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Reply: Is Israel Indefensible?

June 17, 2010
by Lawrence Gulotta

This is a response to the article, “Israel has become Indefensible” by Chris Maisano, which appeared in “The Activist,” May 26, 2010. “The Activist” is a publication of the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth section of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Rejoinder One

Socialists have historically supported the State of Israel’s right to exist. To maintain that “Israel has become Indefensible” is not only a grammatical mistake but a moral one as well.

The policies and actions of the current Israeli government are “indefensible.” It is not “our” government, our policy or our desire to maintain this current government in power. We desire a social democratic government to replace the nationalist-revisionist government. The actions of the current government is what is indefensible. The existence of the State of Israel is non-negotiable.

The policies of the Israeli government can be changed. The Israeli’s can vote this government out and replace it with a government interested in peace with the Arab world. This can be done in Israel. Democratic change can come to Israel. As Socialists, we do not support the Zionist Revisionist policies of this Israeli government.

We have our own political leaders, trade unions, academics, peace activists, humanitarians and political parties. Socialists are free to oppose, organize, educate, run for office, form left wing coalitions, and democratically take power in Israel. We can not say the same for democratic socialists in Arab countries. Democratic socialists would be jailed, or worse, if they advocated the overthrow of conservative, Islamic governments by peaceful means. There is no democratic pluralism in the vast majority of the Arab countries. This is the profound difference between Israel and its neighbors.

There has been a deep connection between Democratic Socialists and Israel. Labor Zionism was the principal political movement responsible for the founding of the State of Israel. The American trade union movement has generously supported the State of Israel.

Let’s be careful to advocate a change in policy and direction for Israel and not overthrow our long standing commitment to the right of Israel to exist. Irving Howe and Stanley Plastrik wrote a very incisive article in the magazine Dissent in 1967 entitled “After the Mideast War.” In it they stated the following:

“To be sure, a peace settlement does not depend on Israel alone. It is time for the Arabs to end the brutal pretext that they are in a permanent state of war with Israel., thereby justifying border raids and sea blockades; it is time for the Arabs to recognize (which does not mean approve) the existence of Israel. But in turn the Israelis should take a constructive and humane attitude toward the problem of Arab refugees–who even if exploited by Arab governments, are suffering human beings and deserve more sympathy and active help than they have gotten from a nation itself comprised of refugees.”

American Socialists should by no means be uncritical of indefensible Israeli government policies. Yet, we have a special responsibility to educate our members and supporters to the fundamental difference between Israeli society and brutal political formations such as Iranian-backed Hamas.

Rejoinder Two

Chris:

Are you saying the Socialists are not “free to oppose, organize, educate, run for office, form left wing coalitions,and democratically take power in Israel[?]” Is comrade Amos Oz rotting in prison? Is the “peace movement” being terrorized by the Israeli secret police? Is it government policy to keep more than half the Israeli population out of school, work, civil society and shrouded under black veils?

The behavior, policies and programs of the Zionist-Revisionists is the issue. It appears you are swift to identify Israel’s shortcomings, let us say “deformations,” real as they are, and rather obtuse in your analysis of Islamic society.

The Zionist-Revisionists have been at cross-currents with Labor Zionism since the inception of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. History tells us the Zionist-Revisionists have used assassination, extra-constitutional means, ultra-chauvinism, and finally the ballot box to defeat Labor Zionism.

It is reasonable to argue that reactionary Arab political formations prefer the Zionist-Revisionists to Labor Zionism. One extreme movement reinforces the other, providing a raison d’ etre for each others existence. They enjoy a symbiotic relationship, I suggest. It was a Labor government, you will recall, which offered Chairman Arafat the most liberal and far reaching solution to the “Palestine Question.” at the Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David of July 2000. It was Chairman Arafat which tuned it down. The Zionist Revisionists attacked Labor as “offering Arafat the candy store.”

You don’t buy into the conservative myth that the American Labor Movement is dead. Yet, you seem to buy into the Revisionist myth that the Israeli labor movement is dead. Somehow, your dialectical reasoning powers fail you when it comes to Israeli politics.

Our job as American Socialists is to encourage and support our comrades in the Israeli labor movement regain power in Israel and authority on the world stage.

Rejoinder Three

I’m pleased that this conversation between generations is taking place.

Yes, there is much that is disturbing about Israeli society and the policies of the Israeli government. Obviously, it is not just the “new left” that is concerned about the policies of the Zionist-Revisionists, Likud, the occupation, the sea blockade, Gaza human rights and an intolerance toward dissent and dissenters.I can identify with your outrage at the direction taken by Israel under the Right Wing Zionists and the religious parties.

The Left needs new leadership and certainly the old left, the founders of the State, were not able to sustain the utopian and socialist aspirations of their youth.

I hope you will agree that it is the right wing Zionists (Likud and its allies) that present the main political roadblock to a lasting peace in the Region and the launching of a viable Palestinian State. It seems from your rhetoric that Israel’s failings are so vast and irreparable; Labor’s complicity in this failure so profound, that there is no way forward, working inside the political system.

You are advocating a protest movement strategy. There is some merit to this strategy today. I hear echos of the early strategies and moral passions of the American new left. In time, you will need to turn from protest to politics.

I am somewhat surprised you have little interest in the new pro-peace, pro-Israel lobby know as J Street. I would think that this new American Jewish lobby-political formation could serve as a viable arena for democratic socialists.

Israel Has Become Indefensible

Posted by Chris Maisano on 6/01/10 • Categorized as International, News and Views

CHRIS MAISANO

In April, I attended a lecture at New York University by Norman Finkelstein on the Israeli assault on Gaza and its aftermath. I went into the lecture expecting that a vociferous group of “pro-Israel” (I place this phrase in quotations because it has become almost completely evacuated of any meaning) students would attempt to disrupt Finkelstein’s lecture, or at least denounce him as a self-hating Jew or a supporter of terrorism during the question and answer session. To my surprise, no disruptions occurred, and the objections raised by pro-Israel students were rather tame. If I recall accurately, the most they could muster against him was a mild complaint that Finkelstein had the temerity to criticise Israel on the anniversary of its founding, as well as some perfunctory quotation from the Hamas charter. There was basically no challenge to Finkelstein’s fundamental premise that the Israel’s assault on Gaza and ongoing blockade of the territory violated international law and served to further stigmatize Israel in the court of global public opinion.

This is because even before Israel’s appalling massacre of activists bringing humanitarian aid to besieged Gazans, the actions of the Israeli state – regardless of whether or not the extreme rightists like Netanyahu and Lieberman or supposed centrists like Olmert, Livni, and Barak have controlled the government – have become completely indefensible from any sane moral or political viewpoint.

Even leaving aside the fundamental injustice of its four-decade-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel’s recent record in the region is rather shocking.

See more and the entire conversation at: http://theactivist.org/blog/israel-has-become-indefensible

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