Workers' Liberty #50/51  


Hal Draper and Israel

Sean Matgamna, responding to Alan Johnson's article in WL49, argues that Hal Draper's writings on Israel included misleading ambiguities.

One of the consequences of disappointment with the Blair Government when it comes, as come it will, is likely to be a qualitative growth of fascism in Britain. Compared to much of Europe now — Austria, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Russia — Britain lags behind in the scale of its fascist movement. The British revolutionary left lags a long way behind the objective needs of the situation.

Large scale fascism, as a whole or in some of its parts, will be anti-semitic. With capitalism in trouble, the fascist demagogues will need scapegoats, and the myths and legends of the Jews as the evil genius of capitalism are too tempting and too well established and elaborated to be dispensed with; anti-black racism has limited uses. If a threatening anti-semitic fascist movement develops here, the fascists will in part have built on the currents of “left wing” anti-semitism that have washed about the labour movement and the left for thirty years, in the form of a Zionophobia which demonised Israel and its supports as the very essence of imperialism, racism and reaction, and consequently preached political hostility to most Jews alive who identify with and defend Israel. The pre-war fascists too of course, had currents of old “left wing” anti-semitism — equating capitalism, or financial capitalism with Jews — to build on. The German socialist leader August Bebel once said of this sort of anti-semitism: “It is the socialism of the fools.. For much of the revolutionary left, hostility to Israel has been the sharpest note in their “anti-imperialism”.

Workers’ Liberty for many years has denounced this as the “anti-imperialism of idiots.” People who backed Russian, Chinese or Iraqi imperialism have made mortal hostility to Israel the great test of anti-imperialism. Socialism of the fools, anti-imperialism of the idiots! Immense damage has been done to the left itself and by the left to the labour movement by this nonsense. It has its mass origins on the left in the anti-semitic propaganda of the Russian Stalinist state after 1949 whose root idea was the crazy equation of Zionism and Nazism (see Stan Crooke’s article in WL 10).

Alan Johnson, whose description and defence of Hal Draper’s politics on Israel (Workers’ Liberty 49) I debate in this article, is not in the camp of the idiots of “anti-imperialism”. Nor was Hal Draper. Before proceeding it is useful to establish here what Draper’s final position was. It is in the introduction he wrote on the eve of his death to a collection of his articles in 1990 (Zionism, Israel and the Arabs): “The general line being followed by the PLO leadership under Arafat and by the Palestinian movement of rebellion [the Intifada] is essentially the line that we advocated amongst both Jewish-Zionists and Arab-nationalist socialists.” From 1988, the PLO had pursued a two states policy, recognising Israel and attempting to win a Palestinian state alongside it.

But Draper, I think, did contribute more than a little to the Zionophobe’s conquest of so much of the left. At the core of the Trotskyist left’s Zionophobia has been the refusal to accept and rationally come to terms with the existence of the Israeli Jewish state, as a Jewish state — the approach into which the Workers’ Party/Independent Socialist League almost “staggered” and from which Hal Draper rescued it, according to Alan Johnson’s (and Hal Draper’s own) account. Alan Johnson’s article on Hal Draper and Israel re-raises these questions. I take them up because I fear that Alan Johnson’s exposition of Hal Draper’s views will lead to a blurring of the clear outlines of the solution we advocate: two states, for the two, Arab and Jewish, peoples.

Each nation should have self-determination in the territory where it has a majority. Full equality for members of each nationality in the other’s state. Eventually may come federation. Our particular concern as international socialists is to support a framework of consistent democracy and self-determination which will allow Jewish and Arab workers eventually to unite, within the states and across the borders, and learn in common action to work for a socialist revolution in the Middle East. On a narrower focus, we are concerned to cleanse the left, of which we form part, of a dangerous aberration. This approach has led critics, for example the SWP, to denounce us as “Zionists”. We are international socialists. If the policy outlined here seems “Zionist”, that is one measure of what our critics are: Arab nationalists and vicarious chauvinists1.


When one argues for what one thinks is political sense on an important and complicated question, it is proper to observe respect and restraint when critically discussing the views of one who always embodied and advocated much of that sense. In 1948, Hal Draper, like the Workers’ Party whose magazine he edited, believed in the right of self-determination for the Jewish nation in Palestine, and in their right to defend themselves without which talk of “self-determination” would have been mere prattle. As Draper wrote in Labor Action on May 24 1948: “To recognise the right of the Jews to self-determination, if it is not merely to be a pious obeisance to a formula, requires socialists also to recognise the right of the Jews to defend their choice of separate national existence against any and all reactionary attempts to deprive them of that right, whether by Arab feudal lords or UN imperialism.”

In contrast to all the major Trotskyist groups, which were neutralist in the ‘48 war — itself a startling fact in the light of their later scarcely qualified “Arabism” — the Workers’ Party USA sided with Israel, while warning against a Jewish war of expansion. It was Israeli defencist. That, not its refusal to back the pan-Arab invasion, which it shared with all the other groups, was what was distinctive in the camp of Trotskyism about the Workers Party in 1948. Earlier, in the mid ’40s, the Workers’ Party had defended the right of Jewish refugees, and then of the survivors of Hitler’s death camps, to go to Palestine.

On all these concrete questions the Workers’ Party (and after ’49, the ISL) and Hal Draper were, I believe, politically right. Were they not de facto Zionists in the basic common meaning of the word? They would have answered that question with an emphatic no. Yet Draper always explicitly rejected the “smash Israel” policy of those “Trotskyists” who — from a toy-town “real politic” about the “Arab revolution” — let themselves become vicarious Arab nationalists (indeed, Arab chauvinists, or worse). On all the concrete questions Draper had the attitude we have. And no one can be a socialist and not have most of the concrete criticisms of Israel and Zionism Draper had. But costly mystifications were used by Draper to ward off the conclusion that their policy before 1948 and after was a form of left wing Zionism.

From this a great deal that was inadequate, contradictory, mystifying or simply wrong-headed politically and methodologically came to be part of Draper’s thinking and writing on this question. There is much in Draper’s legacy on this question that is unclear and confusing. The truth — I will argue — is that there are two Hal Drapers on the Israel/Palestine question. They don’t always relate to each other coherently. There is the Draper described above who, on all the concrete questions, was as opposed as we are to those who want Israel destroyed and who was as “Zionist” as we are. But there is also the Draper in whom those concrete politics are surrounded and half-hidden, or more than half-hidden, by clouds of moralistic incoherent sectarian — I mean political sectarian — Zionophobia that blur and sometimes render invisible the distinction between his politics and those of what might be called the “consistent Zionophobes” of the “smash Israel” camp, those who draw different and, perhaps, more logical conclusions from the ideological Zionophobia and one-sided propaganda Draper sometimes shared with them.

Draper who was a “consistent democrat”, who supported the right of the Jews to defend themselves in ’48, and who never had any truck with the idea that there could be anything progressive in the conquest of the Israeli Jews by the Arab states. He was also an important, albeit inconsistent, propagandist outrider in the large army of the Zionophobes, many of whom — most I suppose — have wanted to destroy Israel and backed Arab states’ attempts to do that. Draper rejected the conclusions of the “smash Israel and back Nasser’s, Assad’s or Saddam Hussein’s” camp, but he shared with them not only one-sided Zionophobic propaganda but also and fundamentally an “ideological” longer-term rejection of Israel as a Jewish state.

In general terms and in the long term this was in contradiction to his practical commitment to Jewish self-determination and Israel’s right to defend itself. Its roots, as I will show, are in the mystifications he employed in 1948. One might say that on Zionism and Zionophobia two souls are at war in Hal Draper.


It will save time if we cut through to bedrock at the beginning. Despite his endorsement in 1990 (quoted above) of a “two states” programme, Hal Draper repeatedly advocated, or seemed to advocate, a “bi-national state” as his answer to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Did — or can — a bi-national state, either in all of pre-1948 Palestine, or in Israel, ever make any sense? Did the “secular democratic state” with equal rights for Jews and Arabs, which Socialist Organiser once supported, ever make sense? Let us see.

There is much that is wrong, unpleasant, undesirable or intolerable about Jewish-Arab “relations”. There is a great deal in the history of the last 70 years that is regrettable and tragic. There is a great deal that is unsettled, despite the — still very inadequate — beginnings of a new Palestinian Arab state. Faced with so much that is unsatisfactory, in relatively recent history, it is tempting to go beyond the programme of adjustment of reality, the one outlined above, to indulge in writing “alternative history” — and to turn that into a political programme. And it is easy to write.

You take the elements in the story — some of which may still be, or seem to be, fluid — and recombine them to your satisfaction. Would it have been better had a Jewish-Arab bi-national state been created in the ’40s? Perhaps. Would a secular democratic state, in which Jews and Arabs would have had equal citizenship have been better? Socialist Organiser, the forerunner of Workers’ Liberty, used to think so. Why not rerun the film of history?

The problem is this: How is the rearrangement of the elements going to be accomplished? Where is the lever to move the heavy stones of history to be placed? What will be, can be, its agency? Who will do it?

Every programme of large scale rearrangement — bi-national state, secular democratic state — involves replacing the Jewish state of Israel with another state in which Jews will not have a state (the pre-1988 PLO version of secular democratic state proposed to give them religious rights in an Arab state covering all of pre-1948 Palestine). What are the chances that the Israelis will agree to dismantle their state? Zero.

You could hope to win Israeli agreement or majority agreement, reluctant or otherwise, for a Palestinian state and for equality for Israeli Arabs in the Jewish state. There is absolutely no chance that they can be persuaded to dismantle their state. No people in history has ever done that. Those who look back on a history of persecution, pogrom and in the mid-twentieth century, the systematically organised massacre of six million European Jews, in other peoples’ states are unlikely to be world pioneers in this matter.

The modern left — in contrast to the right — has never before made that demand on any nation. That the left should make it on Israel is an abomination. A Marxist socialist revolution in the Middle East would have to have a programme of full national self-determination for Jews and Kurds and other minority nations in the region.

Voluntary, benign rerunning and rearranging of history, by agreement, is entirely ruled out. What then? All such schemes of rerunning history have as their central premise denial of the right of Israel to exist. The coming into existence of the Jewish state is the historical “error”, “anomaly”, “crime” at the core of what they want to rearrange. They start by delegitimising Israel, denying it the right to exist as its Jewish majority want it to exist. That is just as well, because when voluntary rearrangement by agreement of the Israelis’ to liquidate their state is ruled out, proponents of all such schemes are left with only one conceivable means to the same end: coercion, the subjugation of Israel, the conquest and overpowering of the Jews and their state, so that they have no choice. If that’s your road the only forces that can do the job are the Arab states (thus the SWP backs Saddam Hussein against Israel). The delegitimising of Israel is prerequisite to that conclusion.

And once you have done the full operation in your head, beginning benignly with delegitimisation in the name of kinder historical dispensations, and ending, as so much of the left in Britain still does, with support for coercion and bloodiest conquest, then you realise that the “middle-term” — doing it by agreement — has only been a transitional, a gestation, stage to something else entirely — an excursion up a blind alley: it is not and never could be part of the real world.

Yet many are led on the road to accepting coercion because at first they think the delegitimisation of Israel is done by way of reasonable criticism, and coupled with a benign alternative — secular democratic state, or bi-national state — which is naively counterposed to the existing Jewish state. It is not yet coupled with a programme of Arab conquest which will retain the bad patterns of the past, only with the roles of victor and defeated reversed. In fact it leads naturally and inescapably to that conclusion: to an unavoidable policy of coercion and conquest. The benign alternative, which “reasonably” requires self-liquidation by Israel, serves only as a softener-up. Its good intentions serve the advocates of conquest by first taking the form of a moralistic ultimatum to Israel. Israel’s rejection of that ultimatum eases and rationalises and gives moral justification to support for conquest. The moral ultimatum becomes a military ultimatum to Israel: if not this reasonable rearrangement (bi-national state; secular democratic state), if not Israel’s voluntary self-liquidation, then this reasonable rearrangement, this desirable rerunning of history, must be achieved against its will.

If the voice to which this ultimatum is given is Nasser’s, Assad’s, Saddam Hussein’s — why not? For the left, after ’67 especially, it can be presented or passed off as “revolutionary” or “anti-imperialist”. Militarism in a just cause can be a good thing! If not voluntarily, then the other way! Progress must be served; injustice must be undone. A bi-national state or secular democratic state “by any means necessary”. All perfectly reasonable, and with a healthy, invogorating smack of no-nonsense revolutionary clarity about it.

But there is a problem with this too. The end initially desired — bi-national state, or secular democratic state — is utterly incompatible with these, its only conceivable, means. If the means are Arab conquest, the subjugation and overpowering of Israel’s Jews and the forcible destruction and suppression from outside of their state, then the goal of a better arrangement than history has so far provided vanishes in the maelstrom. This instrument — the Arab states (or the Palestinian Arabs, if that were possible) as conquerors — and these means — war, conquest, reduction of the Israeli Jews to statelessness and helplessness — cannot produce this desired result. They can lead only to a rerunning of history that produces different winners and losers.

That a bi-national state or a secular democratic state with full Jewish equality would be the result is utterly inconceivable. All the good plans for staging a real life alternative history immediately turn into something very different. That starting point, the delegitimisation of Israel, the denial of Israel’s right to exist, can go nowhere else in the real world than towards support for coercion in which all the desirable alternatives prove to have been mirages. It cannot but work against the only possible approach to an equitable solution, two states. There is no middle ground between accepting Israel’s right to exist, Jewish self-determination, and denying it in the only way it can be denied — by force of Arab state arms. Such has been the experience of all who have gone down this road, including ourselves when we supported a version of the secular democratic state. If the reader is inclined to respond: if Israel won’t be reasonable, then too bad — that will serve as an example of it. Then answer this question: what do you propose? Any of the imaginary benign rerunnings are not available.

From what point of view, then, other than an Arab chauvinism, is the conquest and destruction of Israel acceptable? From what point of view, if not Arab — vicarious or natural — chauvinism, and in the name of what better conceivable solution do you reject two states? International socialist revolution? Such a revolution will have to have as part of its programme in the Middle East consistent democracy on the national question. It cannot but be for Jewish self-determination — that is for two states. Even if in your head you would like a bi-national or secular democratic state, in reality, if you support conquest of Israel by Saddam Hussein, or whomever, you are not for it. The idea of it can only light your way to its very opposite: conquest and reversal of roles. There is no middle ground here.

Either Israel has the right to exist, and its Jewish majority have the right to maintain separateness and independence as long as they like — or they don’t. If they don’t, all rights belong to the Arabs, and we have come full circle to a clear Arab chauvinist position. Sincere believers in a benign alternative history prove to be mere outriders for the Arab regimes — almost all of them quasi-fascist regimes loaded down by crimes against their own people or in the case of Syria, Jordan and the Christian Arabs in Lebanon, perpetrators of great massacres of Palestinian Arabs. That is the basic terrain of this question.

In a sense Marxism is “the science of alternative history” — we orient to one sort of possible development and fight to secure it, fight to push development off the track the bourgeoisie have laid down and so on. Equally we aim to tidy up history’s messes and injustices, in so far as that is possible — but we are limited. And we have to base ourselves in the trends and reality that work for what we want to help to develop. The flat “Zionist” position of recognising Israel and demanding that Israel be recognised is the best position on which to stand. We also fight for the fullest equality for the Israeli Arabs. Call that a bi-national state if you like, but then it it is a detail of the two-states solution, not a proposal to regard the entity of pre-1948 Palestine — which existed as a distinct unit, for only 30 years under British rule — as a sacred thing which must be restored in the form of one bi-national state. The two-states policy allows for all the concrete reforms Draper talks of, and for the education of the Arab workers away from chauvinism. It cuts off no revolutionary possibilities that otherwise would exist. It can, above all, allow the beginnings of working class unity.

Only a fool would say that the two-states policy would not create difficulties for socialists in Arab countries; only someone who forgets our ABCs could think it is dispensable, or that the Jews in Israel can be dismissed as a “troublesome little people” standing in the way of historical progress. Whose history? Whose progress?


There is no rerunning of this history to get a better result from a humane, democratic, socialist, or working class point of view. Only a rerunning of history which reallocates the roles is possible. What might those have been? If the Palestinian Arabs, and the Arab states who invaded the area of pre-’48 Palestine allocated by the United Nations to the Jewish community, had won in ’48, the Jews would have been massacred and driven out. If the Nazis had got to Palestine — as in ’42 they might have — then the Palestinian Arab followers of Haj Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, who was an exile in Europe helping to recruit Bosnian Muslim soldiers to fight for Hitler, would have joined the Nazis in killing Jews, and helped them round up others for neat and orderly factory-organised slaughter. That did not happen.

What did happen was that from 1939 Britain, to placate the Arabs and with fervid Palestinian and other Arab support, blocked entry to Palestine for Jewish refugees fleeing for their lives to their own community in Palestine. Many hundreds of men, women and children were consigned to watery graves. Those they caught were interned. There is strong evidence that the whole British gameplan in 1947-48 was to “withdraw” and then for the Arab armies, some of them officered by British soldiers, either to conquer the Jewish community or create a situation into which Britain would have to return as peacekeeper. There was an international embargo against arms for the Palestinian Jews — facing armies which were plentifully supplied. It is reminiscent of what happened in Bosnia in the early ’90s. The Stalinist state of Czechoslovakia, pursuing Russia’s policy, was the exception.

The Israelis not only survived, but routed their opponents. The common idea that the population movements of that war were organised by a mighty and all-controlling Israeli state machine is — whatever the details — very like the idea that the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917-19 faced the people like the totalitarian state machine of Stalinism. There is a confusion of calendars, a reading back of one set of circumstances into a world where they did not exist. The Israelis had to fight for their existence, facing a Palestinian Arab population allied — or, it was reasonable to think, potentially allied — to powerful invading armies.

There had been war, Arabs and Jews fighting for control of key areas, hills, connecting roads, etc., from the end of 1947, when the British power began to abdicate (though it sill controlled the borders, and still, to the last day, kept out Jewish refugees). Any idea that in this situation only the malevolence of “the Zionists” prevented unity of Arab and Jew is ridiculous —ignorant-ridiculous or malevolent-ridiculous, but ridiculous in all cases. It only makes sense as the consistently Arab chauvinist idea that the very existence of the Jewish/Zionist community in Palestine was the fundamental evil. That idea is not helpful if it is Jewish-Arab unity you want!

Were there Zionist leaders eager to win and “clear” as much territory as possible from those who had initiated a war of expropriation if not extermination against them? Yes. It would be strange if there were not. Those were nationalists. On the other side were also nationalists, Islamicists — and the British Empire... All this was tragic, regrettable, deplorable. Those marked down as victims (and by the dominant empire in the area too) emerged, against all the odds, as victors. Why is that more tragic, deplorable, regrettable than the alternative at the time?

What do socialists say to such situations? We say, self-determination — working-class unity, consistent democracy. We recognise that there are sometimes intense national-communal conflicts and intensely felt identities: and then we advocate the road to unity by way of separation, or support moves for separation. Unity is always our goal, in the first place working class unity. But there are conditions in which separation is the only way to begin to replace chronic antagonism with ultimate unity. Interspersing of populations made separation in Palestine difficult. What were the possible alternatives? Continued British rule was probably — I’d say, certainly — the only way of keeping Jews and Arabs in one state. Bi-national state? What did those who advocate a bi-national state propose? How could it be organised? There were variations, but any bi-national state in all of Palestine would depend on an intricate series of constitutional arrangements. It would have had to be something like the recent Northern Ireland agreement, perhaps, or the more informal system set up in the ’40s in Lebanon to balance the Christian and Muslim peoples there. Both Lebanon and Palestine had historically been part of Syria. Was a bi-national state like that possible? I don’t know: what in fact happened suggests that it was not remotely likely, and was probably impossible. Would it have been desirable? Certainly it would have been better than the decades of conflict.

Would a bi-national state, had one been set up in Palestine in the late ’40s, have avoided that conflict? It is utterly inconceivable that it would; or that, existing, it could have been long-lasting. Only the details of conflict would have varied. In Lebanon, conflict was intense but not as deep and stark as in Palestine. In 1958, at the time the British-linked monarchy in Iraq, broke down in an Arab nationalist revolution, Lebanon broke down in civil war. The US Army was sent in to control the situation. Every shift in population sizes, in basic political attitudes, in the broader picture, threatens such structures. Had a bi-national state in all of Palestine miraculously emerged in ’48: it is inconceivable that it could have survived the national storms and upheavals of the Arab world in the ’50s and ’60s which were part of a movement throughout the colonial and ex-colonial world.


Alan Johnson is writing a political biography of Hal Draper. His focus on Draper as hero is natural. Unfortunately it misleads him. Whoever wrote this or that resolution or article, the sensible part of the 1948 writings of Hal Draper grew out of the culture, politics and traditions of the Workers’ Party on this question. In this, on Alan’s account, Draper had no part until 1948. He brought to the subject a too abstract rationalism and revolutionary fantasies about a Jewish alternative to the real Jewish state that would have been far more at home in the camp of the “orthodox” Trotskyists — except that Draper allotted the messianic role to the Israeli Jews where the “orthodox” looked to “the Arab revolution”.

As I’ve said, the press of the Workers’ Party for years before ‘48 had backed free Jewish immigration into Palestine and combined this with defending the Zionist Jews in their conflicts with the colonial power, Britain. There had been open and free discussion of a welter of positions.2

There had been polemics against the contradictory views and policies of the official Trotskyists (for example, a very impressive 1947 article by Al Glotzer against Ernest Mandel — whose anti-Zionism was fatalistically reconciled to and coupled with the idea that the Jews of the world had little hope of avoiding extermination in the years ahead...)

Everything said about Jewish right to self-determination and self-defence in 1948 — by Hal Draper or whoever — flowed organically from what the party had said in the events that led up to the Jewish-Arab war — from the work of quite a number of people. More: the policies of the Workers’ Party before and during 1948, the year of war and Israeli independence, were a continuation of the policies of Trotskyism before the Second World War. As was argued in an earlier article, while opposing the Zionist project and advocating Jewish and Arab working class unity and opposition to British imperialism in Palestine, they were in favour of free Jewish immigration into Palestine. More still: in this, the Trotskyists were themselves in direct continuity with the policy of the Communist International until 1929-30. What Trotsky might have said in ‘48 can only be a matter of surmise and extrapolation. It is to be doubted that he would have suddenly come out against Jewish freedom to migrate to Palestine, and against the freedom of the Palestinian Jewish community — about one in three of the population there — to receive them in the aftermath of the Holocaust, when there were nearly half a million Jews in displaced persons camps in Europe with nowhere to go and others, caught by the British trying to get into Palestine, in British internment camps. The point is that the radical change of direction was made by the official Trotskyists, not by the Workers’ Party.

These continued to campaign, as they had during the war, for US “open doors” to Jewish refugees. Their co-thinkers in Britain, called for Jewish refugees to be allowed into Britain — but not that Britain should allow them into Palestine. They had decided that their first allegiance was to the anti-imperalist Arab colonial revolution; and, moreover, that the political cost to themselves in terms of “integration” into the revolution would be very high if they did not oppose Jewish migration to Palestine. They were honest and open about the reasoning and motives. What was distinctive about the Workers’ Party policy (apart from the distinctive character of its 1948 “revolutionary perspective”, to which I’ll return) was not that they did not back “the pan-Arab invaders”.

Such restraint would have been remarkable in the official Trotskyists of later decades. In 1948 all the offical Trotskyist groups — I know of no exception — refused to back the Arab invaders (we published their statements in Socialist Organiser in 1987). What was distinctive about the Workers’ Party was that it sided with Israel, championing the Jews’ right to self-determination and self-defence — that is to defeat the Arab armies trying to over-run the Jewish communities. In all the immediate practical questions their distinction from Zionism was reduced to the abstract and theoretical, to rejection of names, and of aspects of Jewish policy: support for Jewish self-determination and self-defence was in immediate terms, in fact, unconditional.

Their support was in theory conditional and pro-tem. In the longer term, they did not want the Zionist state they backed — they wanted something other than a Jewish state. The contradiction that Draper lived is there, stark: supporting the Jewish community’s right to self-determination and to self-defence, it was a Jewish/Zionist state they supported. That is what the Jewish movement represented, wanted and, certainly, all they could have had “from” the Arabs.

Then to compensate for the Zionist reality, Hal Draper wrought messianic “perspectives” for a different Jewish nation in Palestine, playing a revolutionary role in the entire Middle East, which it was simply inconceivable that any nation so derived, so composed, so much at odds with the Arabs and Islam could conceivably have played. Then Israel was measured and judged against its having failed to play this role. Then the ways by which they sought to remain distinct from “Zionism” led the WP/ISL and, specifically, Hal Draper, to a series of utter self-contradictions. I will elaborate on these points.


Alan Johnson quotes Hal Draper: “Zionism — the ideology of Jewish chauvinism — showed that it is one of the deeply reactionary conceptions of the political world. The child of anti-semitism, it became the father of another form of ethnic oppression.” This seems to me to be the same sort of stuff as the revolutionary perspective of 1948. There is righteous — and justified — indignation and moral fervour here, but there is also irresponsible playing with words and sloughing over of difficulties. The passage is an example of Draper in full voice with the Zionophobic chorus. It is self-contradictory and nonsensical.

Zionism was the project of creating a Jewish state in Palestine (for some Zionists, at one time, possibly elsewhere). At every step the Workers’ Party, following in the practical tradition of the Communist International and the Fourth International, had supported the concrete manifestations of that unfolding project — free Jewish migration, Jewish self-defence, Jewish self-determination and the war to set up the Jewish state (or if you prefer, stop it being crushed in the egg). In Draper, the project is separated from the actors; Zionism is a devil ex-machina; Zionism — which is the project of a Jewish state and the preparatory work for it over decades — “is Jewish chauvinism”; and only extreme Jewish chauvinism is Zionism. Such a definition, annexing the word to the exclusive and self-hypnotising use of the Zionist Zionophobe, is untenable; it is a confusing private jargon, which works to obscure not clarify.

At every point, concretely, the Workers’ Party and Draper had, as above, cumulatively supported the Zionist project, as it unfolded. I nearly wrote — rejecting only the binding-together concept of it. But what does it mean to say someone supported the thing — as the Workers’ Party in 1948 supported Jewish immigration, Jewish self-defence and self-determination — but not the concept of it? It means we are in the land of mystification! The Workers’ Party and Hal Draper accepted, so to speak, every letter in the word, but Hal Draper refused to pronounce the word and used force and fervour to insist that the word meant only the extremes of Jewish chauvinism, or that the letters somehow spelled out a different word.

Of course the WP/ISL — like the Communist International in the ’20s and the 1930s Trotskyists — wanted to separate the Jews going to Palestine from the Zionist project. They wanted to unite Jewish and Arab workers in a common struggle for socialism and against imperialism. Supporting Jewish immigration and self-defence, they explicitly rejected the Zionist project, usually in rough and uncompromising words. But they did not make any conditions. It was Zionists who had won from the British the necessary political frame and set up the infrastructures that made possible the big migration of Jews to Palestine after 1933. From the early ’20s both Jews and Arabs had had their own self-administration, states within the state: the whole logic of the situation was Zionist.

There is truth in distinguishing the deeply ideological idealists and zealots of Zionism from the great mass of Jews driven towards Palestine by Polish, German and other anti-semites in the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s, and from the Arab states after the late ’40s. The anti-semites made Zionists of Jews who would, like those who were murdered, probably have chosen to remain where they were. Draper uses this just to blame and abuse the Zionists, and to present them as the evil spirit of the European Jews who survived the Holocaust.

Isaac Deutscher, a Jewish Pole in origin and from his youth a socialist anti-Zionist, wrote this in 1954. Socialists, liberals and Zionists “in eastern Europe... bitterly competed for the loyalty of the Jewish masses. A deep cleavage always existed there between the Zionist and the anti-Zionist Jews. The anti-Zionists urged the Jews to trust their gentile environment, to help the ‘progressive forces’ in that environment to come to the top, and so hope that those forces would effectively defend the Jews against anti-semitism. ‘Socialist revolution will give the Jews equality and freedom; they have therefore no need for a Zionist Messiah, this was the stock argument of generations of Jewish left-wingers. The Zionists, on the other hand, dwelt on the deep-seated hatred of non-Jews towards Jews and urged Jews to trust their future to nobody except their own state. In this controversy Zionism has scored a horrible victory, one which it could neither wish nor expect: six million Jews had to perish in Hitler’s gas chambers in order that Israel should come to life. It would have been better if Israel had remained unborn and the six million Jews stayed alive — but who can blame Zionism and Israel for the different outcome? Israel is more than a spiritual colony of the eastern European ghettos. It is their great, tragic, posthumous offspring fighting for survival with breathtaking vitality... I have, of course, long since abandoned my anti-Zionism, which was based on a confidence in the European labour movement, or, more broadly, in European society and civilisation, which that society and civilisation have not justified. If, instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped to save some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers ... Even now however, I am not a Zionist ... How is it possible not to embrace Zionism [his Israeli friends] ask, if one recognises the state of Israel as a historic necessity? ... From a burning or sinking ship people jump no matter where — on to a lifeboat, a raft or a float. The jumping is for them an ‘historic necessity’; and the raft is in a sense the basis for their whole existence. But does it follow that the jumping should be made into a programme?... ”

Deutscher’s self-questioning is impossible for an honest socialist to evade without paying a high cost in muddle, incorrigible political sectarianism and mystification.

In the next Workers’ Liberty I will examine the fantastic nature of the “revolutionary perspectives” of 1948, in which the Israeli working class was called upon to initiate a war of liberation in the Middle East, and the connection of this position with Hal Draper’s later positions on the question.

  1. And it is not quite true that - as Alan Johnson says - in the exchanges I had with Jim Higgins both sides invoked Draper as an authority. I pointed out, as does Johnson, that Draper had not been in the 'smash Israel' camp, but in ours; yet I qualified it.
  2. In fact, the case for an open press and free discussion rather than an arid press with one line only, that of the established leadership, could not be better made than by the example of Labor Action's and New International's treatment of this question. The substance of the "official" texts is sane and right compared to what the other Trotskyists were saying, but the richness of the Workers' Party on this subject is - I concluded, reading through it some years ago - in the non-official, non-ceremonial discussion pieces.

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