How I came to advocate an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran

Submitted by cathy n on 3 August, 2008 - 10:25 Author: Sean Matgamna

Click here for an image of the paper in question

On July 31, the “Weekly Worker” appeared with a full page picture of a nuclear explosion on its front page and the words in large white letters against the black of the picture:

“AWL’s Sean Matgamna: excusing an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran”.

Supposedly a reference to a “discussion article” which I published in the last issue of “Solidarity”, the words on WW’s front page were a straightforward lie.

No reasonable (or even unreasonable!) “construction” on what I wrote could license or justify those lying words.

Nor can any “cock-up” in the print-shop explain away the front page and the words as unintentional and a freak happening that was not intended — the picture and the words match exactly.

What appeared was, plainly, exactly what was intended.

I wrote:

“An attack on Iran will most likely lead to great carnage in the Middle East, and beyond, as supporters of Iran resort to suicide-bombings in retaliation. There might well be large scale Iranian civilian 'collateral' casualties. An attack would strengthen the Iranian regime and license a smash down on its critics, including working class critics, inside Iran. It would throw Iraq back into the worst chaos.”

“Yet the plain fact is that nuclear bombs in the hands of a regime which openly declares its desire to destroy Israel are not something Israel will peacefully tolerate. They will act to stop it while it can still be stopped without the risk of a nuclear strike against Israel.

"Unless work on an Iranian nuclear bomb has definitively ended Israel will bomb Iran, with or without the agreement of the USA and NATO. In the last reckoning here, Israel is no state’s puppet. It has pressing concerns of it’s own, and will act on them.

"… Israel will act to stop this Muslim fundamentalist regime acquiring the possiblilty of inflicting nuclear death on the Jewish nation (and the Israeli Arab minority which would also be victims of a nuclear attack)".

I wrote: “The harsh truth is that there is good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity.”

I also wrote: “We do not advocate an Israeli attack on Iran, nor will we endorse it or take political responsibility for it. But if the Israeli air force attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?”

I asked from what point of view, in principle, could the “Left” condemn action by Israel to stop an Islamic fundamentalist regime, religious lunatics who deny Israel’s right to exist, acquiring the means to make a nuclear strike against it?

My starting point of course was that in principle Israel has a right to defend itself; I was discussing the responses of a “left” which in the main does not accept Israel’s right to exist, let alone defend itself.

I wrote: “ Our point of view is not that of Israeli or any other nationalism. We want Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian and other workers to unite and fight for a socialist Middle East.

"However, least of all should we back Ahmedinejad, or argue, implicitly or openly, that homicidal religious lunatics have a right to arm themselves with nuclear weapons — and that those they say they want to destroy should be condemned for refusing to stand idly by while they arm themselves to do the job.

"The latter, expressed in duff 'anti-imperialism', pretend, one-sided, pacifism and hysterical appeals to 'international law' and 'the UN', will be the response of the kitsch left to an Israeli attack. International socialists should have no truck with it.”

The assertion that I explicitly or implicitly "excused" an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran is doubly and triply nonsensical. Even if I "excused" or advocated a military strike, which I didn't, to assume that I would see no difference between that and a preemptive nuclear war on Iran would be nonsense on stilts.

And where does the idea that Israel might nuclear-bomb Iran come from? It is preposterous to assert that Israel might make a nuclear strike on Iran in any situation other than an "armageddon" in which Israel's existence was under immediate and overwhelming threat: indeed, it is more than a little lunatic. There is no calculable reason I know of to think Israel will do that. The effect of the nonsense though is

a) to demonise Israel just a little further than is common on the anti-Israeli left, and

b) to “excuse” Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons. The Weekly Worker is strangely "soft" on the Iranian clerical-fascist regime...

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, AWL believes that there should be an independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory alongside Israel — the so-named “Two States” solution.

We defend Israel’s right to exist and, logically, its right to defend itself. That does not necessarily mean agreeing with anything specific which the Israeli state does. It does mean utterly rejecting the typical Kitsch-Left automatic rejection of everything Israel does or might do in its own defense.

It means rejecting the prevalent idea on the “left” that Israel is, always was, and in all future situations will be, the source and embodiment of all evil in the middle-East.

We criticize Israel for oppressing the Palestinians, and for not using its present position of strength to reach a settlement with those in the Arab and Islamic world with whom a settlement can be reached, in the first place, the Palestinians.

All this is very much a minority position on the left, which in the main advocates an Arab state in all of pre-1948 Palestine, with religious but not national rights for the Jews of Israel who would be left in the Palestinian state.

Such a thing is inconceivable on any basis other than the conquest and destruction of Israel. We reject and oppose that and fight in our publications against the a-historical demonisation of Israel and Zionism — and in some cases “the Jews” — that goes with it, and on which it is grounded.

The idea of an imminent Israeli nuclear strike against Iran is as bonkers as I'd have to be to think of such a thing with anything except unqualified horror.

Our views are not, to understate it, popular on the left. We ourselves tend to be demonized for it. Much of the hysteria triggered by my article is a direct manifestation of the prevalent mass hysteria on the left about Israel and the Palestinians. We are “Zionists”. “pro-imperialists”, “racists” even.

I have the honour — and that is how I regard it — of being singled out for special abuse and demonisation. (It’s reached the stage that sometimes these days I’m afraid to go into a room alone, lest I perpetrate some “Zionist” atrocity against myself!).

There is a fundamental issue of current politics involved in all this Stalinist dung- pile, into which the WW has pulled AWL and the present writer:

Is it possible to have a rational discussion on the Middle-East and Israel — or on anything? — in the existing “left”? This doesn’t involve only the WWG, which is insignificant in its ideas, size, influence (it is “significant” only as the producer of a “left” gossip sheet). But the WWG gives it a sharp, indeed a loony, expression.

The WWG is a strange political formation with a very strange history and political “practice”. Over nearly 30 years they have produced a paper under three titles — the “Leninist” (!), “Daily Worker” (It wasn’t a daily, anymore than the miniscule WWG is the “CPGB” — and the “Weekly Worker”). Their main asset is that the paper passes for a well-informed source of information amongst those who don’t themselves know much about the affairs of the left.

In fact it’s a highly unreliable and capricious gossip sheet. The front page about my “excusing” [you are meant to read, “advocating”, “supporting”, “backing”] an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran shows anyone interested in having a measure of their reliability, just how reliable their “reports” are — they are spectacularly unreliable. They are capable of startling lies, like the one I'm discussing, when it suits their malice or their calculations of advantage. Or both. [After all an early Stalinist training must count for something!] They lie and invent or make hysterical and maliciously constructions on facts and factoids, and present the result as fact, as the “truth”.

WW’s idiotic libel is motivated immediately by the desire to recruit some young members — in one case re-recruit — from AWL. Their technique is the Stalinist technique of the heresy-hunt and the big — in this case preposterously big — lie.

This libel, when anyone can research the truth by looking up what I wrote, on the internet, shows something important about the 2 or 3 people who make up the hard core of the Weekly Worker Group. Their hysteria. Though they are most of the time very cynical manipulators, able nicely to calculate and control what they do and say, sometimes the underlying nuttiness breaks through. Here, I think they have overreached themselves a little.

I urge readers concerned with truth and with the moral hygiene of the left to circulate the statement and the other relevant documents, all of which are on the internet.

I demand a public and unequivocal apology from the Weekly Worker Group [the “CPGB”] prominently displayed in their paper; I demand the same space as that taken by their libellous fantasy-piece about me, to reply.

I also challenge them to agree to debate with me publicly on the Israel-Palestine question, at a meeting presided over by a commonly agreed Chair.


Comments from this section have been moved to the initial post


Submitted by Jason on Mon, 04/08/2008 - 20:28

One he wrote- "The harsh truth is that there is good reason for Israel to make a precipitate strike at Iranian nuclear capacity."

This isn't the same as advocating nuking Iran but certainly an attack by Israel should be condemed not given 'good reason'.

Then even more incredibly in this article he writes:
"From what point of view, in principle, could the “Left” condemn action by Israel to stop an Islamic fundamentalist regime, religious lunatics who deny Israel’s right to exist, acquiring the means to make a nuclear strike against it? "

This- as it is never answered in either this article or the original- is in plain English advocating an attack. Imagine this sentence in any normal context- 'From what point of view, in principle, could the “Left” condemn action by Israel to stop an Islamic fundamentalist regime, religious lunatics who deny Israel’s right to exist, acquiring the means to make a nuclear strike against it? ' it would be taken to mean- it cannot and should not be condemned.

If Matgamna had though said I mean this seriously- how can we oppose this attack - as oppose it we must and then answered himself then it may be excusable. But he doesn't.

And instead makes a joke out of wanting to nuke Iran by entitling his article 'How I came to advocate a nuclear strike on Iran'. As Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and as any attack on nuclear facilities would risk nuclear fall-out and as the Israeli state has attacked Syria recently then I suggest joking about nuking Iran is no laughing matter.

Recently I sent a letter round robin asking for support for an anti-deportartion campaign for a Kurdish student from Iranian occupied Kurdistan. I am certainly going to condemn and invite others to condemn a person who calls himself a socialist, a Marxist, a supporter of liberation advocating aerial bombardments that will in all likelihood result in mass murder.

The answer by the way, to Matgamna's rhetorical question (as he thinks there is no answer- none that he can give) is that socialists and democrats should oppose aerial bombardment of the Iranian working class, bombardment that could lead tot he deaths of thousands of working class Iranians, that would certianly strengthen the position of reactionaries in Iran, hamper the working class resistance and set back socialism and democracy in the region for decades.

That a so-called socialist website should allow such garbage, advocating the murder of ordinary working class people, to be printed without challege is deeply disturning and shameful.

Matgamana should be expelled from the AWL- failing this then the whole labour movement should condenm this shameful prowar stance.

AWL members break with Matgamna- oppose the murder of Iranian workers.

Submitted by Jason on Mon, 04/08/2008 - 22:26

PR article here

Yes Lawrence repost.

Iran hasn't got nuclear weapons nor is it on the verge of acquiring them. Even if it did is our role as socialist internationalists to advocate that the ruling class of another country launches military airstrikes on nuclear facilities. No. We advocate a mass working class movement to overthrow the dictatorship in Tehran as well as Tel Aviv.

Military attacks by the bourgeois or threats of them play into the hands of the rival bourgeois in ramping up nationalist fervour and way from proletarian internationalism. Quite simple really. David Broder can see it but the rest of the AWL are so far silent on this.

Despte having some good activists in some good campaigns this latest debacle really does expose the AWL politics as a t best hopelessly confused and at worst a vicious sectarian chauvinism (epitomised most clearly and honestly and appreantly proudly by Matgamna).

Submitted by Duncan on Tue, 05/08/2008 - 17:00

Libel according to the Cambridge University dictionary on line is defined as "a piece of writing which contains bad and false things about a person". I think that covers the Weekly Workers' sad little piece. As well as not understanding definitions of words many of the contributors to this "debate" seem incapable of reading the entirety of an article or understanding issues are more complicated than simple choices between good and bad. If Iran has nuclear capability and has sworn to destroy the Israeli state, most rational people (I do not include CPGB, Workers Power or Permanent Revolution members in that definition) would understand that Israel would have good reason to strike at that nuclear capability. We would not condemn the Israeli state for ensuring that genocide is not carried out against its people, but because it is a bourgeois state and because of everything that entails we don't support it. Can anyone else on the left walk and chew gum?

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 05/08/2008 - 18:12

engaging in hypothetical nonfactual statements doesn't get you off the hook.

Iran is currently being targetted by the imperialist powers and Israel. Ahmedinijad, a reactionary bourgeois ruler, is using this to shore up his power.

Socialists should be quite clear that we oppose an attack on Iran.
Matgamans though is very far from clear about opposing an attack on Iran- instead he writes about Israel's legitimate needs of self-defence, how there is very 'good reason.' etc. etc.

Instead we stand for solidarity with Iranian workers and indeed Palestinian and other Arab workers and all other workers in the Middle East against oppression, against class rule.

I haven't claimed Matgamna wants to nuke Iran, Duncan (perhaps you could show me where I have? but you can't because I haven't) but then Matgamana writing an article entitled "How I came to advocate an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran" is hardly helpful either, is it? Perhaps, more, sick, actually.

Given that there is a real threat to Iran then engaging in nonfactual hypotheticals on a so-called left socialist website is despicable.

I'll leave you to it and hope those members of the AWL who have some kind of principle do the right thing- immediately condemn the warmongering both of the bourgeois and that of their own members, try to overturn the decision of the AWL if they wish and if they can expell those who insist on advocating military attacks against Iran and if not leave the organisation. This should definitely be a split issue.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 05/08/2008 - 20:08

I'm not in favour of splits for their own sake, obviously, but where major imperialist powers are ramping up threats on Iran for a prominent member of a socialist organisation to blur the issue let alone come out with statements seemingly in favour of an attack is a pretty big deal.

And then we get MikeyMike trying to compare an Israeli soldier hypothetically shooting a terrorist about to press the switch- this again is a reactionary propaganda point implying possible justification based on hypotheticals completely unrelated to the real situation in Iran.

Does Israel have a right to exist? Yes. But should it have the right to oppress Palestinians, prevent their freedom of movement, bulldoze houses, torture and imprison a whole nation etc. etc. No. So we don't support Israel as it is now.
We should be for equal rights for Arab and Jewish workers- this means unambiguously the overthrow of the Israeli ruling class.

We should be for change from the working class organising in Iran, in Israel/Palestine, Iraq. Socialists should absolutely be against imperialist attack on Iran or a proxy or any other kind of military strike from Israel.

The position of Magamna and the AWL's silence on it suggests tacit support is a disgrace. So yes for those socialists in AWL who are principled this does pose the need for standing up and organising an opposition etc. or even leaving. The support for Israeli attacks or even equivocation on this is not just some mere detail!

Submitted by Duncan on Tue, 05/08/2008 - 21:57

Why not use "slander" because that refers to spoken word not written word. The definition I use for libel is the first one that comes up in a widely used English language dictionary, I would suggest that that means it is widely understood in our society to mean "a piece of writing which contains bad and false things about a person". Perhaps the CPGB should publish their own dictionary that deals with their own social context. There are different kind of rationalities to be sure, but anyone that doesn't understand the right of a nation to defend itself against an aggressive neighbour that keeps issuing threats, probably fails all definitions (save the CPGB's own) of rationality. Refusing to condemn is not the same as supporting. I would not condemn the police if they intervened to stop a case of domestic violence, I don't support them because they are the police. Maybe Lawrence and Jason would condemn them or maybe they would support them?

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 05/08/2008 - 22:36

Would I condmen police for stopping domestic violence? No. There may even be circumstances in which I'd call them. But I wouldn't suggest more police as a solution for domestic violence.

However, this is totally dishonest. Iran is being threatened and there is a very real likelihood Israel could attack. On Duncan's analogy this is like police stopping domestic violence. Sure we'd prefer the woman to fight back or the Iranian working class but hey of it's the police or Israeli fighter planes well far be it from us...

It's complete crap. Israeli attack will pluinge the whole of the Middle East into chaos. Not only will most likely several hundred if not thousands of workers be killed- but it will massively strengthen the hands of the reactionaries in the Iranian government and reactionaries in Israel and there will be a wave of violence throughout the Middle East.

Socialists should be absolutely clear- we are absolutely and unreservedly against an attack on Iran by the imperialists or Israel. The AWL are far from clear. It's "if the Israeli airforce attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?" It's "we would not call for or support an attack even in these circumstances, but would we continue to oppose it sharply?"
It repeats the lies of the imperialists. It helps prepare the ground for attack. It completely distracts from the necessary tasks to buld for walk-outs, strikes, demos against impeiralist attack and direct solidarity with Iranian workers and their struggles. It seeks to sow division in the working class and socialist case against an attack.

In short, it's a disgrace.

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 05/08/2008 - 22:38

Confession? Not far off. But in the end more like a sick joke- like he revels and is proud of his role.
"I have the honour — and that is how I regard it — of being singled out for special abuse and demonisation."

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 06/08/2008 - 10:20

I'm not sure there's much point going round endlessly in circles on this and anyway I'm away for a week or so from later today so I will leave it here after this post.

Firstly, to MikeyMikey I did in fact answer the question before. It is very easy to make up a scenario give it a yes/no question and then imply this has s0omething to do with the current situation even though that is a sleight of hand. As I wrote before. "And then we get MikeyMike trying to compare an Israeli soldier hypothetically shooting a terrorist about to press the switch- this again is a reactionary propaganda point implying possible justification based on hypotheticals completely unrelated to the real situation in Iran. "

That means the answer is pretty obvious. But for the sake of someone who seems somewhat oblivious to the obvious- the answer to your made up hypothetical example is Yes. Does this excuse warmongering reactionary propaganda from members of a so-called socialist organisation? (The answer is No).

I'll just end with some more general points. The AWL has a pretty bad reputation on the left in general. At times as with Matgamna's piece I think this may be due to a deliberate controversialist courting of seeing how much it is possible to offend people seeing what sick image I can use etc. With others I get the feeling it is a lot less malicious. There are good socialists and activists in the AWL. At times some of their points are worth debating certainly. I'm not convinced it is worth denouncing them as imperialist, chauvinist etc. but instead patiently discussing how if for example you oppose 'troops out now' then this ends up in some way at least being a problem or how insisting on two states when one state is systematically oppressing a whole people as well as exploiting all workers (it's a capitalist state after all) is a problem. It is possible to have a fraternal debate with many comrades even when our positions differ fairly sharply or at least on subjects that arouse a great deal of emotion (because they’re about war, oppression, life and death etc.) where poor choices of words or formulations lead to unnecessary confusion.

However, excusing or even being equivocal about an attack on Iran by Israel when such an attack is if not on the cards not ruled out is a different matter. A line has been crossed here.

I'm not for driving the AWL out of the labour movement whatever that is meant to mean. We of course should still work together in antifascism in union work and in all the rest. But having such views is very compromising. It does need to be pointed out that it is quite a reactionary, chauvinist and unacceptable position. I had hoped that a section of the AWL would recoil from Matgamna's ill conceived and offensive comments. Perhaps they still will. It's up to them. I'm sure the more reasonable members can work out whether it's worth a faction fight or just to walk away.

Submitted by Duncan on Wed, 06/08/2008 - 10:32

Given the standard of most modern journalism it would perhaps be useful for Lawrence to introduce his friends to dictionaries. Dictionaries generally reflect society's use of words, they are not static and are revised regularly, I accept they may be behind on youth-parlance etc, but the word libel is hardly that. Given I don't move in social circles with journalists (I'm pleased to say) but surely for definitions of words we should look to dictionaries rather than anecdotal evidence. Interestingly on the police and domestic violence issue, Lawrence makes good abstract propaganda but does little for those currently facing immediate threat, I would love to see him arguing this with those currently under threat. Jason seems to support the police. If I worked on the Weekly Workers my headlines would be "Lawrence of the CPGB allows domestic violence to go unchecked", "Jason of Permanent Revolution supports the police" now would that be libel or slander, Lawrence?

Submitted by Duncan on Wed, 06/08/2008 - 12:17

Lawrence says"Why is arguing for people to organise in their communities "good abstract propaganda" and arguing for the police to sort out domestic violence sound practical advice? Why is arguing for the working class to decide 'foreign policy' abstract and standing aside while Israeli hawks batter Iran (or vice versa, Iranian hawks attacking Israel) pragmatic advice?" The answer is if the working class was in a situation, which we in the AWL aspire to help it achieve, of being able to deal with every little thug who wants to beat up his partner and alter the balance of politics in the middle east, then we would be having a different discussion, but we aren't. Given that situation we are not anarchists, we accept that it is better to have a state intervene than allow violence against individuals we cannot protect. We do that whilst making clear that the state is responsible for a lot of the violence in society and is set up to protect capital and the bourgeoisie. Lawrence is totally ultra-left, what would he say to a woman whose partner is beating her, wait until the working class is strong enough to intervene, whilst I make loud propaganda. Similarly with the Israeli working class, Lawrence's message to them is either you overthrow your bourgeoisie create a socialist federation of the middle east (with other working classes who also need to get with the programme) or immediately you should wait prostrate for the theocratic regime of Iran to do its worst. With socialists like this it is not surprising that much of the Israeli working class looks to hawkish politicians to protect them. I'm sorry I accused Lawrence of being a member of the CPGB, can I suggest he considers joining them.

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