In our recent statement on the Israeli housing price protest movement, the ISL made some serious criticisms of the role played by the Maavak Sozialisti group (MS), the Israeli section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). “Maavak,” we alleged, “has capitulated to the movement’s dominant ‘social justice for Israelis’ chauvinism.” In response, supporters of the CWI rallied to their comrades’ defense, accusing us of spreading “utterly despicable” “out and out lies” about their comrades.
It’s understandable that the CWI comrades were so anxious to attack our statement. Comrades should defend one another from attacks, especially when they think they’ve been the target of dishonest criticism. And CWIers are understandably sensitive to the charge that their Israeli comrades have capitulated to Zionist chauvinism – after all, the Palestinian masses’ courageous struggles against their oppression has won them a place in the heart of every revolutionary around the world. But the defense of one’s comrades should be based on confirmed facts and in this case we will show, with complete and graphic evidence, that the facts are on our side. Our criticisms of Maavak Sozialisti were perfectly truthful.
However in refuting their charge that we lied, we won’t rush to judge the CWI comrades too harshly: they could perhaps be excused for believing that their comrades in MS are more consistent defenders of the Palestinians than they really are. After all, statements by MS expressing unflinching solidarity with the Palestinians against Zionism have appeared on the CWI’s English-language international website, so it would be reasonable for CWI comrades to assume that the same statements appear on MS’s Israeli website, and if they don’t read Hebrew or Arabic, how could English-speaking comrades check? Below, we’ll do the checking for them and expose the truth. Furthermore, even comrades proficient in Arabic inside Israel/Palestine could also be forgiven for thinking that MS comrades are more uncompromising champions of Palestinian liberation than they really are if they haven’t also checked Maavak’s statements. Again, we’ll do the checking for them and expose the truth.
But first, did the ISL tell “out and out lies” about MS?
This is what we wrote:
“Maavak has capitulated to the movement’s dominant “social justice for Israelis” chauvinism, never once criticizing the movement’s failure to defend the Palestinians. Its statements on the struggle use vague calls for opposition to racist legislation to avoid taking a specific stand against any particular attack on Palestinians and their rights ... Indeed, while finding space in the special edition of its newspaper for a whole page of discussion about the protests concerning the high price Israelis must pay for cottage cheese, it found no room for a single article devoted to the concerns of Palestinians.”
No CWIer has produced a quote from their comrades where they criticize the movement for not defending the Palestinians. None have even suggested that such a criticism exists.
So, what of the special newspaper that Maavak Socialitzi published for the housing price protest? We reproduce images of its 8 pages below. Readers can download it here: maavak.org.il/maavak/pdf/201107.SSM.Tents.pdf. And indeed in the paper’s 8 pages, while there is on page 3 a full page article on the price of cottage cheese in Israel, including a statement of concern for Israeli capitalist farmers and their need to be protected from foreign competition, there is not a single article devoted to the concerns of Palestinians. Shame!
In fact, our original criticisms of MS’s special Tent City publication could have gone a lot further. For example, we did not point out that starting on page 4, there is a two-page article entitled “From Tunisia to Syria, the Struggle Against the Dictatorships Continues.” There, one can read about the Tunisian masses rising up against their dictators; about the Egyptian masses rising up against their dictators; and about the Syrian masses rising up against their dictators; but nowhere is there any mention of the Palestinian masses’ struggle against the Israeli dictatorship! Seriously! The lengths MS went to avoid offending the Zionist sensibilities of the Tent City protesters are at once funny in their incompetence as well as disgusting.
But let us repeat, for the sake of clarity: in an 8 page newspaper published especially for a protest movement focused on housing in Israel, MS did not, even once, mention the Zionists’ ongoing campaign of evictions, house demolitions and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians taking place in Jaffa, Sheikh Jarrah, the Galilee and the Negev. NOT ONCE!
Perhaps MS was worried that the up-beat feel of their newspaper would be ruined if they had an article focused on the plight of the Palestinians. After all, instead of the cute tent graphic that appears on every paper of their newspaper, they would have to place a picture of a home being demolished by an armor-plated bulldozer, the blood of Palestinians pooling around it. Perhaps MS were worried about ruining their readers’ appetite for cottage cheese?
Now, we in the ISL don’t engage in the petty competition that sees some left groups unable to acknowledge when others do good work. For example, despite our political differences with anarchists, we don’t hesitate to hail the courageous acts of solidarity with the Palestinians that the Anarchists Against the Wall group performed in the Tent City in Tel Aviv from its very beginning. They raised their banner against the Zionists’ apartheid wall, only to have it immediately torn down. They put up a photographic exhibit of the Palestinians’ plight, only to have it destroyed. When ‘Tent 1948’ was set up to disseminate information about the Palestinians’ oppression, the occupants were beaten up! We salute these courageous comrades!
More recently, to Maavak’s credit, at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on the 20th of August, Maavak refused the Tent City leadership’s demand that they remain silent in honor of those who died in recent clashes between Palestinian militants and the IDF. They raised chants like “In Israel and the Territories, the People Demand Social Justice,” “the Answer to the War - R-E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N,” “No to the War that Will End the Protest,” “No Peace, No Welfare - Overthrow the Government”, for which they were denounced and even physically attacked.
We applaud their courage in doing this and condemn the attacks, but must note that this episode exposes their perspective that the working class in Israel can be won over to the socialist revolution as a whole – and even worse, that this can be done on an economist basis – is utterly detached from reality and leaves them unguarded against such dangers.
We have never doubted that many MS members have a sincere concern for the Palestinians. That concern in fact points MS members toward joining with the Palestinians’ struggle for liberation. But MS’s leaders and program act as a barrier to the realization of that potential. That they have not broken from Zionism in principle is clear from MS’s insistence on the right of a “socialist Israel” to exist on land stolen from the Palestinians. That this leads to the sort of capitulations to Zionist chauvinism like MS’s disgraceful publication for the Tent City protests is undeniable.
At the same time, MS could not exist as a group with socialist pretensions if it did not raise some opposition to some aspects of the Palestinian people’s oppression some of the time. Indeed in several places in Tent City publications, MS did call for opposition to racism and for an end to “the occupation.” But they never got specific about what forms of racism they are opposed to and just what occupation they want to end or how. Since this allowed the Israeli reader to fill in the missing specifics with a content of their own choosing, it is crucial to understand current Israeli views on such issues.
For example, one must recognize that many of the current Israeli protesters want the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank to end, not primarily out of concern for the Palestinians, but rather, because they think that the occupation is too expensive and they want the money spent on Israelis at home. That is not a pro-Palestinian position; it is an almost-pathological Zionist selfishness wrapped in Palestinian-friendly garb. Similarly, many of the protesters think that Israel should settle for the land it had stolen from the Palestinians by the time of the 1967 war. That is also not a pro-Palestinian position; it is the position of colonialists who have grown tired of fighting. Maavak Sozialisti’s call for an end to the occupation and for a “socialist Israel” merely lends these positions an energetic militancy and a “socialist” cover.
Likewise, most Zionists will agree to oppose racism and racist laws so long as the question is posed abstractly. Most Israelis can certainly be expected to oppose racist policies that target Jews, like the segregation of Orthodox Sephardic (Southern European and Middle Eastern) Jews enforced by Ashkenazi (Northern and Eastern European) Orthodox Rabbis in schooling. Also, some will oppose the current racist proposals to make Israel an officially Jewish state – so long as other laws ensure that non-Jews are stopped from becoming a majority.
But what about the racist laws which are the very foundation of the state of Israel? Zionists will swear that they are opposed to racism while they defend the perfectly racist, anti-Palestinian “Law of Return” upon which the State of Israel is founded and which gives Jews from across the world the right to Palestinian land, even if they are a tribal people from Peru recently converted to Judaism (yes, this has happened). And Zionists will swear that they are not racists while denying the right-of-return to the Palestinians and their descendants who were ethnically cleansed from their homeland when the state of Israel was created. In other words, Zionists can be expected to declare themselves opposed to all sorts of racism so long as they remain willfully blind to the essentially racist nature of the very idea of the state of Israel.
Tragically, Maavak Sozialisti’s comrades remain trapped in this Zionist worldview. Thus, while MS do not say so in their program, they do occasionally admit that they are for Palestinians’ right-of-return. At the same time, however, they maintain that Israel has a right to exist and ignore the fact that if the Palestinians and their descendents who were driven from their homeland by the Zionists’ founding of Israel gain their right of return, they will be the overwhelming majority, from the river to the sea, in all of “Mandatory Palestine”. This means that Israel could only continue to exist by means of apartheid minority rule. Some sellout reformist organizations like the Israeli Communist Party’s front-group Hadash at least recognize this contradiction, and try to hint that while they recognize the right of return in “principle”, they will be willing to sell it out in practice. MS don’t take the Palestinian people’s demands nearly so seriously. Instead, their leaders play hide-and-seek with the rights and struggles of the Palestinians.
Indeed, as we foreshadowed in our introductory remarks, Maavak Sozialisti’s game of hide-and-seek regarding the Palestinian people’s struggles extends to their international audience and could explain their CWI comrades’ passionate, if mistaken, defense against our criticisms. For example, consider MS’s coverage of the Palestinians’ Nakbah Day protests this year on the CWI’s international website.
Commemorating and protesting the expropriation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the course of the establishment of the state of Israel, Nakbah Day is one of the most important days on the Palestinian political calendar. This year, Palestinians marched on Israel’s borders from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, only to be murderously attacked with tear gas and live ammunition. The ISL’s leaflet for this year’s Nakbah Day events, in Arabic, Hebrew and English can be read on our website and a report on our participation by the ISL’s Yossi Schwartz is available on the League for the Revolutionary Party’s website at www.lrp-cofi.org/statements/yossi_nakba_day_2011.html. Those events are also well-described in an article by Maavak Sozialisti’s Shahar Ben-Khorin and the CWI’s Jan Kowalski entitled “Nakbah Day sparks mass protests,” that appears on the CWI’s English-language website. While the article ends with MS and the CWI’s miserable call for a two-state solution, it forthrightly advocates the Palestinians’ demand for the right of return and condemns the Zionist “Law of Return.” Illustrated by many excellent photos of Palestinians fighting the Zionist state, the article even goes so far as asserting the Palestinians’ “right to self-defense and armed struggle”!
Now consider the coverage of Palestinians’ massive protests on Nakbah Day that appear on Maavak Sozialisti’s website in Israel:
That’s right: Nothing! Neither in Hebrew nor in Arabic, did MS say a word about the Nakba Day protests.
Comrades of the CWI, perhaps you will believe us now when we tell you that your comrades in MS play hide-and-seek with the Palestinian struggle? Perhaps you will even conclude that their game is more hide than seek!
It is difficult to imagine any explanation for such a discrepancy between what MS publishes in Israel and what they have published in their name on the CWI’s international website, other than a conscious attempt by CWI leaders to defraud the international left-wing public. The CWI’s leaders have been caught engaged in worse acts of fraud in the past. Indeed we in Israel are used to going to demonstrations and finding MS members handing one leaflet in Arabic to Palestinians, and a very different, less stridently pro-Palestinian leaflet in Hebrew to Jews. But it should be easy for Maavak Sozialisti to cast a little doubt on our interpretation: immediately translate your English-language article on Nakba Day into Hebrew and Arabic and feature it on your homepage and in your next newspaper or magazine!
But CWI comrades may honestly object: OK, our comrades’ failure to publish an article on Nakba Day on their website is a bad mistake, and their publication for the Tent City was lousy, but that doesn’t mean that MS hasn’t taken a stand for the Palestinians! For example, there is a video on youtube of a CWI comrade giving a speech as part of the Israeli housing price protest movement in which she opposes discrimination against Palestinians and the demolition of their houses, as well as the occupation. You can watch it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=HNXJb8X6xQU&feature=player_embedded.
Indeed, to the extent that MS has started to speak out for the Palestinians in the movement, we support them for this and encourage them to go further. But it is important to note that this does not contradict what we said of their initial approach to the movement, which was to be uncritical of its dominant “social justice for Israelis” chauvinism: MS’s turn to raising some Palestinian concerns is consistent with tailing the leadership of the Tent City movement. As our statement explained, “After weeks of refusing to say anything about Palestinians, the Tent City leadership started to become embarrassed by the movement’s obvious racism” and so it began to invite moderately pro-Palestinian speakers onto their platforms. Thus it invited Uda Basharat of Hadash to speak to its massive Tel Aviv protest and then a week later invited MS’s Suheir Daksa to speak to a protest in Haifa, where protests were not as strongly dominated by mainstream Zionists as in Tel Aviv. There, the MS’s comrade did raise the question of housing demolitions and discrimination against Palestinians as well as the need to oppose “the occupation.” But then to make clear that she was not threatening the Zionist project, but speaking as its left wing, she absurdly ended her speech with a patriotic declaration that Israel “is a state of workers, not of slaves. We will not be slaves! We will lead this state, we will solve the conflict!” – although she did not mention the apartheid wall, the starvation blockade of Gaza or the refugees’ right of return.
That Daksa followed statements of concern for the Palestinians with a ridiculous vision of the Zionist state of Israel being ruled by workers only shows the mess of contradictions MS can get themselves into when they start addressing the concerns of Palestinians. No wonder they so often avoid addressing the question of Palestinian oppression. Indeed, as if to show how little we have to search for evidence of the way Maavak Sozialisti plays hide-and-seek with the Palestinian struggle and their own program, consider recent written statements by Daksa. When the Palestinians of Umm al-Fahm started pitching tents to join the movement, she went on their Facebook page and posted messages in both Arabic and Hebrew (we’ve included screenshots of her postings below). Writing in Arabic, she declared:
“Real unity of the workers is social and political and with it the legitimacy of this state will be void of content and our program as a movement for establishing a new socialist society in this land from the river to the sea!”
Palestinian readers of this posting’s description of “a new socialist society in this land from the river to the sea” would no doubt have been shocked to read Daksa expressing herself very differently when writing in Hebrew on the same page, referring to a federation of future socialist states between the river and the sea, including an Israeli one:
“MS does believe in a socialist federation in the Middle East and we do believe in the return of the refugees! The solution of an independent democratic socialist Palestine next to a democratic socialist – and not Jewish socialist – Israel, are a situation behind a federation...”
At least this time, the support for the right of return is made explicit. But a passing reference to that support on a Facebook post is still miles away from any sort of consistent defense of Palestinian rights. And how an Israeli state could exist democratically while having a majority-Palestinian population after the refugees’ return remains unanswered because it is inexplicable.
We have given the CWI comrades the benefit of the doubt concerning their mistaken impression that their comrades in Maavak Sozialisti are consistent defenders of the Palestinians. So too, we can empathize with Comrade Daksa: it would be difficult to speak to Palestinians and not want to offer a perspective in which they win their full liberation from Zionist oppression, from the river to the sea. But if she thinks that compromising on that struggle has anything to do with Marxism and the Trotskyist tradition, she is mistaken.
The genuine tradition of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, contends that working-class unity across lines of national and racial division can only be forged by an uncompromising insistence on the rights of the oppressed. The ISL seeks to stand in that tradition. In the case of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, we do not recognize Israel’s right to exist because to do so can only mean perpetuating the Palestinian people’s oppression. We fight for a Palestinian workers’ state from the river to the sea in which Jews will have the right to live free of any form of ethnic or religious oppression. Unlike Maavak Sozialisti and the CWI’s “two states” perspective, our unhesitating advocacy of a state in which the oppressed masses will realize their unimpeded democratic and national aspirations is the genuine Trotskyist tradition. As Trotsky said of the very similar South African colonial settler state:
“Three-quarters of the population of South Africa (almost six million of almost eight million) is composed of non-Europeans. A victorious revolution is unthinkable without the awakening of the native masses; in its turn it will give them what they are so lacking today, confidence in their strength, a heightened personal consciousness, a cultural growth. Under these conditions the South African Republic will emerge first of all as a ‘black’ Republic; this does not exclude, of course, either full equality for whites or brotherly relations between the two races (which depends mainly upon the conduct of the whites). But it is entirely obvious that the predominant majority of the population, liberated from slavish dependence, will put a certain imprint on the State.
“Insofar as a victorious revolution will radically change not only the relation between the classes, but also between the races, and will assure to the blacks that place in the State which corresponds to their numbers, so far will the Social Revolution in South Africa also have a national character. We do not have the slightest reason to close our eyes to this side of the question or to diminish its significance. On the contrary the proletarian party should in words and in deeds openly and boldly take the solution of the national (racial) problem in its hands.”
To comrades of the CWI, we say: it is not too late to join this genuine revolutionary tradition of Trotskyism, whose program is the unqualified liberation of the oppressed, and whose watchwords are: say what is, tell the truth to the working class!
You have nothing to lose but your chains.
The Internationalist Socialist League
3. See the informative article “Tahrir Envy: An Anti-Occupation Activist’s First Thoughts on the Tent Protests in Israel” .
6. See MS’s program, and its scandalous silence on some of the Palestinian people’s most basic demands like the right-of-return at maavak.org.il/maavak/?content=10 (English), maavak.org.il/maavak/?content=23 (Hebrew).
7. Dov Khenin: “There is a basic recognition of rights on the one hand, and there is a practical political solution based on agreement between the political leaderships of the two peoples on the other hand.” “Israel: And Interview with Hadash MP and communist Dov Khenin”, links.org.au/node/968.
8. See “For the Return of all the Palestinian Refugees to their Lands and Homes! Socialist Revolution is the Only Solution!” at www.the-isleague.com/nakbah-day-2011-english.php (English), www.the-isleague.com/nakbah-day-2011-arabic.php and www.the-isleague.com/nakbah-day-2011-hebrew.php.
10. Consider the example of the CWI’s Ukrainian section, whose leading figures posed as members of other left-wing organizations for the purpose of defrauding the international left. For full documentation of this shocking case, see the LRP’s coverage at LRP/COFI Statement on the Ukrainian “RWO”, CWI Group Guilty of Ukraine Fraud, Photos of the Perpetrators and Open Letter to the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).