Zionism-episode-graphic

Double podcast episode on a people’s history of Zionism and opposition to it within Israel, in conversation with former members of Israeli socialist group Matzpen, Moshe Machover, Haim and Udi.

Part 1

Part 2

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MORE INFORMATION
– For more information on Matzpen, check out their website: http://www.matzpen.org/english/ or watch this documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfcFno2pqJg
– For further reading written by Matzpen co-founder, Moshe Machover, see his archive on the Matzpen site: http://www.matzpen.org/english/tag/moshe-machover/ See also other collections of Moshe’s texts on the Israeli Occupation Archive and libcom.org websites: https://www.israeli-occupation.org/tag/moshe-machover/ // https://libcom.org/tags/moshe-machover
– For a further expansion of Moshe’s discussion on the podcast regarding the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, see his article ‘Resolution of The Israeli–Palestinian conflict: A socialist viewpoint’: http://www.matzpen.org/english/2009-02-10/resolution-of-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict-a-socialist-viewpoint-moshe-machover/
– For more texts written by Moshe’s comrade and fellow Matzpen co-founder, Akiva Orr, see the archives on the Matzpen and libcom.orgwebsites: http://www.matzpen.org/english/tag/akiva-orr/ // https://libcom.org/tags/aki-orr
– The recordings of Aki were taken from the following videos: Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – https://youtu.be/MwjKa9v6OAY
// Author and activist Akiva Orr on Israel’s wars – https://vimeo.com/19444809
– The complete archive of the English-language editions of Khamsin: Journal of Revolutionary Socialists of the Middle East can be found on libcom.org: https://libcom.org/library/khamsin-journal-revolutionary-socialists-middle-east
– For a good overview of the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, we recommend Ilan Pappe’s History of Modern Palestine. We would also recommend Matzpen’s 1972 pamphlet The Other Israel: The Radical Case Against Zionism: http://www.matzpen.org/english/category/the-other-israel/ // https://libcom.org/library/other-israel-radical-case-against-zionism
– For further reading on the workers’ movement (both Arab and Jewish) in Palestine pre-1948, we would recommend Zachary Lockman’s excellent book Comrades and Enemies: Arab and Jewish Workers in Palestine, 1906-1948 (which also contains information on ‘left-wing’ or ‘workers’ Zionism and its contradictions) as well as Musa Budeiri’s Palestine Communist Party, 1919-48: Arab And Jew In The Struggle For Internationalism. Further reading on the Histadrut’s contradictory role as both union organisation and employer can be found in the relevant chapter from The Other Israel: http://www.matzpen.org/english/1972-02-10/the-histadrut-union-and-boss/
– For an overview of the 1947-49 Palestine War, commonly known as the ‘Nakba’ (‘catastrophe’ or ‘disaster’ in English), see the ‘Palestine Problem’ chapter from The Other Israel: http://www.matzpen.org/english/1972-02-10/the-palestine-problem/
– For a more in-depth look at the systematic nature of Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the war, see Ilan Pappe’s ‘The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’: https://libcom.org/library/1948-ethnic-cleansing-palestine-ilan-pappe
– For more on the 1967 ‘Six Day’ War, see Moshe’s ‘The War Israel Planned’: https://www.israeli-occupation.org/2017-07-11/moshe-machover-the-war-israel-planned/
– For more on the 1982 Lebanon war, see Chomsky’s ‘History of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982’: https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2003/06/23/16218181.php
– For an in-depth look at the first and second intifadas, and the significant differences between them (as well as wider history of resistance and demobilisation by the official organisations of ‘national liberation’, see Aufheben’s ‘Behind the 21st century intifada’: https://libcom.org/library/21st-century-intifada-israel-palestine-aufheben

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Edited by Louise Barry, from Audio Interference: http://interferencearchive.org/category/publications/audio/
Thanks to Max Blumenthal (https://twitter.com/MaxBlumenthal)for permission to use audio from video clips which are here: https://youtu.be/MwjKa9v6OAY and https://vimeo.com/19444809

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Transcript

Part 1

John:

In 1948, following the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, the State of Israel, as a Jewish state, was declared by David Ben-Gurion, executive head of the World Zionist Organisation, in what is referred to by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’. Conflict in the region continues to this day but despite the prevalence of nationalism, small groups within Israel have opposed Zionism and colonialism and, instead, fought for socialism. This is Working Class History.

[The Internationale sung in Hebrew]

Matt:

Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of the Working Class History podcast. My name is Matt and today is the first of a two-part on the anti-Zionist movement in Israel, with a particular focus on the revolutionary socialist group Matzpen. A small group originating in a split from the Israeli Communist Party in 1962, Matzpen punched far above their weight and gaining a profile which made them infamous in Israel for their uncompromising line on the Occupied Territories and the Zionist project as a whole. Over the next couple of episodes, we’re going to hear from some Matzpen activists and talk about their experiences of radical political organising inside Israel. First up, we hear from one of Matzpen’s founders, Moshe Machover, to hear about his part in this fascinating chapter of working-class history. Before we start talking about Matzpen, I was hoping you could maybe explain to some of our listeners what Zionism is.

Moshe:

It’s really fairly simple because Zionism is both a project and an ideology. As an ideology, it is the claim that Jews all over the world are not a religious denomination but a nation. The second part of it is that the real homeland of this nation is the land of Israel which is roughly what used to be called Palestine but may be defined as a little bit larger than Palestine as it was under the British Mandate. The Land of Israel is the ancient homeland of the Jewish nation.

Matt:

The British Mandate was the part of Palestine or part of the Middle East that was run by the British at the time.

Moshe:

It was. I can go into this because history is a bit complicated but to put it very simply, between the end of the First World War and 1947/48, it was part of the Middle East under the British Mandate. That meant that the League of Nations, which was the international organisation set up after the First World War, gave Britain a mandate to rule Palestine; not eternally part of the British Empire but to look after it, as it were, [laughter] until such time as the ‘natives’ could rule themselves.

Matt:

Yes, the ‘natives’.

Moshe:

This was the mandate system run by the League of Nations. Part of Zionist ideology is that the ancient homeland of the Jewish nation is the land of Israel, which is roughly Palestine. I can put it like this; in order to be a Zionist, you don’t have to believe in God. Most early Zionists were atheists and they didn’t believe in God but they did believe that God promised that part of the world to the Jews. The claim of the so-called Jewish nation over that part of the world is based, essentially, on religion which is rather a contradiction. Finally, Zionist ideology claims that it is the right of the Jewish nation to colonise that part of the world which when Zionism came into being was not inhabited mainly by Jews. Jews were a minority and maybe between 5-10% of the population of Palestine, as it was then. However, Zionist ideology claims that it is the right of the Jewish nation to colonise Palestine and they did use the word ‘colonise’ at the time. It wasn’t regarded, even among the liberals, then as a dirty word. They used it freely and then they used other words and they speak now about settlements rather than colonies. This brings me to the Zionist project and the Zionist project is the project of implementing this ideology by colonising Palestine. The Zionist project is the project of colonising Palestine, the Land of Israel, by Jews so as to establish a Jewish nation-state with an inbuilt and secure Jewish majority.

Matt:

A large part of the Zionist movement was left. Were there any attempts at Jewish workers and Arab workers, or Palestinian workers, to organise together either politically or in unions during the mandate period?

Moshe:

There were such attempts. Politically, they were often under the leadership or sponsorship of the Palestine Communist Party but the Jewish workers that were involved in these joint struggles were mostly those who actually became anti-Zionists. Zionist colonisation, in its early days and until well into the history of Israel itself after it was created, was led by so-called left-wing Zionism or working-class Zionism. Zionist workers’ parties were in great conflict with the local Palestinian working class because they regarded them as an obstacle, as in places like Algeria or South Africa. The settlers built their economy on the exploitation of the labour-power of the indigenous population. In Palestine, Zionist colonisation became more like the colonisation of Australia or North America where the indigenous population was surplus to requirement. It was supposed to be displaced. Certainly, the Zionist project involved displacing the indigenous people. The logic of this is clear because you couldn’t create a Jewish nation-state with a Jewish majority if the economy was supposed to be based on exploiting the local labour because the people who actually do the work are always the majority. So the existence of the Palestinian Arab working class was an impediment and they had to be displaced. In fact, individual Jewish capitalists who employed Palestinian workers, like farmers and others, were forced by actual threats and sometimes by violence on the part of the Zionist workers’ organisations to dismiss and sack the Arab workers and to employ Jewish settler workers instead.

Matt:

The policy described here by Moshe was known at the time as ‘Hebrew labour’. In this clip taken from a talk in 2009, Akiva Orr, another founding member of Matzpen, more commonly known as ‘Aki’ to his friends, explains the role which the Histadrut had as the Zionist movement’s central labour organisation in enforcing the policy.

Aki:

The first activity of Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, when he started the Histadrut in 1922, was to go to every Jewish employer who employed Arabs, to the Baron Rothschild settlements who employed Arabs in the vineyards, in order to beat up the Palestinian workers and to terrorise the Jewish employers to say, ‘Don’t employ Arabs. Jewish labour only.’ The Histadrut was a major tool in ousting the Palestinian workers from the economy of Palestine. When the Palestinians had the great strike of 1936, the railway stopped working, the refineries stopped working and the Port of Haifa stopped working because everybody was a Palestinian worker. The Histadrut said to its people, ‘You go and operate these places,’ and the Histadrut acted as scabs, breaking the strike of the Palestinians and they were willing to give weapons to Jewish youth to help them fight against the Palestinians.

Matt:

From your perspective, what happened in 1948 and how does it differ from Zionist accounts?

Moshe:

The war had its roots in a conflict that grew between the British Mandate authorities and the Zionist organisations. Initially, the mandate authorities promoted Zionist colonisation. That was what the mandate was about. The mandate was a document that was granted by the League of Nations and it was actually written by Britain itself as one of the victorious powers in the First World War. The text of the mandate included, verbatim, what is known as the Balfour Declaration which is the document in which Britain promised the Zionists that they would promote and encourage the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The idea, from the British point of view, was to use this settler community that they were going to promote as a sort of loyal community to protect its own interests in the area. As the first British Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, put it, ‘It would create for Britain a little, loyal, Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism,’ which chimed very well with the perspective of the Zionist movement. The founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, said in his diary that the Zionists would fall for Europe. He didn’t include America, at the time, as the civilised nation of the world but Europe, as a bastion or fortress against Asiatic barbarism. Coming back to the Zionist project, they had a problem. In Australia, in North America and in Algeria, the settlers were nationals of an empire that put them there, protected them and used them to serve its own interests locally. The Zionist project was not manned. The people who actually did the colonisation were not nationals of the empire that ruled the place. They didn’t have a mother country to protect them and they needed a surrogate mother. So from the beginning, the Zionists looked for protection and for sponsorship from whichever empire was dominant in the region and after the First World War, it was Britain. They got this protection but they were a little bit at crossed purposes. What Britain wanted was a local, loyal settler community which it would use against the surrounding population. The Balfour Declaration did not actually promise the Zionists an independent, sovereign nation-state. That was more than Britain actually wanted. Whereas, the Zionists actually wanted the latter. Gradually, during the 1930s, a rift began to open up between the British Empire and the Zionist project. The Zionist project wanted more than Britain was prepared to give, especially because its interests in the other parts of the Middle East, in the surrounding Arab countries, were threatened by its sponsorship of Zionism. It came under pressure because parts of the Arab nation were unhappy about what Britain was doing in Palestine. So from the 1930s, Britain started to restrict its support for Zionism and this is how the conflict arose whereby the Zionist settlers started to rebel against Britain and tried to get rid of it. They did that not in order to give Palestine, as a whole, its independence with majority rule, of course, because Jews were still a minority there but in order to create their own independent Jewish state. Palestine became ungovernable and Britain brought the issue to the United Nations and the United Nations passed a resolution on 29th November 1947 to partition Palestine. This was the disastrous legacy of the British Empire in three places; in India, where they couldn’t rule the place anymore and so they partitioned it and was a purely British arrangement; in Cyprus; and in Palestine. In Palestine, the partition was part of the United Nation’s resolution. Although the country still had a predominant Arab majority and the Jewish settlers were a minority, the partition resolution gave the Jewish state a little bit over half and the protected Palestinian Arab state a little less than half. I’m coming to something that is now topical which is that Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, including Bethlehem, was supposed to be run by neither the Jewish state nor the Palestinian Arab state but to be internationally ruled. This is the reason why, after the war of 1947-49, no country recognised Israeli rule over Jerusalem and didn’t recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This was the situation. Obviously, the Palestinian Arabs and the surrounding Arab peoples resented this resolution which gave the minority of Jewish Zionist settlers in Palestine more than half of the territory of their homeland. This was the background of that war. They refused to accept the United Nations’ resolution. The Zionists actually did accept it, hoping to use what they predicted correctly would be a war to go beyond it which is exactly what they did. Even before Israel was actually declared, which was on 15th May 1948, right after the United Nations’ resolution, a civil war developed in Palestine between the Palestinian Arab majority and the Zionist settlers and ethnic cleansing started right away.

Matt:

When you say about ethnic cleansing, could you explain what that entailed?

Moshe:

What that entailed was that when the part of Palestine that was inhabited by Palestinian Arabs came under the control of the Zionist army, the Haganah, which was the precursor of the Israeli Army before May 1948, and under the official Israeli Army after May 1948, they were evicted. They were encouraged, as it were, willy nilly, to leave their homes and to go towards the border. If it was the north of Palestine, say Galilee, they were pushed towards Lebanon and Syria.

John:

There’s clear historical evidence of all that and I’ve seen, in videos online, some of your colleagues who were in Matzpen saying that when they arrived in Israel in 1948, they saw the original inhabitants leaving with all of their stuff. One of your colleagues in Matzpen said that when he told people at his university that he saw that, they had an argument and they beat him up for saying that he saw them leaving. What’s the Zionist account of what happened?

Moshe:

No one disputes the fact that the majority of the Palestinian Arabs, who lived in the territory that became part of Israel in 1948, left the country. The question is whether they left of their own will and secondly, whether there was any plan to displace them. That is the dispute but I think, by now, it has been proven conclusively that there was such a plan. The whole of Zionist history and documentation of the Zionist movement is full of discussions around how to get rid of the Palestinian Arab population. The war of 1947-49 presented an opportunity to do that.

Matt:

Can you tell us a little bit about your political development? How did you come to break with Zionism?

Moshe:

It was a sort of gradual process. As a teenager, until the age of about 16, I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, which is a left-wing, Zionist, youth movement and sponsored by Mapam, which used to be a leftist, Zionist party in Israel. The ideology Hashomer Hatzair was a very interesting and self-contradictory amalgam between Zionism and Marxism. I joined Hashomer Hatzair in about 1948/49.

Matt:

How old would you have been?

Moshe:

I was born in 1936.

Matt:

Wow! So you were about 12 years old.

Moshe:

I was about 12 or 13 years old when I joined Hashomer Hatzair. At that time, its Marxism was a very Stalinised form of Marxism. They were actually supporters of the Soviet Union, except on the question of Zionism where they had differences. There is some kind of contradiction between the Marxism and Zionism.

Matt:

My understanding of Hashomer Hatzair is that they thought of themselves as liberating the Palestinians from Palestinian feudal landowners.

Moshe:

That was their excuse.

Matt:

Sort of saying, ‘We’re going to establish Jewish socialism that would then liberate them.’

Moshe:

‘We are bringing progress to them.’ They were not sponsoring collaboration or joint struggle between Jewish and Arab workers. Their perspective was to bring socialism to the country not by the class struggle of the working class, whether Jewish, Arab or whoever but by founding collective farms.

Matt:

The kibbutzim.

Moshe:

The kibbutzim were purely Jewish, of course. At that time, that wasn’t what worried us. It was that there was no class struggle in this whole project. Zionism was embued with settlement projects but not with class struggle, so this [24:13 – unclear] didn’t fit in with Marxism. The most basic thing with Marxism is that socialism would come about through class struggle and there was no element of class struggle in their practice and in their project in Israel at the time. That worried us and we raised this question which led to our expulsion eventually [laughter].

Matt:

Your first expulsion.

Moshe:

I’ve been expelled three times. My first expulsion was at the age of 16 from Hashomer Hatzair. The thing was that, at the time, we didn’t question Zionism as such but we did question the form of Zionism that was advocated by Hashomer Hatzair which had nothing to do with the class struggle.

Matt:

How did that play out in the Israeli Communist Party’s anti-Zionism or non-Zionism?

Moshe:

The Israeli Communist Party and the Palestine Communist Party, which preceded it during the time of the mandate in the interwar period, did regard Zionism as a colonising movement and opposed it as such. This element disappeared slightly…

Matt:

From the Palestinian Communist Party?

Moshe:

…from the Israeli Communist Party. They didn’t stress this element of Zionism being a colonising project. What they stressed was that it was a protege of American imperialism and its anti-Soviet stance but they did not accept, of course, the idea that the Jews all over the world are a nation and that Israel was their homeland. To this extent, we became non-Zionists or opposed to some elements in the Zionist ideology.

Matt:

As part of his break with Zionism, Aki also found himself moving towards the Israeli Communist Party. In this clip, Aki explains how it happened, as a result of his strike with fellow merchant seamen in the early 1950s.

Aki:

Because I was a kid who grew up by the beach and I learned swimming by myself, I became a swimming champion. I was the champion of Maccabi in 200 metres breast-stroke in ’45, ’46 and ’47. Because I was a swimming champion, when the war in ’47 broke out, I hadn’t finished high school. I was 17 in 1948 and I was one year before finishing high school but they drafted us, at 17, before we finished high school. The navy wanted to take me into the navy because I was a swimmer, so I went into the navy. I never fought in 1948. I mean I was mobilised in the navy but there was nothing at sea because the Palestinians didn’t have a navy. I spent two years on ships travelling in the Mediterranean and doing fuck all. I was then released and I went into the merchant navy where I started on the ship that went from Haifa to New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and back to Haifa. From Haifa, empty and from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, loaded which was a three-month trip. After three months, I arrived back and I started as a deck boy. They didn’t count my sea time in the war navy and said it didn’t count. I came back to Haifa and I got my pay slip for three months. I was paid for 12 hours per day because you had to do eight hours watch-keeping, holding the wheel in those days, and four hours overtime at sea. You couldn’t say no and you had to do the overtime, so I did 12 hours for three months. I came back to Haifa, I got the payslip and after the deductions of income tax, union tax, etc., it said at the end, ‘You owe the company $50.’ [Laughter] I said, ‘What?!! After three months of 12 hour days, I owe the company?’ I go to the union to talk to the secretary. The shipping company was owned 50% by the trade union movement, Histadrut, and 50% by the government. I go to the seamen’s union building and I said to the guy who was in charge of the union, the secretary of the union, ‘Listen, what is this? This is the first payslip of my life. I have to pay the company?’ I realised that he was never a seaman and he was never elected. He was appointed by the Histadrut. Moreover, he was not a seaman, not elected and was appointed by the Histadrut. From 8-12, he acted as the seamen’s union secretary, had a lunch break and then he sat on the board of directors of the shipping company! The same guy! Because the Histadrut wanted to save expenses, they put the same guy both on the board of directors of the shipping company and in the union. Everybody was outraged. There were about 600 seamen and about 30 ships. We said, ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute. We want elections.’ The Histadrut wouldn’t let us have elections and we had to fight for the elections. In the end, we had elections and not one of the Histadrut candidates won. They had a campaign of terrorising people and bribing people and not one of the Histadrut candidates one. All those that won and were elected to the seamen’s union were the ones that the seamen themselves elected. We had our own delegation elected by us. The Histadrut came and said, ‘We don’t recognise the results of the elections.’ We said, ‘What do you mean you don’t recognise them? There were elections and they were not rigged, do you agree?’ They said, ‘Look in the book of rules. In the book of rules of the Histadrut, it says that in order to be a legal representative of workers, one must be a) elected by the workers and b) authorised by the leading bodies of the Histadrut.’ The Histadrut was actually the economic arm of labour Zionism and they were afraid that trade unionist demands would conflict with nationalism. So they built it so that you had the bureaucracy of the union before you had the organised workers and the bureaucracy organised the whole thing so that everything depended on the bureaucracy. For example, when they deducted union fees from me, the union fees didn’t go to the union. The union fees went to a central department which then dished them out to the unions. If the union doesn’t play, they don’t get the money from the Histadrut. It was a centralised organisation completely ruled from the top and [31:29 – unclear] that no union will start to become too trade unionistic. The Histadrut said, ‘We don’t recognise your election result,’ and so we had a strike against the Histadrut for 40 days. I was in New York when the strike began. I heard about the strike from New York stevedores in November 1941. Someone from the New York stevedores came to us and said, ‘Listen, do you know there’s a strike in Haifa?’ We said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘Yes, there’s a strike. We heard it on the radio.’ There was no TV then. I think I was in Greenpoint Avenue in Brooklyn where there was a dock and they came to us and said, ‘There’s a strike in Haifa. If you want, we will stop loading this ship and we’ll see that nobody else loads this ship.’ Jesus! I didn’t know what international solidarity of the working class meant. I didn’t know and didn’t hear the words but I was very impressed with the New York stevedores. They came to us and they didn’t want anything and said, ‘If you ask us, we will see to it that nobody will load this ship.’ We had a meeting to decide what to do and the people who were not married and didn’t have families wanted to stay in New York and said, ‘Let’s accept it.’ The people with families said, ‘No, we want to go back,’ and the people who wanted to go back had the majority. We went back to Haifa and when we arrived in Haifa, people came to us and said, ‘You stay on the ship. Nobody gets off the ship.’ We said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Because the police will drag you off and Ben-Gurion will bring scabs from Italy and Greece to run the ships. If the ships go and we are on strike, we will lose.’ We waited on the ship. I think it was either 14th or 21st December 1951 and I was on the ship on a rainy morning. We were tied to the breakwater, so there was half a mile of water between us. We could see on the quay about 200 police mustering there with helmets, shields, batons and overcoats. They were mostly new immigrants. On my ship were people who were in the underground in the Stern Gang, the Haganah and Etzel and were all veteran Israelis. For the first time, I saw 200-300 policemen like an army and I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute. Who are they coming for? I didn’t break the law. The strike is legal. We didn’t do anything illegal. Why are 200 policemen mustering against us?’ Before this, I never saw so many policemen. This vision of the police as a body of 300-400 people wearing helmets, etc, made me political. I said, ‘Wait a minute. The police are not just there for catching thieves and directing the traffic. They’re a force in society. Who orders them to come to me, who never broke the law and who is involved in an activity which absolutely legal, to take me off the ship?’ They came onto the ship. We had a big fight and we threw them all off. They couldn’t win the ship. We captured the Head of the Police, Bodinger, who was the father of the guy who later became Head of the Israeli Air Force. He climbed on a ladder with a pistol in his hands and we said, ‘Fuck you! Who the hell are you to wave this pistol at us? We were in the underground fighting the British. You come here with a pistol?’ We were outraged. We were not scared. Nobody was scared of the fucking pistol. We grabbed him up and we threw the pistol to hell and then everybody who had a private account with him said, ‘Okay, it’s your turn now.’ We smashed him to pieces [laughter] and then we locked him up in a cabin. We were accused of attacking the police. They came to us and we were accused of attacking them. During the strike, I started to read all the newspapers. I experienced something and I saw its description in the press and I could judge the papers because I saw what was written. Most of the newspaper journalists didn’t bother to come and find out what happened and see. They sat at home and wrote what they felt or what they thought and many of them were against us. They sat in the office. One newspaper sent a journalist who spoke to seamen and reported it as it was and as I saw it and the leading article was for us. That was the newspaper of the Communist Party. I said, ‘They say the truth,’ and I joined them. When I left the strike, I became politicised. I wanted to know the role of the police. The police were not only for catching thieves and traffic offences but they were actually a force intervening in strikes. I thought, ‘Hey, on whose side are they? Who gave them orders?’ From that, I became politicised, I joined the Communist Party and that’s the way I became politicised through a strike. I never heard about Marx.

Matt:

How did you eventually come to break with the Communist Party?

Moshe:

I’m talking about 1953 when I was 17 at the time and in the autumn of 1953, I joined the Communist Party. I was in the local Communist Party as an ordinary member for a few years. We were expelled in 1962.

Matt:

So this is expulsion number two?

Moshe:

This is expulsion number two. Why were we expelled? Well, we were unhappy with the Stalinism of the Communist Party, basically, which we felt made it more of a public relations agency for the Soviet Union rather than a Marxist revolutionary party. We were very affected by and very unhappy with the events in Hungary in 1956 and this made us very critical.

John:

Hungary in 1956 was where there was an independent working-class uprising for socialism with workers’ control which ended up being crushed by Soviet tanks.

Moshe:

There was an uprising in Hungary. That’s right. It was an uprising of the Hungarian people and led by the Hungarian working class which was denigrated by the communists as a fascist kind of uprising. Historically, the Hungarian events coincided with the Suez war of 1956. They happened, more or less, at the same time. By the way, because the West was occupied with the Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union found it easier to intervene in Hungary. However, vis à vis the Suez Crisis, the Communist Party (of which we were members) took a decent line. It opposed the war and it was isolated in Israel in opposing the war and so this delayed our break with the Communist Party. We held a sort of secret discussion group. It had to be secret because the Communist Party did not allow people from different branches to get together to form even discussion groups. You could maybe talk individually to a member of another branch but not to form regular meetings. Since some of us were in Jerusalem and some in Tel Aviv, we had to keep it secret. We started discussing a perspective. We didn’t plan immediately to form a new organisation but we had this long-term plan that eventually, we may have to split with the Communist Party. We started voicing, in our respective branches, criticism of the Communist Party.

Matt:

Who were some of these personalities?

Moshe:

There were two initiatives in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In Jerusalem, it was Akiva Orr and me and in Tel Aviv, it was Oded Pilavsky, who was a wonderful guy. He was a trade union militant and a working-class hero, as it were. There was also Yirmiyahu Kaplan in Tel Aviv, who dropped out of Matzpen fairly soon after it was formed. However, we were surrounded by other people who were not members of the Communist Party but supporters. That was another thing because our discussion group included both members and non-members of the Communist Party. We started to discuss what was wrong with the Israeli Communist Party and the Communist movement. I have to explain to you that the question of Zionism and the Israeli Palestinian conflict, or the Israeli Arab conflict, did not feature very highly in our discussions. Luckily for us, the period between 1956 and 1967 was the most quiescent period in the history of the Palestinian Israeli conflict. When Israel had to withdraw from Suez and Sinai in 1956, or 1957 by then, until the immediate events that led to the 1967 war, the so-called ‘Six-Day War’, the conflict between Israel and the Arab world was at its least acute. This was not our focus. Our focus was on international issues and on class issues, like the class nature of Israel and the role of the Communist Party. Matzpen was certainly anti-Zionist but this was not how we defined ourselves. First of all, we didn’t define ourselves in a negative way. We regarded ourselves as a revolutionary socialist group. Anti-Zionism was a consequence of this but we did not think of ourselves as primarily defined by anti-Zionism. Also, we were not the first anti-Zionist group. We were, perhaps, the first in the history of Israel after it was created. We were the first socialist group that defined itself as, among other things, anti-Zionist.

Matt:

Set up in 1962 by activists who left or were expelled from the Israeli Communist Party in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Matzpen was soon joined by Arab and Jewish comrades splitting from the Communist Party’s branch in Haifa, who brought with them other activists from Northern Israel. They joined Matzpen on the following principles: a rejection of Zionism; a rejection of the Soviet Union, Stalinism and the cult of personality; and unequivocal support for revolutionary socialism, international solidarity and the integration of Israel into a socialist Arab union. However, it would be with the onset of the 1967 Six-Day War and Matzpen’s unequivocal stand against it, as well as Israel’s invasion of the Occupied Territories, that would cement Matzpen’s status as national folk devils. I want to talk a little bit about Matzpen’s response to the 1967 Six-Day War but for the listeners who don’t know, can you explain a little bit about what the Six-Day War was?

Moshe:

Basically, Israel was waiting for an opportunity to correct and complete the conquests that were left unconquered in the 1947-1949 war. Also, it was planning a war against Syria and it was also very keen to correct the negative outcome for Israel of the 1956 war, the Suez war, where Israel was a participant, together with France and Britain, against Egypt which ended with Israeli military success but political failure. It was forced to withdraw and it ended negatively, so it was keen to correct all these things that, historically, it felt it needed to rewrite or redress the balance. An opportunity was given to it by a sequence of disastrous mistakes made by Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who actually walked into a trap. He made theatrical moves as though he was going to attack Israel on an issue that was in dispute between Israel and Egypt and that was the passage through the Suez Canal.

Matt:

Nasser was the leader of Egypt, who was also a leading figure in Pan-Arabism.

Moshe:

He was the most popular, secular, nationalist, progressive , left-of-centre Arab leader of the time. He was simply adored by the Arab masses. Actually, his prestige was boosted by the outcome of the Suez war. He made overtures as though he was going to threaten Israel. He was in no position to do it and he knew it but he walked into a trap that he set for himself [laughter] and allowed Israel to attack as a pre-emptive strike, as it were. Although, the Israeli generals knew that Egypt was in no position to do anything serious to Israel. Most of its elite forces were then tied down in Yemen as there was a civil war in Yemen. He had the least well-trained and the least well-supplied part of his army in Sinai. Israel managed to actually destroy the Egyptian Air Force which was on the ground because it was not really prepared for a serious war. The Egyptian Air Force was parked in their airfields like sitting ducks and Israel annihilated the Egyptian Air Force in the first few hours of the war, so the war with Egypt was decided. Egypt had a pact with both Jordan and Syria, so they had to make gestures as though they were going to support Egypt. They didn’t make any serious moves but that gave Israel the chance to strike against Jordan and against Syria. Israel’s conquests against Egypt were reversed later and Israel withdrew from most of its conquests in Egypt. The whole of the Sinai Peninsula was under Israeli rule for a few years and then it withdrew, except for the Gaza Strip which was administered by Egypt after the 1948 war. The Sinai Peninsula is part of Egyptian territory and Israel withdrew eventually in the 1970s. Israel occupied the Gaza Strip both in 1956 and then withdrew but in 1967, it again occupied the Gaza Strip and remained in occupation until today. However, the most important annexations they were able to do after the 1967 war was the part that it conquered from Jordan, the West Bank and the Golan Heights from Syria. Israel is now actually holding territory that used to be part of the Kingdom of Jordan and part of Syria. The Golan is still internationally recognised as Syrian sovereign territory and occupied militarily by Israel. Israel has annexed it.

John:

Do you want to go into the immediate aftermath of 1967?

Moshe:

A lot of things that were potential in the pre-’67 era became an actuality and developed following it. For example, there was a turn of Zionism towards a darker, more religious and more fanatical form. There was a space that opened for further Israeli colonisation which before ’67 was internal colonisation of stealing lands from Palestinians who remained inside Israel. They were taking over their land and turning it over to Hebrew colonisation. Whereas, in the preceding era, it was ‘socialist ideology’ that was leading colonisation which was possible, let us say, in the early part of the 20th century. Even in the Second International,  there were people who supported colonialism in the socialist movement even before the First World War and certainly, after it. By 1967, we were in the era of decolonisation already. Following the Second World War, most colonial positions were being decolonised and this was mainly in colonies which were dependent on the labour-power of the indigenous people. There was hardly, if at all, any decolonisation in colonies which did not depend on the labour-power of the indigenous people. Socialist-led colonisation was not a viable alternative. Instead, what served as an ideology to justify Israeli colonisation of the West Bank was religious-based Zionism which had before been a sort of implicit and shy reference of Zionism to religious ideas. I referred to it before.

Matt:

Being atheist and not believing in God but still thinking God has given you these lands.

Moshe:

Basically, the only justification, even in the older period, for their claim on Palestine was based on religious documents. What else? The Jewish ties to Palestine are religious, so even secular Zionists had to refer to it implicitly. However, in 1967, it started to become very explicit.

Matt:

Could you speak also about the aftermath of the ’67 war for Palestinian refugees?

Moshe:

First of all, there was a certain amount of ethnic cleansing from the West Bank and massive ethnic cleansing from the Syrian Golan Heights. Operations by Palestinian nationalists, especially the Fatah group which dominated the PLO…

Matt:

Fatah was the group around Yasser Arafat.

Moshe:

It was the most numerous and most dominant faction in the Palestinian nationalist movement. It started operations against Israel before the ’67 war. Eventually, the bases for these operations were in Syria which is another reason why Israel was waiting for a chance to attack Syria. The events of June ’67 gave Israel the chance to attack Syria. Gradually, resistance to Israel began slowly to take place within the territories that Israel occupied. The main base for this operation was Jordan until 1970.

Matt:

With the war and the hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, as you said, Matzpen was active in Israel at the time.

Moshe:

Yes. We had no hesitation. In fact, we were ideologically and otherwise prepared to take a position against the war. We were among the very few people who were not swept up by the hysteria of celebrating the great victory.

Matt:

What sorts of activities did Matzpen organise or take part in during the ’67 war?

Moshe:

Mostly propaganda. What other kinds of operation does a political group take? We were not part of a military resistance to Israel. Some of our comrades were signatories to a famous statement that appeared a short time after the war in September when the dust settled. The statement called for Israel to withdraw immediately. A photocopy of the text is hanging in my study which was published in the Haaretz on 22nd September 1967. It called for immediate withdrawal, otherwise, the occupation would lead to resistance. Resistance would lead to terror and counter-terror. We would become a nation of murderers and murder victims. At the time, it was considered outrageous but since then, those who are now in opposition to what is happening, including even some Zionists, regard it as a prophetic statement. However, [laughter] I think you didn’t need to have prophetic inspiration to guess what would happen if Israel remained in occupation.

Matt:

As you say, with the ’67 war and the conflict, there was a wave of unadulterated hysteria. Obviously, Matspen came along and said, ‘This is not right.’ Was there any kind of backlash?

Moshe:

Oh yeah, we were hounded. We were attacked by all the media. We felt very much besieged but we stuck to what we believed in.

Matt:

Could you give some examples, maybe, of ways that you were harassed?

Moshe:

Nowadays, you get a lot of trolling [laughter] but in those days, it was usually by telephone. Murder threats were done by telephone. I had two young children at the time and they would pick up the phone and hear threats against their father, like, ‘We’re going to kill him.’ That is an example but I mean there was a general atmosphere of incitement against us.

Matt:

Incitement in what way?

Moshe:

Political incitement. ‘These are traitors and they shouldn’t be allowed to operate,’ and so on.

Matt:

As well as maybe from random right-wingers, was there any…?

Moshe:

It wasn’t from the right-wingers. It was the bulk of public opinion. It wasn’t just loonies on the extreme right fringe. It was a major part of public opinion.

Matt:

Obviously, you had individuals who were phoning you and leaving threatening messages. Was there any backlash also from the Security Service?

Moshe:

First of all, the moment the war broke out, our comrades were arrested, for the most part, just as a precaution.

Matt:

To come back to the Six-Day War, Matzpen is this small group in this mass wave of nationalism. Was any progress made in that period?

Moshe:

Yes. Until 1967, we were a marginal, unknown group. As people say, ‘Any publicity is good.’ By becoming an isolated pole of opposition, we were opposed to the whole idea of the Zionist regime. We were calling for the de-Zionisation of Israel before the ’67 war but we were just a small group publishing an obscure monthly journal. We then became notorious.

[Outro music]

John:

That’s it for Part 1. In Part 2, we hear from other members of Matzpen and look at what happened after 1967. Our Patreon supporters can listen to that now and you too can support our work, get early access to this episode and all others, as well as other benefits at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. Part 2 will be up for everyone else next week. Massive thanks to our Patreon supporters who make this podcast possible. Thanks also to Louise Barry for editing this episode and to Max Blumenthal for audio clip of Aki. Catch you next time.

Part 2

John:

This is the second of a two-part episode about opposition to Zionism in Israel, so if you haven’t heard Part 1, I’d go back and listen to that first.

[The Internationale sung in Hebrew]

Matt:

In this episode, we focus on the group’s activity after the 1967 war, talking again with founder, Moshe Machover, as well as two other members who formed the next generation of anti-Zionist activists in Israel.

John:

This is Working Class History.

Moshe:

The following year was 1968 which marked a whole upsurge of left-wing and student radical movements everywhere and we became part of it. Of course, we were concerned with local issues. People who were inspired by what was happening, let’s say, in France, in Britain or in America at that time, found Matzpen as a corresponding movement.

Matt:

What was the focus of 1968 in Israel?

Moshe:

That was the situation vis à vis the Palestinians and the occupation. In 1968, I was starting to think, ‘It always puzzles me as waves of radicalisation, or the opposite, are worldwide but at the same time, apparently triggered in each place by local issues.’ In France, what triggered it was a certain chain of events among students in Paris and then it spread. In America, it was the Vietnam War. In Israel, there was this local issue but it felt like somehow, behind the scenes or behind our backs, there was some sort of international collective that was working or a certain atmosphere or mood. The public awareness of Matzpen grew because it sort of flowed into the radicalisation of young people.

Matt:

Two young people, who got involved later in the organisation’s history, were Udi Sivosh and HaimScortariu who were two Matzpen activists in Haifa. Here, they talk about how they first came into contact with the group.

Haim:

Growing up in Israel, people are sort of politically aware but not necessarily activists. Obviously, after the ’67 war, all this issue of the Occupied Territories was very much in the news all the time and you couldn’t really escape it. I was not an activist as a school kid but I was politically aware and thinking about the issue. In ’67, I was only 12 years old and I must say that, at the time, hearing the official position of the then government, which was the Israeli Labour Party of the time, and the opposition, which was the right-wing Likud who were for the Greater Israel, the latter sounded more reasonable to me. Essentially, they were both saying the same – ‘You can’t trust the Arabs. They only understand force.’ However, some would say, ‘We can get some arrangement, obviously not with the Palestinians, with some Hashemite regime,’ but the others would say, ‘No, it’s ours and we’ll take it.’ I thought that sounded quite reasonable. Gradually, it was through just reading newspapers and, I must say, I was helped by some Israeli ex-generals who were writing opinion columns in Israeli newspapers and then they demolished the notion that holding those post-’67 occupied territories was a security issue i.e. that Israel could not defend itself or survive without this territory. These were ex-generals. Little by little, I got converted to the idea that, in fact, there was no need to stick to these occupied territories. I suppose by the age of 16, or thereabouts, I was on the very edge of Zionism in the sense that I didn’t really see it as Zionism being some sort of imperialist movement and colonialism which was wrong to start with. However, I did actually become convinced of what is now called the two-state solution. At the time, that was considered very, very extreme because the official position of Israel was that there was no such thing as a Palestinian people, so you couldn’t even talk about national rights. I was not an anti-Zionist at 18 when I was conscripted to the army. This is why I was not a conscientious objector or anything like that. I was recruited to military intelligence. It wasn’t James Bondish and in the U.K., it would be the equivalent of GCHQ, let’s say, but in Israel, it’s part of the military. There, I think I became gradually more radicalised by knowing things and hearing things. There was already trouble in the south of Lebanon. Personally, in my military work, I had nothing to do with the Palestinian issue or anything like that. I was, in fact, working vis à vis the Syrian Army but I felt very pissed off about what was happening, plus what was happening in the Occupied Territories. I didn’t keep my mouth shut and I got into some clashes with one or two officers there and I ended up being kicked out for security reasons, obviously [laughter]. I wasn’t kicked out from the military, unfortunately, but from the intelligence service. I must say that we were all aware of Matzpen as kids (I’m sure Udi as well) and although Matzpen was a tiny, tiny organisation, everybody in Israel at the time was aware of their existence. As school kids, we had no direct contact with Matzpen but we were aware they existed and they carried some sort of ideology weight.

Matt:

So you heard about them from people in your school?

Udi:

I had some people I knew in school who were in a Trotskyite youth organisation called Hafarperet, the ‘mole’, and I knew about them. One day the school attacked them. We had a visit from Ezer Weizman, who later became the President, but before that, he was a commanding officer in the airforce. He visited our school to give a speech to all the students, who made some demonstration inside the hall.

Matt:

How many kids were there?

Udi:

Two or three [laughter]. Everybody attacked them and I actually said, ‘Leave them alone.’ For me, the issue of the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians and the Israelis looked like the only solution, instinctively and not theoretically, was for them to live together in one place. I later met an activist of Matzpen called Arie, who came to where I was in the army at the time, just before the election of ’73, and we talked about it. Later, when I met him again in Haifa, we talked more seriously and more deeply and then I joined the organisation.

Haim:

In my case, as I’ve already mentioned, I was on the far edge of Zionism but the transition was purely ideological and not for national reasons but because of class issues. During this military service, towards the end and a bit later, I started reading socialist writing, like Marx and all that, and I became convinced that being a socialist and being a Zionist don’t tally. You had to choose one or the other and I chose socialism rather than Zionism. In personal terms, because Udi and I had been very close friends already from school and he started getting involved with Matzpen in ’75, about a year later, I joined in ’76.

Matt:

By the time that Haim and Udi were breaking with Zionism and getting involved with Matzpen, Moshe had already moved to London where he encountered a political culture radically different from the one he had left behind in Israel.

Moshe:

It couldn’t have been more different. Remember, when I came here, it was 1968 and you wouldn’t have experienced an atmosphere like that in your lifetime. There was a big, radical shift in public opinion, especially among young people. We found ourselves in a very sympathetic milieu. We made immediate contacts with people on the left and we helped them to educate their milieu on the situation in the Middle East.

Matt:

What sorts of differences did you notice between the state of the left and the workers’ movement in Britain in the late ’60s compared with what you’d just left behind in Israel?

Moshe:

It was a different world. Remember, Britain was beginning to recover from the hangover of their empire. This was a period when they were trying to, as it were, come to terms with it. The atmosphere here and in the rest of Europe couldn’t have been more different than in Israel. In Israel, the radical left was a very small minority. Here, it was a minority in Europe but it was big, very influential and very much evident in public opinion. We found ourselves in very high demand because until 1967, a big part of the left here or almost the whole of the left here, with tiny exceptions, was very sympathetic to Israel. We also went up and down the country and spoke at meetings in socialist societies at universities. We’re talking about the late ’60s and early ’70s now and there was a very active student life politically and each university had a socialist society which brought together people from different socialist currents.

Matt:

Was there ever any response from Zionist students? Were there any Zionist student societies?

Moshe:

There were a few, yes, but they were not as organised, as vicious or as trained to attack us for antisemitism. Now, they are prompted whenever you say anything critical of Israel that’s antisemitic. We were well-informed and our opponents were not well-informed and when Israel sent people to make propaganda for the Israeli line in the various European countries, we came to their meetings and gave our line and we demolished them. They said that they had no weapons against us. They couldn’t counter us because we knew what we were talking about and we could very easily refute their positions. The difference was that, at that time, general public opinion, including a lot of the left, was still in the hangover of a positive attitude to Israel. They had to be educated and detoxified. We were then working in an atmosphere where people had been more sympathetic to Israel but they began to have some doubts and we helped develop this tendency. Nowadays, I speak at a meeting and somebody comes to me, maybe a person in their 50s or 60s, and says, ‘You can’t remember me but I was a student at the University of Sussex in the early ’70s. You came to a meeting and you spoke and this changed my mind.’ I get this on a regular basis in many places I go to. [Laughter] This means that we were able to achieve something.

Matt:

When you say you were speaking at meetings, how many people were at these meetings?

Moshe:

They varied. I remember a meeting in the London School of Economics, for example, where we were not the main speaker. The main speaker was an invited journal from Israel who we demolished. The hall was packed and we were among the audience. He then actually wrote later about it and how the experience was very sobering for him. He became a bit critical [laughter] of the Israeli government at that meeting.

Matt:

So you were very effective then.

Moshe:

In some cases, there may have been 20 people and in some cases, it could be 100 or 200. Typically, it would be about 50 people, let’s say, in a meeting but each of us went to three or four meetings a week up and down the country.

Matt:

I wonder if you could maybe talk to us a little bit about Khamsin?

Moshe:

It began in Paris and then it moved to London and those of us who were based in Europe and affiliated to Matzpen always thought that the way forward in our part of the world was to have a joint venture with like-minded people from the Arab Palestinian and other Arab peoples, including also Iranians. This is what Khamsin was. It was a joint venture by socialists from the Arab East, some of the Arab West, some Israeli socialists and members of or connected to Matzpen.

Matt:

What was the hope to achieve with Khamsin?

Moshe:

When talking about this and projecting to the future, I think the problem of Israel and Palestine can only be solved in a regional context and, in my view, in a socialist context. I can go into the analysis about why I think this is the only way and the problem will not be solved in a benign way short of this. However, in order for this to happen, you need to prepare organisationally in a joint organisation of people like us from the whole region, including Israel, of course, and the surrounding Arab countries. This was an attempt in that direction. Unfortunately, so far, all attempts in this direction have not succeeded.

Matt:

How did Matzpen continue after you left Israel?

Moshe:

It continued for a while but the radical left has a disease which is sectarianism and splitting. In Matzpen, we tried not to be too narrow and we accepted people who had Maoist tendencies, or were Trotskyists, or neither one nor the other. For a while, we managed to keep it going but then people within Matzpen were mostly influenced by their co-thinkers in other countries and began to engage in splits. There were a series of damaging splits by 1973. There were a couple of minor splits in 1970 where one small group of Maoist inclined people split off and the other one was some kind of Trotskyist sect. In 1973, the organisation of Matzpen split, more or less, into two parts. Before that, it was just above the critical mass of size that was viable for publishing a magazine and doing political work. Once it split into two parts, each of them became less viable. It lingered on but Matzpen wound up as an active organisation in the 1980s.

Matt:

However, just as Matzpen was going into decline, a huge anti-war movement was beginning to stir in protest against Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon.

Udi:

The really big thing was the 1982 Lebanon War.

Matt:

The first Lebanon war?

Udi:

Yeah, the first one. This was not just a big thing for us. It changed the political map of the left really. Suddenly, there were organisations, soldiers and ex-soldiers that objected to the war.

Haim:

For the first time in Israeli history.

Matt:

So the first Lebanon war was the first time that the reservists, soldiers and ex-soldiers began to…

Haim:

And many other. For example, in Tel Aviv, there was a huge, mass demonstration with hundreds of thousands of an organisation which still exists called Peace Now.

Udi:

This was because of the ’70s, Shalom Archav, Peace Now. This actually started after the ’73 war which was the first war that Israel didn’t win outright and suddenly, people were saying, ‘We need peace!’ They were like Labour Party people, more or less, but there were 100-200,000 people.

Haim:

Yeah, they were mass demonstrations.

Udi:

They were demonstrating for peace and for some kind of political solution.

John:

That must have made a huge difference if you were used to being a tiny group.

Udi:

That didn’t impact on us very much because they were so much more right and centre of Zionism.  Yesh Gvul was the organisation that objected to the Lebanon War.

Haim:

In Hebrew, it’s a play of words because Yesh Gvul can mean either ‘there is a border’ or ‘there is a limit’.

Udi:

Some of them were much more left-wing and much more radical in their message. It was a big change for us because there was no point in us continuing with 20-30 people demonstrating here and there, so we joined them.

Matt:

Was there an organised backlash, for instance, from the far-right Israelis or from the state?

Udi:

On demonstrations, the army chased us one time in Ramallah once and we were arrested for a few days and that was it.

Matt:

What happened in Ramallah?

Udi:

We had a big demonstration in Ramallah. The army chased us and we ran through the back gardens. There were quite a few people and not just from Matzpen. Like I said, we were already working together with other organisations. They caught us and put us in detention for a few days.

Haim:

At the time, there was a big difference in how you were treated, if you were Jewish or Palestinian doing the same activity [laughter]. Obviously, they were much harsher on Palestinians and the general security service, Shin Bet, their equivalent of MI5, would go down very heavily on Palestinians rather than on Jews. As I said, it has changed because I think now Israel is a much more polarised society than it used to be. At the time, the powers that be wanted to maintain Jewish solidarity, if you like, and because it was a very small country, then everybody was somebody’s son, or brother, or nephew, and some of these people were actually high-ranking people. They were certainly part of the Zionist establishment and so you wouldn’t want to antagonise people too much. I did experience harassment, at that time, which is why I missed those huge demonstrations. With the first Lebanon War, I was already living here in London. However, I was regularly on the line between Israel and London and every time you went in and out, you were stopped when you got to the Passport Control and they realised who you were. You were asked to wait a moment and then a policeman would come and accompany you to the MI5 quarters in the airport. Obviously, in those days, it was pre-digital and so they would search for every bit of paper you had and sometimes strip search you. They would take away any piece of paper with any scribble on it, take it away and photocopy it. That happened, without fail, for a good number of years. In fact, until the Oslo Accords in 1993, that continued and then it stopped. Maybe we were not considered so dangerous anymore but until then, it happened to me regularly. Obviously, you knew that weren’t supposed to take any on you any names, addresses or anything that could implicate or give trouble to other people. That was the main sort of state harassment.

Udi:

I lost three jobs because of Matzpen.

Matt:

Can you go into that?

Udi:

I worked in the Port of Haifa in 1975. It was just through arguments. Not arguments but even talking about politics because in Israel, you could talk about politics a lot. People found out what I believed in and suddenly, I was invited to a meeting and they said, ‘Sorry, you cannot continue here. That’s it.’ That was the first time. The second time was when I worked in the cinema. They decided you had to carry a gun [laughter].

Matt:

In the cinema?

Udi:

I was a steward or an usher. They were worried about terrorism. I was not allowed and I was prohibited from it and so they said, ‘Sorry, you cannot continue here.’

John:

You weren’t allowed to carry a gun?

Udi:

No. The third place was when I worked in a school but this was in the late ’80s. I was a teacher in Tel Aviv and after three years, there was a big discussion about conscription and a famous author came to speak about it.

Haim:

It was some author who wrote some sort of very nationalistic children’s literature series about a gang, a bit like the Secret Seven or Famous Five but in a Zionist context and fighting all the enemies.

Udi:

Anyway, there was a big discussion for the sixth form and I said, ‘I think you don’t have to conscript. You can say no and there is a choice. There is always a choice. If you don’t believe the occupation should continue, you can say no.’ He was saying it was an absolute duty and there was no dispute about the fact that every Israeli had to join the army. I said, ‘No, it’s not true. Do you think German soldiers should have been conscripted into the Wehrmacht at the time? What do you think about it?’ That was it and that was my end after three years when they said I couldn’t continue there the next year.

John:

I’m sure I know the answer to this but in those scenarios, were the unions where you worked helpful?

Udi:

No. I didn’t know about the unions in the Port of Haifa, although they probably did have a union there. I was only 19 or 20 years old and kind of naive about stuff and the cinema didn’t have a union because we were the only staff [laughter]. The union didn’t support me in the school. I went to the union but not just about this and they said, ‘No, no.’

Haim:

I think maybe, in brackets, one should clarify one issue about unions in Israel, certainly in those days. Everything in Israel was created from scratch by the Zionists, even before ’48 and before Israel was established. There was a mega organisation, a bit equivalent to the TUC but not quite.

John:

The Histadrut?

Haim:

The Histadrut, exactly, which was established in the 1920s or thereabouts and was part of the Zionist project but not only that. At the time, the Histadrut were not only a trade union but they were actually one of the largest employers and I don’t mean trade union officials. The Israeli economy, until perhaps the ’80s, was roughly divided into three sectors. One third was private capital; one third was so-called state industries; the other third was Histadrut industry. They had factories and industry. They were sort of wearing two hats; they were the employers and the trade union both at the same time.

Matt:

Do you feel that Matzpen made any lasting impact on Israeli society?

Moshe:

I’m sure that it is has because after many years, from time to time, people mention Matzpen. Matzpen has made a hugely disproportionate impact on, let us say, the political psyche of Israel. You find novels are written nowadays and Matzpen is mentioned. From time to time, they mention the statement that I mentioned before and it comes up. The analysis that we made then and the views that we put forward are, as it were, still topical.

Matt:

What are your thoughts about the direction that Israeli society is going in now?

Moshe:

For a number of years, I’ve been very worried about the prospects for the foreseeable future in the short and medium-term. In the long-term, we can talk about it all day. I have a growing feeling which is supported by a growing amount of evidence in that was is in danger of being perpetrated is another massive ethnic cleansing. To put it very briefly, first of all, think logically; Israel has done everything to prevent the so-called two-state solution. It never actually subscribed to allow a proper, sovereign Palestinian state. The Oslo Accords don’t mention a Palestinian state, Israel never subscribed to it and, in fact, has done everything possible to subvert it and to torpedo any possibility of a Palestinian state, so the two-state solution is off. With regard to a one-state solution, at the moment, the numerical ratio between Hebrew Israelis and Palestinian Arabs in the whole area ruled by Israel is about equal. The demographic trend indicates a Palestinian Arab majority under Israeli rule. Continuing the present situation is unstable and it is not sustainable. They certainly don’t want a single state with a Palestinian Arab majority or even a minority close to one half. What is the alternative? There is a growing pressure for colonisation to go on and they want to annex one bit after another but eventually, they will have to resolve it. I think they are planning to resolve it by massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank. In Gaza, they are actually strangling it to such an extent that they’re poisoning the place; the water is undrinkable; pollution is incredible; there is near starvation.

Matt:

In general public discourse, there’s definitely a feeling of Israel not being entirely at fault but not entirely innocent.

Moshe:

Of course, the established media are still very much in that line. Let’s talk about vaguely progressive people. What I feel, and I think it’s corroborated by various public opinion polls, is there is a shift in public opinion and there is a lot more of a, let us say, critical attitude to Israel now than there was at that time 50 years ago. That’s definitely true. The Israeli hasbara, the propaganda machine, is really desperate for weapons to counter this. It is especially true, and this is proved by various bits of research and polls, that there is this process of disenchantment with Israel among young people and students, including Jewish young people and they find this very worrying. A measure of this is the BDS movement. The BDS movement is causing them a lot of headaches because it is gaining support. You can’t say that it is hurting Israel economically but in terms of its profile and its turning public opinion, especially among students and younger people. A soldier comes to the home of a young Palestinian girl and stands in the front yard of her home. She slaps him and spits in his face and she’s become a heroic figure. Especially in the circumstances of a military dictatorship, it was a mild protest. She didn’t go to him. He came to her front yard and she said, ‘Go away,’ and when he didn’t go away, she slapped him.

Matt:

I think also her cousin had recently been shot.

Moshe:

Yeah, now he’s been arrested.

Matt:

Oh really?

Moshe:

Yesterday, they arrested him. He’s 15 year old and he’s got half his face missing. Part of his skull still needs to be fitted back because they had to remove part of the skull in order to treat him. It was touch and go and it’s a medical miracle that he survived. This guy with half a face is a kid of 15 years old!

Matt:

When you were in Matzpen in Israel, at the time, there were a few dozen of you. How do you feel the anti-Zionist left in Israel is now?

Moshe:

It’s in a very poor state. First of all, the anti-Zionist left is very small and we were small in 1968 but it is fragmented in the sense that there is no single organisation of any size with a programme. Maybe there’s a group of five people but we had an outlook and a programme. We were not a single-issue group. Matzpen was, if you like, a mini-party or a political organisation with its own view on world events, on socialism and including the issue of immediate concern of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. Matzpen was not even created in order, specifically, to deal with the local issue. It came into being as a socialist organisation with views on world political issues. There is no such group on the radical, anti-Zionist left in Israel. There are groups that function on single issues and they do marvellous work, like Anarchists Against the Wall and Ta’ayush which was nominated maybe by people with Communist Party affiliation. There are various other groups who do work on single issues but there is no political organisation that has even an idea of organising the Israeli working class.

Matt:

I wonder if you could explain why you think it’s important, as part of the anti-Zionist struggle, to also build peace within Israel?

Moshe:

How long have you got? [Laughter] I mean if you want to start now [laughter], I’ll be very brief. We always believed, since the beginning of Matzpen, that the only social force that can overthrow the Zionist regime in Israel is the Israeli working class. If you take a contrary example of South Africa, apartheid was overthrown by class struggle inside but the difference was that the working class that overthrew the apartheid regime was part of the oppressed population. They had an interest to get rid of apartheid, even if it wasn’t actually accompanied by socialist transformation. What have you got in the case of Israel? The colonisation of Palestine by Zionism was a completely different model. The indigenous population, as opposed to South Africa, was not exploited and not excluded. Neither the surrounding Arab states nor the majority of the Palestinian people are capable of overthrowing the existing regime. It is only the Israeli working class itself that can do it. If you look around, what other forces are able to do it? I don’t think there are but why should it do it? To achieve one democratic state with equal rights for everyone under a capitalist regime, what would it gain from this? It would still be an exploited class but it would lose its national privileges as part of a dominant nation. The Israeli working class has no interest in what is put forward as the one-state solution which is the plan proposed by some well-meaning people. It would be lovely if it could be implemented but who is going to do it? You need to overthrow the Israeli regime. Why should the majority of the Israeli working class and its natural allies do it? It wouldn’t improve their situation as an exploited class because it would be a capitalist state. The only prospect for overthrowing, for a benign resolution of the conflict, is if there was a socialist transformation regionally and the Israeli working class could join it, as was visible as a potentiality in 2011 when there was an enormous sympathy towards the Egyptian working class which is the major working class in the area, by the way. It’s huge. Giant! If the Israeli working class were to join them, it would swap its position as an exploited class and part of a dominant nation for part of a dominant class now but without special national privileges. This is a swap that has some logic to it.

Matt:

I suppose when you say there were glimmers in 2011, not only was the Arab Spring happening but it felt like also in Israel there were also the tent protests.

Moshe:

Huge! They were the biggest demonstrations ever in the history of Israel.

Matt:

Specifically, I remember watching a video of this one woman demonstrating and I remember her saying, ‘Security, security. All they give us is security and we can’t live with security anymore.’

Moshe:

The slogan I liked best was ‘the market is free and we are slaves’. There was enormous sympathy with the Egyptian working class which indicates a possibility, in original context, where the Israeli Hebrew workers would actually join forces but for this, you need long political preparation. It’s not just going to happen like this. I believe that, in the end, the only force capable of overthrowing the Zionist regime is the Israeli working class itself. Who else?

[Outro music]

John:

That’s it for Part 2. We’d like to thank Moshe, Haim and Udi for speaking with us. Thanks to Louise Barry for editing both of these episodes and special thanks, as always, to our Patreon supporters. Our Patreon supporters give regular donations which enable us to make this podcast and run the Working Class History project. You can support us as well at patreon.com/workingclasshistory where you get early access to episodes and other benefits. The more support we get, the more time it means we can devote to this project and make more frequent episodes, make them better quality, do more original research and get our history out to more people. So thanks again for your really generous support. We really appreciate it. Catch you next time.

Transcribed by PODTRANSCRIBE

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3 thoughts on “E17-18: Anti-Zionism in Israel

    1. Yeah, sorry about the large file size. We were planning on switching to flac files, which would be better quality than MP3s, but with much smaller file sizes. Would that be okay?

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