Sunday, March 12, 2006

The World According to the "Palestine Solidarity Movement" (Global Intifada)

Via David Hirsh at Engage, this is a recent update from the so-called "Palestine Solidarity Movement" on its struggle against the world Zionist conspiracy: "Challenging the New Apartheid: Reflections on Palestine Solidarity" (from Left Turn: Notes on the Global Intifada). It proposes, not for the first time, that the slogan of "challenging the new apartheid" can be used as an effective rhetorical framework for de-legitimizing and eventually destroying Israel. Since the perspective it expresses is not limited to its authors, this discussion is illuminating in several respects. It is a compact statement of eliminationist anti-Zionism. The piece begins:
The Palestinian solidarity movement has made significant gains since the onset of the Second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. Over the last five years, a new generation of Palestinian solidarity activists has mobilized in the streets, campuses, and schools across North America. Among the left and progressive movements, there is broad acceptance of the proposition that US foreign policy in the Middle East is based on support for Israel as a “colonial-settler” state, to draw upon the title of Maxime Rodinson’s classic work. Every major mobilization against the war in Iraq has seen the Palestinian struggle placed up front in opposing the US war machine, and most activists new to the movement are introduced to the Palestinian struggle and history through an anti-Zionist perspective.
I'm afraid that this assessment is not entirely incorrect.

Incidentally, Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004) was an important French scholar of Islam who was a Jew and a committed Marxist. Based on his understanding of what the latter position implied, he was opposed in principle to the creation of Israel and regarded it as illegitimate. One can acknowledge Rodinson's intellectual honesty and consistency in holding this position without necessarily agreeing with it (which I do not). However, once Israel was actually in existence, Rodinson did not support what might be called an "Algerian" solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict--that is, the violent destruction of Israel, including the expulsion or flight of the Jewish "settlers," along the lines of what happened to the European-Algerians (and, it might be added, the Algerian Jews, who had been living in that part of the world since before the coming of Islam). He was also properly skeptical of the notion, sometimes advanced as a well-meaning illusion and more usually as as cynical propaganda, that two violently hostile nationalities could be shoehorned into one bi-national Israeli/Palestinian state. Instead, Rodinson generally favored a pragmatic solution that accepted Israel's existence alongside an independent Palestinian state.
In that respect, the position of the "Palestine Solidarity Movement" expressed here is quite different. The authors make it clear that the real target is not Israel's occupation of the West Bank & Gaza but the existence of Israel itself.
The overdue end of the Oslo process and its attempt to narrow the “Palestinian question” to a state-building project in the West Bank and Gaza Strip opens enormous opportunities in the coming period. In particular, the space has opened for renewing an analysis of Israel as a colonial, settler state based on a system of apartheid resembling apartheid South Africa.
Israel is an apartheid state not just because of its policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli state defines itself as a Jewish state and, therefore, cannot be a state for all its citizens. More than 90% of 1948 occupied Palestine is land that only Jewish people can control or develop.
The phrase "1948 occupied Palestine" refers, of course, to the area that some people call "Israel."
The PLO’s signature on the apartheid blueprint of Oslo rendered the institutions of the national movement (the PLO and the Palestine National Council—Palestinians’ parliament in exile) a hollow shell.
The "apartheid blueprint of Oslo" means a two-state solution that accepts Israel's continued existence alongside an independent Palestinian state. In short, "ending Israeli apartheid," as the authors put it elsewhere in this discussion, means ending Israel.
The authors also make it clear that they regard the use of "apartheid" rhetoric and the analogy with pre-1994 South Africa as crucial in undermining the legitimacy of Israel's existence per se, as opposed to just attacking the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Of course, there is nothing new about this rhetorical strategy--it has been significant since at least the 1970s.
This apartheid analysis provides an extremely powerful strategy for our movement. It bridges all parts of the Palestinian people: those who are citizens of Israel, those living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and those in exile. It is a strategy grounded in the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands. It also makes sense: equality of all in a democratic state regardless of religion or ethnicity.
The analytic link with South African apartheid helps to clarify the real nature of Zionism as a reactionary and exclusivist colonial project. The strategic demands of boycott, divestment, and sanctions that we put forward help to illustrate the powerful ties between North American and European capital and the Zionist state. [etc., etc..]
Lest anyone be fooled by the reference to "a democratic state regardless of religion or ethnicity," this phrase is just a repetition of the formulation from the original PLO charter that was used as a code for the elimination of Israel (the "Zionist entity") and its replacement by a "democratic secular state" of Palestine. The PLO charter made it clear that this "democratic secular state" would be an Arab state (which, unlike a Jewish state, is presumably OK) and proposed that all Jews who arrived after World War I should be expelled. The authors of the current piece have dropped the "secular" part of this formulation, which would be a little embarrassing since they are also cheerleaders for Hamas.
Back in the real world, it so happens that in the entire Arab Middle East there is no actual example of a "democratic state" that offers "equality of all ... regardless of religion or ethnicity"--as Kurdish or Christian minorities, for example, are well aware. Until one or two states of this sort are actually created in the area, the proposal that Israelis should commit national suicide in return for the experiment of living as a minority in an Arab-dominated state does not look like an attractive bargain. (The fact that around half of Israeli Jews are refugees from the Arab Middle East and Iran, or their descendants, is likely to make them especially skeptical about trying the same experiment again.)
At all events, this propaganda phrase is just a distraction from the main thrust of the piece, which makes it straightforwardly clear that the goal to be pursued is the elimination of Israel, and that the purpose of international agitation and propaganda in "solidarity" with Palestinians is to promote this goal by undermining the legitimacy of Israel's existence per se. Drawing the analogy between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa is a key element in this propaganda strategy.
The important steps made in the last five years towards strengthening popular solidarity for the Palestinian struggle lay the groundwork for future victories. The possibility of building a successful campaign to isolate and end Israeli apartheid is probably more likely today than at any other time since the establishment of the Israeli state. Accompanying this possibility is the responsibility to sustain and improve what has been built so far.
For those of us who do not agree that "building a successful campaign" to isolate and eventually destroy Israel is a worthwhile or morally acceptable cause, the responsibility is to unmask and oppose this campaign of eliminationist anti-Zionism as strongly as possible. A necessary part of this effort is to confront any bullshit about "Israeli apartheid" head-on.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub