An Open Letter to As’ad AbuKhalil: Can Israeli Protests Aid Palestinian Liberation? (August 2011)

Dear Comrade AbuKhalil:

I am a supporter of a revolutionary socialist organization in Israel which considers all of Israel to be “Occupied Territory.” We fight for the establishment of a Palestinian state, from the river to the sea. From this perspective, I write to respectfully challenge your recent postings on the so-called “revolution of the Sons of Dogs” — the housing price protest movement in Israel.

Like you, we are disgusted by protests in Israel over housing which ignore the plight of Palestinians, an attitude that what we have had occasion to describe as “almost-pathological Zionist selfishness.” But I think that you are mistaken when this leads you to declare: “I have no interest in Israeli protests.”

Comrade AbuKhalil, how can someone dedicated to Palestinian liberation not be interested in dividing the base of support of the Zionist state? What sort of general of an army would see divisions among the enemy and not be interested in devising ways to take advantage of them? From a pro-Palestinian nationalist perspective, I think this attitude is irresponsible. From an internationalist perspective, I think it’s even worse.

For our part, we have joined in the housing price protest movement in Israel, but we have explained:

… we participate in the struggle first and foremost from the perspective of the most deprived and oppressed victims of this state – the Palestinians. Inside the movement, in addition to fighting for its demands for price controls on housing and other essentials of life, we raise the call for the defense of Palestinians’ lives and livelihoods, starting with the most basic demands: Stop the Theft and Destruction of Palestinian Homes! Stop the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Jaffa, Al-Ludd and the Negev! Stop the Settlements! Down with the Wall! Down with Discrimination Against Palestinians in Housing, Employment and Social Services! Down with the Blockade of Gaza!

At the same time, we recognize that these basic demands go no further than a defense against worsening Zionist attacks; they do not address the terrible dispossession of Palestinians that the Zionists have already achieved. They do not even include, for example, the Palestinians’ right of return. Thus we explain that justice and peace will never be achieved so long as the inherently racist Zionist state exists. When we have heard protesters in the current housing price protest movement in Israel chant “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu,” we have replied: “Mubarak, Assad, the Israeli State!”

As you know, the Palestinian masses face a terrible crisis of political leadership. Fatah has transformed itself into little more than an extension of the IDF, repressing Palestinians in the interests of the Zionist state and begging for a bantustan to be recognized as a Palestinian state so that they can rule it. Hamas has not gone quite so far in selling out, but their offer of a long-term truce with Israel is, in reality, a statement of surrender to Israel’s existence and an acceptance of a two-state solution. These betrayals have encouraged a growing cynicism among those fighting for Palestinian liberation.

Palestinians and their supporters will never stop fighting Zionist oppression. But there is a sense that their aim of achieving full and complete Palestinian liberation is doomed; that the power of the Zionist state is invincible, especially considering the unwavering support it receives from Western imperialist powers.

Comrade AbuKhalil, is it possible that your stated disinterest in the Israeli protest movement, and your indulgence of the abuse of the protesters as “Sons of Dogs,” expresses not just your contempt for Zionism, but possibly also this sense of hopelessness for the Palestinian cause? After all, if the overthrow of Zionism and the Palestinians’ complete liberation were a real possibility, why wouldn’t you have a more practical interest in the Israeli protest movement and whether it can in any way be used to the Palestinians’ advantage?

In founding our group, we had to face up to two difficult facts:

1. the Israeli masses enjoy access to Palestinian land, resources and the rights of citizens thanks to their Zionist state and very many participate directly in the oppression of Palestinians through service in the IDF; these experiences are key to the corruption of Israeli consciousness with racism and a sense of loyalty to the state and explain the obvious fact that unlike the working-class and poor people of every other country, the Israeli masses cannot be expected, in general, to rise up against their state; and

2. the Palestinian masses alone are not strong enough to overthrow the Zionist state, but will require the assistance of revolutionary uprisings by the masses in neighboring states.

The need for coordinated revolutionary uprisings across borders points toward the need for a complete break with nationalist ideology. A sense of shared national purpose undermines the awareness among workers, poor people and peasants of how they are exploited and oppressed by their nation’s capitalists, cops and soldiers, politicians and top religious figures. The pro-capitalist nationalism of Arab leaders has meant that they have had to keep the masses docile in the face of imperialist aggression, the better to control and exploit them. Even the nationalist Palestinian forces have had to quell mass protest for fear of the masses getting out of control. Only an internationalist strategy of revolutionary struggle by all the exploited and oppressed against not only the imperialists and Zionists, but against the Arab bourgeois comprador ruling classes as well, offers an alternative to the dead end of nationalism.

From our perspective, the Arab masses’ ongoing wave of revolutionary struggles points to the very real potential for Palestinian liberation. In neighboring Egypt, for example, while Mubarak was forced from power, we all know that the military that was the backbone of his dictatorship remains. But the experience of the revolution has given the masses a sense of their power and continues to provide them rich experiences from which they are drawing their own, often radical, conclusions. With leadership coming from their most class-conscious brothers and sisters, we can imagine in the coming years the Egyptian workers, poor people and peasants concluding that the whole state must be overthrown by another revolution.

But what of Israel? After dismissing the idea that the Israeli working class could, in general, play a revolutionary role, we did not consider our work in terms of the Israeli masses complete. Rather, it was just beginning. We recognize that in all likelihood, only a minority of Israeli working-class people will be won to actively supporting the socialist revolution. But we still consider it essential that the Palestinian struggle look for ways to win as many allies as possible among Israelis, and that alone speaks to the usefulness of siding with the struggles against poverty. Moreover, we want to minimize the number of Israelis who enlist in violent counterrevolutionary struggle against the Palestinian masses. Therefore, we think it is crucial for all champions of Palestinian liberation to take a stand against the deteriorating living conditions of Israelis, if only to allay some Israeli fears that the Palestinians want to drive them into the sea.

With these questions in mind, let’s consider the current Israeli protest movement.

Obviously, it would be criminal to support this movement uncritically. Many on the left in Israel and elsewhere have done so. In our leaflet, as you can see, we have condemned these capitulations to Zionist racism harshly and consistently. But once one condemns, one should also be able to offer a way forward. Finding this way forward is the task facing all serious revolutionaries in the region, and it is of great concern to revolutionaries all over the world.

We share your hatred of the Israeli state. We understand your disdain for the protestors and even for most Israeli society, given its support for the Zionist state’s brutally oppressive policies. But having said that – what can be done about this state and society? How can we make sure that the revolutions in the region are not threatened by its military might? How can we make sure that the Palestinian resistance eventually manages to overcome this military monster?

Despite dealing with a very different subject, I am reminded of a relevant passage from Trotsky’s book In Defense of Marxism:

“Revolt engenders need for rejection. When the forces for immediate action are absent, impatient revolutionaries are inclined to resort to artificial methods … frequently, resort is taken to strong expressions, to insults, and to imprecation … When an emotional mechanic considers an automobile in which, let us say, gangsters have escaped from police pursuit over a bad road, and finds the frame bent, the wheels out of line, and the motor partially damaged, he might quite justifiably say: “It is not an automobile – devil knows what it is!”

”Such an estimate … would express the legitimate reaction of the mechanic at the work of the gangsters. Let us suppose, however, that this same mechanic must recondition the object which he named “devil-knows-what-it-is.” In this case he will start with the recognition that it is a damaged automobile before him. He will determine which parts are still good and which are beyond repair in order to decide how to begin work.”

Of course, the state of Israel is beyond repair and must be replaced completely. Its racist, colonial nature might lead us to not recognize it as a class society at all. We might be tempted to not even try to split the state’s social base. We might be tempted to say – “This is not a class society – devil knows what it is!” and write off any sort of struggle inside Israel, as you have done.

But despite all of the distortions that Israel as a settler-colonialist society exhibits, it remains a class society. Workers in Israel – even Jewish ones – are exploited. They are extremely privileged compared to the masses of the region, but compared to workers and poor people in other countries, they do not fare very well: because of the chauvinism and loyalty to the state and ruling class of almost all Israeli workers, they have been paralyzed in the face of capitalist attacks on them, and thus the role of the capitalists in Israel has been all the more easily carried out.

The point of this and other such facts is not to feel sorry for the Israelis or to forget for one second about the much more important struggle for the rights of Palestinians – the right of the refugees to return to their land, the right of all Palestinians to democratically rule all their historical homeland, and all other aspects of self-determination and democracy. The point is to ask ourselves – as revolutionaries, as supporters of one Palestinian state (or more precisely, in our case, a workers’ state), can we use these facts to our advantage?

We cannot compromise on the rights of the Palestinians. Not only would this be impermissible from a moral point of view, but it would also mean turning our backs on the most important element of the revolution in Palestine – the Palestinian masses themselves. But we can give at least a significant part of the Jewish masses – the working class and the poor – reason to come to our side, or to at least not risk their lives to help suppress the Palestinian revolution when it comes.

We know that Israel, despite giving Jews racial privileges and stealing and murdering to defend these privileges, is ultimately a deathtrap for Jews. The more the Zionists encourage Israelis to identify themselves with the state, the more they encourage the state’s enemies to do the same. As you said yourself:

“I worry about the future for Jews in the Middle East, that the actions of Israel have pushed people to extremes.”

Unfortunately, the more Arab peoples are pushed to extremes, the more the Zionists can claim that Israelis are being threatened with being driven into the sea and can thus be justified in taking any action in their defense. Considering Israel’s general military strength, and its nuclear arsenal in particular, we must take that danger seriously. Actions or rhetoric that unnecessarily threaten Israeli Jews are gifts to the Zionists in preparing the justification of future atrocities.

Consider, for example, the recent Salafist attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, which I know you deplore. Besides being disgraceful forms of terror against a religious minority, these attacks are extraordinarily helpful in uniting Israeli Jews in opposition to the Arab masses’ revolutionary struggles. ‘See what they do to the Christians!’ the Zionists exclaim, ‘Imagine what they’ll do to us! We have no choice but to kill them.’

And yet in response to the Israeli protest movement you have been somewhat approving of Egyptian leftists referring to all Israeli protestors as “Sons of Dogs”. This expression should be examined in detail.

First, considering the Zionists whom your anger can righteously be aimed at, let me say: don’t slander dogs – they’re man’s best friend, and besides, revolutionaries would not want to encourage the mistreatment of animals. Also, we shouldn’t dehumanize people – even our enemies.

But more seriously, can we really just call all Israeli protestors ”Sons of Dogs”? It’s not fair historically. For one thing, as you know, there was a substantial Jewish population in Palestine before the Nakbaand not all were Zionists. Further, the holocaust survivors who ended up in Israel (after Zionists and bourgeois politicians blocked their move to the US or Britain and even killed many in doing so), by that point, were bedraggled, confused and practically helpless, floating on the tides of history like corks. Can they really be called dogs? More like pawns. Some became imperialist dogs, but only over time. To this day holocaust survivors are among the worst-off of Israel’s Jewish population, despite the fact that the state enjoys using their tragedy to excuse their brutal oppression.

But it is also not fair in the current situation. Several generations have been born into Israel through no fault of their own and indoctrinated in schools through no fault of their own. They have a duty to break with this indoctrination and this state, and some – though admittedly a marginal group – already have. Calling them “sons of dogs” does not encourage this – it can only help drive them back into the arms of the state.

Referring to people as being less than human implies the threat of treating them less than humanely.Unfortunately, it seems that in one posting on the Israeli protests you went so far as to make that threat explicit. After correctly explaining that peace will only be achieved by “the end of that Zionist entity and an end to the occupation of Palestine,” you added:

“And once the Palestinian refugees are returned to their homes all over Palestine, I will make sure that you get decent rents in the formerly Palestinian refugee camps because we may be a bit short of space for the occupiers then.”

Comrade AbuKhalil, I assume that you didn’t really mean this. It is certain that all victims and opponents of Zionism, including Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists (including ones living in Israel), have at one time or another entertained such thoughts. The idea of forcing Israelis to live in the Palestinian refugees’ current camps speaks more to a desire for Israelis to recognize their victims’ humanity than anything else. But the conditions of those camps should not be inflicted on anybody and briefly entertaining a revenge fantasy in one’s mind is different from writing it down and uploading to the internet, especially when it is the culmination of weeks of cursing the “Revolution of the Sons of Dogs.” And let me be clear, my concern is not for the hurt feelings of Israelis who might hear such comments, but for the practical ramifications for the Palestinians: such attitudes don’t undermine the support of Israelis for their state. Quite the contrary.

There is a way out. In a democratic Palestine, where people of all religions – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and others – can live in peace and equality, Jews will have safety, so long as they give up their roles as oppressors in the service of imperial domination. Of course, democracy is not enough – the future Palestinian state must be ruled by the workers and poor people, for as we have argued above, the Palestinian nationalists are completely incapable of a consistent anti-imperialist struggle.

A few months ago, you addressed the question “Can an Israeli Redeem Himself?” According to you, for an Israeli to become “legitimate” as far as the Palestinian resistance is concerned, he must refuse to serve in the army, leave his home and land and join the armed struggle against Israel. This raises several questions.

1. Certainly, Palestinians have a right to the land and property stolen from them. But given that Palestinians will not be able to return to Palestine as long as Israel exists, is it not much better, for the time being, for Jews who want to join the Palestinian resistance to use their position to fight Israel from within? Given the large number of Palestinians (and importantly for us as socialists, Palestinian workers) inside Israel, it seems irresponsible to surrender this battlefield and thus weaken our position.

2. The armed struggle against Israel has many courageous and inspiring aspects, but we must honestly ask – what has it won for the Palestinians in the last few decades? We all know that the armed struggle could never on its own challenge the military might of Israel. Some Palestinian fighters have raised the prospect that the struggle can lead the world to recognize the horrors of Israeli oppression, and somehow pressure Israel to recognize Palestinian rights to some extent. But we know that by “the world” they mean the imperialist states, which have time and time again proven their allegiance to Zionism.

On the other hand, if we look back at the first Intifada, possibly the most glorious uprising of the Palestinian masses so far, we see that it has scared Israel enough to bring it to the negotiating table. While we oppose negotiations because we regard the liberation of Palestinians as non-negotiable, and while we condemn the treachery of the PLO leadership that has expressed itself in the Oslo accords and many other ways, this shows that mass struggle is what Israel is really scared of, and rightfully so.

The same could be said about Israel and the Arab regimes in the face of the present mass movement they are dealing with. While far from victorious, it has won some gains for the masses, and its continuation will certainly spell doom for imperialist domination in the region. Imagine if this mass struggle could be brought into Israel – that is the perspective of our group. This is why we must refuse any and all calls to leave Israel and thus abandon the struggle of its Palestinian population.

We have discussed Israeli leftists capitulating to Zionism and the leaders of the movement. But this is only one side of the story. Other Israelis – most prominently, members of the Anarchists against the Wall group – have fought for the movement to address the Palestinians’ plight. These are the people behind Tent 1948, who have faced physical attack by Zionists in the Tent City for their trouble. These people must be praised and defended against Zionist attack, even if we have many political criticisms of these groups. At the very least, one should at least think twice before calling them sons of dogs.

It is obvious that your attitude towards the Israeli protests is driven by your honest and consistent solidarity with the Palestinians, but I must respectfully say that it also shows a lack of strategy on how to carry the Palestinian struggle into Israel. Like Trotsky said, once one is done with insults, one must find a way forward. Ours is the way of the class struggle, of the struggle of Palestinian workers, and whatever part of the Israeli working class can be won over, against Israel.

You don’t seem to agree that a working-class perspective is necessary. As you have said again and again:

“I don’t like flags and I don’t like nationalism, but for the Palestinians – anything and everything”.

I disagree strongly. It is a cruel irony of history that a people denied their basic right to exist as a nation and determine their future cannot do so by nationalist means. The Palestinians are, alone, not strong enough to conquer the Israeli state. But in conjunction with the Arab masses of the region, Zionism can be overthrown. However the capitalists of all the Arab states, and even the bourgeois Fatah and Hamas forces of the Occupied Territories, need to keep “their” workers, poor people and peasants down and disempowered, the better to rule and exploit. Only an internationalist strategy of working class-led revolution against capitalism can secure the Palestinians’ liberation and national self-determination by overthrowing the entire imperialist order. History has shown that rejecting the perspective of working class struggle, and instead advocating guerrilla struggle and giving political support to the nationalists, merely leads to tragedy and sellouts.

Respectfully and with comradely regards,

Yehuda Stern

Internationalist Socialist League (Israel/Occupied Palestine)


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