Friday, August 22, 2014

PART TWO: Exposing the Israeli Left: On the Issue of Israel's Radicals

Tel Aviv protest against bloodshed in Gaza, and for a return to negotiations. Source

Written by Linah Alsaafin and Budour Hassan

While it's necessary and urgent to delegitimize liberal Zionists, less clear is the position we should take from the anti-Zionist left. And although anti-Zionist Israelis are so few and far between and can hardly be considered a significant segment of the political or social sphere in Israel, they receive disproportionate coverage especially in progressive media outlets. We are aware, however, that this debate remains an elitist one centered on social media and the blogosphere and does not really preoccupy most Palestinians on the ground because they don't even know about the anti-Zionist minority. And frankly, they are not supposed to care either.

During the last month, anti-Zionists have organized several small vigils against the aggression on Gaza in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. Those protests were often attacked by right-wing mob, as were individual and human rights organizations that are outspoken against Israeli crimes in Gaza. Veteran Israeli activists would quickly point out that this level of incitement against them is unprecedented and would go on to say something to the effect: "Leftists are the new Palestinians," or "Palestinians and Israeli leftists are the victims of this new wave of Israeli racism." The common theme in all that they say and write is the portrayal of Israeli leftists as victims.

No, dear Israeli radical leftists, you are not victims. You are part of the problem. You are part of the reason why our people continue to suffer. Your very existence at the moment comes at the expense of the refugees who were ethnically cleansed from Palestine and who continue to be bombed by Israel in Gaza. Just because you are beginning to experience a tiny fraction of what Palestinians face on a daily basis doesn't mean it's okay for you to play the victim role or even imagine the possibility of equating your "suffering" to that of the Palestinians.

Social price

We often hear about the social price that anti-Zionist dissidents are forced to pay, such as the fact that they are sometimes shunned by their own family and slandered and demonized by their society. It does perhaps make you feel better when you go home from your weekend activism but hey, don't we all need to please the self-righteous part of us sometimes and pretend that we are sacrificing massively when we are in fact doing very little? It's always nice to go home and say, "We were attacked by fascist mob because we opposed the war." Western media would love it. Even Arab media would applaud you for your courage and will write poetics about your heroic actions. And some Palestinians would consider you a partner. Otherwise we'd be called racists because pointing out the privileged of the good colonizer constitutes racism apparently.

The "hard choices" you made are your minimum moral obligations as a colonizer and as an essential part of the system that oppresses Palestinians. You are not doing anyone of us a favor by appeasing your conscience. The choice to oppose racism and Jewish supremacy and murder is the least one could do. And one definitely doesn't expect to make hard choices without paying a price.

If you want to know what hard choices look like, ask the Palestinians who were displaced from Palestine and had to walk in the desert for weeks to reach Kuwait. Ask the Palestinians who had to choose between dying under Israeli bombs or fleeing their houses to nowhere in Gaza. This is how our hard choices look like. And regardless of whatever social price anti-Zionists pay, their colonial privileges remain intact.

To seek admiration for your heroic stance or satisfaction from lessening the guilt complex you have is missing the point entirely, especially if this comprises the goals or aims you have. In fact, the less you think of yourselves as unsung heroes, the better it is for your ego, mental state of mind, and for Palestinians as we will stop rolling our eyes on an almost permanent basis.

Within the system

Another striking feature of the small antiwar vigils in Tel Aviv is that they were held under the protection of the Israeli border police to prevent confrontations with the right-wing mob. By accepting this, anti-Zionist leftists remain confined within the system they supposedly seek to dismantle. After all, it's not the right-wing mob who bomb Gaza and murder protesters in the West Bank. It is the very army and border police that protect the antiwar protests in Tel Aviv. Thus, unwittingly or otherwise, those antiwar protestors contribute to the promotion of the facade of Israel's democracy and tolerance for dissent.

The same applies for Israeli – and Palestinian - leftist human rights organizations that still rely on the Israeli judicial system to "defend" their freedom of expression rather than recognizing that the judicial system is an arm of the Israeli occupation.

It’s fair to say that dear anti-Zionists, your presence isn’t doing anyone any good. The Israeli society hates you, and the Palestinians don’t care about you. Do not go looking for sympathy, (or empathy, whatever you prefer), because we have run out of both. Your remaining in the country does not constitute any form of sumoud.

Instead, it only amplifies the state of privilege that you live in, such as the goddamn freedom of movement (it must be so hard to organize a carpool to go to the West Bank, no?), the right to have an Israeli partner wherever they live in the country, and the absence of institutionalized racism leveled at you at whatever you set out to achieve, whether that be education, getting building permits for your home, or finding a job.

Do not fool yourselves into thinking you are allies or partners for “peace” by virtue of a few token Palestinian acquaintances, because the fact of the matter remains glaringly obvious: you are too insignificant to make a difference to change your genocide-loving government or to win the hearts of the oppressed.

It’s best to leave the country. That way, you’d be doing us a favor of laying out the naked truth for all to see. It’s time to be honest. Your numbers are too little to compose a minority. The resources you have at your hands may have duped some of the western and increasingly Arab media—who absolutely love a feel-good story and buy into that whole Israeli-Palestinian joint struggle or common purpose—into believing that you are a small but plucky group risking it all to fight for the Palestinian side.

It's not surprising that all those movies about "joint struggle" would attract attention and admiration. Not because they reflect the reality on the ground but because they show the world what it likes to see: the Israeli who fights with the Palestinian hand-in-hand. Yet that is not the case at all. How can it be, seeing that you come from a much more superior standing? Whether you like it or not, and as hard as you try to ostracize yourself from the others, there is no escaping that you benefit from the occupation system. Put your resources towards a better investment. Raise awareness for the Palestinian struggle outside of Israel. It is no secret that the (hypocritical and complicit) international community’s favorable narrative in support of the Palestinians will be a welcome asset to our struggle for self-determination and an end to the occupation. 

Making the distinction

With all that said, we are still capable of making the distinction between anti-Zionists who are third-generation settlers and anti-Zionist leftists who made Aliya and settled in Palestine by virtue of the Return Law. The latter might have seen the light at last and discovered the evils of Zionism but insist on directly benefiting of the racist "Return Law' when they could easily go home to where they actually belong.

We also make the distinction between anti-Zionist Israeli settlers who live in Palestine by choice and those who want to leave but cannot afford it. And there are anti-Zionist leftists, who lie on the margins of the movement and who come from the underclass. Those individuals-who can be counted at the fingers of one hand- are in Palestine because they have nowhere else to go but don't use the Palestinian cause to make a career. They are aware of their privileges but you won't find them writing articles about the hard choices they made. The rest, however, are a privileged bunch of dual citizens or upper-middle class attention-seekers who believe they can change the Israeli society.

And to be quite honest, we do not care about the Israeli society. We don’t care to humanize or dehumanize them, although the latter is more appropriate. We will never buy into this two-sides two-equal-suffering all-we-want-is-peace bullshit. We don’t want peace with Zionists or with anyone that reaps the profits from a inherently violent jingoistic colonial system.

And this might disappoint you greatly, but we don't advocate for transitional justice nor do we have the luxury talking about truth and reconciliation when being bombed, fragmented and deprived of our most basic rights. Transitional justice is for white people. We want revenge from the system that stripped us of our humanity.

To the Israeli society in general: Coexistence is not on the agenda. We do not have the time to waste waiting for Israel's radicals to make a social revolution or convince their society that Zionism sucks. We are not imploring, beseeching, or asking you. We demand an end to the occupation, for you to break out of the prisons you have for minds, and for the love of all things good and holy, end the siege on Gaza. 


  1. Hi Linah and Budour. Thanks for this series of interesting pieces. I have a question, if you have time and energy to answer. In the last two years I have read Linah's piece from 2012 "How obsession with non-violence harms the Palestinian cause" multiple times and it has been very important in my reflections on the occupation, solidarity activism etc. In that piece, Linah wrote that Israeli activists should focus on changing their own society. If i understand correctly, though, you are now saying there is no point in Israeli radical activists trying to change their society. I would be very interested in understanding why you changed your mind on this issue. Do you think that radical Israelis are such a tiny minority that they will never be able to make a difference? Or do you think that politically it would be wrong to try and engage with such a fascist society? Thank you very much and all the best with your work.

  2. As a strong supporter of Palestinian rights, and a long time critic of Israel's policies including ethnic cleansing, occupation and brutalization of Palestians over the past 66 years, it makes me sad to read pieces like this. I applaud all Jews, inside and outside of Israel, who stand openly on the side of justice for Palestinians. It's not their fault they are Jews, or Israelis, and it's not their fault if they haven't experienced what many Palestinians have experienced. Many of these people are my good friends, and several have paid the price for their support of Palestine. I think it's extremely mean spirited to demean them and to belittle their contribution which I personally think is valuable. Fortunately I don't think the sentiments expressed in this piece represent those of most Palestinians.

    1. yes they do represent those of most palestinians.... and honestly most Palestinians don't care about you're opinion either! ;)

  3. Being born into a privileged class doesn't make you an evil person. Dietrich Bonhoffer and the White Rose were privileged Arians - does that make them evil? John Brown was a white man, yet he played a major role in the start of the civil war and the abolition of slavery. Was he evil? Should these privileged dissidents be the target of "revenge"?

  4. It's a shame to see allies fighting amongst themselves. And it's unfortunate that the occupation and oppression of Palestinians by the government of Israel has made it so difficult to see there are some Israelis on the side of justice who should be supported

  5. There are many such examples. Oskar Schindler was not Jewish but he used his own money to save 1200 Jews from almost certain death. In Palestine there were Jews who saved Muslims, and Muslims who saved Jews. And throughout history many many unsung heroes who stepped in to save individuals and families at great personal risk. Some of them were caught and punished, often by death.

    These people were motivated by humanism rather than by religion. I stand in awe of every one of them, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for Jews in Israel who use their privilege to do whatever they can for their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

  6. Thanks! I will send this to al my fallow activists who think that if they go to some protest once a week they are heros.

    They will say that they can't leave Israel because they are so poor. But most of them have the mony and sometime the citizenship of another country. If someone realy can't leave then they can refuse to create more Israelis.

    אתן כובשות בעצמכן - הפסיקו לכבוש את הפלסטיניות, עזבו את ישראל אם יש לכם אמצעים, אם לא, אל תלמדו באוניברסיטאות ותרכשו השכלה על חשבון סבלם של הפלסטינים, וסרבו להפוך את גופכם למפעל לייצור "חיילים דמוגרפים" למדינה, שיגמרו בית ספר ויהפכו לפושעים (כי אין שום ביטחון שהן ילכו בדרככן)

  7. Yeh, come and get us! Reality check, please

  8. In his autobiography, Malcolm X mentions an encounter he had with "one little blonde co-ed". The young woman was so moved by his speeches that she flew from her college in New-England to New-York and tracked him down in a restaurant in Harlem. The short encounter is mentioned a couple of times in the book. Upon seeing her, Malcolm remarks: "I'd never seen anyone I ever spoke before more affected than this little white girl". She asked him whether he believed there were any "good white people" and what she could do to contribute to the struggle of the black people. Malcolm's answer was "Nothing". She burst into tears and ran out into the streets of Harlem.

    Just like Budour and Linah, the young Malcolm X rejected all white people, and expressed a special disdain towards "white liberals" who asked to contribute to the cause, arguing that "adding white cream to black coffee weakens it".

    But within a decade of activism, he gradually abandoned his separatist approach, writing: "I regret that I told her she could do 'nothing.' I wish now that I knew her name, or where I could telephone her, and tell her what I tell white people now when they present themselves as being sincere, and ask me, one way or another, the same thing that she asked." In another incident he said: "Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. . . . I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me twelve years."

  9. There are a couple of contradictions and logical gaps in this text, but let me point to one of them. Start with the sentence: "Your very existence at the moment comes at the expense of the refugees who were ethnically cleansed from Palestine and who continue to be bombed by Israel in Gaza." Note that the author is not saying: "Your actions are the problem", nor even "Your presence is the problem". The problem is "your very existence". If we take this diagnosis seriously, if "the very existence" of certain kind of people is the problem, the logical conclusion should be that this kind of people cease to exist.

    But the author doesn't reach this conclusion. Instead he thinks that these people should leave Palestine. Thus, we must conclude that it is not the "very existence" of a people that is the problem, but something else. Maybe the problem is that "these people" incur some sort of favors from Israel? But that couldn't be right, because there are also Palestinians who incur favors from Israel, first and foremost the Arab citizens of Israel, who also enjoy "the goddamn freedom of movement". If everybody who receives privileges from Israel is a barrier to the liberation of Palestine, if the only solution is that they leave the country, there would be many Palestinians who need to emigrate out of the country. But the text doesn't reach that conclusion either. Only the Jewish people living in Palestine should leave. But why and what for? How would the emigration of a small minority of anti-Zionist Jews serve the Palestinian cause? The text is not clear about that.

    We conclude that the author criticizes anti-Zionist Jews, not because of their "very existence" and not because they are "privileged", but because of some other reason. What this reason is, we are not told.

  10. A similar transformation was described by Nelson Mandela in his autobiography "The Long Walk To Freedom". As a young man he was "angry at the white man, not at racism..." adding that "while I was not prepared to hurl the white man into the sea, I would have been perfectly happy if he climbed aboard his steamships and left the continent of his own volition." Just like the authors of this unfortunate blog-post.

    However, at a later stage Mandela shifted his position, opposing black nationalists who argued that whites didn't belong in South Africa and defending a multiracial society in which whites were not only welcome, but necessary(!) to the country's development. In reaching out to whites, Mandela had to deal with harsh criticism from many younger activists. His former wife Winnie was, at times, one of his harshest critics, accusing him of appeasing whites at the expense of blacks.

    It is natural for revolutionaries to be firebrands who are doctrinaire and single-minded, who regard compromise as a dirty word and a sign of weakness. Yet real leaders, such as Mandela and Malcolm X, displayed flexibility and magnanimity, accepting the notion that nobody should pay for the crimes of their ancestors and that all are eligible of redemption.

  11. I honestly have no idea how you think you are knowledgable or able to write about this subject. You are not from the Israeli left, and you seem to not have any friends there otherwise you would be having a tiny bit more empathy for them. Empathy is a human trait, and it can bypass horrible other things that are unjust, like life under occupation, and the seige. I plan to go back to Israel, my homeland where my parents raised me with humanist radical left values like anywhere in the world, to learn arabic and try to solve this conflict. Maybe live in the west bank if I was somehow accepted as equal and enacted full rights. In turn I would love if there would be a one state solution, zionism in its anarchist form means jews have the right to live in the land of Israel.In communes,equitable fashion, no war, full civil rates, no state. The Israeli left is being boxed out Amira Hess. who is a longtime communist activist and writer, has spoken to Palis and lived in as well as told about the lives of Arabs in Ramallah and Gaza(Mid 1990's) see drinking the Sea at Gaza, was just kicked out of Birzeit from a conference she was invited for. What is up with the Pali left? Are you guys trying to commit suicide?? If you kick out the only remaining longtime Israeli partners, you will be losing so much support. You cannot expect Israelis to stop loving their home. You cannot expect me to stop loving my community despite the fact that I hate the government. I love people in general, and I carry that to protests anywhere including Israel Palestine and California, everywhere around the world. It doesn't make a difference. If you talk all the time about BDS and antinormalization all you are doing is upping your self pity and trying to crush Israel instead of creating a new palestine. If you try to kill my parents(as a people, not you personally) I will fight you back. Camus once said that between Justice and his mother he prefers his mother. You ever tried moving 6 million people in a region as small as ours?? The government tries it sometimes, it doesn't work cuz of international pressure, inability to use full military force, not really a well for genocide if u ask me but that's just me. You think it might work for you guys trying to kick us out?? Hamas is trying pretty hard. A few thousands and counting, bit of a drop out of 6 million in this demographic war.
    Good luck trying to outpower us I guess, another alternative might be giving a chance for Taayush, for the sake of our children if you ever plan to have any.Or for the sake of a future palestine. Thats the only way