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Lucien Bresler, Djémil Kessous, Gary Mickle:
The Palestinian problem can be resolved only by a truly secular social movement
A series of regional wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982), bombings of Lebanon (summer of 2006), of Gaza (January 2002, December 2008/January 2009), "targeted" murders, ceaseless clashes… Countless conflicts have marked the history of Israel unceasingly since its official birth in 1948. They remind us that the Palestinian problem is nowhere near resolution and that it is inseparable from the national question in general, the problem of nationalism, indeed, of state nationalism, which has become crucial in our modern era, a problem to which Zionism too is closely related. The Jewish people is an ideological construct that has been developed since earliest antiquity (see Shlomo Sand: Israel deliberately forgets its history, http://mondediplo.com/2008/09/07israel). The Jewish state (Israel), for its part, recently became a reality, one that owes its existence to that same Zionism, a complex identitarian phenomenon which to a great extent has its origins in Western judeophobia. After calling this history to mind, we will attempt at the end of this article to draw up a response to what has become a major crisis of our time.
A brief history of the Palestinian problem
Since ancient times Jews have existed as religious minorities of diverse and complex ethnic origin (Arab, Germanic, Berber, Slavic, etc.), living in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (even in Ethiopia) and sharing an attachment to certain biblical texts. In quite the same way as Christians, Moslems or Buddhists, Jews lack any particular ethnic specificity, and even more so a national specificity, the national question being a very recent political phenomenon.
The genesis of the concept of a Jewish people (and more recently of a Jewish nation) is very complex. The "Jewish people" (along with its diaspora) is mainly a feature of the biblical account, to a great extent mythical, of historical events; more recently it became an ideological creation of judeophobes (or "antisemites", to use a more ambiguous term) and even of some judeophiles (romantics like Chateaubriand or English puritans). Even more recently, this popular myth was given new impetus with the appearance of the nationalities question, which left its mark on the whole of Europe from the mid-19th century onward (1848 or the Spring of the Peoples).
In 1862, the socialist Moses Hess, formerly very close to Marx and Engels, publishes Rome and Jerusalem, a work in which he makes a case for establishing a Jewish nation-state in Palestine. In June 1881, the American William Blackstone publishes a book entitled Jesus is Coming, which is subsequently translated into 42 languages (including Hebrew and Yiddish). According to the author, the return of the Jews to Palestine is a prerequisite for their conversion to Christianity and the second coming of Christ. In 1891 he circulates a petition in favour of his thesis.
Thus, from its earliest origins, Zionism can be dissociated neither from the Jewish religion, nor from the emancipatory, progressive and socialist movement that is asserting itself in the West during the 19th century, nor from the persecution that befalls Jewish minorities here and there as well. The Russian Empire plays a fundamental role in this regard, because persecution of Jews (pogroms) is frequent there at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Starting in 1882, while some are emigrating in the direction of the United States, the Hibat Zion (Love of Zion) group is organising the emigration of Jews to Palestine, and bankers like Baron Edmond de Rothschild are giving financial support to that operation. It is worth noting that this initial emigration faces hostility from the Jewish majority, starting with those who are already resident in Palestine. Secular Jews seek their emancipation through citizenship and/or socialism; even the association of Jewish workers in the Russian Empire, the very identitarian Bund (which favours the Yiddish language that the Zionists disdain), is firmly opposed to Zionism. As for religious Jewry, which accepts the myth of a Jewish people that is dispersed in the diaspora, all of it at this time holds the view that putting an end to exile is a matter for God alone. Some of these religious anti-Zionists are active to this day (Neturei Karta, the Satmar Hasidim).
It is against this background that the The Jewish State is published in 1896. Its author, Theodor Herzl, a Hungarian journalist posted in Paris, had been shocked by the public degradation of Captain Dreyfus, to the accompaniment of cries of "death to the Jews". Herzl, who in the beginning had been hostile to Zionism, senses the geopolitical interest that it might evoke; in this work he maintains in particular that "the creation of our State would be beneficial to adjacent countries", and then, a bit further on, that "… we should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism" (The Jewish State [Der Judenstaat]). Zionist groups now form across Europe. The sympathy they elicit from the nationalist right is notable; from the time of its appearance, Herzl's The Jewish State evokes the enthusiasm of François Drumont, a nationalist and Catholic journalist also known for his out-and-out judeophobia .
Zionism is also able to win the favour of the British imperialists that make up the "Round Table" group, an early think tank, some of whose noteworthy participants are Cecil Rhodes, after whom Rhodesia was to be named, Lord Rothschild and Lord Balfour. Indeed, the Middle East becomes an object of lust for the Western powers on account of its key position on the route to India (whether it be the land route or the maritime route through the Suez Canal); moreover, from the beginning of the 20th century onward, petroleum deposits are discovered there (first in Persia and in Kurdistan) just at the moment when this raw material comes to have prime strategic importance and when the Ottoman Empire, the "sick man of Europe", is already quite weakened. On May 16, 1916, two years before the end of World War I, the English and the French reach an agreement in the form of a secret treaty concerning the future colonial division of this region; the Russians give their assent because they covet Constantinople and its straits. (These "Sykes-Picot" agreements were later to be revealed by the Bolsheviks.) Ultimately, on November 2, 1917, the British publish the celebrated letter of Lord Balfour, in which he declares to Lionel Rothschild that "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".
At the end of World War I, the most salient fact in the Middle East is the meltdown of the Ottoman Empire. Had it not occurred, all Zionist congresses and the "Balfour Declaration" would have remained largely without consequences. The English, who were then to obtain a "mandate" over Palestine (at the San Remo conference in 1920), extend their favour to the Jewish community there by supporting its organisation as a quasi-state: creation of a Jewish police force (Jewish Settlement Police), a trade union of Jewish workers (Histadrut, which creates an embryonic system of social security), a national education system (Jewish schools and a Hebrew University in Jerusalem), a state that was to be reinforced in the 30s when German Jews arrive. Alongside, a clandestine army (the Haganah) is organised. "Intifadas" break out even in this early period and are severely suppressed by the English with the aid of Zionist paramilitary forces.
In Palestine, as elsewhere, the multiplication of states is no solution
In 1947, Resolution 181 of the newly founded UN (an organisation of allegedly "united" nations) proposes the creation of two new states: the first on the larger part (56.5%) of the territory of Palestine for the 500,000 Jewish immigrants; the second on the remaining 43.5% for 800,000 Palestinians (along with 10,000 indigenous Jews); while an international administration is planned for Jerusalem. This resolution is passed in total violation of the self-determination principle that the UN itself had adopted ("right of peoples to self-determination"). On May 15, 1948, just a day before the British mandate was to expire, Zionist forces, already benefiting from the organisational superiority they derive from their pre-state structures and from the technological superiority that is conferred by arms supplied from the West (including the Soviet Union), embark on a course of conquest of the whole country that is accompanied by systematic ethnic cleansing (massacres and destruction of villages). From then on and right up to the present, the new Zionist nation-state never ceases to reinforce and impose its law on the whole region.
Nationalism, colonialism, socialism… Zionism concentrates and exposes kaleidoscopically several political phenomena that are characteristic of the modern era. Let us start with nationalism, the principal identitarian movement of our time, though here it would be more precise to speak of state nationalism. From this point of view, Israel certainly is the embodiment of success as a state, a strong state that is armed to the teeth and coexists with a sick nation, to cite the observation made by Michael Warschawski (Israel-Palestine, the binational challenge: no one can overlook the existence of ethnic communitarianism, i.e. racism, in Israeli society, not just with regard to the Arabs, but between the various sections of the Jewish immigrant population as well; in this regard the author cites Netanyahu, the representative of the Israeli right, who questions the concept of that country's "melting pot"). And then there is colonialism: "my programme is a colonial one", Theodore Herzl wrote to Cecil Rhodes on January 11, 1902. Israel is the sole enterprise of colonialisation to have succeeded in the 20th century and, as things stand now, in the 21st. Neo-colonialism and Western imperialism should also be mentioned in this context for obvious reasons that were set forth in the first part of this text; and finally, socialism, along with the reversals it has suffered and which we hope will be temporary, because Zionism was originally conceived in Jewish circles that came out of the reformist left; since its birth and during most of its development, the State of Israel was to be governed by people belonging to this current.
The title of this article affirms that a decent, humane response to the Palestinian question is not to be forthcoming, except through a fundamentally secular social movement, a movement that considers everyone's religious affiliation or metaphysical concepts to be that person's strictly private affairs. It is especially interesting to note the etymology of the term laicism, largely synonymous with secularism and derived from a Greco-Roman root meaning "people"; the people is fundamentally comprised by the laity and is pluralistic. It is social, religious or state hierarchies that disdain this pluralism and instead favour particular (religious or ethnic) groups to the detriment of others, dividing in order to rule and exploit more effectively. Having advanced at a few points at the beginning of the 19th century, notably in France and Turkey, secularism has since that time continually retreated, a phenomenon that corresponds to the increasing obsolescence of the national phenomenon that follows the multiplication of national states.
However, this new secular and pluralist social movement, which we would welcome, will be capable of development only within a renovated left-wing movement that has learned the lessons of its past failures and faces up to the decomposition and even fragmentation that has beset it since the First World War, with the frenzy of the nationalisms it set free. After that event, the traditional socialist-communist left did not really behave more appropriately than the right when it itself governed, even in the field of religion. In some places it perpetuated the pathological instrumentalisation of religions by the state, elsewhere it suppressed and lorded over them, even denied them, establishing atheism as the new state religion. Zionism is a good example of these pathological relations: having developed in atheistic socialist circles, it was thereafter always capable of using the Jewish religion or evangelical Christians to its own advantage. The state should be above all else the guarantor of fundamental freedoms; in no event should it intervene in the cultural or religious life of the peoples or mess with people's beliefs.
In 1956, the ruling French left (headed by Guy Mollet) could have advanced a secular solution in the face of the developing drama of the Algerian war, in particular by introducing free and secular public education for all (at a time when only a tiny minority of Moslem children could attend schools), and also by introducing a single electoral college (at a time when Moslem voters were underrepresented with respect to Algerian Europeans by a ratio of 1 to 10). But this left-wing government saw fit to let the situation degenerate, in the end precipitating the mass flight of over one million people. This inevitably impoverished Algeria, because secularity and social mixing, which are essentially pluralistic, comprise the greatest wealth of society. At that very moment, those socialist rulers, allied with Israelis of the same political persuasion and with the British, played the clash-of-civilisations card by starting a war against Egypt, which had just nationalised the Suez Canal.
Even when it is ostensibly democratic, with "majority rule" – which results in the oppression of all kinds of minorities and makes it closer to being ethnocratic  – nationalism represents a fatally denatured form of socialism, a phenomenon that came to a climax first in Germany under Nazi rule (1933) and later in Palestine with Zionism (1948). But as early as 1921, Ben Gurion, the first elected secretary of the Jewish workers' trade union (Histadrut), favoured nationalism against socialism, a secular ideal, by opposing the entry of non-Jewish workers into his organisation. Nazism and Zionism, both of which purport to be socialist, though in reality nationalist, could not help but nurture one another in a symbiotic inimical relationship . Thus, starting in 1914, overcome by the might of the great historical wave that brought independent, egoistic and mutually hostile national states into being, the various Internationals (the Second, socialist, the Third, communist, the Fourth, Trotskyist) were unable to present a serious alternative to this phenomenon; as early as 1919, just after the World War and before she was murdered, Rosa Luxemburg grasped the gravity of this dramatic turn of events .
Toward new forms of worldwide struggle
The 20th century has seen many refugee dramas and other tragedies: in Algeria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Zimbabwe (the former Rhodesia), etc. Other dramas continue to develop and come to a climax in many other countries that have a high degree of social mixing: in Northern Ireland, Belgium, Spain… or in Palestine-Israel. What is noteable about this little region of the world, at a moment when weapons of mass destruction are becoming more numerous, is that Zionism, having purported to create a safe asylum for Jews, has failed to do so, just as it has not succeeded in creating a democratic state along Western lines.
Today, inter-nationalism is outmoded and obsolete, because it was never able to contest, or even to regulate the fact of nationality and set standards for it. On the right it has been overtaken by frenzied globalisation, and on the left by most of those that make up the alter-globalisation movement (though that is a very informal, heterogenous and even contradictory movement). We therefore appeal to all who are convinced by the theses that have been summarised here and of the necessity of learning the lessons of the past's lost battles, that they involve themselves in that great galaxy of activities in favour of another world, creating within it a tendency that is truly secular, popular and transnational.
Had such a movement already come into existence, it could have advanced serious alternatives that could have averted the dramas referred to above. Through involvement in favour of the solution consisting of one single democratic and secular state in the region of Israel-Palestine, and everywhere else in favour of pluralistic secularism and the creation of local, popular and transnational organisations, its aim will be to methodically scrutinise every means of opposing the old movement toward dismemberment and multiplication of national states, which has culminated in our present worldwide chaos. In short, its aim will be to update our old socialist movement, which still shows signs of life with its constructive progressivism, opposing it to neoliberalism, which though itself progressive in its way, is especially notable for its destructiveness.
A people that oppresses another is not a free people.
Lucien BRESLER, Djémil KESSOUS, Gary MICKLE
Note: Although none are actually religious, each of the three signers of this text are connected through family relations with one of the three great cultures, the Jewish, the Christian and the Islamic, which make up what are called the Abrahamic religions.
 Judeophobia, from its earliest origins, plays an essential role in the formation of Zionism. Proudhon, the father of anarchism, writes on the subject of the Jews in 1847: "I hate that nation, Voltaire's wish should be fulfilled and it should be sent back to Jerusalem (Diary [Carnet] V, pp. 82-83; note how the term nation is used here). A little later he adds, in the same vein: "This race must be sent back to Asia, or exterminated." (Diary [Carnet] VI, p. 178). Fifty years later, when Herzl's The Jewish State appears, Drumont, a Frenchman alongside whom Le Pen looks like a moderate, "(...) is among the first to react and applaud", and after that "... he shows the same enthusiasm several months later on the occasion of the first Zionist congress in Basel" (Kauffmann Grégoire, Edouard Drumont, Perrin, 2008, p. 318). "Were it not for Drumont, I would never have felt myself a Jew", writes Max Nodereau, on the other hand, one of the most important Zionist leaders of that era (Kaufman, ant. cit.) [return]