Journey of an anti-Zionist Jew – If I Am Not For Myself

Journey of an anti-Zionist Jew – If I Am Not For Myself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Appreciation of Mike Marqusee

Mike Marqusee was a true Renaissance Man.  He had a love of cricket and wrote 3 books on
the subject.  His analysis can be traced
to that great West Indian Marxist CLR James and Beyond the Boundary.  He also had a love of Bob Dylan and wrote
another book ‘Wicked Messenger’, which conveyed his immense disappointment at
how Dylan personally and politically so signally failed to live up to the
genius of his song writing.  Mike and
myself were born in the same year and were the same age.  As a Dylan aficionado and a love of cricket
myself, as well as being an anti-Zionist Jew our interests coincided.  Like Mike I also admire Mohammed Ali, who I
consider the greatest heavyweight boxer ever, a political animal whose
career  was crippled as a result of refusing
to serve in Vietnam and who uniquely won
back the heavy weight title twice. 
Yet it would be churlish not to admit that I was highly
critical of Mike’s naivety in allowing the Socialist Workers Party to use him
and other independent socialists, as part of their project to destroy the Socialist
Alliance  for their own sectarian
reasons.   Mike had been editor of Labour Briefing and should
have known better.  Mike accepted the SWP’s
slate system whereby the SA Conference had to vote between slates and
independents like Mike owed their position on the Executive to the grace and
favour of the SWP.  Liz Davies, who had
been on the Labour Party National Executive and been prevented from being the
PPC in Leeds NE by Tony Blair’s regime, was also no innocent abroad when she
accepted nomination as SA Chairperson and found her signature forged on cheques
by the SWP.  The rest is history.  But these were minor pecadilloes
Mike’s most important book politically was his book ‘If I Am
not for myself, Journey of an anti-Zionist Jew’
 which I reviewed in Weekly Worker and Tribune (Opposing Zionism and Hating Yourself Tribune) 25th
February 2009 which I am reproducing here. I always found the first part of the title curious.  The whole saying being Rabbi Hillel’s ‘If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when?
Sadly Mike died from cancer.
See also Mikes 
Obituary in the Guardian 
Michael John Marqusee, writer, born 27 January 1953; died 13 January 2015
 Tony Greenstein

Zionism and secularisation of the Jewish ghetto

Mike Marqusee ‘If I am not for myself: journey of an anti-Zionist Jew’ Verso 2008, pp256, 16.99. Reviewed by Tony Greenstein

Despite
being written by one of the most prominent dissident Jews – a veritable
Renaissance man, with writings covering Muhammad Ali, cricket and Bob
Dylan – this book by Mike Marqusee has received scant attention. It is
as if this is a subject which many, not least in the bourgeois media,
find embarrassing. It raises too many uncomfortable questions.

The
title is taken from the famous saying of rabbi Hillel, who emigrated
from Babylon, the centre of the largest and wealthiest Jewish community,
to Jerusalem perhaps 30 years before the birth of Christ, which is
recited every year at the Passover Seder (meal): “If I am not for
myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what
am I? And if not now, when?” It encompasses the ideas of the bourgeois
revolutions and the workers’ struggles and is a precursor of the Marxist
idea that the emancipation of the oppressed is the work of the
oppressed themselves. It is also a rallying cry against the idea of
bourgeois individuality versus the collective good, with a sideswipe
against social democratic gradualism!

Hillel, one of the great Talmudic authorities, can be seen as the founder of Hebrew modernism, with the adaptation of the Bible to
the changing fortunes and role of Palestinian Jewry – three-quarters of
whom, contrary to Zionist mythology, had ‘exiled’ themselves from
Palestine, even before the fall of the Second Temple. This reflected a
time of change, when Jewish agriculturists converted to christianity and
the remainder engaged in trade, usury or professions associated with
the former, such as goldsmiths and diamond-cutters. It involved a
rejection of biblical savagery and retribution in favour of monetary
compensation.

Apocryphally, when asked by a non-Jew who had been rebuffed by Hillel’s adversary, rabbi Shammai, to sum up the Jewish Pentateuch (Torah)
in one sentence, he told his inquirer: “What is hateful to you, do not
do to your fellow: this is the whole law; the rest is the explanation;
go and learn.” This bears a marked similarity to the golden rule, “Do
unto others as you would have them do unto you”, from the Sermon on the
Mount. It marked the transition from the ancient to the new,
monotheistic world.

Yet
this is a book that omits as many questions as it asks. Marqusee tells
us that Jewish identity in the 1930s “had become a progressive essence,
aligned with the cause of democracy, of America, of the popular front,
of labour, of all victims of discrimination” (p118). For it was “in
resistance to anti-semitism that EVM [Marqusee’s grandfather] … found a
core, a purpose to his Jewishness” (p121).
He
extrapolates from this to the present day – and therein lies the
problem. He postulates an identity which is both anti-racist and
anti-imperialist, which draws different lessons from the holocaust and
which does not blindly support Zionism and Israel, right or wrong. One
suspects that Marqusee is nonetheless avoiding the central question:
what is it to be Jewish in the 21st century?

The
myths of the wandering Jew are as important in their own way as the
reality and help to inform that reality. When Hitler borrowed the idea
of the cosmopolitan Jew, who owed no allegiance to state or nation, then
he was dipping into a deep well. Jews formed a trading caste in
medieval Europe, a separate estate. The Jewish ghetto, that most
quintessential of medieval institutions, was as much self-imposed as the
creation of outsiders.

Jews
who made their mark on history – Baruch Spinoza, Heinrich Heine and
Karl Marx, as well as Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt in their own way
– were rebels against Jewish identity. Spinoza was excommunicated,
Heine converted and Marx, whose parents were baptised, rejected all
religion and dismissed Judaism as corrupted by its associations with
trade and money. Einstein too, despite his latter-day embrace by the
Zionists, rejected the fundamentals of Zionism.

In
his evidence to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in 1946, which
led to the UN partition resolution, Einstein testified: “The state idea
is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It
is connected with narrow-mindedness and economic obstacles. I believe
that it is bad. I have always been against it.”1 And then continued that the idea of a Jewish state was an “imitation
of Europe, the end of which was brought about by nationalism”. Despite
being flattered by the Zionists, he rejected the offer of the presidency
of the Israeli state.2

Arendt reconsidered her youthful Zionist attachments in a seminal essay Zionism reconsidered in 1944 and her book Eichmann in Jerusalem – the banality of evil, based
on her reporting of the Eichmann trial in Israel, attracted fierce
criticisms from the Zionists. She wrote of the collaboration of Zionism
with the Nazis in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe and was particularly
condemned for her comment that without a Jewish leadership far more Jews
would have survived the holocaust.
This
is the irony that Marqusee himself proves. The most brilliant stars in
the firmament were always rebels against the Jewish establishment. The
Zionists have to content themselves with run-of-the-mill establishment
toadies such as Melanie Phillips and Howard Jacobson. Little wonder that
the founder of political Zionism, Theodore Herzl, decried “our
excessive production of mediocre talents”.3

One
of the most persistent of anti-semitic themes was that Jews were not
engaged in productive work and were overconcentrated in intellectual and
business occupations. Any study of Jewish socio-economic structure in
pre-war Germany would bear this out. The Nazis were reportedly surprised
when, during the invasion of the Soviet Union, they came across Jewish
agriculturists. The Bolsheviks, recognising the distorted occupational
structure of Jews, had attempted to ‘normalise’ the Jewish
socio-economic structure. The Zionists too, in the theories of Ber
Borochov, the founder of ‘Marxist’ Zionism, had spoken of the Jewish
occupational structure as being akin to an ‘inverted pyramid’, with too
many rich and intellectual Jews at the top and too few workers below.

In
fact this had already changed by the time Borochov was writing in the
early 20th century and there was no greater testament to this than the
Bund – the General Jewish Workers Union of Russia, Lithuania and Poland –
which, as Marqusee notes, had by the summer of 1904 some 23,000
members, three times as many as the Russian Social Democratic Workers
Party, which it helped found (p14). But the Jews were mainly employed in
small, often family-run, businesses, so their ability to engage in
class struggle was limited by the ability of those who employed them to
make concessions.
Yet
the predominance of anti-semitism and the result of the breakdown of
Jewish occupations led to the situation described by Abram Leon, the
Belgian Trotskyist murdered in Auschwitz: “The Jewish masses find
themselves wedged between the anvil of decaying feudalism and the hammer
of rotting capitalism.”4 This led to the situation whereby
Jews felt little or no national attachments and were foremost in
revolutionary parties. When Zionism was one of the few legal movements
in tsarist Russia, Jews constituted more than 50% of those arrested by
the tsarist police for revolutionary activity. It was not for nothing
that Hitler spoke about the Judaeo-Bolshevik conspiracy and it is clear
that he saw Jews as the initiators and cause of revolutionary class
struggle, with the Nazis particularly despising the eastern Jewish
proletariat.5

This
book is marred both by the political vacillations of its author and at
times an annoying lack of coherence. It centres around Marqusee’s
maternal grandfather, EV Morand, a labour activist and journalist for
the Jewish Review. Morand, with whom Marqusee clearly identifies,
began on the left of the Democratic Party, a link man between Tammany
Hall and the Jews, before ending up founding the American Labor Party,
which managed to gain one of the New York seats in Congress. Marqusee
describes how his grandfather repeatedly urged him to write his
biography (p256) and one suspects that this book is as much a peg on
which to hang Marqusee’s tribute to his grandfather as an exposition of
the trials of an anti-Zionist Jew.

But
Morand ended up after the war as a Jewish chauvinist, despising above
all Jewish anti-Zionists. Mike’s belief that his grandfather would have
come round to his politics is, one suspects, wishful thinking. His
ex-communist father, who had gone down to Mississippi to support the
civil rights movement in 1964, had denounced him as a “self-hating Jew”
for coming out as an anti-Zionist at the age of 15. It was only after
Sabra and Chatilla, when “the Zionists tested his humanity beyond
endurance”, that his dad admitted, “You were right. They’re bastards”
(p258).

This
book is not written in a vacuum. As Marqusee notes, we have had
‘anti-semitism’ redefined – by the European Monitoring Committee and our
own All Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism, headed by New
Labour’s Dennis MacShane – as political opposition to Zionism and
its bastard offspring, the Israeli state. In this Orwellian world,
opposition to the murderous racism of Zionism and the idea of Jewish
‘self-determination’ is in itself a form of racism!

But
Marqusee also betrays his own political weakness. Instead of arguing
that the only people to classify the Jews as a nation were the
anti-semites and the Zionists, he accepts that Jews constitute a
‘nation’. Yet how can people who live in different continents, speak
different languages, bound only by a vague religious attachment, if any,
be part of the same nation? British, Argentinean, American Jews are
part of the nations amongst whom they live. Marqusee instead goes on a
wild goose chase arguing that certain nations – the Tamils and Kurds,
for example – are not deemed worthy of the right to form a nation-state.
And in pursuit of this absurdity he accepts the apartheid definition of
the Afrikaners and Zulus as ‘nations’.

Marqusee’s
discourse on nationalism, in response to the charge of exceptionalism
(why pick on poor li’l ol’ Israel?), is the least thought out part of
this book (pp24-31). What is particularly strange is that he repeats,
without comment, Dorothy Parker’s observation towards the end of the
book that “the claim that every Jew in the world is, by his very
existence, a member of the Jewish nation … is a claim never made before
by anybody except anti-semites” (p237).

But
if it has its political weaknesses, this book has its strengths too.
Foremost amongst them is the chapter on Jewish emancipation and the
decision of the French assembly of September 27 1791 to emancipate the
Jews. No-one was more bitterly disappointed than the rabbis when the
ghetto walls, and thus their own power, were destroyed in the wake of
the French Revolution. Marqusee cites the words of the French
revolutionary, Clermont-Tonnerre, that “everything must be refused to
the Jews as a nation and everything granted to them as individuals”
(p72).

Likewise
the chapter on ancient Palestinian and the prophets is well worth
reading. As Marqusee notes, Jeremiah was a revolutionary defeatist who
welcomed the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans! And, although limited,
the chapter ‘Diasporic dimensions’, primarily about the Iraqi, Indian
and Moroccan Jewish communities, is informative.

As
Marqusee remarks, there was no Jewish community under Axis control that
fared as well as this large community in Vichy-administered Morocco.
The Sultan declared, in response to attempts to separate off Jews and
Arabs (always the precursor to deportations), that he would make no
distinction between his subjects. The Iraqi Jewish community was the
world’s oldest – prosperous and influential before it was destroyed by
Zionism.

Marqusee
details how Jewish war veterans and labour activists launched in March
1933 the boycott of Nazi Germany and equally how the Zionists and the
Jewish establishment of the American Jewish Congress opposed them
(pp95-97). Yet his grandfather, EVM, supported the boycott of Nazi
Germany and never seems to have wondered why the Zionist movement even
in 1933 collaborated with them.

EV
Morand was first and foremost a supporter of the popular front and it
is with this in mind that he and others formed the American Labor Party
(ALP), initially as a means of supporting Mayor La Guardia, Roosevelt
and the ‘left’ of the Democratic Party against Tammany Hall and Ed
Flynn. He describes how his grandfather worried that the anti-fascist
activities against the anti-semitic Irish priest, Father Coughlin, and
the struggle against anti-semitism and fascism in general, was taking on
a sectarian Jewish versus Irish flavour in the Bronx and Manhattan.

In
a rare moment of insight Marqusee sees a reflection of himself in
Morand: “Independence from factions can be an excuse for opportunism, as
well as for a reluctance to follow a party line. In any case, it seems
to be one of the traits I share with EVM,” he writes (p115). Possibly he
has in mind his own unfortunate association with the Socialist Workers
Party in the days of the Socialist Alliance!
There
are unfortunately a few howlers, not least the description of Herbert
Morrison as the Labour Party leader (p127). It is also unfortunate that a
book such as this does not possess an index.

Marqusee
describes how the ALP called for the opening of the gates of both
Palestine and the USA to Jewish refugees from Europe, whilst ignoring
the Zionist campaign to keep immigration controls in the USA at one and
the same time as they were intent on using the survivors of the
holocaust as a battering ram to open the gates of Palestine to
colonisation.

Marqusee,
to his credit, despite his hero-worship of his grandfather, admits that
in his support for Zionism as some kind of response to the holocaust,
EVM made a “colossal historical error” (p180) – this one-time leftist
was now forging new alliances with the right, including Tammany Hall,
and denouncing the “lowest of the low – anti-Zionist Jews” (p186). This
included support for Israel’s concept of “pre-emptive aggression”
(p191).

EVM
is a good example of the perniciousness of Zionism in forcing to the
right even the best, socialist-inclined Jews. Marqusee describes how
Virginia Gildersleeve, dean of Barnard College and an early feminist who
had fought against a quota on Jewish students at her college, was
nonetheless pilloried by EVM as someone who delights in the murder of
Jews (p202), although, as Marqusee says, at least she was spared, as a
non-Jew, his attack on Jewish anti-Zionists.

EVM wrote an editorial in the Jewish Review,
entitled ‘The Jewish quislings’, where he wrote gloatingly over the
expulsion of the Palestinian refugees, whom EVM conflated with the Nazis
(p209). EVM was oblivious to the point that Dorothy Parker, a fighter
against anti-semitism, made, when she raised the situation of the
Palestinians and was, of course, lambasted for it. She said: “My Zionist
friends do not seem to understand the universality of simple moral
principles” (p235).

This
book is a mixed bag. Repeatedly Mike’s own politics holds him back, as
when he argues that the equation of the star of David and the swastika
“can legitimate anti-semitism”, since the former is a “symbol of
Jewishness” (p262). In fact the star of David was always a minor symbol
of the Jewish religion and one related to the mythical warlike figure of
King David (it was the candelabrum which historically was the most
potent Jewish symbol – Zionism has transformed this, like much else).
When young Arab demonstrators in my own town, Brighton, had placards
with both symbols on them, then the point they were making was that both
Zionists and Nazis were guilty of similar war crimes. There was nothing
anti-semitic in this.

Likewise,
when Marqusee speaks of 2,000 years of Jews being persecuted as the
crucifiers of Christ, he unwittingly adopts the Zionist version of
Jewish history. As Abram Leon noted, “Zionism transposes modern
anti-semitism to all of history and saves itself the trouble of studying
the various forms of anti-semitism and their evolution.”6

It
is perhaps appropriate that Marqusee ends the book by wondering what
his grandfather would have made of him: “Would he have hated me? Have I
turned into one of the Jewish quislings he despised?” One suspects the
answer to that is ‘yes’ and that EVM would have been a lost cause. But
he would have been no more than symptomatic of the majority of Jewish
people who, with their support of Israel and its apartheid wall, have
re-entered the ghettos of old.

There
is a crying need for a book on Jewish identity and the place of
anti-Zionism within it, and for a definition of Jewishness that excludes
the last 60 years, when Jewish identity has been conflated with a
virulently racist and murderous state. As more and more Jews question
the linkage between being Jewish and Zionism, this book is more than
welcome. However, it is only the start of such a debate and it has some
very obvious flaws.

We
should be clear that the golden age of Zionism has gone. No longer do
we have to argue about the myths of a ‘socialist’ Zionism, as the
reality is only too apparent. As Jewish opponents of Zionism begin to
find their voice, it is to be hoped that this book is but one
contribution to an overdue debate.

Notes

1. www.newdemocracyworld.org/Einstein.htm . See also A Lilienthall The Zionist connectionNew York 1978.
2. Israeli prime minister Ben-Gurion allegedly said to his secretary:
“Tell me what to do if he says yes. I had to offer the post to him
because it’s impossible not to. But if he accepts, we are in for
trouble” (thejewishpress.blogspot.com/2008/04/einstein-first-post-zionist.html).
3. T Herzl Der Judenstaat New York 1989, p26.
4. A Leon The Jewish question – a Marxist interpretation New York 1970, p226.
5. This was expressed in the curious story of Wilhelm Kube,
Generalkomissar of the Minsk ghettos, who differentiated between German
Jews “from our Kulturkreis” and the “bestial native hordes” of
east European Jewry. Kube nearly found himself sent to a concentration
camp for his efforts to save German Jews deported to Minsk from
extermination, at the same time as native Russian and Byelorussian Jews
were being shot in their thousands. Kube was assassinated by a partisan
bomb (see G Reitlinger The final solution London 1971, pp236-41).
6. A Leon The Jewish question – a Marxist interpretation New York 1970, p247.

 

 

 

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