Uri Avnery was one of the few Zionists who were genuine peace activists. Indeed it is arguable whether he was a Zionist. Although he believed in a Jewish state he also believed in a state of equality. Avnery argued in Talking Zionism that
Zionism was the scaffolding that made the building of the state possible, but once the house is built, the scaffolding becomes a hindrance and must be removed.
Avnery went on to describe those who ‘dreamt of normality’ as the Canaanites. They were those who believed that Israel should cut itself off from the idea that it doesn’t form a separate nation and instead embrace their Arab citizens.
A demand for a state where each citizen, regardless of religion or colour, is equal is taken as the minimum requirements for a country to be considered democratic. Yet if you raised such a demand in relation to Israel, for a State of Equal Rights, then you will be accused of ‘anti-Semitism’. After all opposition to ‘the only Jewish state in the world’ is now defined as ‘anti-Semitic’ by the IHRA.
As Netanyahu declared, when reprimanding Israeli actress Rotem Sala:
We have just learnt tonight of a violent demonstration by the Jewish fascist group Lehava, in Israel, which took to the streets chanting ‘Death to the Arab’s – a carbon copy of the slogan of the anti-Semites in Germany and Poland – ‘Death to the Jews’ (yet such a comparison is termed anti-Semitic by the IHRA).
The present Israeli Ambassador to Britain, Tzipi Hotoveli, was personally responsible as a member of the Knesset Committee for the State of Women and Gender Equality for channeling funds to Lehava’s ‘charitable’ wing.
I will argue in my talk that Zionism far from being the scaffolding for the Israeli state was the building itself. Zionism represented a particular form of architecture, otherwise known as ethno-nationalism. Having been born in original sin it was hardly capable of changing itself when it approached adulthood.
Israel was given legitimacy by United Nations Resolution 181 which partitioned Mandate Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. This was achieved by a combination of US pressure on recalcitrant states like Liberia and the treacherous decision of the Soviet Union to back a Jewish state as a means of being rid of British imperialism from the Middle East.
For example when I grew up in a Zionist family I was told that the only reason there were Arab refugees (the word ‘Palestinian’ was never used) was that the Arabs of Israel had been instructed to leave by the Arab regimes so that they could invade and destroy the fledgling Jewish state.
We were told that Israel had been the victim of a simultaneous assault by the surrounding Arab countries and it was only a miracle that had saved it (actually it was Czechoslovakian weaponry!).
We were told that the Zionists accepted the UN partition but the Arabs rejected it.
That it was a case of David v Goliath in 1948 and subsequently.
And of course Israel had always sought peace but the Arabs refused to sit down and talk with it.
All of these and more were myths. Israel had a guerilla force, led by Haganah that had been created by the British.
In fact Walid Khalidi and Erskin Childers in 1961 had demonstrated beyond doubt, by examining CIA and BBC transcripts, that there had been no Arab orders to evacuate. On the contrary there were orders to stay!
When Meir Kahane of Kach, a party that demanded the expulsion of Israel’s Palestinians was elected in 1984 to the Knesset, every other party boycotted him. Members of the Knesset walked out when he was speaking. Today Itamar Gvir of Otzma Yehudit has been invited in by the Prime Minister Netanyahu as part of the governing coalition. Gvir’s view that Israel’s Palestinians do not belong are part of a growing and open right-wing consensus.
I want to look at a number of questions:about the formation of the Israeli state.
First and foremost is the role of Zionism in the creation of an apartheid state.
In particular laws such as the 1953 JNF law and 1950 Absentee Property Law
The role of imperialism. E.g. the Suez War, the alliance with France, relations with Apartheid in South Africa.
Was there a Zionist left in reference to Mapam?
These and more questions will be discussed tomorrow
And then to look at that thorny question, can a Jewish State and a Democratic State be reconciled?
When Kahane first burst on the scene he was quite clear. You can have a Jewish state or a Democratic state but you can’t have both. Was he right?