By Herman Rosenfeld
I am a secular Jew, Marxian socialist, atheist and decidedly non-Zionist (more particularly, anti-Zionist).
I was brought up in an overwhelmingly Jewish, mostly working-class community in a middle-sized American city (I thought we were the majority);
I went to Hebrew school – they taught me the usual myths about Israel; they got me to sell trees in Israel in the name of living and dead relatives, they asked questions like, “What is the biggest all-Jewish city in the world…..?”) We all took if for granted that Israel was there to protect us against another holocaust, or at least as a refuge for the escapees from anti-semitic Europe;
My first questioning of this came, not because of my identification with Palestinian rights – I didn’t even know they existed – but through the inconsistencies of Zionism as a way of dealing with anti-semitism;
In university, as I radicalized, I came to understand what imperialism was and learned about the Palestinian people (a people without a land….)
When I moved to Montreal in the1972, I got involved with an anti-imperialist circle and learned more. I raided the library of the Quebec-Palestine Association and with Rezeq Faraj’s help, learned about:
It was about this time that the PLO became known and recognized as a legitimate national liberation movement – albeit with a great deal of challenges in how to define the struggle, etc. I showed, “Revolution Until Victory” to my CEGEP students at John Abbott College, and stoked the wrath of Zionist co-workers.
At that time, I was a staunch believer in a one-state, democratic, secular Palestine. I since have moved over to a two-state solution and I find it interesting that the old one-state perspective seems to be coming back into vogue.
Today I remain a non-Zionist Jew. I do not believe that the existence of a Jewish state is the way to deal with anti-Semitism. (In fact, the opposite is true.) I do not believe that the right of return of Jews in Israel is compatible with the recognition of the national rights of the Palestinian people. I do not believe that the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land, the operation of Israeli apartheid – in the occupied territories and in the State of Israel itself – is compatible with social justice and the peace of the world.
Finally, I DO believe, that the role of progressive Jews should be to challenge the hegemonic dominance of Zionism within Jewish communities, and support the struggles of Palestinians for their right to return to their homes – whether actually returning or negotiating a mutually agreeable solution; end the occupation and recognize Palestinian national rights in a way which satisfies the Palestinian people and do what we can to pressure the Israeli state and our own government.
In the meantime, we have to do what we can to engage ordinary people and challenge the authoritarian, McCarthyite, hysterical and undemocratic power of that Zionist establishment. Many of us are not really part of the Jewish community in any real way. I’m not sure how to change that.
For the last 30 years, I have worked in the labour movement. There have been a relatively small but steady group of people who have argued for the union movement to support the Palestinian struggle to challenge the hegemony of the Zionist state, and the occupation and aggressive and oppressive role of the Israeli state.
Most recently, with 9/11, the ascension of the neo-con fraction of the US policy establishment to power in the US, the dominant role of the right in Israeli politics, and the destruction and weakening of secular left movements in the developing world, including Palestine and the Middle East, things have polarized.
But there is a new movement of younger people who have rediscovered the central importance of the Palestinian struggle for challenging US imperial strategy; There is a new attempt by progressive, non-Zionist Jews to speak up and argue for OUR legitimate voice as part of the Jewish community: secular (for the most part) and repeating that the Zionist establishment speaks, NOT IN OUR NAME.
It is absolutely critical for those of us who do work amongst the working class – which I still do, albeit as a retiree – we have to link up with those who are beginning to see the necessity of challenging corporate power; who oppose or question the ongoing march of capitalist globalization and neoliberalism; the integration of the Canadian state policies with those of the US; the Afghanistan war and the growing integration with US military approaches and who call for the need to build international solidarity with all those fighting similar battles – we need to bring this issue to them and convince them of its importance and centrality.
This isn’t easy – it isn’t comparable to the battle against the SA apartheid regime. The balance of forces is different. This means we have a long and difficult struggle ahead of us, but we must think of bold, new ways to carry it out.