The AWL, Zionism and the struggle for equal rights in Israel/Palestine

by Martin Kemp, Teresa Bailey, Eliana Pinto, Kitty Warnock, and Pam Blakelock                                                                               July 2018

  1. Introduction

In this discussion paper we, a group of Labour Party activists, consider the approach taken by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty[1] (AWL) to the struggle for Palestinian rights. What follows is a commentary on a representative sample of relevant articles to be found on the group’s website. We make no claims regarding the status of any specific contribution. However, while open to correction on detail, the broad themes we identify are characteristic of the long term approach taken by AWL towards Israel/Palestine.

Alliance for Workers’ Liberty[2] (AWL) is a fringe group with members in the Labour Party. It is currently defending itself against accusations of being an entryist cult[3]; some adherents have been expelled. AWL aims to educate and organise its activists so as to turn the Labour Party into a movement ‘capable of liberating the working class, and humanity, by overthrowing capitalism’. It aims to involve itself in sectional spheres of political activity, with the distinctive goal of spreading the message that true liberation can only be achieved by a thorough going reform of society itself. Socialism requires ‘a mass movement that breaks up the state machine (police, army, top judges, and civil servants, monarchy….)’[4]. In the meantime, it seeks to create the conditions for such a revolution by its work with the grass roots in the trade unions, the Labour Party and Momentum, among students etc[5].


For many years the AWL has taken  positions on Israel/Palestine[6] which place it at odds with the international solidarity movement struggling for Palestinian rights[7]. Our survey of website articles show clearly that its energies are primarily employed to echoing, in a Left-sounding register, views similar to those that inform pro-Israeli pressure groups across the political spectrum. We conclude that it propagates ethnic nationalism and Islamophobia, and seeks to weaken any campaign or political analysis that effectively challenges the ideology and power of the Israeli State. One of its primary activities is spreading slander against those actually struggling for equal rights for all who live in Israel/Palestine.

  1. Solidarity AWL-style

A Workers’ Liberty article directed against the boycott movement begins: ‘At present, unfortunately, the dominant voices opposing [BDS] are supporters of the Israeli government …’[8] After reviewing the website Workers’ Liberty[9], our conclusion is that the role of AWL is to rectify this situation by opening up a new ‘left flank’ in the struggle against the boycott movement. We believe that it is the intention of those who determine AWL policy to re-package the latter’s dominant ‘tropes’ in a veneer of language designed to confuse genuine leftists. Given the high level of attention it gives to this particular issue, we think it reasonable to conclude that the AWL has as one of its primary aims to undermine the Left’s anti-racist and democratic commitment to the liberation of Israel/Palestine.

We shall first list the arguments presented by AWL which are lifted straight from the propaganda handbook designed to present Israel’s case[10] to the world, or which faithfully reproduce its positions while being given a whiff of revolutionary seasoning. AWL repeats the assertion that Israel is unfairly singled out[11], and as most Israelis are Jewish and most Jews identify with Israel, to oppose Zionism is anti-Semitic. Indeed, ‘the logic of the boycott is itself anti-semitic’[12]. AWL is fully committed to the revised understanding of anti-Semitism as enshrined in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance re-definition, designed to ensnare pro-Palestinian activists.

A Euro-centric disdain for ‘the natives’ informs the way the AWL rationalises Israeli human rights abuses. The draconian measures which fragment and humiliate the Palestinians ‘cannot reasonably be separated from Israel’s effort to protect its citizens from homicide bombers’[13]: i.e., it is the Palestinians’ fault that they suffer, and the oppression they face is secondary to their own violence[14]. Civilised Israel has to protect its citizens from the ‘clerical-fascist medievalists’[15] of Hamas, savage hordes whose barbarity explains if not quite justifies Israel’s brutality [16]. Boycotts, it argues, will harm, not help, the Palestinians[17]. We have to protect the Arabs from their own short-sightedness.

AWL repeatedly refers to those committed to more robust opposition to Israel’s occupation as ‘the kitsch-left and their Islamist allies’[18].  It claims that the true aim behind the solidarity movement, even if its supporters are unaware of it, is the invasion and ‘destruction of Israel by surrounding Arab states and its replacement by a theocratical Islamic clerical-fascist regime, as in Iran[19]. The AWL, visionaries in all respects but this one, can see no third alternative: it is either the triumph of Zionism or the triumph of jihadism. This precisely replicates the position taken by supporters of the Israeli regime: the only choice is the status quo, or Armageddon. The AWL website suggests not so much a profound ignorance of the history of the Palestinian resistance as a well-informed determination to misrepresent it. Very seldom are advocates of Palestinian liberation permitted to speak for themselves; they appear only as malevolent caricatures, easily unmasked by AWL’s masterly theoreticians.

In one article Israel is described as, ‘one of the most democratic societies in existence’[20]. We are encouraged to forget that for fifty years Israel has ruled over a subject population with no civil or political rights whatsoever. We are to assess the character of the Israeli polity without taking any account of its de facto annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, and at no point must we concern ourselves with the Palestinian refugees.

We shall end this section by looking at an example of pro-Zionist writing that has been given an extremely thin left-sounding gloss:

“The all-shaping characteristic of the Jewish colony in Palestine was the determination of its dominant and most dynamic elements not to be exploiters of Arab labour. They aimed to create a Jewish nation, with Jewish workers and Jewish farmers as its essential component. The Jewish colony, and Israel, never rested on the exploitation of Arab labour. They built a society in parallel to the Arab society (and most of it, anti-Israel myths notwithstanding, on reclaimed waste and swamp land)[21].”

In this shameful passage, idealising the work of settler colonialists in the first half of the 20th century, the AWL all but abandons its disguise as anything other than a Zionist front organisation. The Zionist immigrants who arrived in Palestine from the early 20th century, consistent with their intention of creating an exclusively Jewish society and state, excluded Arabs from employment and land ownership wherever they could. They picketed Jewish enterprises which employed Arab workers. AWL’s idealised picture of Zionist settlers as self-reliant idealists seeking to do their own thing on ‘reclaimed waste and swamp land’ is clearly designed to absolve a racist European colonial movement of responsibility for shattering inter-ethnic relations in Palestine. Their position conflicts with the academic researches of the ‘new historians’ like Illan Pape and Avi Shlaim, and with recent apologists for Zionism like Ari Shavit[22].

How do we characterise an attempt to re-frame the creation of an apartheid society as a refusal to exploit Arab labour? Orwellian? Stalinist? Even imperialist Labour leaders like Sydney Webb (largely responsible for Labour’s endorsement of Zionism in 1917) balked at the racism of the movement he had supported, once he realised how its strategy was poisoning communal relations and promoting conflict in Palestine[23].

We assume that the idealising of Zionist settlers ‘determined not to be exploiters of Arab labour’ is necessary to AWL’s rejection of the characterisation of Zionism as a settler colonialist movement. In this they participate fully in the West’s anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism which (as in every other example of anti-colonial resistance), portrays the efforts by the colonised to assert their rights as examples of the barbarism that justifies their oppression.

We accuse the AWL not only of justifying settler colonialism, but of wielding whatever influence it has to add to the peril in which the Palestinian people live day by day, year by year. Colonialism based on the extraction of surplus labour gives rise to one form of racism, described by Ghassan Hage as ‘the racism of super-exploitation’, designed to police relations of subordination. Colonialism based on territorial settlement and the denial of the rights of an indigenous people gives rise to ‘a racism of elimination’, designed to justify the total exclusion, by one means or another, of those with prior claim to the land[24]. The relationship of Zionism to the Palestinians is of the latter type.

We believe that the current witch hunt within the Labour Party, and the discourse on the ‘new anti-Semitism’ to which AWL gives its support, is driven by the need to exclude Palestinian experience and perspectives from public consciousness, consistent with the open racism expressed by the likes of Melanie Phillips and Brooke Goldstein.[25] The transformation of Palestine by the Zionist movement repeats a process which has recurred over and over again in the story of European expansion[26]. The fact that the colonists were themselves refugees (here, as in other historical examples) is important to remember, ensuring our empathic understanding of all involved in the ensuing tragedy, but it does not imply that the outcome of the colonists’ endeavours is morally uplifting or defensible[27].

  1. Anti-Zionism = anti-Semitism?

The AWL has published a number of articles[28] on the anti-Semitism it perceives motivating supporters of Palestinian rights. Its basic position is that Jewish people generally feel they belong to a collectivity, developing a sense of shared identity which has evolved into a desire for self-determination, and a form of nationalism or patriotism now realised in the State of Israel. This feeling, and the form that it has taken, are presented by AWL as being as legitimate as any other collective expression of patriotism or nationalism, for instance in France or Scotland[29]. As no link is made between the realisation of the dream of a ‘Jewish State’ and the dispossession of the Palestinians, it appears that there is nothing incompatible between Zionism and socialist principles, so any wish, proposal or act that would compromise Jewish Israelis’ right to a country in which they have a guaranteed majority, can be condemned.

This is not only logically absurd, as we shall argue below, it is also deeply sinister. AWL, like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and other groups claiming to represent Jewish opinion, arrogates to itself the right to determine what and who is anti-Semitic, based on their own ideological criteria. The truth that many Jews support Zionism is turned into an untruth, that Jewish people support Zionism, which is then turned on its head in some crazy logic, that therefore support for Zionism is an attribute of Jewishness. Thus could Jonathan Arkush, chair of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, declare that the Jewdas group are ‘a source of virulent anti-Semitism’, ‘life-long campaigners against the Jewish community’ – rather than proof of the Jewish community’s political diversity (an acknowledgement that would undermine his claim to speak on behalf of British Jewry). AWL does something similar by dismissing the significant numbers of Jews who support Palestinian rights as part of the ‘kitsch Left’. The latter have very often renounced their Zionist upbringings once they realised that Zionism was incompatible with universalist values: AWL abandons universalism in its determination to defend Zionism.

But let us take head on this argument about the supposed identification of Jews around the world with Israel. The assertion that this makes anti-Zionism evidence of judeophobia does not make historical or logical sense. Identifications of this kind change over time, and it is clear that there is now a growing revolt within Jewish communities around the world against the assumption that they support Zionism. Even if the vast majority of Jewish people identified with Israel, why would this make challenging their beliefs in any way racist? Would it be racist to oppose the current majority definition of what it means to be Burmese in Myanmar, another form of ethnic nationalism that has had such deleterious consequences for the Rohinga? Would opposing FGM be racist if the overwhelming majority of an African community believed that this practice was integral to their culture?

Another fundamental error underlying the AWL’s position is a refusal to acknowledge (what any mature adult in fact knows) that nationalism can take many forms, and that some of these forms contribute directly to historical experiences of the most destructive kind. Some forms of collective self-expression are more prone than others to result in the perpetration of systematic human rights abuses.  There is a stark difference between a nationalism based on the right of residence, the basis of the inclusive nationalism of the SNP for example, and an exclusive nationalism founded in fantasies of blood, historical right and religious messianism.

Of Israel within the Green Line, AWL claims that it is marred by abuses characteristic of any nation state. This is not true, ignoring the systematic dispossession of Palestinians, the destruction of their villages, and the refusal to recognise the rights of Palestinian refugees that characterised the early decades of the new State. Non-Zionist Israeli historians have argued that the character of the Israeli State can be in part explained by the fact that Zionism has its roots in the same East/Central European culture that gave rise to the ethnic nationalisms of the late 19th century, and which fed into the character of German and East European fascism between the World Wars. It is because Zionism is an ethno-religious nationalism that citizenship counts for so little in Israel: everyone is identified as belonging to a particular ‘nation’. Palestinian citizens of Israel have identity cards which impose on them the nationality ‘Arab’. Successive attempts by progressive Jews to have themselves registered as Israeli nationals have been rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, because such a category threatens the race-based nature of the State. Officially sponsored groups of thugs ‘police’ society’s intolerance of mixed-race relationships, to maintain the ‘purity’ of Jewish blood[30]; in Jewish residential areas, local committees can vet house sales, to ensure that non-Jews do not move in; a novel that depicts a romantic attachment of this kind is withdrawn from schools because ‘intimate relationships between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity’ cultivated by the education system[31]; tens of thousands of African migrants face enforced deportation because their presence (though a tiny percentage of the population) threatens the ‘national identity’ of the Jewish State. The judicial system ignores the blatant killing of Palestinian civilians: in the rare case when the courts cannot fail but take some action against Israeli nationals for crimes against Palestinians, the sentences imposed speak for themselves. (In 2016 the Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem decided to stop using the courts to seek redress for human rights abuses on the grounds that it meant colluding in the fiction of an independent legal system[32].) These are not examples of an ‘ordinary’ racism: this is about racism institutionalised, apparent in the constitution, the administration, the judiciary, the education system. In a democratic state, expressing an ‘ordinary’ nationalism, the law might discriminate in favour of the wealthy, but it is something else entirely when we see the judicial system swayed by considerations of maintaining ethnic exclusivity.

The AWL has nothing to say about this. On grounds of its abstract appeal to the ‘ordinary’ nature of Zionism, it wants us to overlook its consequences for relations between the Israeli State and the Palestinians. The denial of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, the abuse of state power since 1948 to dispossess Palestinian citizens of Israel (they only gained political rights in 1967), and the latter’s marginalisation socially, economically and politically since then – for the AWL nothing compromises Israel’s claim to be a liberal democracy like Britain or Germany.

The AWL does criticise Israel’s fifty plus years of illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet the manner in which it treats the Occupation is bizarre. The progressive colonisation of the West Bank says nothing to the AWL about the nature of the Zionist project or about Israel. The AWL treats Israel’s presence in these territories as an aberration, distinct from the Israeli State itself, ignoring the creeping annexation of areas now home to 750,000 colonists. The colonies are a primary undertaking of the Israeli State, to which all ruling parties, including the Israeli Labour Party, have been devoted. They are linked by a system of Israeli-only roads; children in the colonies are raised within the same education system as children in Tel Aviv; a Jewish Israeli votes in national elections whether he lives in Tiberias or East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Jewish Israeli and Palestinian children living within sight of one another in the West Bank are subject to completely different judicial systems, one consistent with Western standards of child protection, the other – the IDF’s system of military justice – an affront to civilised society. The whole oppressive system depends in every respect on the State’s full commitment to the colonisation project.

Since 1967 it has been a commonplace of Israeli discourse that the country faces critical choices. If it withdraws from the occupied territories there is the possibility of it evolving into a liberal democracy where the majority of the electorate are Jewish. If it colonises the West Bank and Gaza, it has either to accept that Jews will have no assured majority in a democratic society, or to maintain Jewish privilege by denying non-Jews their political and social rights (in other words, institutionalising a form of Apartheid). It has chosen the latter of these options, seizing the land and refusing to enfranchise the people who live upon it.

There are multiple instances in the Israeli narrative in which unacceptable aspects of Israeli society are projected into the Palestinians. Who, in fact, is trying to push another people into the sea (or at least, to ‘disappear’ them in one way or another)? Who is the major perpetrator of attacks on civilians, ie uses terrorism as a political weapon? The AWL indulges in such distortions when its propaganda rules out consideration of a non-Zionist future for Israel/Palestine. Rather than seeing this as a possible road to reconciliation, mutuality and ethic equality, it denounces it as tantamount to the ‘destruction’ of Israel which is subtly equated with ‘killing Jews’.

Its determination to protect Jewish Israeli privilege is disguised as the prevention of further outrages against people because they are Jews. On this basis they denounce any proposal that might actually meet the social and political aspirations of both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian peoples as a form of anti-Semitic violence. To imagine a world in which the rights of Palestinian refugees are recognised, discrimination against Palestinians on the basis of their ethnicity is ended, and where the Occupation is abandoned, is to ‘desire … the abolition of Israel as such’[33]. Hysteria replaces rational argument. No principle, no humanitarian need, no commitment to universalist principles or anti-racism is of consequence compared to this central commitment to ethno-religious nationalism as represented by the current Israeli regime[34].

Because the Palestinian solidarity movement bases its activism on well-established democratic values, anti-racism and the struggle for human rights, its politics have to be misrepresented by the AWL. Campaigners for equal rights in Palestine are turned into malevolent fanatics, whose ‘obsessive hostility’ towards Israel is a ‘seemingly ever-intensifying force in the labour movement’[35].  In an article on ‘left anti-Semitism’, one AWL author writes: ‘The policy of much of the left for the Israel-Palestine conflict is, in short, the one-state solution’, presenting the vision of a non-racialised Palestine as if it were an obvious anathema to real socialists. Proponents of a single State are automatically, if unconsciously, guilty of ‘left anti-Semitism’. While nowhere explaining how a State with a guaranteed Jewish majority can be maintained without being based on the dispossession of the Palestinians, to conclude that Zionism is a form of racism means ‘[putting] all Jews under suspicion as most living Jews feel some connection with Israel…’[36]  The criterion for racism is no longer the nature of an ideology and its practical consequences for inter-community relationships, but its relative popularity among the dominant ethno-religious group.  While the non-Zionist left is always being accused of ‘singling out’ Israel for criticism, in reality it is apologists for Zionism who are always offering Israel as a special and exceptional case, and this is a perfect example. It is not an argument that could be made in reference to racism in any other part of the world.

Following its own ‘logic’, the author of this article damns the boycott movement as anti-Semitic. ‘The BDS movement’, it claims,

“is logically for the systematic exclusion of Israel (and only Israel) from international commercial and cultural life. All Israeli goods, performers and academics are to be shunned because they are Israeli and because Israel has no right to exist[37].”

The writer again falls back on the now ubiquitous assertion that the Left is ‘singling out’ Israel, with the implication this is due to some sinister distaste for Jews. It was, of course, the same line of argument advanced by defenders of apartheid South Africa: when a global movement materialises to confront human rights abuses, it might well appear to the perpetrator that they are being unfairly pilloried. But socialists, one would have thought, would welcome the rare possibility of public opinion around the world being mobilised to re-assert its faith in human equality and the possibility of challenging the establishment’s collusion in oppression. (Jews for Justice for Palestinians have published a series of articles responding to the clamour about ‘singling out Israel’.[38])

It is not only that AWL is saying that ‘objectively’ the BDS movement seeks to ‘destroy Israel’ (as nonsensical as saying that supporting the Anti-Apartheid Movement implied a wish to ‘destroy South Africa’): AWL is lying about what BDS represents. (For details on what BDS does stand for, see below.) Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with BDS knows that it does not systematically shun ‘all Israeli goods, performers and academics’. Those critics who scoff at the distinction that the boycott makes between individuals and institutions complicit in the occupation do so because they need to portray the movement as one that targets Jews as Jews, not between supporters of an apartheid system and its opponents[39].

The dishonesty permeates another AWL contribution on ‘Left anti-Semitism’, one that both spreads a false picture of Zionism’s critics and obscures political reality in order to protect Israel. The ‘far left’, claims this author, believes that ‘the Jewish presence in historic Palestine is entirely illegitimate’, and seeks ‘forcible conquest’ to subsume Jewish Israelis into ‘a wider Arab State’ (all nonsense, as illustrated by this interview with Professor Nadim Rouhana[40]). In a clumsy passage that no doubt evidences the confused thinking behind it, the author suggests that this left programme ‘demands that Jewish people, uniquely amongst ethno-cultural groups, make a total break from certain aspects of their historically-developed experience or risk being considered basically akin to racists[41]’. Rather than encourage Jewish Israelis to reflect on recent history, to see how their privileges have been won through the ongoing subjugation of another people and insisting that there could be a more humane and democratic basis for relations between the two peoples, AWL lines up alongside those who justify the status quo, and the racist assumption that the claims and aspirations of the Zionist movement trump the rights of the Palestinians at every turn.

Finally, and now predictably, the article warns against speaking about power, because a concern with Israeli power echoes a feature of old anti-Semitism, which claimed that Jewish people were behind all the world’s ills.[42] While there is an important debate to be had about the nature and extent of its influence, one would have to be blind not to recognise the actual power of the Zionist lobby in Western political and cultural life. Those of us who have witnessed what has happened within the Labour Party in the last few years have first-hand evidence of the power of groups like Labour Friends of Israel and the Campaign against Anti-Semitism to progress a witch hunt against pro-Palestinian activists. A recent Haaretz article commended ‘magnate’ Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress,  for his courage in criticizing Israel, warning him of ‘the powerful right-wing slander machine that can chop him up and make a lefty traitor out of him in no time[43].’ If Lauder needs to be worried, where does that leave the rest of us? Have over twenty US states passed legislation prohibiting support of the boycott movement without lobbying by supporters of Israel?

The issue is more serious than this: Israel wields near-absolute power over the occupied Palestinian territories. A profound asymmetry characterises the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people. Visiting the West Bank is an extremely disturbing experience. It is a place in which absolute military control is exercised, without appropriate checks, to disintegrate and demoralise a subject population. One can list examples: the children abducted in the middle of the night, the extra-judicial murders of teenagers who pose no threat, the villages flattened to make way for Jewish-only towns, the house demolitions, the humiliations meted out at the check points, the theft of land and the plunder of resources, the torture, the endless detention without trial, the fiction of a meaningful judicial system. This without considering what has been done to Gaza.

It is a context where we absolutely need to be talking about power – about asymmetrical power relations, power exercised without responsibility, restraint and with a history of immunity provided by domestic courts and the international community. We suggest that the BDS movement is an attempt to get civil society to take on the moral responsibilities which Western governments and media have abdicated. It is shocking that a supposedly socialist organisation should repeat the accusation that those concerned to challenge the irresponsible power of the Israeli State are dabbling in anti-Semitism.

The Workers’ Liberty website is awash with caricatures of the Palestinian solidarity movement, the easier to brand its followers anti-Semites. No doubt one can easily find offensive material produced by people directing their anger or spite against Israel: just as one can easily find repulsively phrased pro-Zionist comments on any unmediated social media site dealing with the issue. It can be stated categorically that the solidarity movement does not consider the Jewish Israeli presence in Palestine to be illegitimate. The emphasis on the injustice perpetrated in the creation of a ‘Jewish’ State in a land already occupied by Palestinian Arabs is necessary when, in mainstream Western discourse, Palestinian historical experience and contemporary voices are routinely wiped from the picture[44]. The point is not to put the clock back, but to unite to right injustices perpetuated in the present. The solidarity movement quite clearly recognises the existence and rights of the ‘Hebrew-speaking Israeli-Jewish nation’: these are only challenged where unjustified claims are made that are incompatible with Palestinians’ equal claims.  Those supporting the ‘one state solution’ do so because they believe this is the only way members of both national communities can find security, justice and peace: a situation, perhaps, where a political culture dominated by the vertical divisions of ethnicity and religion could give way to a struggle for a better society for all.

We all know that the Holocaust has a well-earned place as the epitome of evil in Western consciousness. To brand any idea or person as anti-Semitic is thus to establish a link to an unspeakably horrific historical experience. To bend the definition of anti-Semitism to cover legitimate political beliefs or movements that seek peace and justice on the basis of establishing equal rights for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, to recognise both their individual and collective rights, is deeply reprehensible[45]. (An accessible academic assessment of the claim that anti-Zionism = anti-Semitism can be found in chapter 6 of Paul Kelemen’s 2012 book The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce).

  1. BDS = an attack on Jewish self-determination?

The BDS campaign focuses on three demands, all rooted in human rights and international law: an end to the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; recognition of the rights of Palestinian refugees; and an end to racial discrimination inside Israel itself. Workers’ Liberty’s attempt to build a case against BDS can be examined in detail in its 2011 article ‘The Political Logic of the BDS Campaign’[46]. Here AWL twists these human rights-based targets into a deceptive attempt to attack and destroy Israel. It is true (as stated above) that the introduction of democracy has implications for the wider settlement of relations between the two national communities that live in Israel/Palestine. What AWL’s argument actually demonstrates is that the desire to guarantee a majority Jewish state is now – as it has always been – incompatible with those universal values that we all take for granted as the bedrock of liberal (and, hopefully, a socialist) democracy, and of any civilised society.

For Workers’ Liberty, Jewish Israeli national aspirations can only be realised in one type of ethno-religious political formation, which just happens to be Israel as presently constituted. In fact, BDS does not aim to destroy Israeli Jewish self-determination: it implies an imaginative re-formulation of the context within which Jewish Israelis realise their national and collective aspirations, a framework which does not conflict with the national and collective aspirations of an equally valued and secure Palestinian community.

We could not find on the WL website any description of the origins of BDS, or details of the boycott call itself. There is no mention of the range of organisations within Palestine supporting it (all working-class organisations, by WL’s definition). They do not inform readers about the fundamental difference between the ANC-backed boycott of South Africa and the call for the boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the occupation[47].

If we are going to challenge BDS we ought to ensure that we know exactly what BDS stands for, and this can be found out more effectively by exploring the BDS website[48], and by listening to Omar Barghouti[49] in person, than by reading WL. A socialist Norwegian MP recently nominated the BDS movement for the Nobel Peace Prize[50]: at the very least this suggests that we should engage with the arguments for and against BDS in a serious, in-depth study.

The vast majority of Palestinians view support for BDS as a basic test of commitment to their liberation. Their non-violent resistance is in part sustained by the hope that, through the BDS movement, world opinion is finally being mobilised in their support. To encounter a British group calling itself Marxist and socialist that is actively undermining that hope is despicable, to say the least. Impervious to the demoralisation that their stance would cause to an embattled and fragmented people, the AWL blithely states:

‘We can see why the Palestinian trade unions and others support a boycott. In the desperate situation they face, this is understandable. But we do not agree.[51]

So much for working class internationalism, and solidarity with the oppressed.

To condemn armed resistance on the part of the Palestinians, and then to caricature and libel the one non-violent, human rights-based movement that stands some chance of confronting the power of the Israeli State, is to help create the conditions in which Israel can murder and maim civilians with impunity, as we have witnessed in recent months on an appalling scale in Gaza.

  1. “The Two-State Solution is the only solution”?

To spread confusion over the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people only serves the interests of the Israeli regime. Let us clarify certain facts. Since 1967 the whole of Israel/Palestine has been ruled as a single state. There is one set of international borders, one government, one armed forces, one currency; one company providing water, another electricity; one authority determining who can and cannot live within its borders, their status, whether they can travel and if so where, and by what route. For all Jewish Israelis, whether they live in Tel Aviv or any one of the illegal settlements, full participation in Israeli elections, the protection of Israeli civil law; for Palestinians, varying degrees of discrimination, control and incarceration, no meaningful recourse to the law for protection, most living without any civil or political rights, the sustained harassment of economic activity, and living subject to a plethora of regulations issued by the occupation Army aimed to make ordinary life impossible.

AWL doesn’t actually argue the case for a two-state solution: it simply proceeds as if this is the common sense view of any reasonable person, and that to oppose it is de facto evidence of bad faith. It is presumed by those who recite ‘The two-state solution is the only solution’, that there is some prospect of Israel returning to the pre-1967 borders (or something like them), thereby creating space for a Palestinian State. To dream of a different future is one thing, but the AWL begins from a fantasy version of current reality. Since signing up to a Palestinian State based on the 1967 borders in the Oslo Accords, Israeli governments (both under the Israeli Labour Party and Likud) have embarked on an accelerated colonisation of the West Bank designed to prevent any possibility of its realisation.  It has long been clear that Israel is not simply administering an ‘occupation’: it is working assiduously to incorporate the West Bank into the Israeli state – a de facto take-over, while reducing Gaza to the status of an uninhabitable ruin[52]. A wide range of commentators have concluded that the process of its colonisation is in effect a ‘creeping annexation’ which has effectively and purposefully destroyed the ‘two state solution’[53]. Some Israelis, more concerned about the moral fabric of their society than AWL, have lamented the consequences of the Occupation for the corruption and amorality that it engenders amongst Jewish Israelis[54].

In this context one has to question the sincerity of both Western governments, and pro-Israeli groups like AWL, who focus so much on the idea of Palestinian State as a solution to the crisis. What we notice is that the discourse never progresses beyond simplistic sloganizing. To make mock-heroic declarations about the ‘two state solution’ lifts our eyes above the present moment, and the daily costs of the Zionist project as they are borne by the Palestinian people, willing us to concentrate on some vague and illusory abstraction. To look down would mean bringing into focus the reality of the Occupation in all its violence and indignity. Advocates of the two-state solution urge that all energies on behalf of the Palestinians be channelled into the search for this chimera, while they do nothing useful to prevent the progressive colonisation of the West Bank and degradation of Gaza, and fail utterly to act to secure Palestinians’ rights in the face of Israeli power. We have to conclude that they, and the AWL, are exploiting the notion of Palestinian statehood as a meaningless fig leaf, covering their hope that the colonized will submit to being impoverished and powerless victims of a Bantustan-like cantonization of their land.

Practically speaking, to base one’s whole approach on the unrealisable demand for Israeli withdrawal serves as an excuse to avoid engagement in more meaningful forms of solidarity activism. For a Socialist to turn any one ‘solution’ into a shibboleth, let alone this racialised vision of the future, is odd. It takes as a given that human beings can only live together on the basis of their ethnic and religious affiliations. This goes against the historical experience of Palestine itself, as well as running counter to the philosophical foundations of Western socialist thought.

Pro-Israel biases are reproduced by the AWL in other ways. In Western discourse Jewish Israeli concerns and needs are considered sacrosanct, while Palestinian aspirations are ignored and demonised. Seeking to justify its support for the ethno-religious nationalism of the Zionist movement, the AWL gives an absolute veto to what it sees as Jewish Israeli opinion, but shows no sympathy for or interest in Palestinian aspirations. Recognition of the right of return of Palestinian refugees is a central demand of the Palestinian movement, but the AWL rejects this out of hand. Treating the current outlook of most Jewish Israelis as an unchangeable and unchallengeable fact of life, while Palestinian hopes are brazenly overlooked, avoids the opportunity to consider more inclusive and democratic alternatives to an apartheid state. It is the AWL’s commitment to Zionism that rules out consideration of a single democratic state that exists ‘for all its citizens’, based on the universalistic and humanist principles that have long characterised the struggle for a world without exploitation.

Not only that, but all the indications are that Israel’s governing parties all effectively reject a two-state solution[55].

  1. Gaza and Hamas

Following the lead of the Israeli government, the AWL demonises Hamas as a ‘clerical-fascist’ organisation[56]. It uses language most likely to convey to a Western readership something demonic, not deserving of our sympathetic understanding or serious analysis[57]. Hamas is an untouchable. It is a rabid monstrosity pictured as if a prime actor in the drama, threatening to impose its ugly and repellent intentions on a rightly anxious Israeli public.

We hold no brief for Hamas. But we would expect socialist commentary to avoid puerile invective to characterise any of the parties to this tragic situation, particularly when Israel and the West routinely hold Hamas responsible for Israel’s own murderous attacks on Palestinian civilians[58]. Even if we reject the politics of Hamas, an empathic and complex analysis of the movement and its social base is surely called for if we are to make a serious contribution to a politics aiming at the liberation of both the national communities of Israel/Palestine.

The obvious conclusion is that the AWL isn’t interested in understanding – it does not offer an assessment of the current parlous state of Palestinian politics as the outcome of the fundamentally asymmetrical and abusive relationship between the Israeli State and the Palestinian people. Israel funded and encouraged the expansion of Hamas when it wanted a counterweight to the PLO; now that it has reduced the Palestine Authority to a tame, dependent rump, it demonises the more radical and independent position of Hamas, making Hamas the excuse and justification for a brutal Occupation that was fully functioning long before Hamas was born.

We can have no idea what kind of political directions any of us would take living under conditions such as those endured in Gaza (and the West Bank) in recent decades. Rather than arrogant moralising, or demonising Palestinian groups like Hamas, it would be more fitting for a group from Britain to support sanctions and boycott as a means of forcing Israel to lift the siege and bring relief to the people of Gaza. This is particularly true when responsibility for depriving the Palestinians of the power to change their government is shared by Israel and the Western powers, who would not accept the democratic will of the people in electing a Hamas government in 2007.

  1. Conclusion

AWL is a Zionist organisation, though it does not describe itself as such[59]. Its commitment to Zionism cancels out its commitment to socialism and internationalism whenever the two conflict. Rather than critique the ethno-religious nationalism which, by imposing a settler colonialism on the territory, has brought violence and apartheid to Palestine with all the misery and suffering that inevitably follows, the AWL wants to shield this racialised supremacism from public scrutiny and condemnation. We believe that, in doing this, it fails to identify the growing power of eliminatory racism within Jewish Israeli society. Guilt for the crimes against humanity which result has to be shared by those who spread confusion and splitting within the labour movement.

AWL purports to support the Palestinian struggle, while at every turn providing arguments why no pressure should be applied to force Israel to change course[60]. During the massacres inflicted on Gaza during August 2014 Workers’ Liberty even advised its readers not to demonstrate against the BBC’s pro-Israel bias[61]. In another article it began a ‘discussion’ to prepare its readers to defend an Israeli attack on Iran[62].

AWL spreads calumnies about the beliefs and motives of Israel’s critics because it cannot openly challenge universalist, democratic, anti-racist ideas; nor can they openly defend settler colonialism and apartheid. Instead, Workers’ Liberty – like other Zionist propaganda outlets –  slanders the principled, human rights-based activism of the solidarity movement, shamelessly smearing it with accusations of anti-Semitism, while demonising the Palestinians themselves. In this way, and whatever they claim to the contrary, they promote the ongoing witch hunt of Palestinian activists[63].

In place of AWL’s sloganeering, splitting and misinformation, we urge Party members to:

  1. take seriously as a guide to action the values of the Socialist International, as outlined in its Ethical Charter[64] and Declaration of Principles[65], with the insistence that they inform the ideological outlook of all member parties[66] 
  2. support all principled, human rights based, non-violent forms of solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian’s civil, political and human rights, particularly those that represent the expressed will of Palestinian civil society, ie the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS).
  3. welcome and defend the NEC’s Code of Conduct on anti-Semitism. It rejects the most offensive aspects of the IHRA ‘definition’, but it isn’t perfect, including the Zionist assertion that there is a Jewish Nation that has a right to self-determination, rather than a Jewish Isreali national community, sharing a territory with a Palestinian national community. See the commentary by Jewish Voice for Labour[67].
  4. pressure Israel on specific issues: the siege of Gaza, the torture of children, the expulsions of African refugees, the use of excessive and lethal force, collective punishments, extrajudicial executions, ‘administrative detention’, the plunder of land and other resources, as elements of the struggle for justice and security for all.
  5. avoid wasting precious energy on the chimera of a ‘two states solution’ (which mistakenly converts a struggle for civil and political rights into a clash of nationalisms and a question of borders, and disguises the fact that I/P currently operates as a single political entity), but rather demand the universal exercise of full civil and political rights, as the basis for the freely expressed, democratic self-determination of both Jewish Israeli and Palestinian communities. Partition does not exist at present, and if it happens ought to come about through a democratic process.
  6. counter Zionist propaganda by calling things by their right names: Israel as at present constituted is advancing a settler colonial project, and its objective of taking the land and refusing to enfranchise its inhabitants results inevitably in an Apartheid society[68]. The attempt to create a ‘Jewish State’ with a guaranteed majority has been the cause of unimaginable suffering, in an ongoing Naqba that has clear genocidal aspects[69]. (Goodle ‘Palestine Genocide’ to consider further.)
  7. recognize that the way forward does not lie in an entrenchment of racial supremacism, but in reconciliation through a process of decolonization[70].                                                                                                                                                                                              References:

[1] http://www.workersliberty.org/

[2] http://www.workersliberty.org/

[3] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2018-02-12/witch-hunt-tries-prohibit-radical-ideas

[4] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-08-22/alliance-workers-liberty-who-we-are-what-we-do

[5] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-08-22/alliance-workers-liberty-who-we-are-what-we-do

[6] http://www.workersliberty.org/search/node?keys=BDS

[7] There are of course differences between organisations within the solidarity movement, but they can be said to be part of the same conversation: AWL is not part of that conversation. By ‘solidarity movement’ we refer for example to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Jewish Voice for Labour, Bricup, Pacbi etc. Among the media outlets participating in this ‘conversation’ would be Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, 972mag,

[8] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/01/14/why-left-wing-students-should-not-support-boycotting-israel

[9] http://www.workersliberty.org/

[10] https://www.transcend.org/tms/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/sf-israel-projects-2009-global-language-dictionary.pdf

[11] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/01/14/why-left-wing-students-should-not-support-boycotting-israel

[12] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/01/14/why-left-wing-students-should-not-support-boycotting-israel

[13] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[14] To point this out is not to justify attacks on Israeli civilians. It is to expose the way that Palestinian violence is used to rationalise Israel’s massacres as self-defence, ignoring the colonial context in which the encounter between the two takes place.

[15] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/03/05/stop-israeli-atrocity-gaza

[16] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[17] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/01/14/why-left-wing-students-should-not-support-boycotting-israel

[18] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[19] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[20] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/03/05/stop-israeli-atrocity-gaza

[21] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[22] See eg Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: the Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (2013), Ilan Pappe The Idea of Israel ( 2016), The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007)

[23] See Paul Kelemen, The British Left and Zionism: History of a Divorce 2012)

[24] https://www.academia.edu/9041521/Writing_Anti-Racism

[25] Denying the existence of the Palestinians is becoming a trope of those defending Zionism, being repeated by the likes of Sheldon Adelson, Melanie Phillips  and Brooke Goldstein, who organises the ‘lawfare’ project targeting pro-Palestinian activists.  See eg https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-lawfare-group-plans-massive-punishments-activists; and http://melaniephillips.com/if-liberals-dont-oppose-palestinian-colonialism-they-cant-be-liberals/  One used to think that legislation on hate crime was intended to protect the powerless, but in practice it can operate the other way around. If Palestinians were powerful, these statements would be criminalized, but they’re not, so the verbal obliteration of a people is treated as if compatible with ‘our values’. We can only make sense of this by clearly distinguishing between the ‘formal’ from the ‘effective’ characteristics of the cultures to which we belong.

[26] For a discussion of the racisms to which settler colonialism gives rise, see Patrick Wolfe’s Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race (2016)

[27] The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia published (and was then forced to withdraw) a report called ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’ in which the reasons for describing Israel/Palestine as an Apartheid society is fully documentedhttps://electronicintifada.net/sites/default/files/2017-03/un_apartheid_report_15_march_english_final_.pdf

[28] See: http://www.workersliberty.org/search/node?keys=anti-Semitism

[29] To illustrate the over-simplification of the AWL’s argument about Jewish patriotism, we might use an analogy. A sense of ‘Dutchness’ developed at some point, perhaps as a result of the religious wars following the Reformation. This collective consciousness came to be given political expression, but in two very different forms. In Holland it took the form of a ‘normal’ nation state: a state, ultimately, for all its citizens, regardless of religion or ethnic background. The Dutch refugees who colonised South Africa were not ‘worse people’ than those who remained in Holland. But they did not develop a ‘normal’ nation state in the same terms, because they chose to realise an exclusive version of ‘dutchness’ in a territory inhabited by others, thereby creating a nightmare from which both black and white South Africans have only recently emerged.

[30] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTRsnoAmgjc; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obyMraYBg6M.

[31] www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-694620

[32] https://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20160525_occupations_fig_leaf

[33] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/02/05/zionism-anti-semitism-and-left

[34] To repeat a point made already: controlling a territory in which non-Jews constitute half the population with a political system which guarantees political power exclusively to the Israeli Jewish community is no more democratic than Apartheid South Africa, which also gave all the freedoms characteristic of liberal democracy to the privileged ethnic group.

[35] https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-09-22/how-israel-came-be-worlds-hyperimperialism

[36] http://www.workersliberty.org/antisemitism

[37] http://www.workersliberty.org/antisemitism

[38] http://jfjfp.com/understanding-the-conflict/9-key-debates/singlingoutisrael/

[39] Hence the ludicrous suggestion that BDS ‘rules out’ working with ‘Israeli refuseniks and Israeli peace activists’: see https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[40] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY1z9S44xP8

[41] http://www.workersliberty.org/node/26603

[42] http://www.workersliberty.org/node/26603

[43] https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-lauder-s-j-accuse-against-netanyahu-s-israel-is-also-a-mea-culpa-1.5917716

[44] See, eg, http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol14no1_2015/sayigh_silenced.pdf

[45] There is a considerable body of academic work exploring this distasteful practice, see eg N. Finkelstein (2008) Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-semitism and the Abuse of History. See : http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk

[46] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/07/10/political-logic-bds-campaign

[47] Even five years after the call for boycott by Palestinian civil society, the AWL gives prominence to the two Israelis sacked as members of editorial boards in 2002, cases which would not come within the Palestinian definition of the terms of the boycott as elaborated in 2005. See http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/01/14/why-left-wing-students-should-not-support-boycotting-israel and https://bdsmovement.net/what-is-bds

[48] https://bdsmovement.net/

[49] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkqdrWFjw-Y

[50] https://bdsmovement.net/news/bds-nominated-nobel-peace-prize

[51] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2010/01/14/why-left-wing-students-should-not-support-boycotting-israel

[52] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/02/gaza-becoming-uninhabitable-as-society-can-no-longer-support-itself-report

[53] Search the Haaretz website for ‘one state solution’ to glimpse the nature of the debate within Israel on this.

[54] See eg A.B. Yehoshua, a leading Israeli novelist, here: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-time-to-nix-the-two-state-solution-and-stop-israel-s-apartheid-1.6011274. And Daniel Bar-Tal et al, The Impacts of Lasting Occupation: Lessons from Israeli Society (2014).

[55] https://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2018/01/08/let-the-two-state-solution-die-a-natural-death/

[56] https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/why-supporters-two-states-should-not-join-smash-israel-boycotters-solidarity-yes

[57] For a cooler assessment of Hamas, on the two-state solution and other matters discussed here, see the interview with Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, here: http://www.thedawn-news.org/2017/11/10/quick-thoughts-avi-shlaim-on-israels-new-historians-hamas-and-the-bds-movement/

[58] A conscious act of denial and projection repeatedly employed following the recent bloodbath in Gaza.

[59] By Zionist, we mean the following: a belief that all Jewish people, the world over, constitute a ‘nation’; that this ‘nation’ has the right to its own State, a State in which there is a guaranteed Jewish majority located in Palestine, rights which need to be upheld irrespective of the implications for any other people. Amongst Zionists there is a distinction between those who believe Israel has a right to ‘Judea’ and ‘Sumeria’, and those who believe Israel should withdraw to its 1967 borders. There are those who believe passionately in such a withdrawal, and others who pay lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state while devoting their energies to defending the Israeli regime from pressure to change course.

[60] https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/swp-backs-two-states-israel-palestine

[61] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2017-07-26/media-biased-over-gaza

[62] https://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/07/28/what-if-israel-bombs-iran-discussion-article. WL published a reply from the Israeli activist Moshe Machover, briefly expelled from the Labour Party. He certainly meets AWL’s criteria as an anti-Semite: See ‘AWL: Abominable Warmongering Left’ at https://www.workersliberty.org/machover

[63] http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2009/02/12/israel-and-left-wing-anti-semitism-open-letter-editor-guardian-2009

[64] http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticleID=24

[65] http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticleID=31

[66] The Council of the Socialist International has recently passed a resolution supporting BDS, leading the Israeli Labour Party to leave the organisation. Given the values and principles set out in the footnotes above, this is entirely appropriate. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180711-israels-labor-party-quits-socialist-international-over-latters-support-for-bds/

[67] https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/blog/jvl-welcome-for-the-nec-statement-on-antisemitism/

[68] The crime of Apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_of_apartheid

[69] https://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-incremental-genocide-gaza-ghetto/13562. Google ‘Palestine Genocide’ for further articles, discussion.

[70] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01419870.2017.1324999?scroll=top&needAccess=true