Peace in Palestine

Peace is always better than war. Because wars are never fought in the interests of ordinary people. And because in wars it is always ordinary people who suffer. So, irrespective of the issues involved or the terms agreed, Socialists can only welcome the ending of any war in any part of the world. Stop the killing is our permanent policy.

In that artificial subdivision of the old Ottoman Empire known as Palestine, those who suffered from the irrational attempt to set up a Jewish State there have been both the original population – whether of Muslim, Christian or Jewish religious background – and those who were misled by the Zionists into emigrating there.

Socialists and Zionists have been opponents since the beginning. Inevitably, as they represented two incompatible views as to the solution workers of Jewish background should seek to the problem of anti-semitism.

The Socialist attitude was expressed early on by Karl Marx, himself of course of Jewish background even though brought up a Christian. In one of his first articles after becoming a Socialist Marx argued that Jewish people should seek emancipation, not as Jews, but as human beings. To do this they should abandon their religion – just as Christians should abandon theirs – and become members of a secular human community in which money and the state should be abolished, i.e. Socialism. In the meantime, under capitalism, Jews should enjoy the same political rights, in a secular democratic state, as Christians and others.

The Zionist movement propounded the opposite view: that the Jews were a separate nation and that as such they were entitled to their own state, in Palestine. People of Jewish background should not seek emancipation as human beings, but as Jews. Neither should they seek integration within the political states in which they found themselves, but separation in a state of their own.

The battles lines were thus drawn and throughout Europe and America Socialists and Zionists vied for the support of workers of Jewish background. Socialists argued against the idea that the Jews were a nation or a race; most Jews were workers and should join with other workers to achieve socialism which would mean “the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex”. Even though many Zionists were not religious, all they had to go on to justify Palestine as the place for their Jewish State was an irrational belief, the religious myth set out in some holy book that the Jewish God had given Palestine to the Jews to be their homeland.

Many Jewish workers were convinced by the Socialist argument and rejected Zionism, and played – and still play – a considerable part in the Socialist movement. Most Jews rejected Zionism in practice – and still do – by integrating into the countries where they lived. The terrible experience of the Second World war, however, convinced many (though by no means most) European Jews to embrace the idea of a Zionist State.

In l948 the Zionist dream was realised. Palestine was partitioned and a State of Israel established. Zionist extremists practised what is now called “ethnic cleansing” and hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish inhabitants of the Israeli part of Palestine were driven from their homes. Those who remained suffered the same fate the Zionists sought to free Jews from: being a minority in someone else’s “nation-State”.

The establishment of Israel did not end anti-semitism. In fact it caused it to spread to where it had never existed before – to the Arab-speaking parts of the world. For centuries Jews had lived in peace and security, integrated and speaking Arabic, in these parts of the world. Now, as a direct result of the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine,, they came to suffer the same persecution that the European Jews had. The result was that centuries of integration was undone in decades. Today there are virtually no Jews living in Arab countries: most Arab Jews are now in Israel where they form an underprivileged group.

Our opposition to Zionism does not mean that we support the PLO. Unlike some, we don’t single out Jewish nationalism for special condemnation. We condemn all nationalisms equally. The “Palestinian nation” is just as much a myth as the “Jewish nation”, or any other nation. Nationalism is the ideology which seeks to justify the capitalist division of the world into separate “nation-states”, each competing to gain a place in the sun for its ruling class and each with killing machines at its disposal. We utterly reject this view of the way humanity should organise itself.

As Socialists we re-affirm that all peoples should seek their emancipation, not as members of nations or religions or ethnic groups, but as human beings, as members of the human race. They should unite to abolish the division of the world into so-called nation-states and to establish a World Cooperative Commonwealth of which we will all be free and equal members – citizens of the world, not subjects of nation-states.

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