What will win justice for Palestine?

March 12, 2009

THANKS FOR your excellent coverage on the rising boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement ("A new movement against Israel's apartheid").

I am encouraged that this movement can grow significantly today in the wake of Israel's most recent atrocities in Gaza.

At Hunter College, where I am an activist in the Campus Antiwar Network, we were surprised to come across socialists who believe that the BDS movement is counterproductive because it would alienate the Israeli working class. I believe this is very dangerous for socialists to argue, because we end up conceding to the Zionist movement and criticizing the just Palestinian fight for liberation, which puts us squarely on the wrong side.

When I first became a socialist, I, too, initially believed that the Israeli working class would be central to the fight against Zionism. I was new to Marxism and thought it fit into the general formula as I understood it.

Now, while by no means finished studying Marxism, I do believe that we have to see it as more than a "pat" formula into which we force reality. For example, we can't just say, well, working-class struggle will defeat capitalism, so the solution to the Israeli occupation of Palestine is to unite their working classes.

This doesn't actually explain the class nature of Israel or Palestine, nor does it explain why this hasn't yet happened, nor is the struggle headed in this direction. In fact, the Israeli state is heavily subsidized, and as Israeli Marxist Moshe Machover points out in his article "The Class Character of Israel":

Israel is not a country where foreign aid flows entirely into private pockets; it is a country where this aid subsidizes the whole of society. The Jewish worker in Israel does not get his share in cash, but he gets it in terms of new and relatively inexpensive housing, which could not have been constructed by raising capital locally; he gets it in industrial employment, which could not have been started or kept going without external subsidies; and he gets it in terms of a general standard of living which does not correspond to the output of that society.

Although written decades ago, these words remain true: Jews in Israel have special rights and privileges regardless of class. And while some Jewish Israelis will eventually be convinced that Zionism is a brutal and oppressive movement, we cannot deny the fact that Israelis overwhelmingly support their government's war policies, because they benefit by living subsidized on stolen land.

Rather than moving leftward, the elections directly following the cease-fire showed that Israelis have shifted even further to the right, reviving the extreme-right movement Yisrael Beitenu.

As socialists we believe that the global working class is the agent of change, but this does not pre-empt movements led by, or that include, other classes.

The other side of the argument defending the Israeli working class is that Hamas is a bourgeois party that doesn't merit our support. While there are class divisions within Palestinian society, the overwhelming division is racial. Israeli soldiers don't ask what class you belong to at a checkpoint, they see that you're Arab and have full power to deny you passage and goods, and even to take your life.

Lenin argued in What Is to Be Done that the Social Democrat's ideal should be acting as:

the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.

If, instead of heeding this call, we instead mechanically define the working class as the solution in every situation and distance ourselves from the very people fighting for their liberation, we will not be true to our rich history of struggle, and we will hold back the socialist movement, perhaps fatally.

We must side with the Palestinian fight for liberation, including by supporting the BDS movement. If Israeli workers decide to join us, all the better, but we must side with the oppressed and not see that as a contradiction to our overall goal of building a working class capable of overthrowing capitalism.
Hannah Fleury, New York City

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