Journey of an Israeli communist

Raya Fidel speaking at FSP’s 2019 convention. PHOTO: Kathleen Merrigan / FS
Raya Fidel speaking at FSP’s 2019 convention. PHOTO: Kathleen Merrigan / FS
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It’s not easy to live in Israel. There is the cruelty of the occupation of Palestinian land, the increased poverty, and the exponential growth of right-wing and Jewish-supremacy movements.

One way to confront this reality is to get involved in organizations that work for justice and peace — like my parents did. The Israeli Communist Party (ICP) used to fight the good fight. Its roots are in the Palestinian Communist Party (PCP), which was established in 1919. A truly international party, PCP members — Jews and Arabs alike — fought together against British colonialism.

The creation of Israel in 1948 divided Palestine into pieces. The one with a Jewish majority became Israel. The PCP members who lived in Israel — Arabs and Jews — became members of the ICP.

ICP was a typical Stalinist party. It was internationalist, but not democratic nor feminist. My parents were members first in the PCP, and then in ICP. My father was a member of the ICP Central Committee, and the publisher of the party’s daily newspaper.

Both of my parents eventually left the party. My mother quit because it was undemocratic. My father left because the ICP refused to deal with Khrushchev’s 1956 revelations about Stalin’s tyranny. However, both he and my mother remained committed socialists for the rest of their lives.

Growing up, our home was political. Social justice and internationalism were instilled in my brothers and me from an early age. I got my first lesson in capitalist economy as a toddler. My father used to tell me Russian folk tales, including one — which I suspect he may have made up — about a queen who used to bathe in a bathtub full of milk. This left the people in the kingdom without milk. They rebelled and then milk was available to everyone. I loved it. As I grew up, I was free to dream of my future. I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was female.

My older brother and I were members of the Communist Youth Movement in the 1950s, though we never joined the party. We participated in many mass actions — including painting slogans on walls at night — and we had plenty of opportunities to interact with Arab youth.

But being a communist in Israel had repercussions. After leaving the ICP, my father could not get a job and was unemployed for long periods. My brother was kicked out of the Air Force due to his politics, but they blamed it on his high blood pressure.

After the war in 1967, when the occupation began, political discussions often ended in highly emotional shouting matches. Any tolerance for dissenting opinions, for disagreeing with the Israeli government, was eroding.

I found relief when I moved to the U.S. to go to college. Here, I could discuss the situation back home without shouts and anger. But I was looking for more.

Being a socialist was an integral part of my identity. And I was not meeting any kindred spirits. For that, I had to wait till I moved to Seattle.

At the University of Washington, I met Tamara Turner, who introduced me to the Freedom Socialist Party. Finally, people I could relate to on so many levels.

The party introduced me to real feminism — socialist feminism — that sees the vital role of women as a social and political power. This was a far cry from the bourgeois feminists I had seen in Israel. And this new amalgam of ideas sparked my interest.

I appreciated how the party also has a unique approach to class struggle: action always needs to be guided by theory. Educating comrades and supporters has high priority. Over the years, I participated in many study groups. I have stood against Nazis. And I have defended the rights of Palestinians.

I feel that I have a solid international socialist perspective on the world around us, including the differing discrimination against groups such as the LGBTQ+ and people of color communities.

In the end, thanks to the FSP, I went a full circle: I am back home.

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