Israel-Iran: For Reason in Politics!

Submitted by cathy n on 21 August, 2008 - 6:06 Author: Editorial, Solidarity, 21 August, 2008

The discussion piece in the last Solidarity (3/136), "What if Israel bombs Iran?" provoked an explosion of website hysteria from a coalition of self-righteous people who, most of them, themselves support the Iranian mullahs having nuclear bombs, and who deny Israel's right to exist.

The mind of the "Left" on the Middle East is typically the confused mix we have had on the AWL web-site: selective, one-sided, pacifism, deep hostility to Israel and an absolute "anti-imperialism" that leads them to back some of the most regressive political forces on the planet.

In the event of an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, that "left", some explicitly, some implicitly, will defend the "right" of the clerical-fascist, "absolute anti-Zionist" regime in Iran to have nuclear weapons.

Is there any issue other than Israel that would have generated anything like the outcry which our "discussion piece" triggered for daring to say that Israel has good reason to fear, and react to, an Iranian nuclear bomb?

In face of the political hysteria, it will be worthwhile for us to restate where we stand on the contentious and emotion-loaded issues around Israel, and about debate and discussion on the left.

  • Issues such as those raised in the "discussion-piece", including a candid assessment of the Israeli case for an attack on Iran's nuclear installations, can, should and will be discussed openly and frankly on the serious left, and in Solidarity, without heresy-baiting and attempts to stifle rational discussion by uproar.
  • The serious left should and will stand implacably against Iran having nuclear weapons. "Solidarity" with Iran has already led the "left" to the idea that Iran's right to "self-determination" must include a right to develop nuclear weapons. International socialists should have no truck with that. See our statement "No to the mullahs' bomb", above.
  • We will oppose any response to an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations that implicitly defends the "right" of Iran to develop nuclear weapons. We will oppose the duff "anti-imperialism", pretend, one-sided, pacifism and hysterical appeals to "international law" and "the UN", which will be the response of the pseudo-left to an Israeli attack.
  • Of course, we do not advocate, nor will we endorse or take political responsibility for, an Israeli attack on Iran: we are against such an action.
  • Israel has the right to exist and, therefore, the right to defend itself. We condemn the absolute Anti-Zionist "left" which rejects that.
  • The only just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two sovereign states, each in contiguous territory, Palestine side by side with Israel — and, to the point, Israel side by side with Palestine.
  • We oppose and fight the demonisation of Israel and "Zionism" on the "left", and the de-facto anti-semitism that flows from it — comprehensive hostility to the Zionist identity which the terrible events of the twentieth century stamped on Jews. That originates with Stalinism, but is now the special badge of honour of professed "Trotskyists". It is normally expressed with the special animosity and vehemence spewed out in our website "discussion".
  • The best interests of the Palestinians lie in achieving a peaceful two states settlement with Israel — and as soon as possible.
  • The real friends of the Palestinian people are those who want that, not those who try to make the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in all of pre-1948 Palestine the pre-condition for a settlement of the Palestinian question.
  • Those "anti-imperialists" who pose as friends of the Palestinians while expressing their fixed animosity to Israel and "Zionism" in a rejection of any solution that does not involve Israel's destruction, who are concerned more to see Israel destroyed than to see the Palestinians able to reconstruct their lives, are no friends of the Palestinian people.
  • Most of the kitsch left's "anti-imperialist" rhetoric, in general and about the Palestinians in particular, is empty and stupid bombast. It lines them up with out-and-out reactionaries — here, with Islamic clerical fascists— and turns them into ventriloquists' dummies for reactionary right wing politics. They are "reactionary anti-imperialists". All proportions guarded, and changing what needs to be changed, that "left" now has more than a little in common with the "Red-Brown" bloc between "communists" and fascist nationalists that emerged in post-Stalinist Russia. The "anti-imperialists" who think Islamic clerical fascism can be progressive anti-imperialism — the strange socialists (socialists!) who saw progress in the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian elections, and want victory everywhere it is active for "militant" "anti-imperialist" Islamic clerical fascism — have lost the political plot: they have lost their way. Theirs, we think, is an "anti-imperialism of idiots." To believe that the foul ditch-waters of Islamic clerical fascism and reactionary anti-imperialism can turn into the socialist wine of progress and liberation is, we think, self-evident nonsense.

***
We asked in the last issue of Solidarity for a rational discussion of the still probable Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear installations, and what attitude socialists should take to that and to Iran having nuclear weapons. What we got was a chorus of spluttering abuse. (And from the hard-pressed poor loons who control the Weekly Worker, the charge that the author of the discussion piece, Sean Matgamna, "excused" — you are meant to read: "justified", "advocated" — an Israeli nuclear strike at Iran!)

We got the concentrated eruption of anti-Israel hysteria that we'd hoped to avoid by discussing it in advance — extravagant loathing, violent abuse and Stalinist-vintage demands that the writer of the "discussion piece" be silenced. In short, we got a noxious stream of the "absolute anti-Zionism" and vicarious Arab and Islamic chauvinism in which the left is drowning; we got an exhibition-bout of the "anti-Zionist" moral, political and emotional black-jacking that for a long time now has made real discussion of these questions on the "left" difficult to the point of impossibility.

And what we "got" was, of course, only what young Jews in the colleges get, and have been getting for a very long time wherever the kitsch-left is strong enough to dish it out (youngsters who, unlike us, have not become hardened to it).

The picture of the Left that emerges from this episode is a true likeness of the political confusion, brute intolerance of dissent, and rampaging moral imbecility of what passes for a revolutionary left in Britain in the first decade of the twenty-first century!

We have also in the outcry had a pretty good ad hoc approximation to the "internal regimes" and the atmosphere inside and "around" the typical kitsch-left group.

So then, we should conclude that it is simply not possible on the "left" to have a rational discussion about Israel and the Middle East, or of specific problems like the Iranian regime's probable or possible drive for nuclear weapons? That, even after 60 years, it is not possible to discuss the proposition that Israel has a right to exist — and therefore an inalienable right to defend itself — without the "socialist" friends and "anti-imperialist" champions of Islamic clerical-fascism howling down anyone who disagrees with them? Can we get discussion without scenes as when, at the European Social Forum in October 2004, such people shouted down Subhi al Mashadani, General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, because he wasn't ‘anti-imperialist’ enough for them?

The howl-fest we have had on the AWL website seems to answer unequivocally: "No!"

But that is not the only answer or the final one. Another answer is given by the AWL's determination to raise such questions as forcefully and as often as necessary: Yes, it is. Yes!

One of the preconditions for the revival of a serious revolutionary socialist left, as distinct from the frequently disgusting comedy of the grotesque that passes for one now, is the restoration of the habit of rational discussion and honest examination of political positions and experiences.

The AWL, within our limitations, will continue to practice and to defend that approach.

Comments

Submitted by Jason on Tue, 26/08/2008 - 18:31

it is good that the AWL is happy to have comments on its website and seems to actively encourage debate. However, when people do disagree what happens? Posts such as this- one printed in the paper and therefore I presume the policy of the AWL- until or if challenged at least.

I am one of the people who disagreed with a policy of not condemning an Israeli attack on Iran. For this I am called 'kitsch'; 'noxious'; 'emotional'; 'grotesque'; 'disgusting'; not 'honest'; not 'rational'; and - actually worst of all in its dishonesty- a supporter of the Iranian dictatorship and a 'champion' of Islamic clerical fascism.

This is not a serious or sensible way to argue, comrades. It is in fact not a form of argument but susbtitutes apolitical insult. It really is quite counter-productive.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 27/08/2008 - 23:38

For the third time my comment has been deleted. You say, "We welcome debate and discussion. Log in with a user name, and you can add comments to the posts on this site. We reserve the right to delete comments which are racist or sexist, commercial advertising, abusive, or simply so excessive in volume as to crowd out other discussion."

However, this is clearly not the case. As it happens because of my appalling typing I put my comments in Word to spell check and as today I was working on an essay had left the Word document up with my original comment. Readers of this site can judge for themselves whether my comment was racist, sexist, commercial advertising or abusive. Or simply excessive. Bill's comment- also deleted- merely points out that the AWL support racist immigration controls to Israel, support the occupation in Iraq and therefore the AWL are not really interested in debate. My comment was that this may be true of the leadership and presumably the majority but perhaps not everyone- it was
"My and Bill's post have been deleted. Strange, eh? Perhaps it was an error- I somewhat doubt it. Tine will tell whether this post remains!

Anyway here's mine again (in response to Bill’s which argued that we should not be surprised given the AWL’s support of reactionary politics):

But I think there may well be people in the AWL not entirely happy with this state of affairs. And also others who follow these exchanges who cannot be dismissed either.
I think there are people in the AWL worth speaking to - of course- and many are open to reason, unfortunately the ruling clique sees fit to play loyalty games and bandy insults to anyone who disagrees with them- for example calling them 'idiotic' or questioning their state of mind.

See this on David Broder who has apparently resigned. David’s article

Of course the antics in the AWL like in some other Trotskyist and left groups are sad in a way but not entirely surprising. This is why we in Permanent Revolution are calling for a new way to look at things, a new way of working etc. Permanent Revolution Our Way Forward

Of course many will disagree with us even on issues like Iran (where we are for working class revolution, against imperialist or proxy attacks and against the dictatorship and for working class organisation internationally against these attacks and oppression). Fair enough, you can even disagree within PR in public without loyalty oaths. But of course many might not want to join us. Fair enough as well. It would be good to get together with activists including those in left groups and those not to look at how we can begin to rebuild the left, socialism and the working class movement."

But anyway now forewarned I'll expect further deletion and who knows banning. Some democracy! Some openness!

Submitted by paulm on Thu, 28/08/2008 - 00:31

In reply to by Jason

Grow up Jason. I don't know if the AWL has deleted your posts, but really, the two of you just post the same stuff, over and over again.

And as above repeat crap about loyalty oaths and claim the AWl isn't open and democratic. This from a group who've spent the last 30 years banning members from saying what they actually think in public. The "ruling clique" as you call is elected every year. Each and every shit stirring claim has been answered in detail on the Shiraz thread. Start telling the truth for once. You might like it.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 28/08/2008 - 06:52

If people are interested in the truth then perhaps it is worth pointing out that I didn't write 'loyalty oath' as Paul M quotes- David did I know. I wrote 'loyalty game'. As TomU says post 111 on the Shiraz post David was asked in to the office “to write an article attacking the ridiculous ‘Weekly Worker’ front page"- whether you want to call this a loyalty oath is perhaps semantic but it does indicate a culture whereby if someone criticises the leadership then certain tasks are asked of them, a task that in this case David felt was being singled out in a particular way.
The truth is also that people who disagree with the AWL are routinely characterised as 'idiotic', supporters of 'fascists', 'disgusting', 'noxious'; 'hysterical'; 'grotesque'- all quotes from this article (published as an editorial in Solidarity the AWL paper).
The leadership group is elected- I don't doubt it. That doesn't prevent the emergence of a clique protected by a mechanism of insulting and deriding those who question it- for example questioning people's intellectual ability (David is 'stupid'), their sanity (David is 'raving' and 'ranting'), their personality (David is 'vain and arrogant' - all in for example posts 312 plus several others on the Shiraz site) and I need to grow up- even though Paul M on the same Shiraz site says "- you and your mate Bj deserve to get stuff deleted, because it’s the same crap over and over again. One last thing: the MB and some other soft headed fools, the AWL seems to come out of this well to me. They gave this young comrade a lot of time and space for him to indulge himself, but enough was enough."
So those who disagree or at least some of them are 'soft-headed fools'? Hardly, a winning way with words.
The truth becomes unfortunately that a lot of the left are in denial about the state of the world- some lie routinely about what they’re about, some maneuver some claim that the crash and worldwide catastrophe is just around the corner. The AWL- or at least a large part of it- seem to use emotional rhetoric/abuse in order to keep the heat from a leading member who refused to condemn an Israeli attack on Iran- even before it has happened! Just like many refuse to call for 'troops out' of Iraq- a position synonymous with support for imperialism.
There has to be another way. Socialism should and can be about winning arguments with people, offering a different way of operating pointing to a world where the working class runs society not cliques, not elites but working class democracy based on open, fraternal engaging argument. I’m sure some in the AWL would be interested in such a form of socialism and certainly the group tries at times to promote it but if certain people are disagreed with too frankly or too openly then down come the shutters and out comes the thesaurus for more ways of characterising people as noxious, disgusting, idiotic, sick etc. The problem for the leadership of the AWL is that promoting statements refusing to condemn Israeli attacks on Iran, refusing to call for troops out of Iraq and browbeating those who raise practical solidarity with Palestine just won’t wash without the resort to emotionalism.

The truth is that until we break from these methods that the left is unlikely to win new recruits for socialism in the workers’ movement until we can debate openly and honestly without resort to emotional abuse.

Submitted by Janine on Thu, 28/08/2008 - 13:16

Jason, you seem to have developed a habit of stating that when the AWL calls some of its critics 'hysterical' or whatever, that means the AWL is calling all its critics by definition hysterical etc.

Firstly, when critics do hysterical things, such as the WW front page with the mushroom cloud, we are entitled to call them hysterical.

Secondly, your generalisation that if we call some critics or criticism hysterical then we are calling all who disagree with us hysterical, is disingenuous - bad logic as well as bad politics.

You'd do yourself and this debate a favour if you stopped doing this.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 28/08/2008 - 15:45

It would be a good argument, Janine, but it doesn't quite work because whilst you're right that for example the WW headline was exaggerated and perhaps even hysterical, this AWL editorial (from the newspaper Solidarity and an editorial i.e. expressing the views of the organisation) doesn't actually say 'some' responses or even 'most' were hysterical- it says
"What we got was a chorus of spluttering abuse. (And from the hard-pressed poor loons who control the Weekly Worker, the charge that the author of the discussion piece, Sean Matgamna, "excused" — you are meant to read: "justified", "advocated" — an Israeli nuclear strike at Iran!)

We got the concentrated eruption of anti-Israel hysteria that we'd hoped to avoid by discussing it in advance — extravagant loathing, violent abuse and Stalinist-vintage demands that the writer of the "discussion piece" be silenced. In short, we got a noxious stream of the "absolute anti-Zionism" and vicarious Arab and Islamic chauvinism in which the left is drowning; we got an exhibition-bout of the "anti-Zionist" moral, political and emotional black-jacking that for a long time now has made real discussion of these questions on the "left" difficult to the point of impossibility.

And what we "got" was, of course, only what young Jews in the colleges get, and have been getting for a very long time wherever the kitsch-left is strong enough to dish it out (youngsters who, unlike us, have not become hardened to it)."

It doesn't say some were like this but it was 'what we "got"'. I contributed to the debate as did Dan and Bill none of whom were demanding what you say- and without going back to look at it I'm not particularly sure any were engaging in violent abuse or anti-Semitic.

So, yes, if I was exaggerating you’d have a point. Unfortunately for your argument the bad habits seem to mainly lay with some of the AWL members' response (not all and only mainly- the CPGB headline and picture of a mushroom cloud was I think out of order and could have been answered far more convincingly by a soberly judged piece of reason- however that was not the case).

So yes the socialist left does need to get out of bad habits- I'd agree. But I think those in the AWL who are genuinely determined to do this need to take a good long hard look at the organisation and some of the pieces penned as editorial and the culture of debate it engenders- not one of open discussion but of emotional clannish loyalties.

Submitted by martin on Thu, 28/08/2008 - 17:32

Hi Jason. You think that the Weekly Worker thing accusing Sean of endorsing ("excusing") an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran was "out of order". Maybe - you don't comment, as far as I can see - you think that the WW's appeal to throw Sean, or the AWL, out of the labour movement was also excessive.

But you still think the "main" problem is the AWL's response to such stuff!

You construct this argument by finding all the condemnatory adjectives in our article, whatever the noun they may have been attached to there, and presenting this as if they were all applied to you personally for nothing worse than "disagreeing with not condemning" an Israeli attack on Iran.

Did you read the article you comment on? It says: "Of course, we do not advocate, nor will we endorse or take political responsibility for, an Israeli attack on Iran: we are against such an action."

That is not the issue. The issue is that many of the left - including you - support the "mullahs' bomb" - the "right" of Iran to have nuclear weapons - and do not recognise any right to self-determination for the Israeli Jews.

We think those views very bad, and express ourselves accordingly. Our literary style, or the style of some of our writers, is too harsh? We could discuss that...

But not on the basis of the conflation that all harsh words used against political positions are personal abuse of this or that individual who has the position. And not on the basis that, in a case of outright libel and witch-hunting (or, rather, pretentious pipsqueak "we're-really-tough" appeals for a witch-hunt), the "main problem" is not the libel and witch-hunting, but too-harsh adjectives used in response to it!

Martin Thomas

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 29/08/2008 - 00:17

I'm not saying they applied to me personally- only that all opinions were lumped together. I already on the original thread said that I disagreed with the call to throw Sean Matgamna out of the labour movement. What does it mean anyway- it's a bizarre and essentially meaningless call. But the use of emotive abuse to cover positions that for example refuse to condemn an attack on Iran is a distraction from what is actually very bad politics.

The article- which I did read, strangely enough as I am commenting on it (another slightly underhand insinuation actually) - does say "Of course, we do not advocate, nor will we endorse or take political responsibility for, an Israeli attack on Iran: we are against such an action. " and then immediately says
"Israel has the right to exist and, therefore, the right to defend itself."

We disagree. Israel as a racist state that excludes and oppresses Palestinian Arabs should not exist in its current state- we should be for a democratic secular state. This is not the same as the destruction of Israel- a deliberately ambiguous phrase that perhaps implies the physical destruction of Israeli Jews- a barbaric position that no one on the left subscribes to (though of course some on the reactionary Islamist right do- and which we condemn).

As for Iran having nuclear weapons- where do I say I support that? You just assume I do. Two points- Iran (unlike Israel) does not have nuclear weapons; we support HOPI that calls for a nuclear free Middle East.

The AWL support the right of the state of Israel to defend itself and say this in the context of an editorial defending an article by Sean Matgamna that refuses to condemn an attack by the Israeli state on Iran.

The AWL refuses to call for troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The AWL supports a two state solution to Israel/Palestine and the right of Israel to exist as a racist state. These are all problems.

For an interesting socialist perspective on Iran see this article by Revolution)

Submitted by Janine on Fri, 29/08/2008 - 09:52

Jason, your reply to my point is not convincing. If an editorial says "What we got was ...", that is not the same as "Every single critic of the discussion article we printed ..." I published an article critical of Sean's article on Stroppyblog. It did not even cross my mind to think that I was included in the "What we got ..." description. That was clearly aimed at the authors of the "spluttering abuse" that it rightly describes, not authors of reasonable disagreement.

I know you like to think that you debate politely and honestly. So let's look at this sentence from your last comment: "The AWL supports a two state solution to Israel/Palestine and the right of Israel to exist as a racist state."

Why did you sneak in those last four words? Where, exactly, does the AWL advocate the right of Israel to exist *as a racist state*, as against what we do advocate: the right of Israel to exist?

Further, I can not see that the phrase 'destruction of Israel' is ambiguous at all, let alone deliberately so. How exactly will your single democratic, secular state come into being without the destruction of Israel? Is your plan simply to make Israel democratic, secular and non-oppressive to Palestinians (which I'd agree with) then urge the Palestinians to drop their aspiration to a Palestinian state alongside it (which I wouldn't agree with)? And if you argue that Israel "has no right to exist", then it is hard for you to complain if people conclude that you are in favour of its destruction!

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 29/08/2008 - 10:38

We're for the overthrow of the current racist state in Israel and its replacement by a democratic workers' state that unlike the present one allows Palestinians democratic rights, freedom of movement etc. and is based on legal, political and social equality between Jewish, Arab and other peoples. The AWL demagogically calls this the destruction of Israel as if to imply that this is somehow identified with anti-Semitism whereas it is in fact a demand for the end of systematic racist discrimination. The AWL may well advocate some changes in Israel but every time the issue is mentioned or even basic solidarity with Palestinians it is accompanied by rhetoric demanding two states, defending Israel, defending the idea of a separate Palestine, defending Israel's right to self-defence and almost always accusing everyone who disagree with being anti-Semitic, idiotic, kitsch and so on.

So are we for the destruction of Israel? If someone said to you, "You communists want to destroy Britain, are you for the destruction of Britain?" what would we say. You could say- yes, Britain is a racist imperialist state and it should be destroyed but it would be a very curious turn of phrase. It would be much more sensible to say we want to change Britain into a democratic society based on power for ordinary working class people, to destroy the current state based on privilege, racism, war certainly but to create a different society based on freedom and equality. So are we for the destruction of Britain? No we are for creating a workers' state based on freedom and equality (including acknowledging the right of different nationalities to autonomy up to and including independence without advocating that). Are we for the destruction of Israel? No we are for creating a bi-national workers' state of Israel/Palestine based on freedom and equality (including acknowledging the right of different nationalities to autonomy up to and including independence without advocating that)

If you can't see that the editorial apparently calling for reason in politics proceeded to smear the whole left except the AWL with these sins then you must be reading it very differently from me or I'd suggest almost any casual reader. Anyway I'm going to have to leave it here for now and possibly the next few days due to various engagements and a minor operation etc.

Jason

Jason

Submitted by Janine on Fri, 29/08/2008 - 17:42

In reply to by Jason

So, what you are in favour of, Jason, is making Israel a much nicer place. And what you are against is an independent Palestine alongside it.

I'm sure you wouldn't put it like that, but it seems to me that is what you are saying.

Good luck with the op.

Submitted by sacha on Fri, 29/08/2008 - 11:36

Jason,

1. And so we revisit this: you are for the right of the "different nationalities" in Palestine (two main ones, yes?) to self-determination up to and including independence. But if in the future, after the hypothetical creation of a binational state, why not now - given that both the two main Palestinian nationalities want their independence now? And given the national conflict and the desire for independence on both sides, how do you expect this binational state or federation to come into existence, except after a period of independent existence for the two nationalities?

This is not a "stages theory": we fight the class struggle now, and at every point, and do not exclude that a workers' upsurge might bypass the necessity of two states. But the point of a programme is to help the workers to move forward in any including the worst possible situations, not to base itself on the hope that some future upsurge of class struggle will make democratic demands irrelevant.

Marx advocated a federation of Britain and Ireland: but that did not stop him demanding independence for Ireland, "alongside Britain" (I use quotation marks because obviously that's what it meant - unfortunately in the case of Israel-Palestine we are forced to the use the phrase "alongside Israel") immediately.

2. We support the Palestinians' struggle against Israeli occupation; we oppose Israel's imperialist attempts to dominate the surrounding region, which is also why eg we sharply opposed Israel's invasion of Lebanon. In the student movement, the SWP etc were demanding "Ceasefire now", while we found ourselves saying "Israel out of Lebanon" - and being opposed by them as ultra-left!

Sacha

Submitted by Jason on Fri, 29/08/2008 - 18:22

Sacha asks, "why not now - given that both the two main Palestinian nationalities want their independence now? And given the national conflict and the desire for independence on both sides, how do you expect this binational state or federation to come into existence, except after a period of independent existence for the two nationalities?"

The answer is because one group, the Palestinians, are forced into exile for the most art, millions living in refugee camps, going back to a time only a couple of generations back when they were forced at gunpoint or fear of gunpoint to leave their homes and for those Palestinians who live in the Palestinian territory they are forced to be subjected to pass laws to enter Israel, to checkpoints, Israeli military incursions, police brutality and torture (from both the Israeli and Palestinian state), to summary expulsions and the rest. The Palestinian Arabs should have the right to live in all parts of historic Palestine. Of course there is a massive and added complexity that now many other people live there and they also should have the right of abode and the only solution should be on the basis of joint class struggle and democracy- not easy at all and probably not solvable except as part of a revolutionary process going beyond Israel/Palestine to the neighbouring Arab dictatorships. However, advocating that one group should be forced into a homeland set up by the Israeli ruling class- albeit with the connivance of the Palestinians bourgeois- is totally unacceptable and undemocrati

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