The Forgotten History of the Jewish, Anti-Zionist Left

“Zion¬≠ism is a tox¬≠ic mix¬≠ture of Euro¬≠pean nation¬≠al¬≠ism and British impe¬≠ri¬≠al¬≠ism graft¬≠ed onto a cul¬≠tur¬≠al reser¬≠voir of Jew¬≠ish tropes and mytholo¬≠gies that come from Jew¬≠ish litur¬≠gy and culture.”

“WHEREVER WE LIVE, THAT’S OUR HOMELAND”

“The Zionists have become known in the world, and they are considered like the lowest and the cheapest.” ~-Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn,Rebbe of Lubavitch, Russia (1866-1920)

A conversation with scholar Benjamin Balthaser about Jewish, working-class anti-Zionism in the 1930s and ’40s.

Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s push to forcibly annex up to 30% of the occu­pied West Bank is expos­ing the vio­lence inher­ent in impos­ing a Jew­ish eth­no-state on an indige­nous Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion.

While the plan is delayed for now, the human rights orga­ni­za­tion B’Tselem reports that, in prepa­ra­tion for annex­a­tion, Israel already ramped up its demo­li­tions of Pales­tin­ian homes in the West Bank in June, destroy­ing 30 that month, a fig­ure that does not include demo­li­tions in East Jerusalem.

We can see the emptiness and barrenness of aligning ourselves with an American imperial project.

The theft and destruc¬≠tion of Pales¬≠tin¬≠ian homes and com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties, how¬≠ev¬≠er, is just one piece of a¬†much larg¬≠er‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČand old¬≠er‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČcolo¬≠nial project.

As Pales¬≠tin¬≠ian orga¬≠niz¬≠er San¬≠dra Tamari writes, ‚Äč‚ÄúPales¬≠tini¬≠ans have been forced to endure Israel‚Äôs poli¬≠cies of expul¬≠sion and land appro¬≠pri¬≠a¬≠tion for over 70¬†years.‚ÄĚ

Today, this real­i­ty has evolved into an overt apartheid sys­tem: Pales­tini­ans with­in Israel are sec­ond-class cit­i­zens, with Israel now offi­cial­ly cod­i­fy­ing that self-deter­mi­na­tion is for Jews only.

Pales¬≠tini¬≠ans in the West Bank and Gaza are sub¬≠ject to mil¬≠i¬≠tary occu¬≠pa¬≠tion, siege, block¬≠ade and mar¬≠tial law‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČa sys¬≠tem of vio¬≠lent dom¬≠i¬≠na¬≠tion enabled by polit¬≠i¬≠cal and finan¬≠cial sup¬≠port from the Unit¬≠ed¬†States.

Anti-Zion­ists argue that this bru­tal real­i­ty is not just the prod­uct of a right-wing gov­ern­ment or fail­ure to effec­tive­ly pro­cure a two-state solu­tion.

Rather, it stems from the mod­ern Zion­ist project itself, one estab­lished in a colo­nial con­text, and fun­da­men­tal­ly reliant on eth­nic cleans­ing and vio­lent dom­i­na­tion of Pales­tin­ian peo­ple.

Jews around the world are among those who call them¬≠selves anti-Zion¬≠ists, and who vocif¬≠er¬≠ous¬≠ly object to the claim that the state of Israel rep¬≠re¬≠sents the will‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČor inter¬≠ests‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČof Jew¬≠ish¬†people.

In These Times spoke with Ben­jamin Balthas­er, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of mul­ti­eth­nic lit­er­a­ture at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty at South Bend.

His recent arti¬≠cle, ‚Äč‚ÄúWhen Anti-Zion¬≠ism Was Jew¬≠ish: Jew¬≠ish Racial Sub¬≠jec¬≠tiv¬≠i¬≠ty and the Anti-Impe¬≠ri¬≠al¬≠ist Lit¬≠er¬≠ary Left from the Great Depres¬≠sion to the Cold War,‚ÄĚ exam¬≠ines the erased his¬≠to¬≠ry of anti-Zion¬≠ism among the Jew¬≠ish, work¬≠ing-class left in the 1930s and ‚Äč‚Äė40s.

Anti-Zionism - Wikipedia

Balthas­er is the author of a book of poems about the old Jew­ish left called Ded­i­ca­tion, and an aca­d­e­m­ic mono­graph titled Anti-Impe­ri­al­ist Mod­ernism.

He is work­ing on a book about Jew­ish Marx­ists, social­ist thought and anti-Zion­ism in the 20th century.

He spoke with In These Times about the colo­nial ori­gins of mod­ern Zion­ism, and the Jew­ish left’s quar­rel with it, on the grounds that it is a form of right-wing nation­al­ism, is fun­da­men­tal­ly opposed to work­ing-class inter­na­tion­al­ism, and is a form of impe­ri­al­ism.

Accord­ing to Balthas­er, this polit­i­cal tra­di­tion under­mines the claim that Zion­ism reflects the will of all Jew­ish peo­ple, and offers sign­posts for the present day.

‚Äč‚ÄúFor Jews in the Unit¬≠ed States who are try¬≠ing to think about their rela¬≠tion¬≠ship not only to Pales¬≠tine, but also their own place in the world as an his¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly per¬≠se¬≠cut¬≠ed eth¬≠no-cul¬≠tur¬≠al dias¬≠poric minor¬≠i¬≠ty, we have to think of whose side we are on, and which glob¬≠al forces we want to align with,‚ÄĚ he says.

‚Äč‚ÄúIf we do not want to side with the exe¬≠cu¬≠tion¬≠ers of the far-right, with colo¬≠nial¬≠ism, and with racism, there is a¬†Jew¬≠ish cul¬≠tur¬≠al resource for us to draw on‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČa polit¬≠i¬≠cal resource to draw¬†on.‚ÄĚ

Sarah Lazare: Can you please explain what the ide­ol­o­gy of Zion­ism is? Who devel­oped it and when?

Ben­jamin Balthas­er: A cou­ple of things need to be dis­en­tan­gled.

First of all, there is a long Jew­ish his­to­ry that pre­dates the ide­ol­o­gy of Zion­ism that looks at Jerusalem, the ancient king­dom of Judea, as a site of cul­tur­al, reli­gious and, you can say, mes­sian­ic long­ing.

If you know Jew­ish litur­gy, there are ref­er­ences that go back thou­sands of years to the land of Zion, to Jerusalem, the old king­dom that the Romans destroyed.

There have been attempts through¬≠out Jew¬≠ish his¬≠to¬≠ry, dis¬≠as¬≠trous¬≠ly, to ‚Äč‚Äúreturn‚ÄĚ to the land of Pales¬≠tine, most famous¬≠ly, Sab¬≠batai Zevi in the 17th cen¬≠tu¬≠ry.

But for the most part, through much of Jew¬≠ish his¬≠to¬≠ry, ‚Äč‚ÄúIsrael‚ÄĚ was under¬≠stood as a¬†kind of a¬†cul¬≠tur¬≠al and mes¬≠sian¬≠ic long¬≠ing, but there was no desire to actu¬≠al¬≠ly phys¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly move there, out¬≠side of small reli¬≠gious com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties in Jerusalem and, of course, the small num¬≠ber of Jews who con¬≠tin¬≠ued to live in Pales¬≠tine under the Ottoman Empire‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČabout 5% of the¬†population.

Con­tem­po­rary Zion­ism, par­tic­u­lar­ly polit­i­cal Zion­ism, does draw on that large reser­voir of cul­tur­al long­ing and reli­gious text to legit­imize itself, and that’s where the con­fu­sion comes.

Mod­ern Zion­ism arose in the late 19th cen­tu­ry as a Euro­pean nation­al­ist move­ment. And I think that’s the way to under­stand it. It was one of these many Euro­pean nation­al­ist move­ments of oppressed minori­ties that attempt­ed to con­struct out of the diverse cul­tures of West­ern and East­ern Europe eth­ni­cal­ly homogeneous nation-states.

And there were many Jew­ish nationalism of the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies, of which Zion­ism was only one.

There was the Jew­ish Bund, which was a left-wing social­ist move­ment that rose to promi­nence in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry that artic­u­lat­ed a deter­ri­to­ri­al­ized nation­al­ism in East­ern Europe.

They felt their place was East­ern Europe, their land was East­ern Europe, their lan­guage was Yid­dish.

And they want­ed to strug­gle for free­dom in Europe where they actu­al­ly lived.

And they felt that their strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion was against oppres­sive cap­i­tal­ist gov­ern­ments in Europe.

Had the Holo­caust not wiped out the Bund and oth­er Jew­ish social­ists in East­ern Europe, we might be talk­ing about Jew­ish nation­al­ism in a very dif­fer­ent con­text now.

Of course, there were Sovi­et exper­i­ments, prob­a­bly most famous in Biro­bidzhan, but also one very brief one in Ukraine, to cre­ate Jew­ish autonomous zones with­in ter­ri­to­ries that Jews lived, or else­where with­in the Sovi­et Union, root­ed in the Yid­dish idea of doykait, dias­poric here­ness, and Yid­dish lan­guage and culture.

Zion­ism was one of these cul­tur­al nation­al­ist move­ments.

What made it dif¬≠fer¬≠ent was that it graft¬≠ed itself onto British colo¬≠nial¬≠ism, a¬†rela¬≠tion¬≠ship made explic¬≠it with the Bal¬≠four Dec¬≠la¬≠ra¬≠tion in 1917, and actu¬≠al¬≠ly tried to cre¬≠ate a¬†coun¬≠try out of a¬†British colony‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČMan¬≠date Pales¬≠tine‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČand use British colo¬≠nial¬≠ism as a¬†way to help estab¬≠lish itself in the Mid¬≠dle East.

The Bal­four Dec­la­ra­tion was essen­tial­ly a way to use the British Empire for its own ends.

On some lev­el, you could say Zion­ism is a tox­ic mix­ture of Euro­pean nation­al­ism and British impe­ri­al­ism graft­ed onto a cul­tur­al reser­voir of Jew­ish tropes and mytholo­gies that come from Jew­ish litur­gy and culture.

Sarah: One of the under­pin­nings of mod­ern Zion­ism is that it’s an ide­ol­o­gy that rep­re­sents the will of all Jews.

But in your paper, you argue that crit¬≠i¬≠cism of Zion¬≠ism was actu¬≠al¬≠ly quite com¬≠mon on the Jew¬≠ish left in the 1930s and ‚Äč‚Äô40s, and that this his¬≠to¬≠ry has been large¬≠ly erased.

Can you talk about what these crit­i­cisms were and who was mak­ing them?

Ben­jamin: The fun­ny part about the Unit­ed States, and I would say this is most­ly true for Europe, is that before the end of World War II, and even a lit­tle after, most Jews dis­par­aged Zion­ists.

And it didn’t mat­ter if you were a com­mu­nist, it didn’t mat­ter if you were a Reform Jew, Zion­ism was not pop­u­lar. There were a lot of dif­fer­ent rea­sons for Amer­i­can Jews to not like Zion­ism before the 1940s.

There’s the lib­er­al cri­tique of Zion­ism most famous­ly artic­u­lat­ed by Elmer Berg­er and the Amer­i­can Coun­cil for Judaism.

The anx­i­ety among these folks was that Zion­ism would basi­cal­ly be a kind of dual loy­al­ty, that it would open Jews up to the claim that they’re not real Amer­i­cans, and that it would actu­al­ly frus­trate their attempts to assim­i­late into main­stream Amer­i­can cul­ture.

Elmer Berg­er also for­ward­ed the idea that Jews are not a cul­ture or a peo­ple, but sim­ply a reli­gion, and there­fore have noth­ing in com­mon with one anoth­er out­side of the reli­gious faith.

This, I¬†would argue, is an assim¬≠i¬≠la¬≠tion¬≠ist idea that comes out of the 1920s and ‚Äč‚Äô30s and tries to resem¬≠ble a¬†Protes¬≠tant notion of ‚Äč‚Äúcom¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties of¬†faith.‚ÄĚ

 

But for the Jew¬≠ish left‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČthe com¬≠mu¬≠nist, social¬≠ist, Trot¬≠sky¬≠ist and Marx¬≠ist left‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČtheir cri¬≠tique of Zion¬≠ism came from two quar¬≠ters: a¬†cri¬≠tique of nation¬≠al¬≠ism and a¬†cri¬≠tique of colo¬≠nial¬≠ism.

They under­stood Zion­ism as a right-wing nation­al­ism and, in that sense, bour­geois.

They saw it as in line with oth¬≠er forms of nation¬≠al¬≠ism‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČan attempt to align the work¬≠ing class with the inter¬≠ests of the bour¬≠geoisie.

There was at the time a well-known take­down of Vladimir Jabotin­sky in the New Mass­es in 1935, in which Marx­ist crit­ic Robert Gess­ner calls Jabotin­sky a lit­tle Hitler on the Red Sea.

Jewish labor Bund

Gess­ner calls the Zion­ists Nazis and the left in gen­er­al saw Jew­ish nation­al­ism as a right-wing for­ma­tion try­ing to cre­ate a uni­fied, mil­i­taris­tic cul­ture that aligns work­ing-class Jew­ish inter­ests with the inter­ests of the Jew­ish bourgeoisie.

So that’s one cri­tique of Zion­ism. The oth­er cri­tique of Zion­ism, which I think is more con­tem­po­rary to the left today, is that Zion­ism is a form of impe­ri­al­ism.

If you look at the pam¬≠phlets and mag¬≠a¬≠zines and speech¬≠es that are giv¬≠en on the Jew¬≠ish left in the 1930s and ‚Äč‚Äô40s, they saw that Zion¬≠ists were align¬≠ing them¬≠selves with British impe¬≠ri¬≠al¬≠ism.

They also were very aware of the fact that the Mid­dle East was col­o­nized, first by the Ottomans and then by the British.

They saw the Pales­tin­ian strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion as part of a glob­al anti-impe­ri­al­ist movement.

Of course, Jew­ish com­mu­nists saw them­selves not as cit­i­zens of a nation-state, but as part of the glob­al pro­le­tari­at: part of the glob­al work­ing class, part of the glob­al rev­o­lu­tion.

And so for them to think about their home¬≠land as this small strip of land in the Mediter¬≠ranean‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČregard¬≠less of any cul¬≠tur¬≠al affin¬≠i¬≠ty to Jerusalem‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČwould just be against every¬≠thing they¬†believe.

As the Holo­caust began in earnest in the 1940s, and Jews were flee­ing Europe in any way they pos­si­bly could, some mem­bers of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty advo­cat­ed that Jews should be allowed to go to Pales­tine.

If you’re flee­ing anni­hi­la­tion and Pales­tine is the only place you can go that is nat­ur­al.

But that doesn’t mean you can cre­ate a nation-state there. You need to get along with the peo­ple who live there as best as you pos­si­bly can.

There was a¬†com¬≠mu¬≠nist par¬≠ty of Pales¬≠tine that did advo¬≠cate for Jew¬≠ish and Pales¬≠tin¬≠ian col¬≠lab¬≠o¬≠ra¬≠tion to oust the British and cre¬≠ate a¬†bina¬≠tion¬≠al state‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČwhich, for a¬†host of rea¬≠sons, includ¬≠ing the seg¬≠re¬≠gat¬≠ed nature of Jew¬≠ish set¬≠tle¬≠ment, proved hard¬≠er in prac¬≠tice than in¬†theory.

In any case, the Jew­ish left in the 1930s and 1940s under­stood, crit­i­cal­ly, that the only way Zion­ism would be able to emerge in Pales­tine was through a colo­nial project and through the expul­sion of the indige­nous Pales­tini­ans from the land.

In a speech by Earl Brow­der, chair­man of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, in Manhattan’s Hip­po­drome, he declares that a Jew­ish state can only be formed through the expul­sion of a quar­ter-mil­lion Pales­tini­ans, which atten­dees thought was very shock­ing at the time, but it actu­al­ly end­ed up being a dra­mat­ic undercount.

Sarah: You wrote in your recent jour¬≠nal arti¬≠cle, ‚Äč‚ÄúPer¬≠haps the sin¬≠gle most per¬≠va¬≠sive nar¬≠ra¬≠tive about Zion¬≠ism, even among schol¬≠ars and writ¬≠ers who acknowl¬≠edge its mar¬≠gin¬≠al sta¬≠tus before the war, is that the Holo¬≠caust changed Jew¬≠ish opin¬≠ioin and con¬≠vinced Jews of its neces¬≠si¬≠ty.‚ÄĚ You iden¬≠ti¬≠fy some major holes in this nar¬≠ra¬≠tive. Can you explain what they¬†are?

Ben­jamin: I would alter that a bit to say I’m real­ly talk­ing about the com­mu­nist and Marx­ist left in this con­text.

I grew up with in a left-wing fam¬≠i¬≠ly where opin¬≠ion was def¬≠i¬≠nite¬≠ly divid¬≠ed on the ques¬≠tion of Zion¬≠ism‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČyet, nonethe¬≠less, there was a per¬≠va¬≠sive idea that the Holo¬≠caust changed opin¬≠ion universally, and every¬≠one fell in line as soon as the details of the Holo¬≠caust were revealed, Zion¬≠ist and anti-Zion¬≠ist alike.

It’s unde­ni­ably cor­rect to say that with­out the Holo­caust there prob­a­bly would have been no Israel, if just for the sin­gle fact that there was a mas­sive influx of Jew­ish refugees after the war who would have undoubt­ed­ly stayed in Europe oth­er­wise.

With­out that influx of Jews who could fight the 1948 war and pop­u­late Israel just after, it’s doubt­ful an inde­pen­dent state of Israel could have succeeded.

How¬≠ev¬≠er, one thing I¬†found most sur¬≠pris¬≠ing going through the Jew¬≠ish left press in the 1940s‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČpub¬≠li¬≠ca¬≠tions of the Trot¬≠sky¬≠ist Social¬≠ist Work¬≠ers Par¬≠ty, the Com¬≠mu¬≠nist Par¬≠ty, and writ¬≠ings by Han¬≠nah Arendt‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČis that even after the scope of the Holo¬≠caust was wide¬≠ly under¬≠stood, their offi¬≠cial posi¬≠tion was still anti-Zion¬≠ist.

They may have called for Jews to be allowed to reset­tle in the lands from which they were expelled or mas­sa­cred, with full rights and full cit­i­zen­ship, be allowed to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States, or even be allowed to emi­grate to Pales­tine if there was nowhere else to go (as was often the case).

But they were still whol­ly against par­ti­tion and the estab­lish­ment of a Jew­ish-only state.

What is impor¬≠tant to under¬≠stand about that moment was that Zion¬≠ism was a¬†polit¬≠i¬≠cal choice‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČnot only by west¬≠ern impe¬≠r¬≠i¬≠al pow¬≠ers, but also by Jew¬≠ish lead¬≠er¬≠ship.

They could have fought more stren­u­ous­ly for Jew­ish immi­gra­tion to the Unit­ed States.

And a lot of the Zion­ist lead­ers actu­al­ly fought against immi­gra­tion to the Unit­ed States.

There were a num­ber of sto­ries report­ed in the Jew­ish Com­mu­nist press about how Zion­ists col­lab­o­rat­ed with the British and Amer­i­cans to force Jews to go to Man­date Pales­tine, when they would have rather gone to the Unit­ed States, or Eng­land.

There‚Äôs a¬†famous quote by Ernest Bevin, the British For¬≠eign Sec¬≠re¬≠tary, who said the only rea¬≠son the Unit¬≠ed States sent Jews to Pales¬≠tine was ‚Äč‚Äúbecause they do not want too many more of them in New York.‚ÄĚ

And the Zion­ists agreed with this.

While this may seem like ancient his¬≠to¬≠ry, it is impor¬≠tant because it dis¬≠rupts the com¬≠mon sense sur¬≠round¬≠ing Israel‚Äôs for¬≠ma¬≠tion. ‚Äč

‚ÄúYes, maybe there could have been peace between Jews and Pales¬≠tini¬≠ans, but the Holo¬≠caust made all of that impos¬≠si¬≠ble.‚ÄĚ

And I would say that this debate after 1945 shows that there was a long moment in which there were oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties, and anoth­er future could have happened.

Iron­i­cal­ly, per­haps, the Sovi­et Union did more than any oth­er sin­gle force to change the minds of the Jew­ish Marx­ist left in the late 1940s about Israel.

Andrei Gromyko, the Sovi­et Union’s ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations, came out in 1947 and backed par­ti­tion in the Unit­ed Nations after declar­ing the West­ern world did noth­ing to stop the Holo­caust, and sud­den­ly there’s this about-face.

All these Jew­ish left-wing pub­li­ca­tions that were denounc­ing Zion­ism, lit­er­al­ly the next day, were embrac­ing par­ti­tion and the for­ma­tion of the nation-state of Israel.

You have to under¬≠stand, for a¬†lot of Jew¬≠ish com¬≠mu¬≠nists and even social¬≠ists, the Sovi¬≠et Union was the promised land‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČnot Zion¬≠ism.

This was the place where they had, accord­ing to the pro­pa­gan­da, erad­i­cat­ed anti­semisitm.

The Russ­ian Empire was the most anti­se­mit­ic place through­out the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, before the rise of Nazism.

Many of the Jew­ish Com­mu­nist Par­ty mem­bers were from East­ern Europe, or their fam­i­lies were, and they had very vivid mem­o­ries of Rus­sia as the cru­cible of anti­semitism.

For them, the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion was a rup­ture in his­to­ry, a chance to start over.

And, of course, this is after World War II, when the Sovi­et Union had just defeat­ed the Nazis.

For the Sovi­et Union to embrace Zion­ism real­ly sent a shock­wave through the left-wing Jew­ish world.

The Sovi­et Union changed its pol­i­cy a decade or so lat­er, open­ly embrac­ing anti-Zion­ism by the 1960s. But for this brief piv­otal moment, the Sovi­et Union firm­ly came down in favor of par­ti­tion, and that seems to be what real­ly changed the Jew­ish left.

With­out this kind of legitimization, I think we are all start­ing to see the Jew­ish left such as it exists return back in an impor­tant way to the posi­tions that it had orig­i­nal­ly held, which is that Zion­ism is a right-wing nation­al­ism and that it is also racist and colo­nial­ist. We are see­ing the Jew­ish left return to its first principles.

Sarah: That’s a good segue to some ques­tions I want­ed to ask you about the rel­e­vance of anti-Zion­ist his­to­ry to the present day. For a lot of peo­ple, Israel’s plan to annex huge amounts of Pales­tin­ian land in the West Bank, while delayed, is still lay­ing bare the vio­lence of the Zion­ist project of estab­lish­ing Jew­ish rule over a Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion. And we are see­ing some promi­nent lib­er­al Zion­ists like Peter Beinart pub­licly pro­claim that the two-state solu­tion is dead and one state based on equal rights is the best path. Do you see now as an impor­tant moment to con­nect with the his­to­ry of Jew­ish anti-Zion­ism? Do you see open­ings or pos­si­bil­i­ties for chang­ing peo­ple’s minds?

Ben­jamin: In a way, Beinart’s let­ter was 70 years too late.

But it is still a very impor­tant cul­tur­al turn, to the extent that he is part of a lib­er­al Jew­ish estab­lish­ment.

I¬†would also say that we‚Äôre in a¬†dif¬≠fer¬≠ent his¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cal moment. In the 1930s and ‚Äč‚Äô40s, you can real¬≠ly talk about a¬†kind of glob¬≠al rev¬≠o¬≠lu¬≠tion¬≠ary sen¬≠ti¬≠ment and a¬†real Jew¬≠ish left that‚Äôs locat¬≠ed in orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tions like the Com¬≠mu¬≠nist Par¬≠ty, the Social¬≠ist Work¬≠ers Par¬≠ty and the Social¬≠ist Par¬≠ty.

And you can see that again in the 1960s. Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety, which also had a very size­able Jew­ish mem­ber­ship, for­mal­ly backed anti-Zion­ism in the 1960s, along with the Social­ist Work­ers Par­ty, and formed alliances with the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, which had also tak­en an offi­cial anti-Zion­ist posi­tion in the late 1960s.

You could think about a¬†glob¬≠al rev¬≠o¬≠lu¬≠tion¬≠ary frame¬≠work in which Pales¬≠tin¬≠ian lib¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion was an artic¬≠u¬≠lat¬≠ed part‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČyou could think about the Pop¬≠u¬≠lar Front for the Lib¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Pales¬≠tine and the Pales¬≠tine Lib¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion Orga¬≠ni¬≠za¬≠tion as part of the fab¬≠ric of glob¬≠al rev¬≠o¬≠lu¬≠tion¬≠ary¬†movements.

Today we’re in a much more frag­ment­ed space.

On the same note, though, we‚Äôre see¬≠ing the rebirth, or maybe con¬≠ti¬≠nu¬≠ity, of Pales¬≠tin¬≠ian civ¬≠il rights move¬≠ments, with Pales¬≠tin¬≠ian civ¬≠il soci¬≠ety putting out a¬†call for decol¬≠o¬≠niza¬≠tion‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČboth out of their own tra¬≠di¬≠tions of lib¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion, but also look¬≠ing to mod¬≠els from the South African free¬≠dom strug¬≠gle.

For con­tem­po­rary Jews who are pro­gres­sive and see them­selves on the left, they’re sud­den­ly real­iz­ing that there real­ly is no cen­ter any­more, there is no lib­er­al Zion­ist posi­tion any longer.

The cen­ter has real­ly fall­en away. And we’re faced with this very stark deci­sion: that either you’re going to be on the side of lib­er­a­tion, or you’re going to be on the side of the Israeli right, which has elim­i­na­tion­ist and geno­ci­dal intent that has always been there, but is naked­ly appar­ent now.

And so I¬†think peo¬≠ple like Beinart are wak¬≠ing up and say¬≠ing, ‚Äč‚ÄúI don‚Äôt want to be on the side of the¬†executioners.‚ÄĚ

The his­to­ry of the old Jew­ish left and the new Jew­ish left of the 1960s shows us this isn’t new.

Any lib­er­a­tion strug­gle is going to come from the oppressed them­selves, so the Pales­tin­ian lib­er­a­tion move­ment is going to set its terms for strug­gles.

But for Jews in the Unit­ed States who are try­ing to think about their rela­tion­ship, not only to Pales­tine, but also their own place in the world as an his­tor­i­cal­ly per­se­cut­ed eth­no-cul­tur­al dias­poric minor­i­ty, we have to think of whose side we are on, and which glob­al forces we want to align with.

If we do not want to side with the exe¬≠cu¬≠tion¬≠ers of the far-right, with colo¬≠nial¬≠ism and with racism, there is a¬†Jew¬≠ish cul¬≠tur¬≠al resource for us to draw on‚ÄČ‚ÄĒ‚ÄČa polit¬≠i¬≠cal resource to draw on.

This his­to­ry of the anti-Zion­ist Jew­ish left demon­strates that an impor­tant his­tor­i­cal role in a dias­po­ra has been sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er oppressed peo­ple.

That‚Äôs the place from which we‚Äôve gath¬≠ered the most strength his¬≠tor¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly. So I¬†look at this not as say¬≠ing, ‚Äč‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not going to repro¬≠duce the Com¬≠mu¬≠nist Par¬≠ty of the 1930s and 1940s.‚ÄĚ

We‚Äôre say¬≠ing, ‚Äč‚ÄúWe‚Äôll pro¬≠duce some¬≠thing new, but the past can be a¬†cul¬≠tur¬≠al resource that we can use¬†today.‚ÄĚ

Sarah: Who or what is respon­si­ble for the era­sure of this his­to­ry of Jew­ish, left anti-Zionism?

Ben­jamin: I wouldn’t blame the era­sure sole­ly on the Sovi­et Union or Zion­ism, because we also have to think of the Cold War and how the Cold War destroyed the old Jew­ish left, and real­ly drove it under­ground and shat­tered its orga­ni­za­tions.

So I think we also have to see how the turn toward Zion­ism was under­stood as some­thing that would nor­mal­ize Jews in a post-war era.

With the exe¬≠cu¬≠tion of the Rosen¬≠bergs, the Red Scare of the late 1940s and ‚Äč‚Äô50s, and the vir¬≠tu¬≠al ban¬≠ning of the Com¬≠mu¬≠nist Par¬≠ty, which had been through¬≠out the 1930s and ‚Äč‚Äô40s half Jew¬≠ish, for much of the Jew¬≠ish estab¬≠lish¬≠ment, align¬≠ing them¬≠selves with Amer¬≠i¬≠can impe¬≠ri¬≠al¬≠ism was a¬†way for Jews to nor¬≠mal¬≠ize their pres¬≠ence in the Unit¬≠ed States.

And hope­ful­ly that moment has to some degree passed. We can see the empti­ness and bar­ren­ness of align­ing our­selves with an Amer­i­can impe­r­i­al project, with peo­ple like Bari Weiss and Jared Kush­n­er.

Why would some­one like Bari Weiss, who describes her­self as lib­er­al, want to align her­self with the most reac­tionary forces in Amer­i­can life?

It’s a bloody matrix of assim­i­la­tion and white­ness that emerged out of the Cold War sub­ur­ban­iza­tion of the 1950s. Israel was part of that devil’s bar­gain.

Yes, you can become real Amer­i­cans: You can go to good U.S. uni­ver­si­ties, you can join the sub­urbs, enter into the main­stream of Amer­i­can life, as long as you do this one lit­tle thing for us, which is back the Amer­i­can Empire.

Hope­ful­ly, with the emer­gence of new grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions in the Unit­ed States, among Jews and non-Jews who are ques­tion­ing the U.S. role sup­port­ing Zion­ism, this cal­cu­lus can begin to change.

With the rise of Jew­ish Voice for Peace, IfNot­Now, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca and the Move­ment for Black Lives all tak­ing a seri­ous stance against U.S. sup­port for Zion­ism, the com­mon sense in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty has begun to move in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly among the younger gen­er­a­tion.

The bat­tle is very far from over, but it makes me just a lit­tle opti­mistic about the future.