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Vol. 73/No. 14      April 13, 2009

‘Zionism,’ its use today, not in 1948
(Reply to a Reader column)
The Militant’s editor asked me to reply to letters received about an article in the March 2 issue in which I was quoted as saying, “Class conscious workers should drop the term Zionism,” in its current context. “There is no Zionist movement today. The reality is, it has become an epithet, not a scientific description; a synonym for ‘Jew’ that helps fuel Jew-hatred.”

I made these remarks at a January 31 public meeting in London. I was not addressing the history of the Zionist movement, or how the state of Israel came into being as an expansionist colonial-settler state. Zionism in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was a bourgeois political current contending with the communist movement for the allegiance of workers who were Jewish. Israel was established in 1948, more than six decades ago. There is no Zionist movement today and there hasn’t been for a long time.

Less than 40 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel today. Palestinians and other Arabs in Israel will be nearly a third of Israel’s population within a few generations. The Palestinian population in the West Bank and in Gaza is approaching 4 million. Faced with these demographic trends, the majority of the Israeli ruling class has given up the dream of a “Greater Israel.” They are forced to opt for what they consider the only pragmatic solution—maintaining a majority Jewish state within borders of their own choosing. This is hardly the Zionist movement’s dream of an Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

Given this reality, the term “Zionism”—or “Zionists”—has become a synonym for “Jewish” or “Jew” no matter how much those who use it try to explain it otherwise.

The leaderships of much of the petty-bourgeois left in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries often agree with or chose to ignore reactionary Jew-baiting remarks from the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah, or worse, make Jew-baiting remarks of their own. It is also common for them to take the anti-working-class position that workers inside Israel who are Jewish are reactionary and can never be won to support the Palestinians’ fight.

In London earlier this year the Marks & Spencer department stores and Starbucks coffee shops were targets of protests over the Israeli assault on Gaza. These businesses are supposedly Jewish-owned. There are calls by academic and professional organizations to prevent Israeli professors and researchers from attending international conferences. Some push for colleges and universities to “divest” themselves from stock in Israeli companies.

Jewish businesses were a prime target of the Nazis in Germany after 1933. Why aren’t U.S.-owned businesses targets during protests against Washington’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

Reader Bustelo states that my remarks are “a completely unwarranted concession to those who say any criticism or opposition to the state of Israel is automatically anti-Semitic.” The Socialist Workers Party has never flinched in 60-plus years from our defense of the rights of the Palestinian people. The SWP has a proud and uncompromising record in opposition to the expulsion of the Palestinian population and for the defeat of Israel in every war it has waged from 1948 to the recent assault on Gaza.

We are confident that coming battles by Palestinian working people over land, against the walls blocking off sections of the West Bank and Gaza, for water rights, for freedom of movement, for jobs at decent pay and with union protection, against many juridical restrictions determined by religion, will bring forward a new generation of leaders.

Out of a fighting perspective of building a broad-based movement for a democratic, secular Palestine a new communist leadership will be built, one that can provide leadership to more and more working people in the occupied territories, among Palestinian and Jewish workers inside Israel, and the broader region.
Related articles:
Israeli air strikes in Sudan meant as warning to Iran
Atlanta campus debates ‘Israeli apartheid’
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