Challenging Israeli militarism — and “absolute anti-Zionism”

Submitted by martin on 27 March, 2009 - 11:09 Author: Sacha Ismail

For information about where Tamar spoke, see here.

Between 5 and 13 March, I had the privilege of touring round the UK with Tamar Katz, a 19 year-old women from Tel Aviv who was jailed for three months at the end of last year for refusing to serve in the Israeli Defence Force as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.

During that time Tamar spoke thirteen times in nine cities — London, Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester, Bradford, Cambridge, , Sheffield and Edinburgh — I’d guess to a total of about 700 people. In addition to tNottinghamwo events sponsored by the rail union RMT and an International Women’s Day meeting hosted by Feminist Fightback and the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, she did meetings at ten universities — eight of which had had students occupations in solidarity with Gaza, while the other two, Newcastle and Sheffield, occupied a few days after Tamar spoke (see page 8).

We got turn outs of 70 in Cambridge and Edinburgh, 90 in Sheffield, 100 in Nottingham. There was universally great enthusiasm for hearing what Tamar had to say. (And that’s before you consider the numerous requests for meetings that we unfortunately had to turn down.)

I think what inspired people was the combination of Tamar’s personal and political courage with the realisation that there is a left opposition in Israel — something which Workers’ Liberty members were already aware of, but which comes as almost a surprise to many left and Palestinian solidarity activists. For us too, however, hearing about the struggles of the beleaguered but determined Israeli left was very inspiring.

Here is a young woman who went to prison for months, much of it spent in solitary confinement, in order to make solidarity with a cause she believes in. That is a call to socialists and other activists in Britain, where we do not routinely face such difficult circumstances, to redouble our efforts in the struggle.

There was another theme that came up again and again in questions: what did Tamar’s friends and relatives think of her coming to speak in Britain? When Tamar was getting ready to come here, one of her relatives asked her how she could justify making Israelis look bad in the eyes of the world. She replied that, on the contrary, she was doing a service to the Israeli people, by distinguishing between them and their government, and showing the world “another Israel”.

We heard about how she and other young people came to refuse the draft, about what it’s like in an Israeli military prison, about travelling to the West Bank for discussions with Palestinian activists and about joint Jewish-Arab anti-war demonstrations in Israel during the recent assault on Gaza.

With one or two exceptions, the organised far left stayed away from the meetings. I wasn’t surprised by this — and not just because of the usual sectarianism which causes the SWP and the Socialist Party to stay away from other socialists’ events. (Some activists did come to challenge and argue, and were welcome, but for the most part were not members of socialist groups. Certainly no left publications except Solidarity and our Two nations, Two States pamphlet were sold at the meetings.) I think the left, the SWP and its co-thinkers certainly, were afraid of what Tamar had to say and are in fact afraid of her and her comrades’ existence.

When you insist, in effect, that there is and can be no real opposition in Israel, the presence of a living, breathing Israeli internationalist is embarrassing. And more: how is it that this young militant, so committed to Palestinian rights that she was willing to be imprisoned, supports the continued existence of what you call an “apartheid state”, i.e. Israel’s right to exist in a two-state solution?

Why do most pro-Palestinian Israelis support a two-state solution, while in South Africa any genuinely democratic white person was automatically for a unitary state? And why did Tamar criticise boycotts of Israel, counterposing the idea of active, positive solidarity with the Palestinians and Israeli left?

The meetings were not just opportunities to hear Tamar speak. They were also forums in which left activists unused to free discussion on Palestine could grapple with issues including two states; the complexity of what happened in 1945-8; boycotts of Israel; and the nature of Zionism. Many of those who attended will have begun to genuinely consider these issues for the first time, freed by Tamar’s presence from the stifling orthodoxy of the Palestinian solidarity movement’s demonisation of Israel and “absolute anti-Zionism”. The more Zionist, “pro-Israel” Jewish students who attended some of the meetings will hopefully have had their worldview shaken up as well. Hopefully the discussions that were sparked will continue and have a lasting impact among activists.

A wide variety of people took part in organising the tour, and not all of them would agree with all this analysis; I’m speaking on behalf of Workers’ Liberty. But I imagine all of them would agree that helping to make this happen was a fantastic experience for a left activist to be part of.

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