Why the Labour Party must return to its Zionist roots

By Christopher Herman

Zionism was once an epithet of the left; the left must return to making the progressive case for Israel.

In the past twenty years a belief in the state of Israel, among the left, has become increasingly marginalised. So much so that the stance of George Galloway has become more acceptable among the left than that of Anthony Crosland or even Nye Bevan. It is seen in all its clarity on twitter. With the spreading of antisemitic conspiracy theories and insensitive comparisons to Apartheid. Or if you’re Ken Livingstone the obsession of talking about Zionism in the context of the Third Reich at every opportunity.

Only three days agohad I read some of the comments from some of my more leftwing comrades regarding t
he Labour Party’s slap on the wrist for Ken Livingston. It is clear that with this horrific decision by the NCC that those within the Labour Party who hold these vile, klan like,antisemitic views feel vindicated. It is as if they think that they are Socrates reaching out for the saucer of hemlock whilst self-righteously lecturing those around them before they meet their ultimate demise. That there is truth and wisdom in their Jew-hatred.

It is almost certainly true that the majority of those who are critical of the state of Israel neither agree nor support the arguments made by those who peddle these antisemitic conspiracy theories. That they have simply watched on the news and read in our newspapers the crimes placed on the bottom of the screen or at the top of the page. Though they too are wrong. They’ve allowed themselves to be seduced into this BDS movement and Palestinian Solidarity Campaign narrative that Israelis are in fact western neoliberal colonisers.That they are determined to take a foreign Palestinian land inch by inch, mile by mile. This is simply wrong.

Jews have a historical right to live in Israel. Jews have a human right to self-determination.As Israel is a democratic state founded on Socialism, the left hold an obligation, as internationalists, to put forth the progressive case for Israel. We, in the left, have to fight the bizarre notion that Jews had only turned up in Palestine post-1945. We, in the left, need to support the onlyJewish homeland in existence as Labour had supported the idea, so passionately in 1945.

Certainly it is true that the Jewish people have been wanderers on this earth for over twenty five centuries, with the history of Diaspora being found in excavation sites across the Middle East. Certainly early on in the history of the region the Jewish people had been in the majority. With the Kingdom of Israel led by King Solomon. Through centuries of persecution the numbers had dwindled either by execution or by exile and they had eventually become a minority. By 1800 the total Jewish population in Palestine was just seven thousand. In just under a century it managed to raise to forty three thousand.They were of course a minority consisting of the descendants of those who returned in the seventh century or those who simply never left, but alas they still existed. They were there living in the Jewish Homeland, like their ancestors before them.

By the 1930s it was clear that there were two choices for the Jewish people; extinction or the establishment of the first modern Jewish State. Labour proudly stood in support alongside Zionists for the cause of Jewish self-determinism, with all Labour Members of Parliament voting against the White Paper of 1939.At the 1943 Labour conference, Labour voted to rescind the White Paper and establish a Jewish state in Palestine with the statement: “The Conference reaffirms the traditional policy of the British Labour Party in favour of building Palestine as the Jewish national home. It asks the Jewish Agency be given authority to make the fullest use of the economic capacity of the country to absorb immigrants to develop the country, including the development of unoccupied and undeveloped lands”.

Though the reality here isn’t that the Labour Party supported the existence of a Jewish state in the context of a Jewish Genocide on mainland Europe, but rather that the Labour Party had supported a Jewish state consistently since the Balfour Declaration in 1917. So much so the Party had reiterated its support to the Jewish homeland eleven times between then to May 1945.Attlee was so committed to the idea of an independent state for Jews in Palestine, he had even considered taking it to the extent of expelling some of the Arabs who had lived there for generations. By July the idea of expulsion for Arabs had, thankfully, been abandoned. Instead Bevin had sought in negotiations for a partitioned Palestine to put in place the institutions and infrastructure to improve the well being of Arabs as well as Jews.

This was a setback for a Jewish state. The Zionists in 1942 were united against the partition. Chaim Weizmann’s original goal was a reconstruction of Palestine as a whole to form a Jewish state. David Ben Gurion had wrote to Weizmann in October 1946: “We should in my opinion be ready for an enlightened compromise, even if it gives us less in practice than we have a right to in theory, but only so long as what is granted to us is really in our hands”. The partition of Palestine was to essentially found two states one Arab one Jewish. The Jews accepted what they believed to be a compromise whilst Arabs did not. The Arabs cut themselves off from any posture of negotiation or compromise. They proposed the establishment of one Arab state with no provision or recognition of any of the Jewish people. This had put them in direct conflict with the members of the United Nations General Assembly as well as the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. Shortly after alongside the end of the British Mandate, 14th May 1948, EretzYisrael (the Land of Israel) was founded. This had resulted in the Arabs feeling anger which over flowed first with violence and then elevated to the Arab-Israeli war a day after, on the 15th May 1948, with the neighbouring Arab states invading the newly founded state of Israel. The dream of Israel would have ended then and there if it weren’t for Golda Meir, of the Israeli Labor Party, strong will and belief in the Jewish state. She like Zionists before her had the ability to sell the concept of a Jewish state to wealthy Brits and Americans. This had allowed her to raise fifty million dollars to purchase arms from Europe to defend the newly formed state.

Now we must look to what has been achieved in Israel since 1948. Israel has become a multi ethnic democracy where every citizen is guaranteed equal rights under the law, all citizens have freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Critics of Israel and of Zionism form political organisations and campaigns. All Arab and Palestinian citizens of Israel are guaranteed equal rights under the law. Arabic is an official language and there is widespread Arabic media. All citizens of Israel vote on an equal basis and turnout for municipal elections often exceeded 70 per cent in Arab areas. There are Arab MKs representing all the major parties in the Knesset as well as, of course, the Joint Arab List which is the third largest faction in the Knesset. Arabs have served in the Cabinet, the civil service and on the Supreme Court.

This is a free and democratic state which has been born out of the legacy of a systematic mass genocide of a whole people. Founded in a region where free and democratic principles are merely a mirage. All one has to do is ask the Arab states where their Jewish population is. Algeria once had one hundred and forty thousand Jews. Iraq once had one hundred and thirty five thousand Jews. Egypt once had seventy five thousand Jews. They are now nowhere to be seen. Whilst Israel has one and half million Arabs working and contributing to Israeli society. Both, as mentioned above, in Government and as Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers. Arabic school children can be sent to schools were Arabic is the first language where they can celebrate and enjoy their history and culture, or they can be sent to schools which focus on Hebrew. They have an ultimate free choice in their education.

This is a legacy which the left had helped found and support with past Labour Governments but has now abandoned. We’ve been sectioned into looking at the highly complex regional tensions by seeing Israel as the evil western imperialist and the Palestinian Territories as those who are oppressed. Now, we should not abandon hope of seeing a two state solution of a safe a secure Israel alongside a free and democratic Palestine, but we must acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist and a right to security. We must hold to account sections in Palestinian society such as Hamas and the harm which they wish to inflict on all Jews and the destruction of Israel. Which is in their constitution. We must be stricter on the Palestinian Authority and stop them from actively supporting terrorism. We should look towards a progressive regional solution incorporating Israel the Palestinian Territories and Jordan to come up with an active solution which would promote a Palestinian state yet not undermine Israeli security.

This does not go against the belief of Zionism. Israel has been founded. The Jewish state now exists. It is alive and it is prosperous. Instead of now telling the Jews to return to Europe or Russia or the United States. We must stand up for their right to exist in their homeland, as we have done. We must support Israel. Yes, we should support Palestinians. Golda Meir was right when she had compared the mass exodus of Arabs from their homes in the wake of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 to what had happened to her own people. Though we cannot simply look to the past. We should encourage and help the Palestinians found a state. Give them the same opportunity they had originally received in 1947. Help them with our finances and expertise to set up the required institutions and infrastructure to have a modern, free and democratic state. It is in Israel’s best interests to support this. This compromise, which it would have to be, is not going to happen if a large group of pale, male and stale University students find it appropriate to simply stigmatise the only Jewish state. The matter of fact is that Israel has offered the Palestinians and their Arab allies the recaptured land on at least three different occasions, but had only received the three famous noes: No peace, no negotiation and no recognition. It is possible to be a passionate Zionist and yet a believer in a Palestinian nationhood. We in the Labour movement should aspire to be both.

Christopher Herman is a Labour Party activist and Head of Marketing for Parliament Street

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