Is Dead Wrong
By John Spritzler
28 April, 2007
Avneri, in his The
Bed of Sodom, attacks the idea of a One-State Solution
to the Palestine/Israel conflict, i.e. the solution that says make all
of historic Palestine from the Jordan river to the Sea be a single democratic
state with equal rights for all regardless of ethnicity or religion.
Avneri also attacks the idea of a general boycott of Israel. He doesn't
mind a boycott of specific Israeli companies, or settlers, to force
Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land outside its 1967 borders,
but he does oppose a general boycott of Israel aimed at causing the
state of Israel to collapse (like the apartheid state of South Africa
did after it was boycotted by the world) and be replaced by One-Democratic
Avneri is wrong. But to see
why, one must get out of the reformist box that so much of the discourse
on this topic resides in, and think about these questions from a revolutionary
point of view. This is the perspective from which I will refute Avneri's
arguments. First, what exactly are his arguments?
Here are Avneri's reasons
for opposing the One-State Solution:
1. It "diverts the effort
from a solution that has now, after many years, a broad public basis
[the 'Two-State Solution'--JS], in favor of a solution that has no chance
2. It has no chance at all because "There is no doubt that 99.99%
of Jewish Israelis want the State of Israel to exist as a state with
a robust Jewish majority, whatever its borders."
3. And even if it did come
to pass, it would be bad because: "it is a dangerous idea, especially
for the Palestinians. Statistically, the Israeli Jews constitute, as
of now, the absolute majority between the sea and the river. To that,
one must add an even more important fact: the average annual income
of an Arab Palestinian is about 800 dollars, that of a Jewish Israeli
is about 20,000 dollars - 25 times (!) higher. The Israeli economy is
growing every year. The Palestinians would be 'hewers of wood and drawers
of water'. That means that if the imaginary joint state did indeed come
into being, the Jews there would wield in it absolute power. They would,
of course, use this power to consolidate their dominance and prevent
the return of refugees."
And here are his reasons
for opposing a general boycott of Israel:
1. The general boycott of
Israel idea is based on a false premise, says Avneri, and the false
premise goes like this: "The problem is the very essence of Israel
as a Zionist state. This essence is unchangeable as long as the state
exists. No change from the inside is possible, because in Israel there
is no essential difference between Right and Left. Both are accomplices
in a policy whose real aim is ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of the
Palestinians not only from the occupied territories, but also from Israel
On the contrary, says Avneri, "it is possible to change the historical
direction of Israel" from within. His evidence for this is the
fact that the Israeli peace movement has already "attained impressive
achievements: the recognition of the existence of the Palestinian people
has become general, and so has the readiness of most Israelis to accept
the idea of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as the capital of both
states. We have compelled our government to recognize the PLO, and we
shall compel them to recognize Hamas."
2. Furthermore, argues Avneri,
a general boycott will never work: "The entire world has imposed
a blockade on the Palestinian people. But in spite of the terrible misery
of the Palestinians, they have not been brought to their knees. Why
do you think that a boycott would break the Israeli public, which is
far stronger economically, so that they would give up the Jewish character
of the state?"
3. And besides, Avneri says,
even if it would work, a general boycott is impossible to pull off in
the first place: "In any case, such a boycott is quite impossible.
Here and there, an organization can declare a boycott, small circles
of justice-lovers can keep it, but there is no chance that in the coming
decades a world-wide boycott movement, like the one that broke the racist
regime in South Africa, will come about. That regime was headed by declared
asmirers of the Nazis. A boycott of the "Jewish State", which
is identified with the victims of the Nazis, just will not happen. It
will be enough to remind people that the long road to the gas chambers
started with the 1933 Nazi slogan 'Kauft nicht bei Juden' ('Don't buy
WHAT'S WRONG WITH
The key flaw in Avneri's
case is that he completely ignores the fact of class conflict. He ignores
the class conflict that rages within Israel among the mainly Jewish
population (described below) as well as the class conflict that rages
in all of the rest of the Middle East among the mainly non-Jewish population
(for example Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose governments oppress their
own workers with assistance from the Israeli regime.) Assessing the
possibilities for solving the conflict in Palestine/Israel while ignoring
this key aspect of reality--class conflict--is as bound to lead to wrong
and fundamentally pessimistic conclusions as a doctor, who is ignorant
of the fact that a patient has an immune system that fights invading
organisms, assessing the possibility of saving the patient's life.
Avneri's world view resides
in a reformist box, inside of which one takes capitalist class inequality
as a permanent, uncontroversial, given fact of nature. His world view
is therefore blind to the ways in which working class Jewish Israelis,
despite the undeniable fact that many of them fear Palestinians more
than their own rulers, are nonetheless already engaged in a fight against
their Zionist rulers over issues that separate people according to their
basic values: equality versus inequality, competition versus solidarity,
democracy versus rule by an elite--in other words working class values
versus capitalist values. It is blind to the implicitly revolutionary
conflict between what ordinary Jews actually want versus what their
Zionist leaders actually want. It is blind to the fact that when people
are forced to fight against their leaders they may start to question
the lies their leaders tell them to control them, like the Big Lie about
Palestinians wanting to "drive the Jews into the sea." And
it is blind to the potential for revolutionary change that can take
place when people start to see through the racist lies that they formerly
believed. Some people, of course, like to stay in the reformist box,
and they like to be blind (or keep others blind) because they don't
want the capitalist system of class inequality to be abolished. They
don't want others to see the possibilities for optimism and hope that
lie outside the box, where one can see the implicitly revolutionary
aspirations for a better world that are shared by millions of working
class people regardless of their race or religion or nationality.
Some may ask, "What
class conflict inside Israel?" Well, follow these links to read
about it if you are skeptical.
Read about how Israel is
not really a "Jewish state" but rather a "rich Jews'
Read how the upper class
is driving down the rest of the people.
Read in The Jewish Daily
population of retirees has been reduced to a state of profound economic
insecurity in recent years, as self-styled economic reformers have hollowed
out the Jewish state’s time-honored system of care for the elderly.
Pensions have been frozen. Social security payments, known in Israel
as national insurance, have been relentlessly whittled away —
cut by 35% in a single decade. Health care and prescription drug coverage
have been slashed, along with funds for senior housing and assisted
living. It’s part of a deliberate move by Jerusalem policy-makers
to modernize Israel’s economy, by which they mean to remodel it
along American lines. Determined to bury the socialist ethos of Israel’s
founders, successive governments since the mid-1980s have slashed income
supports and welfare payments even as they’ve privatized and deregulated
industries, opened capital markets to international competition and
reduced workers’ job security (they call it “liberalizing
labor laws”). Over the past three years, under the economic leadership
of Benjamin Netanyahu, the reforms have been ramped up to a revolution."
The Forward explains the
"meteoric rise of the Pensioners' Party" in the April, 2006
election this way: "And then there was the simple, glaring fact
of poverty. Too many Israelis had reached the point where their own
personal security seemed more precarious than their country’s."
Read in the Jewish News Weekly
of Northern California about: "Poverty in Israel — Hunger
and homelessness surge in the Jewish state"
Read how "Recent measures
taken by Israel’s government to undermine the welfare state have
harmed women first of all, both Arab and Jewish. Of the Jewish, many
who in the past had gained a foothold in the middle class find themselves
shunted to the margins of society. The income supplements they depended
on have been whisked out from under them. The same cuts have worsened
the plight of Arab women. Despite the fact that both groups, indeed
the lower classes in general on both the Arab and Jewish sides, suffer
from an erosion in living-standards – and often for identical
reasons – there is an utter lack of dialogue between them."
But Israelis are resisting
this capitalist attack on their lives, in many different ways:
Read Jenny Cohen-Khallas's
description of "Penury and Hunger in Israel" and how "vociferous
segments of the public are demanding that governmental resources be
channeled to welfare and other domestic resources, rather than to strengthening
settlements beyond the green line."
Read about single mothers,
the homeless and the unemployed camping out in front of Israel's Finance
Ministry and in Tel Aviv: "The choice of place is no accident,"
says Israel Twito, 38, a divorcee who is bringing up three daughters
alone. "The contrast between our miserable campsite and the neighbourhood’s
luxury shops and apartment blocks symbolises the ever-widening abyss
between rich and poor."
Is it any wonder, then, that
one can read how more people are leaving Israel than entering it, and
how " Almost half of the country's young people were thinking of
leaving the country" because of "dissatisfaction with the
government, the education system, a lack of confidence in the political
ruling class and concern over the security situation"?
Read about the way working
class Israelis have been forced to engage in large strikes to protect
themselves, not from "the Arabs" but from their Jewish ruling
On September 21,  the
Israeli General Federation of Labour (Histadrut) held a general strike
in protest against the ongoing failure of the government to pay wages
to local authorities’ employees. Some 400,000 public sector workers
across 265 municipalities came out, bringing the state to a halt. Flights,
seaports, railways, post offices, banks and the stock exchange were
all shut down, whilst hospitals and the fire service operated on an
emergency footing. Schools, day-care centres, kindergartens, and universities
were also affected.
The strike also included
the Israeli Electrical Corporation, Mekorot National Water Company,
oil refineries, public works departments, and the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline
Company. Border crossings were closed, and all government offices including
civilian employees in the Israeli Defence Force and at the Negev Nuclear
Research Plant were on strike.
Calling the strike was forced
upon Histadrut by the depth of opposition and anger amongst workers.
Histadrut’s chief and Member of the Knesset Amir Peretz said,
“I used to believe in the prime minister, the Knesset, and the
courts, yet when I realised there are Israelis hungry for bread, I decided
“No one, not even the
Prime Minister, has the right to set any conditions whatsoever for payment
of many months of salaries owed to the workers,” Peretz noted.
“The government is turning wages into charity. Wages are not a
favour, they are a legal obligation. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Minister
of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu, and Minister of Internal Affairs Avraham
Poraz are not enforcing the law. They’re turning Israel into a
third world country.”
WHY AVNERI IS WRONG
ABOUT THE ONE-STATE SOLUTION BEING IMPOSSIBLE
Where, we might ask Avneri,
is it written in stone that Arabs and Jews in Palestine, who suffer
at the hands of the same Israeli ruling class, will never start talking
to each other about their shared problem--the Israeli ruling class--and
their shared aspirations for a decent life for themselves and their
children--a life in a society with peace and security, one where half
the youth aren't thinking about leaving and where people don't have
to camp out in protest or wage general strikes to defend themselves
against a rapacious government serving billionaires and generals while
it does everything it can to foment a war of Orwellian social control
between Jews and non-Jews in Palestine/Israel? Where is it written that
working class Jews will never understand that their Zionist leaders
tell them lies about Palestinians--especially the Big Lie that Palestinians
want to "drive the Jews into the sea"--purely for the purpose
of making Israeli Jews easier to control and exploit?
What about Avneri's first
two arguments against the One-State Solution--that it diverts from the
Two-State Solution, which is the only practical one because 99.99% of
Jewish Israelis want a Jewish state with a robust Jewish majority? From
inside the reformist box, where there is no conflict in people's minds,
or in society, between working class and capitalist values like equality
versus inequality, this statement seems reasonable. But let's look outside
the box. The same kind of statement that Avrneri makes about "99.99%
of Jewish Israelis" could have been made about white South Africans
overwhelmingly wanting apartheid before South Africa's President deKlerk,
as a result of the world wide boycott against apartheid South Africa,
decided to give white South Africans, for the very first time, a green
light to express their true feelings about apartheid. Prior to this,
any white person who expressed a criticism of apartheid was accused
of being "anti-Christian" and therefore many just kept their
mouths shut. But when they were allowed to speak more freely this is
what happened. In 1992, the BBC reported on how whites voted on the
referendum, supported by the de Klerk government, to abolish apartheid:
White South Africans have
backed an overwhelming mandate for political reforms to end apartheid
and create a power-sharing multi-racial government.
In a landslide victory for
change, the government swept the polls in all four provinces, and all
but one of 15 referendum regions.
It won 68.6% of the vote
in a record turn-out, which, in some districts exceeded 96%.
What about Avneri's third
argument against the One-State Solution--that, since Jews are currently
a majority in all of Palestine, and since the income of Jews is much
greater than non-Jews, then if all of Palestine were one democratic
state the "Palestinians would be 'hewers of wood and drawers of
water'. That means that if the imaginary joint state did indeed come
into being, the Jews there would wield in it absolute power. They would,
of course, use this power to consolidate their dominance and prevent
the return of refugees."
Inside Averneri's reformist
box, where class conflict does not exist, sure, of course, "Jews
would consolidate their dominance." But outside the box one can
see that working class Jews (as opposed to their rulers) are NOT dominant
even today, never mind the notion of their "consolidating"
their dominance in the future democratic state.
It is indeed curious that
Avneri doesn't talk about class inequality in this context EXCEPT to
use his supposed worry about some people being "hewers of wood
and drawers of water" as an argument against our movement aiming
for a single democratic state where all have equal rights. Acording
to Avneri, in order to prevent some people from being dominated by others
we need to aim for--what else can one call it other than apartheid?--two
separate states, one with a guaranteed robust Jewish majority, and one
for the non-Jews.
From outside the reformist
box, the answer to the problem of some people being other people's "hewers
of wood and drawers of water"--in other words the problem of some
people being the wage slaves of a capitalist class--is social revolution
against the capitalist system of wage slavery. The answer to the problem
of inequality in society is to build a movement that is explicitly for
equality, and for overthrowing the power of the ruling class that defends
inequality and uses it to pit people against each other in order to
more easily control them.
From inside the box, this
kind of social revolution is so impossible and out of the question that
it is foolish to even think about it. From outside the box, however,
one can see that it is the commonsense solution to what most ordinary
people, be they Jewish or not, really want. Orwellian wars of social
control, like the Jews versus non-Jews war in Palestine that is ruining
the lives of Jews and Palestinians, are what ruling elites foment in
order to control ordinary people who, in a genuine democracy, would
create a more equal society in which people helped each other instead
of being pitted against each other as today. Those who wish to maintain
a social system based on class inequality, who treat class inequality
as a permanent fact of life and who want everybody else to see it the
same way, meaning to not see it at all, the way fish don't see the water,
tell us that it is foolish to aim for a non-capitalist society based
on equality and solidarity. Why should we believe them? Building such
a society is perfectly possible, and one glimpse of how it might be
done is offered in After the Revolution, What?
But let us place on hold
the question of whether a sweeping social revolution is possible. There
is a huge here-and-now reason why our movement should advocate the One-State
Solution. Quite simply, advocating the One-State Solution is a winner
when it comes to persuading the public in countries like the United
States that their government should stop supporting Israel, and advocating
the Two-State Solution is a loser. And we all can agree that if countries
like the U.S. stopped supporting Israel then the forces of justice and
decency in Palestine/Israel would gain strength relative to their foes.
Why is it so much more effective
to advocate the One- versus the Two-State Solution? This is why. The
One-State Solution appeals to the basic universal value of equality
that working class people around the world believe in very strongly.
When we say to people: "The problem in Palestine/Israel is that
Israel is based on ethnic cleansing and the obvious solution is for
Israel to stop it, and to allow the refugees to return to their homes
inside of Israel, and yes, this would be the end of a robust Jewish
majority inside Israel but so what?, it is racist to insist that any
particular religion or ethnic group must be the majority inside a state--its
KKK thinking!--, and besides, the Israeli rulers only push this "We
need a Jewish state of our own" idea as a way to destroy solidarity
between working class Jews and working class non-Jews" then it
resonates with people; they nod their heads in agreement; it makes sense
to them; it seems right; they see exactly why their government should
not support Israel.
I know this from much personal
experience talking to people going door to door in Somerville, Massachusetts.
On one occasion I rang the doorbell and an elderly (white) woman answered,
and she told me she knew nothing about what was going on in Israel,
but she'd like to talk with me about it; fifteen minutes later her husband
came by and asked her what we were talking about and she proceeded to
explain to him the root of the conflict in Israel/Palestine with confidence,
based, by the way, on her experience of class conflict in her own life,
and her knowledge of how employers control working people with lies
and manipulation. These kinds of conversations can only happen if we
get outside the reformist box and talk to people about the class conflict
over values that they understand very well from their own personal experience.
If, on the other hand, we
stay inside the box and talk about a Two-State Solution, then we're
talking about separating the Jews from the non-Jews, we're ignoring
the fact that working class Jews and working class non-Jews have more
in common with each other than with their ruling elites, we're avoiding
even mentioning the basic fact of life--class conflict--and we're turning
the question into a dispute over where the border between two hostile
peoples should be drawn in a far-away part of the world that it is impossible
to really know much about, and since the Jews and the non-Jews are so
inherently hostile to each other that they cannot even live in the same
state with each other it must follow that they need protection from
each other, and since the Jews are the perpetual victims of anti-Semitism
and the Holocaust, well then, why SHOULDN'T our government provide support
to Israel? If this isn't a loser of an argument I don't know what is!
WHY AVNERI IS WRONG
IN OPPOSING A GENERAL BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL
The first reason Avneri gives
for opposing a general boycott of Israel is that it is based on a false
premise, namely the premise that only pressure external to Israel can
make things improve because there is no positive force inside Israel
itself. Avneri says that there is, indeed, a positive force internal
to Israel (by which he means his Peace movement), as evidenced by its
"impressive achievements:" getting Israelis to recognize the
existence of the Palestinian people and making them ready to accept
a Palestinian state and, he predicts, a willing soon to recognize Hamas.
What a muddle Avneri has
created on this question!
First, the issue isn't whether
or not there is a positive force inside Israel; the issue is a disagreement
over what that positive force is. Avneri says it is the force that is
willing to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel so that Israel
can maintain its robust Jewish majority. But the positive force inside
Israel is, on the contrary, the Israeli working class that opposes class
inequality and that fights the Israeli ruling class over this issue,
even while being weakened greatly by the influence of Zionist racist
propaganda telling them that the Palestinians are their real enemy.
Avneri says that the thing to do is to strengthen the forces who want
a separate Jewish and Palestinian state. On the contrary, the thing
to do is to strengthen the political clarity and understanding of the
Israeli working class so they will be able to win the fight that they
are in against the Zionist ruling class by rejecting the Zionist ideology
and seeing who their real allies (non-Jewish working class people) are
in the struggle that they are, in fact, presently fighting.
Second, a general boycott
of Israel does not, as Avneri claims, rest on the premise that there
is no positive force inside Israel. It rests on the premise (at least
when one gets outside of the reformist box) that a general boycott of
Israel will strengthen the positive force inside of Israel. (This is
what happened in the case of South Africa, so the burden of proof would
seem to fall on those who deny it, not those who affirm it.)
Which leads us to Avneri's
second argument for opposing a general boycott of Israel.
Avneri says, "The entire
world has imposed a blockade on the Palestinian people. But in spite
of the terrible misery of the Palestinians, they have not been brought
to their knees. Why do you think that a boycott would break the Israeli
public, which is far stronger economically, so that they would give
up the Jewish character of the state?"
The difference between the
blockade on the Palestinian people and a boycott of Israel is not obvious
to Avneri because he is inside the reformist box, where class conflict
does not exist and people think of themselves as being "a Palestinian"
or "a Jew." But outside the reformist box, in the real world
in other words, people think about what is right and what is wrong,
about what conforms to their working class values of equality and democracy
and what conforms to the elitist values of inequality and anti-democracy
of their capitalist rulers.
When people come under attack
they care about why. The Palestinians know that the blockade against
them is part of an effort to deny them their right of return and their
right to be equals with Jews in Palestine. This is the obvious reason
why they do not fall to their knees in response to the blockade. But
when people are attacked because they, or their government, are committing
something morally wrong, they don't automatically increase their resolve
to remain strong and unbowed.
Consider, as a sharp illustration
of this fact, the American GIs in Vietnam who came under violent attack
by the Viet Cong. They started to wonder, "Why are we being attacked
when, as we have been told, we are in Vietnam to help the Vietnamese
have freedom and democracy?" They figured out that they had been
lied to, and that the reason they were being attacked was because they
were actually being used to suppress a peasant revolt against a repressive
U.S.-backed regime. GIs then started to refuse to fight, in many different
ways, from going out and only pretending to engage the "enemy,"
to fragging "gung-ho" officers who ordered them to fight,
to getting stoned on drugs; and their refusal grew so widespread that
it was one of the main reasons why Nixon withdrew from Vietnam--the
generals knew that they could no longer rely on American soldiers to
fight the war.
This shows that what is key
in determining how people respond to an attack on themselves or their
government--be the attack in the form of a bullet or a boycott--is how
they view the moral rightness or wrongness of what their attacker is
trying to accomplish. So even if a general boycott caused problems for
working class Jews in Israel, as it might, it would not be as sharp
an attack on them as the bullets the Viet Cong fired at GIs, and so
it seems reasonable to expect that Israeli working class Jews would
respond by asking, Why are they boycotting Israel?, and that they would,
like the American GIs, figure out that the boycott was to make the world
more equal and democratic, and that it was therefore a good thing.
Finally, what about Avneri's
third and last argument against a general boycott of Israel. He writes:
"A boycott of the 'Jewish State', which is identified with the
victims of the Nazis, just will not happen. It will be enough to remind
people that the long road to the gas chambers started with the 1933
Nazi slogan 'Kauft nicht bei Juden' ('Don't buy from Jews')."
Again, Avneri's logic only
seems right inside the reformist box, where Jews are indistinguishable
by class, and where gentiles around the world cannot see class distinctions
either. Only in this box do the Zionist leaders of Israel, and their
"Jews versus gentiles" ideology, seem to be alligned with
the admirable sympathy that people have for the Jewish victims of the
Holocaust. Outside the box, in the real world, is the fact that the
Zionist leaders who became Israel's leaders betrayed the European Jews
during the Holocaust by opposing all rescue efforts that did not focus
on bringing Jews to Palestine. Outside the box is the fact that Zionist
leaders in 1948 were essentially fascists in attacking Jewish as well
as non-Jewish working class people. Outside the box is the fact that
Israel's ruling class betrayed Russian Jews in the 1980's by working
to get other countries to restrict immigration of Russian Jews so they
would be forced to go to Israel when they fled anti-Semitism in Russia.
We can easily show the public in places like the United States that
supporting the Israeli ruling class and its ethnic cleansing is actually
supporting the very people who betrayed European victims of the Holocaust,
and who have nothing but contempt for the survivors of the Holocaust,
one third of whom live in poverty in Israel.
LET'S LEARN SOMETHING
IMPORTANT FROM URI AVNERI
We can learn something very
important from Uri Avneri. In order to move forward and overcome the
arguments people like him will hurl against us, we will need to get
outside the reformist box and adopt a frankly revolutionary outlook,
one that clearly sees the class conflict that rages all around us, that
speaks to people about it directly, that asks people to evaluate ideas
and events in light of their own insights into the world based on their
personal experience of the class war, and that aims not merely to act
as a cheerleader for this or that "lesser evil" scheme of
our capitalist rulers but to win the class war so that ordinary people
can shape society by their positive values. The One-State Solution and
a general boycott of Israel are excellent ideas, but they will only
be successful if we use them and advocate them in an openly revolutionary
manner. Otherwise, the Uri Avneris will befuddle us and millions of
others with wrong-headed thinking that only makes sense in the fantasy
world inside the reformist box.
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