By John O'Mahony
Everything is relative Some years ago, A., an American-Egyptian woman came to London on a holiday to stay with her long-time friend, Elizabeth, and myself. Naturally, Middle-Eastern politics came up for discussion. We showed her copies of Socialist Organiser, Solidarity's predecessor, to see what she thought about its coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Socialist Organiser then, as Solidarity now, aroused horror and wide revulsion on the kitsch left for its advocacy of a two-state resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its opposition to the demonisation of Israel and "the Zionists". The SWP's printshop which had printed the Organiser for years had in the late 80s refused to continue that commercial relationship because of what SO was saying on the Middle East.
The SWP doesn't have many binding principles, but demonising "Zionists" and advocating the destruction of the Zionist state of Israel is one of them.
And A? As you may have anticipated, she said she found SO refreshingly pro-Arab. Compared to what? The New York press? A. came from the US mid-West.
A. was not an inarticulate, downtrodden, isolated half-Arab American, starved of articles supportive of Arab/Palestinian rights. She was an educated bourgeois woman whose father ran a newspaper for Egyptian-Americans; her father-in-law was some sort of mainstream political bigwig-a state senator, or something like that.
True, she was no sort of leftist, but a bigoted ideologically tooled-up believer in the capitalist system. She had never had the benefit of having her consciousness on the Middle East raised by exposure to a "left wing" publication such as Socialist Worker.
What brought this reminder of how relative things are back to me was the story now going the rounds among scandal-mongering guardians of the pseudo-left consensus on the Middle-East-it seems to have originated in the Weekly Worker-that a supporter of Solidarity described himself as "a little bit Zionist".
What, I wondered, had they done to some poor sod to reduce him to such stumbling, mumbling mealy-mouthedness about it? A "little bit Zionist"?
A Zionist is anyone who believes in a Jewish state as a solution to the age-long "Gentile Question" which, taking a variety of ideological, political, religious, and "national liberationist" forms, has plagued the "people without a state" for 2,000 years.* In practice now it means a belief in the right of Israel to exist and defend its existence.
The overwhelming majority of the people of Britain and Europe are this sort of "Zionist". Not a "little bit Zionist", but Zionist in the fundamental historical sense of the word.
But not, of course, the British pseudo-left. There, calling someone a "Zionist" is not too far off calling him a racist. In any case it is to call him a traitor to every value a decent, sane socialist holds dear.
To say in the current atmosphere on the left that someone "admitted" to being "a little bit Zionist" is to say that he tried to straddle two incompatible positions: the belief that the Jewish state has a right to exist and the belief that its existence is a racist, imperialist abomination.
You are either for the Jewish state-Israel or a modified Israel-continuing to exist or for what the pseudo-left is for-its destruction. You can't be a "little bit Zionist"" or a little bit anti-Zionist. Your are either one or the other.
Anyone who believes in an equitable two-state solution to the Jewish-Palestinian Arab conflict is of course right now in the first place concerned to support the Palestinians against the preponderant military might of Israel; supports the people who lack a state, the Palestinians; knows that the "cutting edge" of the "two states" proposal now is support for the Palestinian drive to win their own state; knows that the missing pillar of what a two-state settlement must be is the pillar of an independent Palestinian state.
But "two states" means not only the right of the Palestinians to a state alongside Israel, but also Israel's right to exist alongside the Palestinian state.
What is the alternative to two states?
You adapt, on one side, the viewpoint of the most bigoted of the ideologically motivated Jewish settlers, that the Palestinians have no "right" in Samaria and Judea-the West Bank-because 2,000 years ago these were inhabited by Jews.
Or, on the other side, you embrace the viewpoint of those Arabs and Islamists who say that the Jews have no rights in what was after 1918, the British administered territory of "Palestine", and, before the collapse of the Turkish Empire, South Syria.
You don't think the choices are limited to these? Why not a secular democratic state? Equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs in a common state? Why not?
The secular democratic state is a political "unicorn". Just as the mythical unicorn was formed by the purely mental operation of amalgamating a horse and a goat, the secular democratic state is formed by mentally amalgamating two peoples who have been in bitter conflict for three-quarters of a century, into equal citizens of a joint state: it is something that could not exist in reality.
The Arab supporters of a secular democratic state understand by it an Arab state with at best religious rights for Jews.
It presupposes the dismantling of the Jewish state-either by way of voluntary self-dismantling, or by way of Arab conquest.
The former is inconceivable. No nation in history-not even people less insecure than the Israeli Jews-has ever dismantled its own state.
If Israel were to be dismantled by force of Arab conquest, then at the end of that bloody business you would not get Jewish-Arab equality in a secular democratic state.
In real politics, in the real world, advocacy of an ideal secular democratic state has functioned as a staging post towards commitment to an Arab conquest of Israel as the way to get it, or as code for that.
The real alternative to being "a Zionist" in the sense of supporting a Jewish state side by side with a Palestinian state is covert or blatant support for the destruction of the Jewish state.
On these questions there are only "Zionists" and "anti-Zionists"-in the basic meaning of the word.
Either you support Israel's right to exist or the Arab-Islamist chauvinist's "project" to destroy it.
One of the things that led to the present disastrous situation in the Middle East was the refusal of the Arabs for many decades to accept Israel's right to exist. The PLO only did so formally in 1988. The Arab League summit last March offered general Arab recognition of Israel, in return for withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel had offered that "deal" in September 1967 soon after it occupied those territories.
The problem now is complicated by the existence of a chauvinist government in Israel.
For half a century the biggest organisations of the British "revolutionary" left, first the WRP and then the SWP, have preached a vicarious Arab chauvinist understanding of the Middle-East conflict.
They have hammered the idea that hostility to Israel is a socialist and anti-imperialist principle into the minds and emotions of those they have educated - that is generations of socialists.
AWL, against this background, is easily depicted as strange and eccentric. Yet, if you compare the British left with the left across Europe, you find something surprising. It is the broad British "left" that is radically out of step.
I don't want to sound like the woman watching her son, the soldier, on patrol who says: "Oh look, they are all out of step but my Johnny!"
Still less do I want to sound as if I think alignment with the "bigger battalion" necessarily proves that one is right. The big battalion can be wrong.
The British "left" consensus on the Jewish-Arab conflict is wrong because it offers no conceivable way forward for the Palestinians; because it offers no way forward for either the Israeli or the Arab working class; because it necessarily involves demonising the Jews.
Nonetheless, it is of some interest that the "consensus" in the British left is out of step with much of the left in Europe.
Take the movement against the recent war. That was very strong all across Europe and far beyond it. The British anti-war movement was "different" however.
One of its central slogans was "freedom for Palestine". Not "a Palestinian state, side by side with Israel"-that is, two states-but "freedom" for an undefined "Palestine". Pre-1948 Palestine? Palestine according to the pre-1967 borders between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza?
The slogan was kept general, vague and abstract like that to encompass the biggest catchment area. For who, watching the unequal struggle between the Israeli armed forces and the underarmed Palestinians, could be against "freedom for Palestine"? Even George Bush has called for "freedom for Palestine".
It's a pretty safe assumption I think that for most of the people beyond the regular "left", "Freedom for Palestine" meant, however vaguely, freedom for present-day Palestine alongside Israel.
In fact, for the political organisations who imposed this slogan on the movement against war with Iraq, the SWP, and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB, the Muslim Brotherhood), "Palestine" means pre-1948, pre-Israel Palestine.
SWP/MAB made willingness to accept or agree to tolerate their Arab-chauvinist political "solution" to the Jewish-Arab conflict a pre-condition for participation in the anti-war movement!
For a certainty, that excluded a lot of Jewish people who want freedom for Palestine in the sense of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Thus is was "sectarian" in the narrowest sense of the word-the bureaucratic imposition of an Arab-Islamic chauvinist view of the Jewish-Arab conflict on a movement principally about something else-war.
Among other things, this put them formally to the right of the PLO which advocates-too often ambivalently-a two-states solution.
It was radically out of step with the anti-war campaigns of most of the left in the rest of Europe, where the "consensus" is for a two-states solution. Agitation there in support of the oppressed Palestinians is not, unlike in Britain, simultaneously agitation, implicit or explicit, for the destruction of Israel.
But who exactly are the targets of the venomous anti-Zionism of the British left?
If you pay attention you'll notice that in fact Zionism as a denunciation is usually used against Jewish people. Few if any non-Jews supporting Israel have been denounced as "Zionist". The "Zionists" are Jews.
In the 1980s when attempts to ban and "no platform" "Zionist" "racists" were commonplace in the colleges, it was Jews and Jewish societies that were its target. Invariably.
Someone like, for example, Tony Benn, a long-time member of "Labour Friends of Israel" was never called a Zionist. Yet Zionist is what he was, as were all the others who supported the Jewish state.
If you "interfered" aggressively against that presentation, as we did, you had the venom splashed on yourself, had the epithet "Zionist"-meaning "racist", "pro-imperialist", etc. thrown at you as as a form of moral intimidation.
We have refused to let ourselves be deflected from advocating two states and resisting the demonisation of Zionist-Jews.
That is why I had difficulty believing that one of us-Martin Thomas, it seems; and it was someone else's summary of what they thought he said, rather than something he said-called himself "a little bit Zionist".
That would be to give too much to the hysterical "anti-Zionists" and to concede their main point to those who use "Zionist" as a form of ideological verbal terrorism to rule out rational discussion of the issues in the Jewish Arab conflict.
* In discussion on the Israeli left, "Zionist" has, I understand, come to mean something
like "Jewish-chauvinist-expansionist". The use of "Zionism" in Britain is something again.
[This was in the "Reason in Revolt" column]