Jews on the Left: Don’t turn right!

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(Editor’s note: The author thanks the Freedom Socialist Party’s Comrades of Color Caucus for making its column available to him as a guest writer.)

I wish to address my antiwar landsmen, my fellow Jews, now being pressured to forsake the Left and bow down before the U.S. and Israeli governments.

Thousands of Jews marched in the many protests of Bush’s Gulf war. We were in the streets before the January 17 onslaught and after, while hundreds of thousands of bombs rained on Iraq and occasional Iraqi Scuds fell on Tel Aviv. When a quarter-million people rallied against the war January 26 in Washington, D.C., more than 50,000 were Jews (Washington Post). I was one of the many who participated in the antiwar movement in the other Washington.

But Jewish nationalists have equated opposing the war to being an enemy of Israel. And, according to their “logic,” any enemy of Israel is an anti-Semite.

Big Lie: anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism. Consider this letter from Jerusalem printed in the last Freedom Socialist: “I have just experienced a month of Scuds. Kindly stop sending me your anti-Semitic newspaper.”

The FS isn’t anti-Semitic. All my Freedom Socialist Party comrades promote Jewish liberation and fight discrimination against Jews as vigorously as they fight all bigotry.

The letter writer falsely equates resistance to Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Don’t be fooled.

Zionism is a rightwing theology based on Jews’ alleged “historical right” to an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. It arose in the 1800s as a reaction to pogroms and discrimination, but remained a minority movement until the Jewish Holocaust. After World War II, the victorious nations embraced the Jewish state. Israel would serve two functions: it would be a dumping ground for the Jewish refugees spurned by Western countries, and it would be a breakwater against the rising tide of Arab revolution.

Revolutionary socialists like Leon Trotsky warned that a Zionist state would stand Jewish humanism on its head — negating a progressive tradition dating back thousands of years — and turn into a death trap for Jews.

They were right. Today, Israel is a militaristic, sexist, racist theocracy.

Because of the history of the Zionist state and its utter dependence on the West, it could not be otherwise. Its economy functions only through ceaseless infusions of massive foreign capital. It did not organically evolve; rather, it was created by the expulsion and suppression of the indigenous people, which spawned a resistance that makes this “haven” the most dangerous place on earth to be a Jew.

Many Israelis fight for democratic reforms, but these cannot be realized short of a radical transformation to a secular, multi-ethnic, socialist country freed from the necessity to serve as the military, political, and economic outpost of Western imperialism in the Middle East.

Opportunity beckoned. The strong public opposition to the Gulf war gave U.S. Jews a golden anvil. We could have used it to forge movement solidarity against divide-and-conquer tactics.

Jews could have taught that the Arab masses — not Western crusaders — will end the despotism of Saddam and the sheiks and emirs. We could have argued that lasting security for the region’s Jews depends not on Israel’s allegiance to imperialism, but on revolutionary unity between Arab masses and Jewish workers.

Who better than U.S. Jews to assert the need to include Palestinian demands in any peace agreement? Or to puncture the myth of Israeli “restraint” during the war by revealing Israel’s role in intelligence-gathering and strategy-development?

Who better to condemn the anti-Arab racism that eventually infected the antiwar movement itself? Or to castigate the big media, which humanized American and Israeli casualties but censored the unthinkable Iraqi devastation and loss of life? Or to expose as humbug the comparison of Saddam and Hitler?

Some of us did so, when we could get to a mike. (Often those running the show tried to censor radical opinions.)

But some well-known Jewish activists on the other side found ample outlets for wooing Jewish support of the U.S. war on the false basis of protecting Israel. These cowards capitulated to the might of their own capitalists rather than stand up to the war-mongering of the U.S. and Israel.

John Judis, social democrat and In These Times writer, defends Bush’s war and smears the antiwar coalitions as anti-Semitic. He now is telling Jews to leave the Left or fight to purge it of both anti-Semitism (meaning anti-Zionism) and what he calls “excessive anti-Americanism.”

Tikkun magazine editor Michael Lerner urges us to join with other patriots who are, in his words, proud of their country’s “higher moral purpose” in the war to “contain Saddam.”

Our fate is everyone’s fate. Jews who felt genuinely ambivalent protesting the war while worrying about the safety of Holocaust survivors, refugees, and loved ones in Israel should know that there is a solution — but it requires rejection of the Zionist crap. Most know instinctively that you cannot base a safe and just society on the oppression of another people. But Jews have been conditioned to believe Israel is different. Believe me, it isn’t. Ask a West Bank resident.

Saving Jews is important. Saving Iraqis, Kurds, Moslems and Palestinians is important. Who can know whose child will grow up to cure cancer or AIDS?

Jews must stay in the Left to further their proud history of struggle and advocacy for the oppressed and to insure that socialism achieves its internationalist, democratic, and culturally liberating potentials.

The solidarity of progressive U.S. Jews with their natural workingclass allies among Arabs, Israelis, and U.S. people of color is the only road to making permanent change that will save everyone on this planet.

Hang in there! Become a prominent Left Jewish spokesperson yourself.

Henry Noble, a Seattle computer programmer, is an all-around activist in the best tradition of Jewish Marxists. He entered radical politics as a Vietnam War protester more than two decades ago.