil producer against another, one tribal dynasty or one community against another, paid better dividends. Once created, however, Arab nationalism filled a need and the Pan-Arab capitalist class to be saw to it that not only did it survive but that it flourished. In Palestine, where a majority of Arabs had lived for centuries, the territorial demands of Jewish and Arab nationalism proved utterly irreconcilable. When the clash came the Zionists, who were then militarily superior to the combined Arab armies, gained a victory sufficient to set up a state, but with less territory than had traditionally been demanded. The price, in human terms, entailed an entire new exodus.” A million Arab refugees subsist to this day on the verge of starvation, caged like animals, within sight of Israel’s borders. They refuse to move. They, too, insist on going home.

The popular insistence on an eventual "ingathering of the exiles” does not, in fact, explain why the Arab governments have left the refugees idly by the frontier, breeding and hating. With the calculating cynicism normal to ruling classes, they are seen as an invaluable political weapon.

Over the past thirteen years the situation within the Arab states surrounding Israel has not remained static. The Zionist claim that hostility towards Israel was fostered by corrupt feudal potentates out of fear that their peoples would demand similar living standards and civil rights obviously has some truth in it. But this is less the case now than hitherto. The United Arab Republic and Iraq have both undergone substantial changes in social organisation. Many of the kings who had been propped up by foreign and feudal interests have been swept away. A rigorous process of national capitalist development is taking place. Today, a key reason for continued hostility to Israel is an external one. In facing the pressures of both western and eastern imperialism, a show of Arab unity is of no mean value in the bargaining chamber of the United Nations. Conflicting as their economic interests are, hostility to Israel presents the one issue on which they can all agree. Had Israel not existed, the Arab states would have had to invent it!

It would be a mistake, however, to forget the real possibility of Israeli expansion which would inevitably be at the expense of the Arab states. If increased to any extent, the pressure on land and resources is bound to become explosive if Russia was to permit the emigration of any number of her two million Jews, for example. Meanwhile, Israel’s governments being subject to the wishes of an increasingly nationalistic electorate, cannot afford to ignore their expansionist demands.

In the sort of way that the Russian Revolution was able to command a great deal of passionate though misplaced devotion, so Israel could never have been established without tragic sacrifices and self-less idealism on the part of many of its people. But as in all cases where it has been argued that the end justified the means, it is the very idealists who are most bitterly disappointed by the outcome. Self-styled Socialists, whose working-class solidarity was suspended “for the duration” in order to slaughter their Arab neighbours, are shocked that what was begun as a tactical measure has become a permanency. Militarism, even trigger-happiness at times, has come to stay. A flag-wagging mentality, convinced that one Israeli is worth any three Arabs, is easier to pound out of the propaganda machine than the former subtle distinctions between reactionary Arab rulers and misguided soldiers who were but pawns in the game. Strikers have learnt that Jewish truncheons wielded by Jewish policemen feel just as unpleasant. They even have a Jewish problem in Israel, what with pietists who deny the authority of a man-made Jewish state which profanes the language of the Bible by every day usage, and the religious discrimination against Indian Jews as regards marriage rights.

(3) Communal Farms

For the Zionist who had ideals, the bitterest pill of all is the changing rôle of the Kibbutz. The pioneers regarded these communal farms, this utopian Socialism of a kind, as the pattern of the future nation. Just as the American “wild- west” was penetrated and peopled in the first instance by dissenting communities of one kind or another; just as they imagined they were building Christianity or Communism all by themselves, so the Kibbutznik has extended and strengthened the national horizon to see, on arrival, the growth of a way of life the very antithesis of all that he stood for. Who but ascetics or visionaries could have built a city at Salt Lake or planted a forest in the Negev? Yet they pave the way for class divided capitalism of one kind or another.

If the heirs to the mighty Russian Revolution were to be forced by the exigencies of their historic and economic situation along paths not of their choosing, how much less realistic were the hopes of those who saw in a “national home" an end to struggle and to strife? Israel’s international position, a tiny state among the giants, illustrates their dilemma. What Jew would have believed thirteen years ago that Israel-made machine guns would be used by the German Army? Did the Zionist, on the morrow of statehood, think it possible that his country’s subsequent dependence upon French aid and arms would make him victim of the same moral degeneration which France itself has suffered under the weight of iniquity in Algeria? Which of their Labourites could have foretold an alliance with the British Tory Government over Suez?

(4) The Eichmann Trial

And now in this year of reckoning, year thirteen, Eichmann, demoniac scourge of the Jews stands, as Torquemada never did, in the dock at Jerusalem before the judges of Israel. Underlying the whole structure of bourgeois law is the maxim that “might is right.” But if we were to accept its claim to dispense a timeless “justice” to all men it would be hard to deny the monumental appropriateness of the exterminator’s trial before his surviving victims. However, we Socialists spread throughout the world as we are, hold that for justice to be done the entire social system would have to stand trial and be found guilty. But what can we say of Capitalist morality which sanctifies the annihilation of Hiroshima or approves the crushing of Budapest but heaps all wrath on the head of one of its creations? Courts of law are not competent to judge the barbarity of our present social system. They are there to condemn those who lose the struggles that go on within it. Then all sense of common guilt, all sense of common responsibility that weighs so heavy on the conscience of man in Capitalist society, can be relievingly focused on some now helpless perversion of a man.

As to the why and wherefore of this latest show-piece of the prevailing quality of moral standards, we strongly suspect an element of political manoeuvre. Ben-Gurion faces other contenders for power as the recent “Lavon Affair’’ showed. With French backing he was able to take up an intransigent attitude towards his enemies. Despite General de Gaulle’s assurances to the contrary at their recent meeting, once France has made peace with Algeria her enthusiasm for Israel is likely to wane. Friendship with an oil producing Arab Algeria will have far greater rewards to offer. With diplomatic relations re-established with Nasser, Israel cannot expect supplies of arms from Britain. Nor does Kennedy have the slightest intention of jeopardising the interests of the class he represents for the sake of Israel, however much it grieves the New York Jewish voters. His aim is to woo the “uncommitted” nations, most of which side with the Arabs.

An increasing fear of military isolation in a situation where Russian training and arms have immensely strengthened the Arab armies has resulted in pressure from some Israeli quarters for some sort of compromise with the Arabs. If Ben-Gurion, by staging a show-trial which by its ghoulish recital of the most hideous details of Nazi crime, can raise a wave of nationalistic frenzy, he will ride it to victory at the polls.

The evidence is with us. Zionism has failed to achieve its objectives. Inevitably so. So long as there are Jewish workers attached in any numbers to the divisive and anti-working-class national idea, so long as their (and our) Arab brothers believe likewise, so long will strife ensue, so long will their respective ruling classes remain in the seat of power. The Jewish problem remains with us. It is an aspect of the working-class problem which has no solution outside of world-wide Socialism.

Eddie Grant