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International Socialism, April 1975


Daniel Campion

Zionism: The Dream and the Reality


From International Socialism, No.77, April 1975, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Zionism: the dream and the reality – a Jewish critique
David and Charles, £5.25

THIS IS a very mixed collection of essays on various aspects of the theory and practice of Zionism. Some are interesting and worthwhile, some highly amusing, and others just plain awful. They are written from politically very divergent points of view, ranging from what one might call a dissident Zionist position to marxist critiques.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century Zionism was presented by its protagonists as the solution to the problem of anti-semitism: the setting up of a Jewish state in an area inhabited by Arabs necessitated an alliance with one imperial power after another. Before the First World War Herzl’s followers made persistent efforts to persuade the Turks that if they undertook to regulate the finances of the Ottoman Empire a suitable chunk of territory – namely Palestine – would be a suitable reward. But they didn’t neglect the British, who along with the French at the end of the war carved up what remained of the Sultan’s domains.

The British got Palestine and backed the Zionists since they were loyal to the Empire, and were most grateful – the massive increase in the Jewish population before the Second World War could not have come about without British backing, and throughout this period the aim of an independent Jewish state was kept quietly in the background. The Jewish community organised an enclosed, quasi-state apparatus in preparation for the great day which came in 1948. Uri Avinery contributes an interesting piece on the nature of the Israeli ruling class. (Incidentally this same Avinery is currently in the forefront of a campaign to squash the chairman of the Israeli League for Human Rights, which campaigns for the civil rights of Arabs in the occupied territories because to do so ‘threatens the security of the state’.)

There are some essays in this book which are worth reading, although they have their liberal quirks. For example ‘nationality versus nation’ is a good expose of Zionist doctrine from a liberal point of view whereas the essay by Hannah Arendt illustrates the connections between Herzl and anti-semitism, and contains some marvellous historical blunders: ‘The Zionists ... tried to teach the Jews to solve their problems by their own efforts, not by those of others.’ The alliance with imperialism notwithstanding, of course.

Maxime Rodinson contributes a piece which is taken from another book (Chapter 9 of Israel and the Arabs which contains a full account of most of the story). I.F. Stone says that the Middle East conflict could lead to a nuclear war – unlikely given the current efforts of the US and USSR to stabilise the situation: if and when the next war breaks out (current estimates put it within the next couple of months) the chances are that it will be fought with conventional weapons. Elmer Berger gives us pious banalities about the inability of politicians to ‘solve’ the Middle East problem and concludes that the US can be persuaded by rational argument to act against its own interests.

Mezyinsky presents the interesting thesis that the borders of Israel expanded in order to accommodate the increases in its Jewish population – ‘lebensraum’. While it is quite true that acquiring somebody else’s territory by fair means or foul and settling it with Jews is in accordance with Zionist principles, the reasons for territorial expansion are military: given the balance of forces between Israel and the Arab states, the only sure method of maintaining territorial security is acquiring yet more territory by means of a pre-emptive strike. And since October 1973 even this is questionable. The chances of Israel giving up territory except under dire compulsion from the US are virtually nil.

My favourite essays are the last two. Michael Selzer combines one trend in Jewish ethical thinking with pacifist anarchism and says that all politics is a waste of time. Oh yes, and the Nazi murder of the Jews was a waste of resources from their point of view: it would have been better to devote the effort into defeating the Allies!

And in the last one we are wafted away on the sentiments of the ancient Hebrew prophets, as if to the tune of a Jewish hymnal. As I have said this is a very mixed book.

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