L. Rock

The Jewish-Arab Conflict

(November 1938)

Originally published in New International, November 1938.
Reprinted in Tony Cliff, Selected Writings Volume 1: International Struggle and the Marxist Tradition, Bookmarks, London 2001, pp.7-10.
Downloaded from REDS – Die Roten
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Arab economy is for the most part feudal. Even its capitalist elements are to a considerable extent tied up with the feudal mode of exploitation (usury) or are feudal in origin, functioning both as landlord and capitalist. Alongside of this development has arisen a new stratum, the intellectuals who are connected with the upper classes (free professions, government officials). For the present it is these upper classes that exercise a dominant influence over the Arab masses. It is capitalist development in Palestine as well as English imperialist oppression of the Arab people which created the conditions for the rise of the Arab nationalist movement under the present leadership of the feudal and semi-capitalist system.

These classes see in the imperialist domination of the country a superfluous and alien guardianship in the political control over the masses. Since, however, there is no fundamental social and economic antagonism between these classes and imperialism, the conflict is not too profound. On the other hand there does exist a conflict between the Arab upper classes and the Jewish population. Not because the latter is an element for the support of British imperialism but because it is a means for the development of Jewish capitalist economy. This conflict arises because the feudal elements among the Arabs fear the modernisation of Palestinian society by the Jews and their own destruction. The Arab capitalist elements take part in this struggle mainly because & their exclusive tendencies and their competition with the Jews.

The Arab ruling classes, aiming to settle the conflict with the Jews in their own favour, are ready to strike a compromise with British imperialism at the expense of the Jews. Thus, for example, Djemal at Husseini, one of the outstanding leaders of the nationalist movement, declared that the Supreme Arab Committee was agreed that Palestine should become a British crown colony, provided that Jewish immigration was halted. Another leader, Hassan Sidky Dajani, wrote in an open letter to the High Commissioner, “England is mistaken if she believes that we have risen against her ... we recognise the power of her troops – a word from you, a word which England will not have to pay for too greatly, would suffice to restore the situation to normal.”

At the same time a basic conflict exists between the interests of the national and social emancipation of the Arab masses and British imperialism. This conflict can only be solved through the abolition of imperialist rule and the establishment of political independence.

Meanwhile there exists, objectively, a conflict between the Arab masses and the Zionist aspirations towards exclusivism and maintenance of British rule. This conflict can only be solved to the extent that Jewish masses in Palestine renounce Zionist exclusivism. While the opposition of the Arab upper classes to the Jews is reactionary, the struggle of the Arab masses against Zionism is absolutely progressive. The upper classes are today successful in diverting the national struggle of the masses into anti-Jewish channels by means of the fact that the predominant majority of the Jewish population is Zionist. The anti-Jewish terror has only increased the influence of Zionism on the Palestinian Jewish masses and diverts their bitterness from the struggle against imperialism. All this leads to a situation where today a great part of the Arab masses believe that through their struggle against the Jews they are furthering their own national liberation, whereas in fact they are only making their struggle more difficult to the extent that they are strengthening the position of imperialism, Zionism and the feudal Arab leadership.



Aspects of Arab nationalism

The entire development of the Arab nationalist movement in Palestine manifests a twofold aspect. On the one hand a feudal semi-bourgeois leadership which leads the movement into anti-Jewish channels without touching imperialism, on the other hand the Arab masses whose will to national liberation becomes increasingly stronger in so far as it crystallises into anti-imperialist hatred. Only an international leadership can resolve this dual aspect. It is interesting and useful to consider the various stages through which Arab nationalism has passed. In the degree that the nationalist movement gained strength, the leaders proceeded to change the slogans, giving them an anti-Jewish twist. In 1921 the main argument of the feudal leaders was that the Jews wanted to gain possession of the holy places, and, secondarily, that the Jews were imparting bolshevism. Definite statements were made that the movement was directed not against England but against Zionism. A couple of years before the pogroms of 1929 religious arguments were used for anti-Jewish agitation.

But with the development of the nationalist movement and the unity of the Arab, Christians and Muslims, the religious argument was soft-pedalled and the question of the influence of Jewish immigration on the economic situation was stressed. The Arab leaders began to carry on propaganda using the slogan, “The Jews buy land and drive out the Arab peasants; the condition of the Arab peasants is so hard because of Jewish immigration; Arab industry suffers because of the development of Jewish industry; the Jews are to blame for the difficult financial condition of the government treasury; and therefore you must fight the Jewish immigration and settlement.”

The economic exclusivism of the Jews under the influence of Zionism (boycott of Arab workers and goods, etc.) enabled this agitation to find a widespread response among the Arab masses. Then came the years of prosperity, 1932-35, in which despite Zionist exclusivism the income and the living standards of the Arab masses arose in consequence of Jewish immigration. The economic arguments of the Arab leaders against the Jews lost their point. The national consciousness among the Arabs gained in step with the capitalist development of the country and of the nationalist liberation movements in the surrounding countries of the Near East. The question of the political set-up became a central problem around which the Arab nationalist movements concentrated. In the same period the Zionist chauvinist tendencies among the Jews became stronger with the decline of the international working-class movement. The chauvinist Zionist slogans among the Jews struck a responsive note with the greater political tension in the Mediterranean and the resulting need of British policy to create a considerable Zionist power in Palestine. Instead of the former slogan of the Zionist organisation “Palestine, a bi-national state”, Zionist policy came out openly with the slogan of “The Jewish state”. The Arab feudal and semi-capitalist leaders who were afraid that the nationalist movement would develop along independent and consistently anti-imperialist lines now raised the cry, “The Jews want to build a Jewish state in Palestine which will oppress the Arab minority while serving as a means of oppression in the hands of English imperialism.”

The present Arab nationalist movement, permeated with an exclusivist spirit in the struggle against the Jews, is fertile soil for chauvinist fascist and particularly anti-Jewish ideas. The fascist powers and propagandists send money to Palestine in order to strengthen this ideological reactionary influence and so gain control of the nationalist movement. In the measure that the Comintern and the Second International play the role more and more of political gendarmes against the movement of liberation in the colonies, and to the extent that the international labour movement finds itself in a state of decline, the influence of chauvinist, anti-Jewish ideologies becomes stronger. Fascism succeeds more and more in making use of Arab nationalism in its own interests.



The Zionist movement

It is our conviction that Zionism is a nationalist reactionary conception because it builds its hopes not on the class struggle of the international working class but on the continuation of world reaction and its consolidation.

The Zionist movement has been fighting for years to realise the slogan “100 percent Jewish labour, 100 percent Jewish production, etc.” Pickets of Jewish workers were organised against Arab workers who held jobs in Jewish enterprises. Among these pickets there were to be found all kinds of people from the right fascist wing of the Zionist movement to representatives of the “Hashomer Hatzair” (affiliated with the London Bureau). Hashomer Hatzair does not demand 100 percent Jewish labour but Jewish labour only in Jewish enterprise with the exception of localities where the Arab workers have been engaged for many years (only 18 percent of the Arab workers in Jewish enterprise belong to this category). While therefore the Zionist movement generally demands 100 percent Jewish labour the Hashomer Hatzair demands 82 percent Jewish labour. There is still another small Zionist party divided into two wings which is against this picketing – the Left Poale-Zion.

This system of the “conquest of labour” leads to a situation where only in periods of economic crisis and the decline of wages of the Jewish workers, only in periods of political reaction, can its aim be achieved, the penetration of Jewish workers by the eviction of the Arabs. In periods of the development of the Jewish and Arab working classes, of increased immigration, of rising living standards, the system of the “conquest of labour’ is thwarted and the Jewish worker leaves the industry which was the bone of contention of the chauvinist struggle. The following table gives the figures for four different periods: (1) September 1933, beginning of prosperity in Palestine; (2) September 1935, high-water mark of prosperity; (3) June 1936, one month after the bloody events and the economic crisis; (4) September 1936, one and a half years after the beginning of the latest sharp crisis. The figures show the number of workers in six of the largest and most important Jewish colonies:

Jewish workers

Arab workers

September 1933



September 1935



June 1936



September 1936



The business of picketing for Jewish labour only increases the damage which the working class, Jewish as well as Arab, suffers from the unrestricted national competition of the workers of both peoples. The Arab workers, too, begin to set up pickets against Jewish labour, for example in public works. The consequence is that the upper classes gain in influence. The government, too, knows how to exploit the situation. It plays the role of arbitrator and declares picketing illegal when it is on account of race, religion or language. This enables Jewish employers to avail themselves in any real conflict of Arab strikebreakers and likewise gives the Arab employer his chance to use Jewish strikebreakers. The system of the “conquest of labour” with its picketing weakens the working class and strengthens the position of both employers and British imperialism.

We should like to touch on the question of the relation of Zionism to imperialism. The Zionist movement is against the independence of Palestine and against every form of democracy (“as long as the Jews are a minority”). The extreme right wing of Zionism, the Revisionists, who have their separate organisation, have for years been demanding the establishment of the Jewish state on the basis of “an understanding between the Jewish legions and the strategic interests of British imperialism”. Other sections of the Zionist bourgeoisie headed by Dr Weizmann once declared that “Palestine will remain as Jewish as England is English”. Later they declared that Palestine would be “bi-national” and that the mandate must be upheld at all costs. Today they support the partition plan and the setting up of a Jewish state as an ally of British imperialism. The Zionist reformist party (Mapei) calls for cooperation with the government and for the most part supports the idea of partition. Hashomer Hatzair calls for the struggle to preserve the mandate. The Poale-Zion party is for an anti-imperialist struggle but does not indicate what form of political regime is its immediate aim, so that its slogans remain empty. Like the other Zionist parties it is against the democratisation of the political system in the country. In consequence of its opposition to the immediate independence of Palestine a section of its supporters have rallied to the partition plan.

The whole Zionist movement with all its wings, therefore, supports British rule in Palestine in one form or another.



The Jews and British imperialism

There are two opinions about the relation between the Jews in Palestine and British imperialism. The one views them as an integral part of the imperialist camp (this is the idea of the extreme Arab nationalists and their lackeys in the camp of the Stalinists); the second looks upon the Jews as an integral part of the Palestinian population and as such anti-imperialist. Neither of these views is correct. The former is wrong because the Jews are no thin, privileged stratum representing the exploiting interests of the Motherland. Simple comparison between the whites in South Africa and of the Jews in Palestine shows how wrong this view is.

The reformist leaders of the Jewish labour movement have drawn this comparison as an argument against the international organisation of workers in Palestine. The Communist Party of Palestine (Stalinist) has naturally seized on this analogy in order to expose the “imperialist” role of the Jews. In the first place, however, the Jewish working population makes up more than half of the entire working class of Palestine, whereas in South Africa the whites are only one fifth of the working population. The South African white workers are for the most part the skilled element, and the natives are common labourers. In Palestine categories of all kinds of labour are represented in both the Jewish and Arab sections. The South African whites are a thin “aristocratic” upper crust, who get about five times the pay of the natives. In Palestine the Jewish workers constitute not a thin crust, but a class. In South Africa the whites enjoy ample political rights (democratic legislation, progressive labour legislation, etc.) whereas the Negroes are suppressed colonial slaves. In Palestine both Jews and Arabs are oppressed by an alien government and are deprived of any kind of democratic rights.

Furthermore, take the fact that in Palestine there are two cities of mixed population where the Jews are in the majority, Jerusalem and Haifa. In both places, nevertheless, in accordance with the decrees and appointments of the government, the mayors are Arab. The Jews are as little privileged in the matter of budget expenditures as of municipal administration. The Jews contribute 63 percent of the government income, whereas in return they receive merely 14 percent (1934-35) of the government expenditure on education, only 34 percent of the public works expenditures, etc. Nor are they privileged in the matter of labour legislation.

If the Jews were an integral part of the imperialist camp, if their existence depended upon the exploitation and oppression of the Arab masses, it would be the duty of every revolutionary socialist to fight against the growth of the Jewish population. But the position is quite otherwise. On the other hand, the view that compares Jewish immigration into Palestine with Jewish immigration in America is equally unreal. The Jews in America are a part of the general economic system and entertain no chauvinist aspirations such as the boycott of foreign goods and labour or the establishment of a national state. The Jewish population in Palestine does strive to become a majority and determines its political road in accordance with this perspective, building up a relatively closed national economy, and boycotting Arab labour and goods. Influenced by imperialism and Zionism both, this population is against every attempt to obtain the democratisation and independence of the country. If the Jewish population were an integral part of the Palestinian, it would be the duty of the revolutionary socialist to support the increase of this population element in all its forms as part of the anti-imperialist struggle. But to support all forms of the extension of the Jewish element (e.g. to be against democratisation for fear that it would hold up the growth of the Jews) would be to sharpen the Jewish-Arab conflict, diminish the class differences inside the Arab population, and strengthen the Zionist tendency among the Jews.



The Jewish-Arab conflict

What are the causes of this conflict? Two answers are advanced in Palestine. The Zionist groups say that the conflict is simply the collision of feudalism and reaction with the progressive forces of capitalism. The Arab nationalists and their Stalinist supporters claim that the collision is between the Arab liberation movement and Zionism.

But the first explanation is wrong because the fact of the conflict between feudalism and capitalism does not explain the Arab national movement in Palestine. There are parallel manifestations of nationalism in the adjacent countries (Syria, Egypt). Moreover it does not explain how a clique of effendis succeeded in getting control over a militant national movement of hundreds of thousands. It is clear that the basis of the antagonism of the Arab masses to the Jewish population does not arise from the fact that the latter have brought in a higher standard of living and have created a modem labour movement. Their principal opposition arises from the fact that they see in the Jewish population the bearers of Zionism, that political system based upon national exclusivism, and hostility to the aspirations of the Arab masses to independence and democratisation of the political regime.

The second view, the claim of the Arab nationalists, is likewise erroneous. It does not take into consideration that there really is a conflict between feudalism and capitalist development, secondly, that inside the nationalist movement there is an Arab bourgeoisie which in competition with the closed Jewish economy develops exclusivist Arab tendencies, and thirdly, that the Jewish population is no integral part of the imperialist camp.

What follows therefore is that the collision in the Arab-Jewish conflict is between two national exclusivist movements (between Zionism and the feudal, semi-bourgeois Arab leadership on the one hand, and on the other the struggle of the Arab masses against Zionism). The consistent struggle for the easing up of this conflict is therefore only possible on the basis of the struggle against Zionism, against Arab national exclusivism and anti-Jewish actions, against imperialism, for the democratisation of the country and its political independence.


Last updated on 25.7.2002