Saturday, July 26, 2014

Trotskyists and Gaza

It is, of course, possible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic. Possible--but at least on the Left it is increasingly unlikely.

And so we come to the odd case of two Trotskyist grouplets. One tries very hard to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic, while the other has just thrown in the towel. They're down with Hamas.

The first group is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). There's no disputing their anti-Israel credentials. When I was a member they supported the PLO, they referred to Israel as a "colonial-settler" state, and their proposed solution was a "socialist, democratic, secular state in Palestine."

That last phrase is often a fig-leaf to hide a more genuine antisemitism, and in my day we comrades were accused of just that. But I think we were honest then, and I have no doubt that the SWP is honest today. Anti-Israel they may well be, but they are certainly not antisemitic.

So what is this "socialist, democratic, secular Palestine?" It's a non-religious state where Jews and Palestinians live peacefully side by side. That happy outcome is only possible in a socialist society--one where the lion really will lie down with the lamb. To anybody outside the Trotskyist movement that seems impossibly utopian, which leads to others confusing it with antisemitism.

Nobody ever accused Trotskyists of being practical. In truth, the SWP (then and now) really did believe in this happy vision. They saw the existence of the State of Israel as standing in the way of its implementation. They also--less creditably--downplayed examples of Palestinian antisemitism, asserting that only a very small minority wanted to "drive the Jews into the sea," or some such. We looked at Palestinians through rose-colored glasses.

But with Hamas it is impossible to ignore outright antisemitism among the Palestinian leadership. Hamas' very raison d'etre is antisemitism--not any longer content with simply driving them into the sea, Hamas wants to kill the Jews.

And here's the surprising bottom line: As pro-Palestinian as the SWP was and is, they are resolutely against Hamas. Perhaps they'd even use the f-word--the one I'd use in private company. They accurately lump Hamas in with various Jihadi movements that they identify as both bourgeois and reactionary. They do not regard Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

This is evident from many articles over many years. But I'll cite only the one by Emma Johnson in the most recent issue of The Militant. In a remarkably even-handed account, she describes
  • The murder of three Jewish teenagers, along with the subsequent arrest of hundreds of Palestinian suspects;
  • The "lynching" of a Palestinian teenager, along with the arrest of three, Israeli-Jewish suspects;
  • The fact that Hamas has fired "dozens" of rockets into Israel, killing three civilians: "Ouda Lafi al-Waj, a Bedouin Arab who lived in the Negev; a Thai migrant farmworker in Ashkelon; and Dror Chanin, an Israeli Jew."
  • That Hamas has been using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Much of the article is about how the Hamas-inspired war has damaged the legitimate political efforts of Palestinians, both in Israel and in the West Bank, to organize for a better world.
The military conflict has stoked tension between Jewish and Arab workers in Israel. 
“In factories with both Jewish and Palestinian workers, arguments and divisions exacerbate along nationalistic lines,” Shay Cohen, organization secretary of Koach La Ovdim (Democratic Workers’ Organization), said by phone from Haifa July 21. “Some of the feeling of solidarity has been eroded. The large majority of the Jewish population is behind the campaign. Among the Palestinians here there are those who protest and there are those who keep their heads low in face of the nationalistic campaigns.”
A sidebar photo caption highlights a pro-Palestinian demonstration in New York. The Militant quotes one of the participants, who hardly sounds like a Hamas supporter.
“Israel has its own country,” said Tahira Lakhani, 27, who was born in Pakistan. “Palestinians should have their own country. It should be like India and Pakistan. They don’t always get along but they don’t fight like this.”
So the SWP remains resolutely anti-Zionist, but its consistent opposition to Hamas sets it dramatically apart from other Trotskyist grouplets and the rest of the Left. Uniquely, the SWP is not antisemitic, and for this they deserve great credit and respect.

Not so Socialist Action, where an article by Michael Schreiber is as pro-Hamas as one can possibly get. Inadvertently proving that Hamas holds civilians as human shields, he writes
Airstrikes at the start of the land invasion killed at least four Palestinian children playing on a rooftop, while several nurses were injured when Israeli tanks barraged the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital. The hospital had also been hit by airstrikes a week earlier, destroying the holding tanks that supply water to patients.
What parents in their right minds would send their children to play up on a rooftop in the middle of an Israeli air raid? Actually, I doubt those kids were playing--more likely they were cowering in fear.

Nowhere in the article is a reason given for the Israeli invasion (the rocket attacks are mentioned only in passing, as an unimportant event). We read only that the Israelis have been ruthlessly murdering civilians left and right. The Jews have advanced weapons, state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, and a blank check from Uncle Sam. For all that, per Schreiber's article, the evil Zionists hadn't managed to kill more than 750 Palestinians--out of a population of two million.

Why? Why would Jews purposely target civilians in Gaza, bomb for over a week, and then only get 750 of them? Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons--surely if they wanted some final solution to the Gaza problem they could eliminate the population within a couple of hours (if that long). Or failing that, they could drive the entire population across the border into Egypt within a day or two.

Even just using guys with machine guns they could've iced some tens of thousands by now. But 750? That's pretty pathetic as far as mass murder is concerned. It's not even high for wartime casualties. And still--the question is Why?

Mr. Schreiber never answers that question, so all we can do is infer. The inference is that Jews are sadistic bastards who love killing Arabs for fun--in between sucking the blood of dead babies. That, of course, is the Hamas line, and there is nothing in Mr. Schreiber's article that leads me to believe he disagrees.

Unless you're an anti-Semite, the only believable reason Israel has invaded Gaza is because of military necessity. The only reason there are so few civilian casualties in Gaza is that Israel (for obvious political and humanitarian reasons) is working hard to minimize them. And more--the only reason there are so many civilian casualties is that Hamas is sending their own children up on rooftops to die for their sorry, misbegotten cause.

The Militant understands that and reports that accurately, however reluctantly. Kudos to The MilitantSocialist Action probably also understands that, but they've bought in to the antisemitic groupthink that now pervades the Left.

That's really, really sad.

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