Editorial of the first issue of the RETURN magazine
Published in March 1989, London.
Editorial Collective: Ben Cashdan, Uri Davis, Merav Dvir, Tony Greenstein, Graham Murray, Roland Rance, Billie Raphaeli, Haim Scortariu
RETURN was formed to promote a statement and petition declaring opposition to the Israeli Law of Return for Jews and their close relatives, and support the Palestinian right to return. Over 300 people, all of whom are potential beneficiaries of legal and material privileges in Israel by virtue of being defined as Jewish under the Israeli Law of Return, have signed the statement. The RETURN initiative, of which this magazine is a part, is one of the clearest expressions of Jewish opposition to Zionism to date.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionism has achieved an ideological, cultural, political and organisational hegemony among western and much of world Jewry. For many culturally assimilated Jews, irreligious if not atheists, the only distinguishing feature of their Jewishness is their commitment to and support for Israel. Nearly all the various Jewish identities that arose out of the break up of the feudal order in Europe have been transferred or destroyed by Zionism. The Jewish God has become the Jewish state (see Ilan Halevi’s article)
The internal politics of Jewish communities, which once reflected the struggle against exploitation, anti-Semitism and fascism, as well as the Jewish bourgeoisie and rabbis, have moved decisively to the right. In socio-economic terms, Jewish communities in the West are, for the most part, prosperous and middle class. The old immigrant Jewish working class has been replaced by its Black counterpart. In the absence of specific economic and material factors, it is the Israeli state and Zionism which are the defining factors in mainstream Jewish identity today. It is an identity which, whilst expressing itself in different religious or cultural forms, is increasingly reactionary.
In the absence of the Israeli state, the existing organised Jewish communities would fragment and disintegrate at an even faster rate than they are already doing. There is no material basis for the existence of Jewish communities outside Israel (see Moshe Machover’s article)
However Jewish identity, precisely because it is a political identity, is neither uniform nor unproblematic. It reflects the contradictions and tension between the demands of Zionism and the State of Israel on one hand, and the actual situation of Jews on the other. The relationship between Israel and Jewish communities is colonial, if not feudal (see David Rosenberg’s article). Israel is not only a financial but a political parasite. It uses these communities as political pawns and as a cover for imperialist interests. This is especially true in the United States where the so-called Jewish vote is used incorrectly to explain the strategic alliance with Israel. In so doing, Zionism not only diverts attention away from the main source of imperialist interests in the Middle East but directly endangers Jews by boosting anti-Semitic perceptions of Jewish communities as ‘alien implants’ in their countries of origin, whose primary allegiance lies with a foreign power.
It is Zionism which does not address the interests of Jewish communities. Far from being a refuge for Jews, Israel is a source of danger. In its efforts to promote Jewish emigration to Israel, Zionism has a vested interest in the continuance of anti-Semitism and, on occasion, hasn’t hesitated to give it a helping hand. The relationship of Zionism to anti-Semitism, its historical accommodation to and acceptance of the inevitability of the latter, are issues that Jews cannot afford to ignore. In the case for example of Argentina, where the Israeli state armed the anti-Semitic Junta, this involved Zionism coming into conflict with the anti-fascist movement.
Nor is Zionism the only form of Jewish identity or its sole component. Many Jews do draw the connection between anti-Semitism, the Holocaust in particular, and what the Palestinians are now experiencing. Many Jews, as we have discovered, identify themselves as Jews by virtue of their opposition to Zionism and anti-Semitism.
We cannot regard Western Jewry today as an oppressed and exploited minority. Anti-Semitism is no longer a form of state racism. Today all too many Jews feel comfortable voting for racist parties of the Right, including Le Pen (see Tony Greenstein’s article). Zionism has aligned many Jews with some of the most reactionary and racist elements in western society, as the experience of Jesse Jackson demonstrated, when a mere 7 per cent of Jews defied the injunction of Mayor Koch and Kach not to vote for Jackson in the Democratic primary elections.
We hope to become a focus and a voice for those Jews and others who are opposed to the Israeli state and its policies, and in particular the growing number of Jews who have become disillusioned with Zionism and wish to distance themselves from Israel. RETURN gives the lie to the argument that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are synonymous.
Not only has Zionism destroyed Diaspora Jewish culture, it has in the case of the Arab world destroyed those communities as well. But its main crime is what it has done to the Palestinians. It is a tragic irony that some 70,000 Palestinian refugees are living in Germany under threat of deportation. It is essential to make the connection, as do many Israelis, between what the Nazis did to the Jews and what Zionism is doing to the Palestinians. The Holocaust must be demystified and analysed, not sanctified. Zionism treats it as a unique and irrational event, beyond analysis or understanding, whilst using it as a political prop. The lessons we draw from the Holocaust are diametrically opposite to those of Zionism.
We do not believe that by compromising our opposition to Zionism, by pretending that Israel is just another Jewish community, or by declaring that we are merely ‘non-Zionist’, that it will be easier to break a section of Jewish people from Zionist politics. On the contrary, our political confusion would only confuse others, Jewish and non-Jewish. By being honest about our anti-Zionist politics, we hope to make a contribution to undermining the legitimacy of the Israeli state when it claims to act on behalf of all Jewish people. If you agree with us, sign our statement and join us!