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Traditions of Jewish Anti-Zionism

May 1, 2024

In This Feature

Anti-Zionism in the Old Workers Movement

The first Zionist Congress, held in Basel in August 1897, represented a small minority of the Jewish communities of Europe. The Dreyfus Affair of 1893 marked the revival of antisemitism in Europe and accompanied the consolidation of capitalism in the age of imperialism. The hopes that European liberalism’s granting of equal citizenship to those of the “Mosaic faith” were dashed, as the “new” antisemitism combined older prejudices with “modern” capitalist racism.1Klaus Holz, Nationaler Antisemitismus: Wissenssoziologie einer Weltanschauung (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2010).

The Berlin “antisemitism controversy” of 1879 fused notions of “Jewish capital” and “Jewish socialism” as threats to an imagined German national unity.2Walter Boehlich and Nicolas Berg, eds., Der Berliner Antisemitismusstreit: Eine Textsammlung von Walter Boehlich (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 2023). The Jews were not only “foreign” but “racially” distinct—not sharing the “blood and soil” of the German “race.” The hopes of generations of European Jews in assimilation as equal citizens of their respective states went into crisis at the end of the century.3Shulamit Volkov, German, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials in Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Theodor Herzl‘s Der Judenstaat, the programmatic work of modern Zionism, rejected the possibility of defeating antisemitism.4Theodor Herzl, Der Judenstaat: Der Versuch einer modernen Lösung der Judenfrage (Augsburg: Ölbaum-Verlag, 1996). Instead, he argued that the emancipation of the Jews was possible solely through the establishment of a Jewish nation state in Palestine, with the aid of the European great powers who sought to displace Ottoman rule in the region.5Michael J. Reimer, ed., The First Zionist Congress: An Annotated Translation of the Proceedings (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2019). Ignoring the Arab population of Palestine, the Zionist colonial project sought to provide “a people without a country, a country without a people.”

Until the second world war, Zionism found support in a minority of Western European bourgeois Jews and of Central and Eastern European working class Jews—it remained a marginal phenomenon in Jewish communities. The overwhelming majority of European Jews sought full equality in their own societies through either liberal politics or the labor movement. The Socialist International, led by the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), rejected Zionism in favor of a vision of universal liberation through class struggle, which would abolish all religious, racial, ethnic, and national divisions.

Until the second world war, Zionism remained a marginal phenomenon in Jewish communities. The overwhelming majority of European Jews sought full equality in their own societies.

Antisemitism, which SPD leader August Bebel labelled as the “socialism of fools,” would be eradicated, and Jews would be gradually integrated into a future socialist society.6Christian Dietrich, Im Schatten August Bebels: Sozialdemokratischer Antisemitismusabwehr als Republikschutz 1918–1932 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2021), 91. Socialists from Jewish backgrounds, including Paul Singer, Rudolf Hilferding, and Rosa Luxemburg, generally did not discuss Jewish emancipation.7Rosa Luxemburg, Nationalitätenfrage und Autonomie, Holger Politt, ed. (Berlin: Dietz, 2012). Most took their lead from the early writings of Marx, in particular his often misinterpreted polemic with Bruno Bauer, Zur Judenfrage.8Karl Marx, Zur Judenfrage, Stefan Grossmann, ed. (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1919). While Bauer argued that Jewish political emancipation and civil equality would lead to assimilation, Marx argued that Jewish emancipation would only come through social emancipation—the end of all oppression and exploitation.

Only the right-wing of the SPD, grouped around Eduard Bernstein and the journal Sozialistische Monatshefte, was sympathetic to Zionism. The “revisionists” embraced Zionism as part of a “socialist colonial policy” that could lead the peoples of Asia and Africa to freedom through a “properly guided” modernization process.9Roger Fletcher, Revisionism and Empire: Socialist Imperialism in Germany, 1897–1914 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1984). The British Labor Party, in which the influence of Marxists was marginal, embraced forms of “Labor Zionism” to win the support of its supporters among Eastern European Jewish immigrants in Britain.10 Joseph Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1917–1948 (London: Cass, 1983).

The majority of the Jewish diaspora lived in Tsarist Russia, where assimilation was impossible—Jews were subject to special antisemitic laws that denied them any semblance of equal citizenship. The relative homogeneity of the Jewish community, centered in the villages (shtetls) and urban areas of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, produced a distinctive Yiddish speaking national culture and identity, including a flourishing of Yiddish literature, theater, and art.11David E. Fisherman, The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). The Jewish nationality was extraterritorial—Jews lived alongside other non-Russian minorities rather than in a distinct national territory.

In November 1897, less than a year after the first Zionist congress in Basel, Yiddish speaking revolutionary workers founded the General Jewish Labor Bund. Before 1914, the Bund organized tens of thousands of skilled Jewish workers laboring in the small textile, garment, and other factories of the Russian empire. Plekhanov, one of the founders of Russian social democracy, paid tribute to the mass work of the Bund, seeing it as a model for the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party that was formed in 1898.12John Bunzl, Klassenkampf in der Diaspora: Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Arbeiterbewegung (Vienna: Europa-Verlag, 1975).

Politically aligned with the international class struggle and oriented to Marxism, the Bund played a leading role in the Jewish community, while arguing that the Yiddish speaking working class had a national identity.13Vladimir Medem, The Life and Soul of a Legendary Jewish Socialist, Samuel A. Portnoy, ed. (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1979). Drawing on the work of the Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer, Vladimir Medem, and other Bundist theorists called for an extraterritorial cultural autonomy for Jewish working people.1414. Otto Bauer, Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie (Glashütten: Auvermann, 1971). Bauer himself denied a right to Jews for national autonomy as in the Austrian social environment assimilation to German culture, the so called Bildungsbürgertum, and the dissolution of Jewish identity had been a mass phenomenon.

The Bund’s embrace of extraterritoriality placed them in direct opposition to Zionism. Labor Zionism was a small but vocal competitor of the Bundists within the Jewish world of Central Eastern and Eastern Europe. Labor Zionism’s most important theorist, Ber Borochov, argued that a Jewish state was needed to create a developed capitalist society as a precondition for the Jewish workers to take their place in the international workers movement.15Ber Borochov, Die Grundlagen des Poalezionismus (Frankfurt: Borochov Press, 1969).

The Bund rejected this stagist approach, envisioning an alliance of equals with workers organizations of other nationalities. The Bund promoted both Yiddish culture (through party educational circles, schools, libraries, and other institutions) and international solidarity such as self-defense militias in the Russian Revolution of 1905.16Zvi Y. Gitelman, ed., The Emergence of Modern Jewish Politics: Bundism and Zionism in Eastern Europe (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Together with Polish workers, the Bund’s militias defended Jewish neighborhoods against antisemitic pogroms.

The Bund dominated Jewish politics in Poland. The concept of doikayt, which expressed the ‘hereness’ of Jewish struggle for emancipation, contrasted with the nationalist approach of Zionism.

The Bund dominated Jewish politics in Poland between the end of World War I and the Holocaust, marginalizing Zionist and bourgeois Jewish organizations.17Gertrud Pickhahn, “Gegen den Strom”: Der Allgemeine Jüdische Arbeiterbund “Bund” in Polen, 1918–1939 (Stuttgart and Munich: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 2001). The concept of doikayt, which expressed the “hereness” of Jewish struggle for emancipation, contrasted with the nationalist approach of Zionism. In several countries all over the world, Bundists took a leading role in the formation of revolutionary socialist politics. The Avangard was an important nucleus in organizing the working class in Buenos Aires, and the activities of the Bund in New York City are the best known examples of this global experience of a combination of internationalism and local political activism.181Frank Wolff, Yiddish Revolutionaries in Migration: The Transnational History of the Jewish Labour Bund (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2021).

Both Zionist and anti-Zionist groups supported the overthrow of Russian Tsarism in February 1917, initially supporting the Provisional Government which granted Jews full civil and political rights. During the civil war that followed the October Revolution, there were waves of antisemitic pogroms, which the Bolsheviks attempted to suppress.19Brendan McGeever, Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019). Although units of the Red Army did participate in pogroms, the Bolsheviks’ campaign against antisemitism was welcomed in the Jewish communities.

The Jewish workers parties, the Bund, and Poale Zion (the socialist–Zionist group founded by Borochov), split into pro- and anti-Bolshevik wings. The left wing of Poale Zion joined the Bolsheviks as the Jewish Communist Party (Poale Zion) but was not permitted to join the Comintern. In Palestine, the left wing of Poale Zion developed into the Palestinian Communist Party, which was already in open opposition to the Zionist trade union leadership of the Histadrut. The initially predominantly Jewish membership was encouraged to “Arabize” the party. During the Stalinization of the Comintern and the abrupt change of course, Palestinian communism split along ethnic lines.20Mario Offenberg, Kommunismus in Palästina: Nation und Klasse in der Antikolonialen Revolution (Meisenheim: Hain 1975).

Many Bundists joined the Jewish Section of the Communist Party (Yevsektziya), founded in 1918. The Yevsektziya in fact, if not in theory, adopted the Bundist model of cultural autonomy for the young Soviet republic. As an extraterritorial nation, Russian Jews were granted cultural rights and the Yiddish culture flourished in the Soviet Federation during the 1920s.

The Stalinization of the Communist Party brought an end to Lenin’s policy of national self-determination in the Soviet Union. In response to increased Zionist immigration to British ruled Palestine after the Balfour Declaration of 1917,21Franz Ansprenger, Juden und Araber in einem Land: Die Politischen Beziehungen der Beiden Völker im Mandatsgebiet Palästina und im Staat Israel (Munich: Kaiser, 1973). the Soviet leadership attempted to create an autonomous Jewish republic in Birobidzhan in the far east of the Soviet Union on the Chinese border.22Masa Gessen, Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region (New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2016). Despite great efforts on the part of the Soviet bureaucracy, the project was unable to attract many Jewish Soviet citizens, most of whom returned to the western part of the USSR during the 1930s.

 

Nazism and Zionist Colonialism

When the Nazis seized power in January 1933, Zionism grew in Europe. While workers organizations were suppressed by the new regime, mainstream Zionist organizations stepped up their immigration efforts. Some radicalizing young Jews, including many who would become anti-Zionist revolutionaries, were attracted to the youth group of left-Zionism, Hashomer Hatzair.23John S. Will, “Jakob Moneta (1914–2012): Jewish Internationalist and Socialist Trade Unionist,” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, September 30, 2022.  The group was founded in Galicia in 1913 and spread throughout the Jewish diaspora.24Doron Kiesel, ed., Die Jüdische Jugendbewegung: Eine Geschichte von Aufbruch und Erneuerung (Leipzig: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2021).

Initially embracing the kibbutzim as a utopian socialist experiment, albeit based on the exclusion of Arab labor, Hashomer Hatzair moved closer to Marxism in the course of the 1920s. It promoted class struggle and increasingly oriented toward the Soviet Union while refusing to merge with the Communist Parties. However, there was a contradiction between a universalist class struggle, which required a united Jewish–Arab workers movement in Palestine, and the particularist striving for a Jewish homeland.

Such a homeland could only be built on the basis of the “three pillars” of Zionism—conquest of land, conquest of labor, and conquest of the market.25Anita Shapira, Land and Power. The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881–1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992). Hashomer Hatzair became a “way station” for young Jewish radicals who would reject Zionism and embrace revolutionary internationalism in the 1930s, even if the main part of the youth organization continued to feel committed to Labor Zionism in the form of Mapam after the founding of the State of Israel.

In Palestine, some of the disaffected Zionist youth joined the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League. Among them was Yigael Gluckstein, who became one of the leading theoreticians and political leaders of British Trotskyism after the second world war under his nom de guerre, Tony Cliff.26Ian Birchall, Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time (London: Bookmarks, 2011). The main thrust of their activity targeted British imperial domination, which opposed the emergence of a united Arab–Jewish labor movement.

The Trotskyists viewed the Zionist parties with their paramilitary structures as allies of imperialism. Despite British restrictions on Jewish migration imposed after the Arab Revolt of 1936 to 1939, the Zionist leadership around David Ben Gurion continued to cooperate with the British and other western imperialists whose good will made possible Jewish settlement in Palestine.27Michael Cohen, Britain’s Moment in Palestine. Retrospect and Perspectives, 1917–1948 (London: Routledge, 2014).

In the late 1940s, the Palestinian Trotskyists rejected the United Nations’ Partition Plan to create separate Jewish and Arab states and argued for a binational socialist state. As a result, they aligned themselves against the Zionist project of an exclusively Jewish state, the imperialists’ attempts to maintain dominance over the region, and the reactionary Arab rulers who benefited from the oppression of the Palestinian workers and peasants.28Ernest Germain, “Draft Theses on the Jewish Question Today,” The International, no. I (1948): 18–24. Isolated, most of the original Palestinian Trotskyists left Palestine for Europe after the Nakba and the establishment of the Israeli state.

In prewar Europe, Hashomer Hatzair also served as a “way station” for young Jewish radicals moving from left-Zionism to revolutionary politics. Abraham Leon’s evolution was typical. Born Abraham Wejnstok in Warsaw in 1918, he grew up in Belgium with its vital Jewish community.29Ernest Mandel and Nathan Weinstock, Zur Jüdischen Frage: Beiträge zu Abraham Leons “Judenfrage und Kapitalismus” (Frankfurt: ISP–Verlag, 1977). He became a leading figure in the Belgian branch of Hashomer Hatzair and was able to recruit working class Jewish youth to the organization.

Confronted with the rise of fascism in Europe and the lack of resistance from the main currents of the labor movement, Leon reassessed his politics. He became critical of the Zionist focus on emigration to Palestine, which led them to abstain from antifascist struggle in Europe. Leon, along with others from Hashomer Hatzair, joined the Belgium Trotskyist group at the beginning of the second world war and organized underground resistance to German occupation.

While working in the underground, Leon also wrote his best known work, The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation.30Abraham Leon, Judenfrage und Kapitalismus: Historisch-Materialistische Analyse der Rolle der Juden in der Geschichte bis zur Gründung des Staates Israel: Schulungstext zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte Europas (Munich: Trikont Verlag, 1973). Leon analyzed European Jewish history and Zionism from the perspective that Jews were a “people-class” with a distinct position in the bourgeois societies that were now in a final crisis. Building on Marx, Leon argued that the failed promise of political emancipation in bourgeois society was clear evidence that bourgeois modernity could not abolish antisemitism.

Neither assimilation nor Zionism offered an alternative. Leon concluded that only a revolutionary labor movement could end the social and political exclusion and persecution of the Jews, which had reached its apogee in Nazi racial policy. Leon was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and murdered in Auschwitz.

The fascist extermination of European Jews destroyed the Yiddish speaking workers movement in Europe, and with it the dream of Jewish emancipation through workers struggle.

The fascist extermination of European Jews destroyed the Yiddish speaking workers movement in Europe, and with it the dream of Jewish emancipation through workers struggle—a world recovered through oral histories of its survivors in Alain Brossat’s and Sylvia Klingberg’s Revolutionary Yiddishland.31Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg, Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism (New York: Verso, 2016). The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 was the last, desperate mass uprising of the Yiddish-speaking labor movement.32Marek Edelman, Das Ghetto Kämpft (Berlin: Harald–Karter–Verlag, 1993). The Jewish world, which had been centered in Central and Eastern Europe, shifted to the United States and to the newly created State of Israel.

 

After the Establishment of Israel

With the destruction of the Yiddish-speaking workers movement in Europe and the establishment of the Zionist state, Jewish anti-Zionism found itself on the fringes of political life. The surviving anti-Zionist Jewish leftists who attempted to find refuge in Palestine were a marginal presence in the Yishuv. Nor was the Soviet Union a hospitable home for Jewish anti-Zionism. The Soviets supported the UN partition of Palestine, recognized the Israeli state, and armed it in its war against the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states in 1948.33Arnold Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947–53 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1974).

At the same time, Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe saw a new wave of antisemitic persecutions—from the destruction of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, the jailing of Czech-Jewish Communists that culminated in the Slansky trial, and the persecution during the so-called “doctor’s plot” in the Soviet Union.34Arno Lustiger, Rotbuch: Stalin und die Juden: Die Tragische Geschichte des Jüdischen Antifaschistischen Komitees und der Sowjetischen Juden (Berlin: Aufbau–Taschenbuch–Verlag, 2002). In the last years of Stalin’s rule, Jewish leftists fell victim to antisemitic purges carried out under the guise of “anti-Zionism” and campaigns against “cosmopolitan elements.”

The New Left that emerged in Western Europe and the US in the late 1950s and 1960s allowed a revival of Jewish anti-Zionism. Isaac Deutscher, the biographer of Trotsky, continued to see himself as an internationalist and anti-Zionist. As a “non-Jewish Jew,” Deutscher embraced a universalism rooted in the persecuted and often messianic Yiddish-speaking people of Eastern and Central Europe—a universalism crushed in the Holocaust.

Like many other non-Stalinist leftists, including Jean-Paul Satre, Deutscher initially sympathized with Israel in the wake of the Nazi genocide. However, Deutscher’s illusions in Zionism dissipated as the anachronistic trait of a Jewish nation-state became more prominent and as it expelled and repressed the Palestinians and aligned itself against the emerging Arab national movement of the 1950s.35Isaac Deutscher, “Israels Geistiges Klima,” in Deutscher, Der Nichtjüdische Jude: Essays (Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1988), 35–58.

The Suez Crisis in 1956 opened space for dissident voices in Israel. In the wake of the Anglo–French–Israeli attempt to capture the Suez Canal from Egypt’s nationalist regime, and the “de-Stalinization” of the Communist movement after Khruschev’s secret speech, a group around Moshe Machover, Haim Hanegbi, Oded Pilavsky, and Akiva Orr left Maki (the Communist Party in Israel), which accepted the dominant “Jewish” character of the state. They founded Matzpen (Compass), the Israeli Socialist Organization in 1962, which attracted veteran dissident communists such as Jakob Taut and the Palestinian Jabra Nicola who were involved in the Trotskyist organizations of the 1930s and 1940s.36Lutz Fiedler, Matzpen: A History of Israeli Dissidence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).

Matzpen faced public and state hostility during and after the 1967 war, which solidified Israeli “national unity.”37Tom Segev, Israels Zweite Geburt (München: Siedler, 2007). The occupation of the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights and, perhaps most crucially, the West Bank with the eastern part of Jerusalem decisively changed the attitude of the New Left in Israel and internationally. Matzpen solidarized with the Palestinian national liberation movement, in particular the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), with whom they shared key political perspectives.

Matzpen championed a vision of a socialist federation in the Middle East in which all peoples, Arab and ‘Hebrew Speaking Israelis’ would enjoy national rights in a ‘de-Zionized’ region.

In opposition to Zionism, Matzpen championed a vision of a socialist federation in the Middle East in which all peoples, Arab and “Hebrew Speaking Israelis” would enjoy national rights in a “de-Zionized” region.38Jeremy Smith, The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917–23 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999). Matzpen linked its anti-Zionism with a critique of the Arab ruling classes, who had proved incapable of offering sustained resistance to imperialism. Israeli socialists provided a comprehensive analysis of the economic, social, political, and cultural conditions in the Arab east, and of Zionism as a dead end for the liberation of both Arabs and Jews.

The anthology, The Other Israel, contains a detailed discussion of the politics of Zionism as a capitulation to antisemitism. For the Zionists, antisemitism was not rooted in capitalism, but in an ahistorical hostility of non-Jews toward Jews:

Zionism accepts anti-Semitism as the natural, normal attitude of the non-Jewish world. He doesn’t see him as a twisted, perverted figure. Zionism, burdened by this view, can respond to anti-Semitism, but cannot confront, denounce, or combat it. In Palestine, Zionism created an exclusive, oppressive society in which Jews were made into a majority enjoying numerous rights, while minorities (mainly the former Palestinian majority) suffered political, legal, social, and economic discrimination.39N. Israeli, “Zionism and Anti-Semitism,” in The Other Israel: The Radical Case against Zionism, Arie Bober, ed. (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1972), 102.

The Other Israel also pointed to Israel’s dependence on Western imperialism. After 1948, the Zionist state initially relied on the support of both the United States and the Soviet Union. With the Cold War, Israel became dependent on the US both militarily and politically. Israel linked itself to the interests of Western European and US capital without abandoning an independent policy aimed at suppressing and expelling the Palestinians and eliminating any hint of a military threat from the surrounding Arab regimes.

Matzpen also highlighted the oppression of the Arab population in Israel, which remained under military rule despite their formal Israeli citizenship. Addressing the situation of the Arab citizens of Israel and the Palestinians in the occupied territories became central to the struggle for social and national liberation.

Matzpen argued that a revolutionary transformation of Israel necessitated its transformation: from a Zionist state (that is, a state of the Jews all over the world) into a socialist state that represents the interests of the masses who lived in it. In particular, the Law of Return (which grants every Jew in the world an absolute and automatic right to immigrate into Israel and become a citizen of it) had to be abolished and immigration would be allowed without racial-religious preference.40“The Palestine Problem and the Israeli–Arab Dispute” in ibid., 123.

Arguing that solidarity with the Palestinian struggle had to be the foundation of socialist politics in the region made Matzpen militants pariahs in Israel. It was only with the founding of Rakach, the New Communist List, which split from the pro-Zionist Maki, and the brief emergence of the Black Panthers, which took up the cause of ending discrimination against Mizrahim Jews of Arab descent that other non- or anti-Zionist organizations emerged in Israel.

The Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee Abroad (ISRACA), the European offshoot of Matzpen, built connections with the international New Left that grew out of the global youth radicalization of the 1960s. This New Left was organizationally independent of both social democracy and pro-Soviet “Communism.” While the New Left was initially drawn to the anticolonial struggles in Algeria and Cuba, the escalation of the Vietnam War and the Six-Day War consolidated the anti-imperialist orientation of the young generation. Matzpen and ISRACA became an important reference point for those attempting to understand the Arab and Palestinian struggle against Zionism and imperialism.

 

Zionism is a Dead-End Street

The First Intifada of 1987, the Palestinian mass movement centered in the occupied territories, forced the Israeli government to engage in the “peace process” that produced the Oslo Accord. The Accord promised an end to the conflict with an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, creating a relationship of equality with Israel. Under the auspices of the United States, the negotiations provided for a gradual handover of governmental powers to the Palestinian Authority. However, the process stalled almost immediately.

The first blow was the religious Zionist’s murder of Rabin, who had negotiated the accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The return of Likud to power, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, effectively ended negotiations for a transfer of authority in Gaza and the West Bank.41Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 519–708. With the collapse of talks in 2000, the balance of power shifted among Palestinians. The collaboration of Fatah, the dominant party in the Palestinian Authority, with Israel led to growing support for Hamas, which had been founded in 1987 as the Palestinian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

From 1948 until the early twenty-first century, the Zionist project and the Palestinian and Arab resistance had been led by secular forces. Both Labor Zionism and secular Palestinian nationalism went into crisis in the aftermath of Oslo, leading to the dominance of right-wing, religious Zionism and political Islam. The end of what Eric Hobsbawm called the “short 20th century” gave rise to what Tariq Ali and others have called a “clash of fundamentalisms.”42Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (London: Verso, 2002); Yo’av Peled and Horit Herman Peled, The Religionization of Israeli Society (London and New York: Routledge, 2019).

The end of the “peace process” led to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the transformation of Gaza into a bolted exclave. The crisis in the aftermath of Oslo also produced a group of “New Historians,” including Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, Tom Segev, and (later) Shlomo Sand, who challenged the founding mythology of the Zionist state. These historians, many of whom were and are on the anti-Zionist left, have demonstrated that claims of an unbroken history of a Jewish people, from the biblical era to the twentieth century, is a religious or ethnic-romantic fantasy.43Arno J. Mayer, Ploughshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (London: Verso, 2008).

They also made a close and unflinching examination of the creation of the Israeli state—its colonial origins and the organized expulsion of the Palestinians during and after the Nakba of 1948.44Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006). Tom Segev linked the Six-Day War with the expansionist strategic considerations that were never questioned by Israeli governments—whether from the left or the right.45Segev, Israels Zweite Geburt.

The increasing authoritarian development of Israel under Netanyahu consolidated the occupation of the West Bank and the policing of Gaza. It has also moved to legally consolidate a Jewish-ethnic state with the adoption of the Nation-State Law in 2018. While the law is the logical outcome of the Zionist project, it should also be placed in a larger context of the global rise of the far right.

The Hamas attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians, in which around 1,200 people were killed on October 7, 2023, allowed Israel to attack Gaza and murder well over thirty thousand residents. Israeli air strikes and land offensive in Gaza have been accompanied with Israeli political leaders openly calling for the complete annihilation of the Palestinian population of Gaza.46Spectre Editorial Board, “It’s a Genocide, and It Must be Stopped,” October 24, 2023, Spectre (website). Vocal responses from the anti-Zionist Jewish left, both in Israel and in the diaspora, calling for a permanent ceasefire and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), have been denounced as “antisemitic” and serve to enforce the nationalist homogeneity that Zionism requires.47See Omar Barghouti, BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2011).

In Israel, this process shapes the character of protest movements. Both the demonstrations against judicial reform in January 2023, and the mass social protests against austerity and the rising cost of living in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2012, disregarded the occupation and the uncontrolled construction of settlements in the West Bank.

The social transformations of the past forty years—the rise of neoliberalism and the collapse of the Stalinist “alternative” to capitalism—that have radically narrowed the popular horizon of expectations only partially explain the ongoing lurch to the right in Israeli society. The “end of Jewish modernity” marked by the Holocaust and the establishment of the Israeli state brought a contradictory end to the Jewish diaspora and to the Jews status as a “pariah” people.48Enzo Traverso, The End of Jewish Modernity (London: Pluto Press, 2016). “Jewish emancipation” took the particularist/nationalist form of Zionism, excluding the social liberation of all the oppressed.

Israel has dissolved the boundaries between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, codified in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ahistorical definition of antisemitism.

While the Israeli state has received inter- national recognition, including from some Arab states through the Abraham Accords, it faces a political impasse. Herzl’s vision of shedding the status of a “pariah among the nations” and ascending into the international community is founded on the military control, economic exploitation, and expulsion of the Palestinians. By ideologically equating Judaism and Zionism, Israel has also dissolved the boundaries between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, codified in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ahistorical definition of antisemitism.

The blurring of terms, in which antisemitism is a concrete threat to “Jews because they are Jews” or are “made into Jews” (Jean-Paul Sartre), fades into the background, obscuring the impossibility of overcoming antisemitism through Zionism. Perhaps nowhere in the world are Jews in such greater danger then in Israel.

Trotsky, who turned to the problem of antisemitism in the late 1930s, anticipated this dilemma. In a letter two months before his murder in Mexico in August 1940 by a Soviet agent, he wrote about the situation in Palestine from a “non-Jewish Jewish” perspective:

The attempt to solve the Jewish question through the migration of Jews to Palestine can now be seen for what it is, a tragic mockery of the Jewish people. Interested in winning the sympathies of the Arabs who are more numerous than the Jews, the British government has sharply altered its policy toward the Jews and has actually renounced its promise to help them found their “own home” in a foreign land. The future development of military events may well transform Palestine into a bloody trap for several hundred thousand Jews. Never was it so clear as it is today that the salvation of the Jewish people is bound up inseparably with the overthrow of the capitalist system.49Leon Trotsky, “On the Jewish Problem,” Fourth International 6, no. 12 (1945), 379 ×

  1. Klaus Holz, Nationaler Antisemitismus: Wissenssoziologie einer Weltanschauung (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 2010).
  2. Walter Boehlich and Nicolas Berg, eds., Der Berliner Antisemitismusstreit: Eine Textsammlung von Walter Boehlich (Berlin: Jüdischer Verlag, 2023).
  3. Shulamit Volkov, German, Jews, and Antisemites: Trials in Emancipation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
  4. Theodor Herzl, Der Judenstaat: Der Versuch einer modernen Lösung der Judenfrage (Augsburg: Ölbaum-Verlag, 1996).
  5. Michael J. Reimer, ed., The First Zionist Congress: An Annotated Translation of the Proceedings (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2019).
  6. Christian Dietrich, Im Schatten August Bebels: Sozialdemokratischer Antisemitismusabwehr als Republikschutz 1918–1932 (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2021), 91.
  7. Rosa Luxemburg, Nationalitätenfrage und Autonomie, Holger Politt, ed. (Berlin: Dietz, 2012).
  8. Karl Marx, Zur Judenfrage, Stefan Grossmann, ed. (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1919).
  9. Roger Fletcher, Revisionism and Empire: Socialist Imperialism in Germany, 1897–1914 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1984).
  10. Joseph Gorny, The British Labour Movement and Zionism, 1917–1948 (London: Cass, 1983).
  11. David E. Fisherman, The Rise of Modern Yiddish Culture (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005).
  12. John Bunzl, Klassenkampf in der Diaspora: Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Arbeiterbewegung (Vienna: Europa-Verlag, 1975).
  13. Vladimir Medem, The Life and Soul of a Legendary Jewish Socialist, Samuel A. Portnoy, ed. (New York: KTAV Publishing House, 1979).
  14. Otto Bauer, Die Nationalitätenfrage und die Sozialdemokratie (Glashütten: Auvermann, 1971). Bauer himself denied a right to Jews for national autonomy as in the Austrian social environment assimilation to German culture, the so called Bildungsbürgertum, and the dissolution of Jewish identity had been a mass phenomenon.
  15. Ber Borochov, Die Grundlagen des Poalezionismus (Frankfurt: Borochov Press, 1969).
  16. Zvi Y. Gitelman, ed., The Emergence of Modern Jewish Politics: Bundism and Zionism in Eastern Europe (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003).
  17. Gertrud Pickhahn, “Gegen den Strom”: Der Allgemeine Jüdische Arbeiterbund “Bund” in Polen, 1918–1939 (Stuttgart and Munich: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 2001).
  18. Frank Wolff, Yiddish Revolutionaries in Migration: The Transnational History of the Jewish Labour Bund (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2021).
  19. Brendan McGeever, Antisemitism and the Russian Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019).
  20. Mario Offenberg, Kommunismus in Palästina: Nation und Klasse in der Antikolonialen Revolution (Meisenheim: Hain 1975).
  21. Franz Ansprenger, Juden und Araber in einem Land: Die Politischen Beziehungen der Beiden Völker im Mandatsgebiet Palästina und im Staat Israel (Munich: Kaiser, 1973).
  22. Masa Gessen, Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region (New York: Nextbook/Schocken, 2016).
  23. John S. Will, “Jakob Moneta (1914–2012): Jewish Internationalist and Socialist Trade Unionist,” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, September 30, 2022.
  24. Doron Kiesel, ed., Die Jüdische Jugendbewegung: Eine Geschichte von Aufbruch und Erneuerung (Leipzig: Hentrich & Hentrich, 2021).
  25. Anita Shapira, Land and Power. The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881–1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
  26. Ian Birchall, Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time (London: Bookmarks, 2011).
  27. Michael Cohen, Britain’s Moment in Palestine. Retrospect and Perspectives, 1917–1948 (London: Routledge, 2014).
  28. Ernest Germain, “Draft Theses on the Jewish Question Today,” The International, no. I (1948): 18–24.
  29. Ernest Mandel and Nathan Weinstock, Zur Jüdischen Frage: Beiträge zu Abraham Leons “Judenfrage und Kapitalismus” (Frankfurt: ISP–Verlag, 1977).
  30. Abraham Leon, Judenfrage und Kapitalismus: Historisch-Materialistische Analyse der Rolle der Juden in der Geschichte bis zur Gründung des Staates Israel: Schulungstext zur Wirtschaftsgeschichte Europas (Munich: Trikont Verlag, 1973).
  31. Alain Brossat and Sylvie Klingberg, Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History of Jewish Radicalism (New York: Verso, 2016).
  32. Marek Edelman, Das Ghetto Kämpft (Berlin: Harald–Karter–Verlag, 1993).
  33. Arnold Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947–53 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1974).
  34. Arno Lustiger, Rotbuch: Stalin und die Juden: Die Tragische Geschichte des Jüdischen Antifaschistischen Komitees und der Sowjetischen Juden (Berlin: Aufbau–Taschenbuch–Verlag, 2002).
  35. Isaac Deutscher, “Israels Geistiges Klima,” in Deutscher, Der Nichtjüdische Jude: Essays (Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1988), 35–58.
  36. Lutz Fiedler, Matzpen: A History of Israeli Dissidence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020).
  37. Tom Segev, Israels Zweite Geburt (München: Siedler, 2007).
  38. Jeremy Smith, The Bolsheviks and the National Question, 1917–23 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999).
  39. Israeli, “Zionism and Anti-Semitism,” in The Other Israel: The Radical Case against Zionism, Arie Bober, ed. (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1972), 102.
  40. “The Palestine Problem and the Israeli–Arab Dispute” in ibid., 123.
  41. Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall. Israel and the Arab World (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 519–708.
  42. Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (London: Verso, 2002); Yo’av Peled and Horit Herman Peled, The Religionization of Israeli Society (London and New York: Routledge, 2019).
  43. Arno J. Mayer, Ploughshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (London: Verso, 2008).
  44. Ilan Pappé, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006).
  45. Segev, Israels Zweite Geburt.
  46. Spectre Editorial Board, “It’s a Genocide, and It Must be Stopped,” October 24, 2023, Spectre (website).
  47. See Omar Barghouti, BDS – Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2011).
  48. Enzo Traverso, The End of Jewish Modernity (London: Pluto Press, 2016).
  49. Leon Trotsky, “On the Jewish Problem,” Fourth International 6, no. 12 (1945), 379.
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