Letter to a friend: on recognising the Israeli state, and separating from the treacherous leadership of Hamas

A friend who is a supporter of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, and also of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, wrote to me yesterday, objecting to an editorial he had read in the Militant newspaper. The editorial was entitled End attacks on Jews, brutal Israeli response, and it concluded by stating the need for a working class leadership in Israel and Palestine. It said, in the part quoted by my friend, “Such a leadership can be constructed in the fight to recognize the state of Israel, demand a contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state, and advance immediate demands to give the toilers space to live and organize. These include: End the “collective punishment” and destruction of the homes of Palestinian families by the Israeli regime! Guarantee the right of Palestinian toilers to land, water, and the ability to travel to work! Halt the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank! Oppose Jew-hatred in any form! ”  (The article can be read in full here.)
My friend remarked about this article: “This is simply a variant of left Zionism.”  My response to him is reproduced below, in a slightly expanded form.

No, it’s a road out of the impasse, a way out of the self-defeating Arabs-against-Jews political blind alley into which the Palestinian struggle has been led by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, a blind alley in which supporters of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign also find themselves. It is not a comprehensive programme for the liberation of Palestine and makes no claim to be such, but rather, as it says, a set of immediate demands to give the toilers space to live and organise, and find their common interests.

Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces clash in the West Bank village of Tuqua, south-east of Bethlehem, on October 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Musa al-Shaer)

Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces clash in the West Bank village of Tuqua, south-east of Bethlehem, on October 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Musa al-Shaer)

Recognition of the state of Israel is not the same as support to the state of Israel, and therefore has nothing to do with Zionism by any definition of the term. I support recognising Israel in the same way as I support recognising the French, New Zealand or Turkish states. It implies no support for these states or the governments that rule them, only recognition of the simple fact that, for the time being, they exist. This kind of recognition ought to be straightforward enough, a simple matter of facing the facts of the relationship of class forces today.

Under what circumstances would I refuse to recognise a state or government? Firstly, when that government’s claim to be the legitimate government is false.  For example, for several decades after the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949, the defeated Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-Shek continued to claim that it ruled all of China, even after it had fled to Taiwan and controlled no territory outside of Taiwan. In spite of that, it was recognised  in the United Nations as the true government of China until 1971. The remnant Khmer Rouge forces of Pol Pot, defeated by a Vietnamese-supported uprising in 1979, also claimed to be the legitimate government of Cambodia for another twenty years, likewise receiving UN recognition. All UN development aid intended for Cambodia was thus diverted to their wretched military barracks. These were clearly fraudulent claims; imaginary states and governments.

To take a slightly different example, I oppose recognising US sovereignty over the enclave it occupies at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Their control of the enclave is real enough, but Guantánamo Bay is clearly part of the sovereign territory of Cuba, not separate from it and not part of the US, and the US occupation of it violates the clearly-expressed will of the entire Cuban people. One further example: I expect that before many years have passed I will recognise a Kurdish state. But it would be premature and wrong to recognise such a state at present, no matter how much I wish it would come into existence, because as yet it doesn’t exist.

Aside from situations like that, in which wars and revolutions lead to a real dispute over who actually rules a territory, I can’t think of any reason why you would not recognise the existing state. There once was such a dispute over who actually ruled Israel for some years after 1947, but that state of affairs ended in 1967 if not earlier (whether we like the way it ended or not.)

Why does it matter? Why is it a fight to recognise the state of Israel? Because various bourgeois political currents in the Middle East continue to act as if the Israeli state is a figment of the imperialist imagination, like the non-existent states ruled by Chiang or Pol Pot. More importantly, a false political strategy rests on this non-recognition. The capitalist states that I recognise are not transitory or imaginary entities. They will have to be overthrown from within by the working class in those states, and can not simply be pushed aside by a military action from without, still less by an act of will. The fight to overthrow the Israeli state is closely intertwined with the Palestinian national struggle, but it can not be reduced to that struggle. The refusal to recognise Israel is first and foremost a rejection of any possibility of common struggle between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. That is why it matters and why it is wrong.

Here are a few of the negative consequences of this false strategy built on non-recognition of Israel:

1. The open encouragement of Palestinian youth to engage in utterly self-defeating acts of individual terrorism directed indiscriminately against Israeli civilians – acts whose only consequences could be ever-more-violent repression by Israeli forces and ever-greater support for such repression among Israeli Jews. This is absolutely suicidal for the Palestinian struggle. The blows of repression fall hardest upon the most courageous young Palestinian fighters. In the recent round, Hamas even drags the honourable history of the intifada into the mud, by equating that act of mass resistance with today’s individual acts of terror.

Israeli security forces inspect the body of a Palestinian man who was shot dead after stabbing an Israeli soldier and three others in Tel Aviv on October 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Israeli security forces inspect the body of a Palestinian man who was shot dead after stabbing an Israeli soldier and three others in Tel Aviv on October 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

2. In further consequence, the labour unions and other organisations that exist in Israel embracing both Jewish and Palestinian workers come under severe pressure and tend to disintegrate along national-religious lines.

Ethiopian Israelis protest in front of border police officers during a demonstration against racism and excessive aggression by Israeli police in Jerusalem on April 30, 2015 (EPA Photo)

Ethiopian Israelis protest in front of border police officers during a demonstration against racism and excessive aggression by Israeli police in Jerusalem on April 30, 2015 (EPA Photo)

3. Important class schisms that open up within the Jewish population get totally overlooked – such as the recent fights around police violence against Ethiopian Jews, or the protests against anti-gay terror attacks on a gay pride march.  These are of no interest to Hamas, nor to others who follow the Hamas line that the Jews are 99% or 100% reactionary. To Hamas, such developments are an embarrassment, not an opening.

4. When, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the Palestinian Authority (which does recognise Israel, in order to abjectly surrender to it) initiated a political campaign to accept Syrian-Palestinian refugees for settlement in the West Bank, where were the BDS campaigners? I don’t follow BDS statements closely, so tell me if I’m wrong, but all I heard was a deafening silence. All the righteous noise Hamas and their supporters make about the Palestinians’ right of return suddenly goes silent the moment the opportunity arises to actually join a fight for it.

Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, July 3, 2008 (photo : AP)

Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus, July  2008 (photo : AP)

In Jerusalem, hundreds protested both against the West Bank arson attack that killed a Palestinian child and stabbings at a Gay Pride march, August 2015 [EPA] Al-Jazeera

In Jerusalem, hundreds protested both against the West Bank arson attack that killed a Palestinian child and stabbings at a Gay Pride march, August 2015 [EPA] Al-Jazeera

5. This deafening silence surrounds the fate of Palestinians in Syria in general. More Palestinians have been killed in Syria since 2011 than in the Israeli assault on Gaza last year (about 3,000, compared to about 2,300 in Gaza). Yet… hardly a peep out of any group supporting the BDS campaign about this. (On the other hand, the Militant, which you wrongly describe as “left-Zionist,” has written about it here and elsewhere.) Are these 3,000 not also displaced Palestinians? Are their deaths of no importance to the Palestinian struggle? The answer is: of course they are Palestinian, but their fate is another embarrassment to Hamas. Hamas long-standing ties to the Assad regime which is responsible for most of these deaths. Although these ties have frayed recently, Hamas is very anxious to re-establish them, and are not going to let a few thousand Palestinian deaths stand in the way of their diplomatic manoeuvring. Once again, tell me if I am wrong. Show me the articles by supporters of the BDS expressing solidarity with the Palestinian fighters in Syria.

This list of missed opportunities and mounting dangers is getting longer month by month.

The Palestinian national struggle is on the back foot today, in spite of the continuing courage and tenacity of the Palestinian youth. It gives me no pleasure to say that, but it is another fact which must be faced. Think about it: there must be a reason why the Israeli cops and military, and the Israeli rightist thugs, are increasingly bold today. Nothing could be more irresponsible and dangerous than the Hamas bragging about a new intifada, or the leftist cheerleading for the Hamas campaign, such as I have seen in the past few weeks. Revolutionary politics begins with facts, including unpleasant ones.

Comradely,

James

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22 responses to “Letter to a friend: on recognising the Israeli state, and separating from the treacherous leadership of Hamas

  1. Excellent analysis James. A Palestinian leadership that in the coming months, years and decades is bound to emerge will find ways to join the struggle with Jewish and immigrant workers. With the exhaustion of bourgeois nationalism, this is the only way out of the abyss. The Militant is correct and will be proven so, sooner as opposed to later.

  2. Actually, the result of the Militant’s accommodation to Zionism is more likely to be a further decline in their organisation.

    Btw, it’s not so long ago, that they were embracing the bourgeois nationalists of Fatah; no sign, then, of a critical reflection on their own past.

    Phil

    • The transformation of the PLO (of which Fatah was the largest component) from a tool of the Egyptian regime at its founding in the early 1960s, into a revolutionary-nationalist organisation fighting for a democratic secular Palestine under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, and its subsequent degeneration into a bourgeois nationalist organisation in the 1990s, was a long process, one which the Militant has written about on many occasions throughout that time. From memory, it first noted signs of the degeneration of the PLO in the early 1990s, including Arafat’s refusal to condemn outright the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Here is an article from 2000 summarising the whole process.

  3. From the 2000 article you cite: “. . .The Palestinian National Council registered this political retreat by voting in 1996 to remove clauses from the PLO charter advocating the overthrow of the Israeli state and the construction of a democratic, secular Palestine. . .” So in 2000 the Militant criticises the PLO from retreating from its “revolutionary nationalist” charter. But now The Militant not only endorses the “two-state solution” it earlier opposed, it goes one step further and supports the racist Israeli “Law of Return.” This makes no sense at all!

    • John, you appear to be treating the set of demands in the Militant editorial as its programme for the liberation of Palestine. It is not. The demands are intended only to deal with the immediate conjuncture – and the situation today is very different from how it was even in 2000. Today, unlike 2000, the terms of the discussion on the question ‘how can Palestinians win their freedom’ are largely set by a reactionary Islamist current which is bringing nothing but further defeats and disasters. The pressing need of the toilers of the region is to end the cycle of violence, find a breathing space to live and organise, break out of the political trap set by Hamas and Fatah, and follow an independent working class course. That is the purpose of these demands, nothing more.

  4. Huh? In 2000 the SWP criticized the PLO for retreating from the demand for a “democratic, secular Palestine.” Now it endorses the position it once criticized, for a “two-state solution.” This change may be good or bad, but it’s clearly more than a tactical or “conjunctural” shift.

    • I am not sure I can really answer this, because I can’t and don’t speak for the SWP and its history. My post was in support of the line of a particular Militant editorial, whose set of demands addresses the immediate situation, as it said in the editorial. You are basing your comments partly on some other things, like the question of Israel’s law of return, which are not mentioned in the editorial. That is fine, but takes us into questions which I don’t feel qualified to comment on.

      Keeping that big reservation in mind, here are a couple more points: 1. I don’t think it is true to say that the Militant initially opposed the so-called ‘two-state solution.’ When the question first came up in the early 1980s, the stance of the PLO had been for a democratic secular Palestine. The Militant described the PLO’s proposal for a ‘two-state solution’ as a negotiating stance made under the huge pressures of the bourgeois regimes on which it still partly depended, as well as a response to rising struggles in the West Bank and Gaza. As I recall, the Militant did not criticise the PLO for taking that stance at the time. Later, when it became clear that the ‘two-state solution’ had become a kind of code word for the PLO’s retreat from leading a struggle, the Militant noted that fact – but it was the retreat from leading the mass mobilisations that was key, not the ‘two-state’ proposal as such. 2. I also think it is inaccurate to say the Militant is supporting a ‘two-state solution’ today. True, it supports both recognising Israel and fighting for a ‘contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state’, but I don’t think it is proposing this as a ‘solution,’ only a line of struggle. The only ‘solution’ in Israel and Palestine, as in the rest of the world, is for the workers and farmers to take political power and overthrow the rule of capital.
      That said, I don’t deny that the Militant’s line has changed significantly as the situation has changed. There has clearly been a reversal of its position on Israel’s ‘law of return,’ for example, which it opposed in 1988 but supports now.

  5. That’s not the only purpose of the new Barnesite demands. Like the major imperialist powers, the Barnesite current now wants formal recognition of Israel and a two-state solution. You can shut your eyes all you want James, but that *is* left-Zionism.

    You’re a very talented guy James, but you are simply unable to critically reflect on *anything* in relation to the Barnesite current, even though “defeats and disasters” might be one way of describing what has happened to that current over the past 30-40 years. As Barnes steers the ship further and further to the right, you just keep churning out the justifications/rationalisations. It’s a sorry sight.

    Phil

  6. “. . .That said, I don’t deny that the Militant’s line has changed significantly as the situation has changed. There has clearly been a reversal of its position on Israel’s ‘law of return,’ for example, which it opposed in 1988 but supports now. . . ”

    Bravo, James! I can’t keep track of the number of SWP supporters on Facebook who have denied that simple fact.

  7. As an observer of some of the FB discussions among those who look to the U.S. SWP for political direction (myself included), I would say my impressions are quite different from those of John B. It seems to me there has been quite a range of opinions in the past 16 months since the last assault on Gaza registered with utter clarity the exhaustion of leadership among the besieged Palestinian people. Some sympathizers have been highly critical of the political approach, others less so, still others who maintain general agreement. But these are questions the Militant began discussing as early as 2008 and involves complex and interrelated factors within a changing world, including but not limited to the decline of a mass Zionist movement, the so-called “Zionist Lobby” and it’s supposed control of U.S. foreign policy, the Jewish Question and the rise of ant-Jewish sentiment today, chauvinist attitudes towards Arabs and Muslims, the BDS, whether or not Israel is going to be dismantled anytime soon, the struggle of the Kurdish people, etc, etc… I would venture to say that broad agreement exits among supporters and sympathizers that a tactical approach to workers who identify as Israeli requires recognizing Israel’s existence and putting an end to the demonization of the country and it’s inhabitants, while there seems to be less support (and clarity) in regards to the formulations involving the “Law of Return”.

  8. Hi James,

    I never said that it is wrong to “recognise Israel” – whatever that may mean.

    The leadership of Israel used to demand that the Palestinian people “recognise” Israel as a code word for accepting their dispossession. The Palestinian people and their representatives did ultimately “recognise Israel” by the Israeli state leadership simply shifted the goal posts and now demand that Palestinians “recognise Israel as Jewish state”. Is that your position James?

    The Israeli state does not define its own borders on any form of legal document. Maps of Israel published in Israel include all the West Bank as simply Judea and Samaria. The Israeli state that has existed since 1967 (almost half a century) controls all the territory of the West Bank. The people of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza who remain under Israeli control have lived a worse existence for a longer period of time than Blacks in South Africa under apartheid.

    The Militant supports the Jewish “Law of Return” while failing to mention a central demand of the Palestinian people for their right to return to the territories they were expelled from This implies you accept the Zionist arguments that Israel must forever remain a “Jewish” state.

    The Militant supports an end to “new” settlements on occupied territories but says nothing about the ones that are already there. The Militant supports a Palestine that is less than the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.

    All that is consistent with characterising the editorial as “left Zionist”.

    I stand by that characterization because the editorial prioritises Israel’s right to exist over the struggle of the Palestinian people.

    The Militant has also supported the Israeli Law of Return while dropping all reference to the right of return of the exiled Palestinian population.

    Criticising the bourgeois nationalist forces that dominate Palestine politically at the moment may have a useful purpose – if it in the context of unconditional support for the struggle of the Palestinian people for their self-determination.

    The Militant, however, prioritises actions by the oppressed for criticism. It was not by accident that the editorial order of priority is “End Attacks on Jews” before mentioning “brutal Israeli response.” But this is precisely the line of Israeli defenders. Israel “responds” to attacks. The Zionist Left tut-tuts Israeli “brutality” but never the right to “respond”.

    This way of writing articles – leading with Palestinian “terrorism” and the Israeli “reaction has been true for some years now.

    It is the opposite of a socialist approach to national liberation struggles that has been taught down the generations.

    I am reminded of a quote by the Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin on the struggle in Ireland against English colonial rule.

    “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie WITHOUT ALL ITS PREJUDICES [italics in original], without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.–to imagine all this is to REPUDIATE SOCIAL REVOLUTION. So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism’, and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view would vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a ‘putsch’.”

    Irish nationalists practised terrorism for decades (probably centuries) in their struggle for freedom. Socialists have usually criticised tactics like that as weakening the struggle for two reasons – it encouraged the masses to look for avenging angels to liberate themselves rather than engage in the fight themselves, and it made it more difficult to win allies among working people in the colonial state. But the criticism was always subordinate to the solidarity and always accompanied with an explanation of the lies and double standards of the colonial power.

    Socialists have usually understood that there is a difference between the more progressive nationalism of oppressed peoples and nations and the reactionary nationalism of imperialist states and colonists. Whatever the tactics used by the freedom fighters in their struggles (often including undirected violent outbursts or terrorism) moral right remained with them and all blame was put on the imperialist powers and their local agents.

    If the PLO leadership or Hamas has encouraged the handful of knife attacks that have occurred recently then that is a proof of a failed strategy. But to create a moral equivalence between those actions and the Israeli “response” is simply grotesque. Just last month Israel shot 2600 Palestinians with live ammunition or rubber bullets! Millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have lived under direct colonial rule for decades.

    Israel is a colonial settler state based on the dispossession of the Palestinian people. This state which has imposed an apartheid-like existence for the people in the occupies territories must be held responsible and accountable for its crimes.

    There are similar numbers of Palestinians and Jewish people in the land of historic Palestine. It seems improbable to me that any solution can be found that does not involve both peoples living side-by-side in a secular democratic (and socialist) state. Political strategies that stand in the way of that goal should be discouraged.

    But it is the Israeli state backed by Western imperialism that has the overwhelming military superiority. The Israeli state should be the principal target of anti-imperialists and socialists worldwide who want to see working people free – Jewish or Palestinian. This is especially true if we are part of the Western military and political alliances that prop up the Israeli state and its occupation.

    All that is lacking in the Militant’s coverage of the Palestinian people’s struggle and in your own excited denunciation of Hamas and the PLO leadership.

    Mike Treen

    • I need to repeat two comments I made in response to John B above:
      First, my post was about a particular editorial in the Militant, and whether it was correct to characterise that editorial as ‘left-Zionist’. You are free to base your opinions on questions which were not mentioned in that article, such as the Israeli law of return, but I can’t and don’t speak for the SWP, nor the Militant in general, nor its history, and so I can’t necessarily answer all your points.
      Second, the set of demands in the editorial was never intended as a ‘programme for the liberation of Palestine,’ but only a line of struggle in the present conjuncture.
      For example, it is true, as you say, that the editorial “supports an end to “new” settlements on occupied territories but says nothing about the ones that are already there.” And that is entirely correct, in my opinion. The broadest possible support needs to be mobilised NOW around the slogan “Halt the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank!” including support from people who might at present have hesitations about demanding the dismantling of existing settlements. The fact that the Militant ‘says nothing’ about the existing settlements does not mean it supports their continuance, as you seem to assume; it means the Militant leaves that question to be decided by the class struggle and the relationship of forces once the power of the Palestinian toilers has been mobilised.
      Let’s look at a historical parallel in another capitalist state founded, as a colonial-settler state, on the dispossession of the indigenous people: forty years ago both you and I participated in the Maori Land March. Maori ownership of the land in New Zealand had been reduced to less than 5% of the national territory, and compulsory acquisition and other forms of land alienation were still continuing. The slogan of that march was “Not one more acre!” That slogan did not address the injustices of the past, not even the very recent past, but built the broadest possible coalition of forces who could agree on ‘Not one more acre.’
      And in fact, the movement set in motion by that march accomplished a lot more than ending the ongoing alienation of Maori land. Such was the momentum it generated that past injustices were eventually addressed, some tracts of land were returned, compensation was paid for others. “Not one more acre” was the correct place to begin; not the final end.
      Palestinians are resisting the construction of new settlements already, of course. But because the other elements are missing, this resistance remains trapped in the Arabs-against-Jews framework set by the bourgeois leaderships, and rendered ineffective. What the Militant editorial offers is a way out of this trap.
      It is similar with the slogan for “a contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state.” The editorial does not spell out where the borders of this state should be – and it would be ridiculous for it to do so. There is absolutely no basis for your statement that it “supports a Palestine that is less than the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.” Nowhere does the Militant make any proposal regarding the size or location of the Palestinian state. On the contrary, it proposes a fight for a real Palestinian state – and to be real it must at minimum be both contiguous and economically viable, unlike the Gulag archipelago that exists at present – and leaves the details to be determined by the outcome of that struggle.

  9. Your problem with the NZ analogy James is that the West Bank is not like any situation in New Zealand. Indeed, the Israelis in the West Bank are an indication that Israel is different from any other developed capitalist state. It’s not the same as apartheid, as Israeli capitalism is not dependent on Palestinian labour as South African capitalism was on black labour – it’s more like what South Africa would have been like had it managed to push most blacks into Bantustans.

    Also, you keep banging on about “bourgeois forces” and the left adapting to these. But the dominant bourgeois forces are the imperialist powers and they want a two-state solution and that is now the favoured position of the Barnesites. I think it’s pretty clear who is adapting to whom.

    You also keep banging on as if Hamas is the Palestinian movement. Most of the current conflict is focused in the West Bank, where Hamas is a minority player. Your targeting of Hamas is a diversion. Very few people on the left who continue to solidarise with the Palestinian struggle are supporters of Hamas!

    Lastly, you should look at the precedents of same of your arguments. Take your “What about Syria?” argument and accusations of silence in the face of the repression unleashed by the Assad dictatorship. This is like the argument made by opponents of the anti-apartheid movement. They used to argue, “Why pick on South Africa? What about all the abuses of human rights in the independent countries in ‘black Africa’?” The anti-apartheid movement just got on with building solidarity with the liberation struggle in apartheid and didn’t worry too much with the “What about (anywhere but South Africa)?” people. No-one is going to respond to your “What about Syria?” approach for the same reason. …

    This will be my last post on this subject. I thought you might have moved on, but you are still in the same rut…

    Phil

    [comment edited by JR]

    • Phil, no analogy is exactly alike the actual situation. There are always some similarities and some differences. If you contend that the differences render the analogy invalid, you need to explain how and why. It is not sufficient to simply say “it’s different.” In this case, the differences are many and obvious. But the point being made here is the usefulness of an immediate demand that falls short of a complete, just solution to the problem (“Not one more acre!” or “Halt the construction of new Israeli settlements”) if it can mobilise the broadest possible support. The differences between New Zealand and Palestine are not critical to this point; the analogy retains its validity.
      You say that very few people on the left who continue to solidarise with the Palestinian struggle are supporters of Hamas. I think that is undoubtedly true insofar as very few consciously identify with Hamas. The problem is, many others nonetheless fall into the framework set by Hamas and follow its political lead willy nilly, in the absence of a working class leadership. That was the point of the reference to Palestinians in Syria, which you seem to have misunderstood completely. Why is there such a disgraceful silence about the attacks on Palestinians in Syria? Why was the Palestinian Authority’s call for Palestinian refugees from Syria to be admitted to the West Bank largely ignored by the Palestine solidarity organisations? If the answers to these questions are not related to Hamas’s factional and diplomatic interests, then what are the reasons? You ignore these questions: unwittingly, I believe you have accepted the Hamas framework yourself, though I know you are not a supporter of Hamas.

  10. Demands in the United States that police who abuse Afro-Americans and other workers be fired, prosecuted and jailed are likewise immediate demands that allow for people to mobilize to defend their rights and in the process advance the political consciousness of the working-class. The Militant supports these demands even though it understands that the only lasting solution to the oppression of the Black nationality in the U.S. is the socialist revolution, an argument it advances as well at the proper time and place. There is no qualitative difference between this example and the immediate demands the editors of the Militant raise in regards to the struggle of the Palestinian people and their natural allies inside Israel; demands that can propel the fight forward by quelling the violence and building solidarity.

  11. I find it interesting how little of the substance of James’ positions are given consideration in a manner that is remotely dialectical, particularly by individuals who apply labels like “Barnesite” to those who support the Militant and its politics. Finally, we who have disliked the SWP for variegated reasons over the years can point to a contradiction between what the Militant wrote in X year to what they are saying now. Must be the final reformist corruption of that once noble paper. Excuse me if this seems to me like a substitute for analysis and a kind of baiting that advances nothing except making sectarian analysis look like an attack on sectarianism.

    Politics is not finding someplace where a series of demands or objectives are articulated then demanding such views be repeated to infinity. It is rather the attempt to make sense of developments and articulate the needs of the oppressed in the concrete conditions that exist. As one critic of James writes: It was not by accident that the editorial order of priority is “End Attacks on Jews” before mentioning “brutal Israeli response.” The conclusion drawn is that if the order is not reversed this is support for the government of Israel. Is is possible that the random killing of jews as jews by alleged revolutionaries gives cover to the “brutal” response? One of the old arguments supporters of the Palestinian cause (such as myself in the YSA) would explain to ardent supporters of the Israeli government is that there is a distinction between a government that claims to speak for Jews and Jewish people. Well that position is easier to explain when a leadership makes such distinctions. For example, the Militant supported the ANC with its call for one person/one vote and voiced strong opposition to the slogan “one settler one bullet.” One position can be endorsed as demands (not the entirety of our strategic positions or objectives but demands–to borrow Rich’s distinction) the other was opposed.

    The facts are that situations change and develop. Sometimes a dearth of revolutionary leadership reaches such a destitute stage that real alterations in what is possible dictates slogans, demands, and short or even medium range objectives, have to be altered. That is an ABC of Marxism versus liberal moralism or what Trotsky correctly referred to as Kantian formalism. The Militant is for unity of all working people in the region and opposes all the governments and political movements that exist on any large scale. In that context, versus for example the period when the PLO was advancing revolutionary demands, what needs to be articulated and can be articulated shifts. The reason we were for a democratic secular Palestine was make possible and to allow the unity of jews, arabs, and others ultimately on class lines not artificial divisions. The reason the Militant today advocates “recognition of Israel” and does not advocate the old slogan is because, in reality, no one advocates that slogan–at the present time. Instead it becomes code for destruction of Israel with completely backward methods of struggle. To formalists, this is inconceivable–that a slogan can transform from positive to negative. To those serious about understanding and effectively intervening in reality, it is to be expected at times. Bravo James on a well articulated, carefully reasoned piece.

  12. Hi all,

    The problem with the demands in the Militant is that no-one except the Israeli state and inperialism is advancing those demands today.

    They insist that all opponents cease whatever attacks are being made and seek to reduce those opponents to a caricature of knife-wielding jihadis, much as the Militant does.

    Then they demand their opponents “recognise” Israel without any qualification when it is very important whether we are talking about the state of 1948 or the state as of 1967 which annexed East Jerusalem and built settlements surrounded by their “security wall”.

    Finally, they tell the Palestinians they must agree to a smaller state than that which incorporates all of the annexed West Bank and Jerusalem. That is the true meaning of the so-called demand in The Militant for a “contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state”.

    Anyone who put this programme forward in Palestine today would be quite rightly denounced as an agent of imperialism. The actual programme of the Palestinian people is a revolutionary democratic programme for the people of Palestine and should be supported. It is articulated by the BDS campaign in the following demands:
    1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
    2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
    3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194. – See more at: http://www.bdsmovement.net/bdsintro#sthash.YPgIuGzb.dpuf

    Mike

  13. Do you mean to tell me, Mike, that the Israeli ruling-class and imperialism are advancing the following perspective and demands? “Such a leadership can be constructed in the fight to recognize the state of Israel, demand a contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state, and advance immediate demands to give the toilers space to live and organize. These include: End the “collective punishment” and destruction of the homes of Palestinian families by the Israeli regime! Guarantee the right of Palestinian toilers to land, water, and the ability to travel to work! Halt the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank! Oppose Jew-hatred in any form! I gotta tell you, I don’t think so.

  14. Hello all,

    It is not true that no-one has positions or demands similar to the Militant. Right off the bat, you might notice the similarity between the views of the Militant and Fidel Castro (well known agent of imperialism). Castro has explained the historic existence of Israel and the need to be vigilant against jew hatred while maintaining his support for the rights and needs of the Palestinian people. Indeed, this discussion began because James Robb argues that he agrees, on these issues, with the Militant and he is not, to my knowledge, a member of the SWP or the fraternal parties. So is he an agent of imperialism as your comments might suggest?

    It is also the case that the views are similar to what Mandela’s were and indeed what were the views of the PLO at an earlier period. Also Mike writes, “Finally, they tell the Palestinians they must agree to a smaller state than that which incorporates all of the annexed West Bank and Jerusalem. That is the true meaning of the so-called demand in The Militant for a “contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state”. The demands may be wrong or right but to misrepresent them and label them as equivalent to imperialism is an ad hominem argument.

    How that translates into “a smaller state which incorporates all of the annexed West Bank and Jersualem” which clearly would not be “contiguous” or economically viable, I do not know. The formulation is imprecise–as reality is in its unfolding. But some prefer to smell treachery everywhere regardless of lack of evidence through overstated critiques. In addition, if you have been reading the Militant and other press you will find that many common activities (strikes, victories in elections) between Jews and Arabs have been taking place in Israel. Indeed, there are growing layers of Palestinians in Israel and elsewhere who don’t advance the formulations of BDS or Hamas. My problem with BDS and the demands you list are not that they are wrong, but the question of how to fight to advance them. I maintain my position that reality requires revolutionaries to adjust when big shifts take place in the world–and many are. First, the organized leadership of Palestinians represented by the Palestine Authority and Hamas are wretched through and through. This necessitates different tactics than if an authentic working class leadership were being forged. But it is easier to ignore this glaring problem and call on academics, celebrities, and businesses to boycott a nation. That is adaption to non-proletarian methods of struggle. It might be nice to repeat slogans endlessly, it is easier than careful analysis of shifting conditions, but it is not a Marxist method.

  15. A final thought. It’s interesting (at least for me) to note that I really did not know that much about the situation in Israel and Palestine, including the history of the Palestinian liberation movement and the history of Zionism, despite the fact that I have been a supporter of the cause for over forty years. I thought I did, but I really didn’t. It was only with the assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 that I, like many others, confronted the need to really think about what it means to have a tactical approach that can advance the position of the working people and oppressed in light of the fact that any-kind of leadership is virtually non-existent, coupled with what it will take for one to emerge. Sure, I repeated the formulations year after year but never considered fully the class dynamics involved. The lesson for me is that one must start from a position of seeing the world as it is and to be fearless in the light of a changing situation.

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