The sham solidarity of Israel’s Zionist left

28 July 2011

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Is this what solidarity looks like?

(Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

On 15 July, thousands of Israelis marched in occupied East Jerusalem to show their support for a Palestinian “state” in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Portrayed by its Israeli organizers as a joint Palestinian-Israeli march and ornamented with the slogans of “shared struggle” and “solidarity,” the Palestinian participation in the event was however scarce — a fraction of those in attendance were Palestinians. This event came a few weeks after a similar march in Tel Aviv, and while the Jerusalem march garnered more publicity due to its location, both events expose the failures of the purported solidarity of the Israeli Zionist “left” with the Palestinians.

The term solidarity — much like co-existence — is so overused in the liberal Zionist discourse as to render it meaningless. The misconception of solidarity raises the question: what does solidarity mean and, more specifically, when can an act carried out by Israelis in the name of supporting Palestinians be considered an act of true solidarity?

Can every instance of Israelis flocking to the streets chanting “End the occupation” be blithely described as solidarity? Should every occasion of Israelis carrying Palestinian flags be ecstatically celebrated as a major boost for the Palestinian cause? Should Palestinians be simply grateful that, amid the increasing construction of settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the overwhelming surge of racism in Israeli society, there are still some Israeli voices willing to “recognize” a Palestinian state?

When persons in a position of privilege formulate and design a solution and impose it on a colonized and occupied people as the only viable solution and the “sole remaining constructive step,” as the 15 July call to action put it, this is not solidarity but rather another form of occupation. Solidarity means not telling people what you think their problem is, let alone telling them what you think the solution should be. Solidarity means not agreeing on everything or even agreeing on a fixed solution but fighting for a shared cause irrespective of the differences.

A quasi-state built on 22 percent of the land of historic Palestine is not what Palestinians have been fighting for over the last 63 years and presenting it as such strips Palestinians of their voices and of their right to decide their own destiny.

Many argue, though, that struggling shoulder-to-shoulder with Zionist leftists widens the support base for Palestine and provides Palestinians with an opportunity to debate and convince the other side. This would be true if Zionists viewed Palestinians as equal partners but they do not. The whole idea of two states for two peoples as the only solution to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse — extremely popular among liberal Zionists — is predicated upon isolationism, exceptionalism and Zionists’ sense of moral righteousness and superiority to Palestinians which grants them the legitimacy to determine the problem, the solution and the means by which this solution shall be achieved.

A “joint” Palestinian-Zionist march does not offer an opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue; it rather gives Zionists one more chance to marginalize Palestinians’ voices and lecture Palestinians on how they should resist and what they should accept.

Thus, these demonstrations that ostensibly demand equality in reality maintain the privileged status of Israeli Jews. And although such demonstrations are capable of drawing thousands of Israelis every once in a while, they do not really widen the Israeli support base for Palestinians. Instead, they reflect support for a “solution” that overlooks the refugee problem — the core of the Palestinian struggle — and fragments the Palestinian nation and dooms Palestinian citizens in Israel to perpetual inferiority and discrimination.

Solidarity is not measured by numbers; it’s not about how many people came to a pro-Palestine demonstration. It is about why those people came. Fighting alongside fifty Israelis who are truly committed to the Palestinian cause is, therefore, much more important and valuable than marching in the shadow of thousands of Israelis who think Palestine is merely the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

On its Facebook page, the 15 July Jerusalem march was titled in Hebrew “Marching for the independence of Palestine” while the Arabic version read, “Together towards the liberation of Palestine.” There is a huge difference between liberation and an “independent state.” Freedom for Palestinians means much more than establishing a bantustan in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The inconsistency in the Arabic and Hebrew wording is telling but it is neither new nor rare for “leftist” Israeli organizations to address the Palestinian public in a different language and tone to that used for addressing the Israeli public.

Of the hundred or so Palestinians who attended the march, many may have joined because of the false perception that the aim of this march was to demand freedom, rather than to call for bogus “independence.” In addition, members of the Palestinian popular committees of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, whose neighborhoods face house demolitions and a silent, grinding process of ethnic cleansing, say that they felt they had no option but to join the march in order to draw attention to their struggle. But their plight was exploited by the organizers to advertise the march as a “joint struggle,” to score political points and serve their public relations purposes.

The contributions of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, the main organizers of the 15 July march, should not be diminished. The weekly demonstrations it has been organizing in Sheikh Jarrah and al-Lydd shed light on the struggle of the Palestinian residents against Israel’s systematic policy of house demolition and evictions. Leading members of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement and other Israeli leftist peace organizations receive vicious attacks from the Israeli far right, including death threats and accusations of treason.

This, however, must not place them beyond criticism. For all their activism, they have failed to fully embrace the Palestinian public and get it involved. Their demonstrations are dominated by white, secular liberal Zionists and the Palestinian voice, which they supposedly want to make heard, is inaudible amid a chorus of Hebrew-language chants about peace and coexistence. Even the slogans and the placards which were raised during the demonstrations were decided beforehand by the Israeli organizers, turning the protests into a tedious, painfully predictable and elitist routine.

In sum, Israeli “solidarity” is a double-edged sword. It has the potential of advancing the Palestinian cause and influencing Israeli public opinion and bringing the Palestinian struggle into the mainstream media. However, there is a great risk of groups hijacking the growing grassroots movement of Palestinian popular resistance under the cloak of solidarity and coexistence.

That there is a sweeping tide of blatant extremism among the Israeli ruling elite and wider society does not mean that Palestinians should gratefully cheer soft-core Zionist “compromises.” Solidarity is neither an act of charity nor a festival of boastful speeches and empty rhetoric. It is a moral obligation that should be carried out with full, unwavering and unconditional commitment.

Those who seek appreciation and gratitude had better stay in their cozy chairs in Tel Aviv. Attempts to exploit the Palestinian plight for political purposes and to turn the Palestinian cause from a struggle for human rights, justice, freedom and equality into a parade of fake independence and cliches must be called out and countered.

Budour Youssef Hassan, originally from Nazareth, is a Palestinian socialist activist and third-year law student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/Budouroddick.

Comments

strong and nessecary argument. do you make any writing on this available in arabic? Images travel wide and affect arabs as well as all those that english reaches. i would like to read your analysis on the struggle for self determination even within leadership and people, and the split over the demand for a state now?

this article mentions "Solidarity means not agreeing on everything or even agreeing on a fixed solution but fighting for a shared cause irrespective of the differences." then the author decides that the difference in hebrew and arabic slogans is a critical point revealing the lack of true solidarity. i agree the leftist israelis need to engage the palestinian population more whole-heartedly in their efforts.. but the palestinians should do the same because the relationship of solidarity needs bi-lateral maintenance. if there is lack of the authors concept of ideal solidarity between the two groups, it is caused by a lack of communication between the core of each respective resistance movement towards the other. both are important for different reasons in advancing the palestinian cause. "irrespective of the differences" i'd say these groups are in fact fighting for the same cause.. by clarifying what is needed of the israeli left in order for it be a greater asset to the palestinian cause will help forge a stronger bond, as will granting the same respect to them when they outline the goals that require palestinian assistance.. trust is a dangerous game, but it must be played in the name of progress.

To call Zionist left "resistance movement" is a bad joke. Zionists NEVER were and are not now for Palestine's liberation. They want to clean their conscience from the sin of "occupation" meaning ONLY 1967, and not the Zionist colonization of all Palestine in 1947 and even before. They want bantustans with nice names for Palestinians and "Jewish state" for themselves, no less no more.

No "communication" between colonizer and colonized is possible.

The only true allies of free Palestine between Jews in Israel are anti-Zionist Jews - all 500 of them (maybe a bit more).

Budour is right.

I'm a non-zionist Jew, from Israel, and yes I've been involved in some of the marches that Budour describes. And, yes, I think the core of his criticism is very much warranted (I've been thinking at least some of the same thoughts myself for a while). But, Lidia, you clearly have no clue about the internal politics of Israel. I'm not the only anti-zionist - and actually I sort of think that lumping the sheikh jarrah protests into the "zionist" camp is extremely misleading - and trying to marginalize us by making us seem numerically irrelevant is bullshit.

I don't think the so-called solidarity movement is perfect. Far from it. And good, honest criticism like the kind that Buroud provides is very much needed. But I do think there is room to develop a real solidarity movement, and maybe the first step to doing so would be to understand that there are, in fact, far more than just "500" anti-zionist Jews. Because if you don't even know we exist, it's going to be pretty hard to form real solidarity

being an anti-Zionist Israeli Jew myself I suppose I do know something about "left" Zionism. It makes me sick.

I would be very happy if it was possible to "form real solidarity" with at least a decent minority of Israel Jews, but I am afraid it is not on the map.

I am not going to deny that Zionist left sometimes do something good, but any time I forget what they really are about, I am reminded.

To see the truth it is enough to ask people whether they want "Jewish state". Unfortunately, the majority of them do. Because of it they are against the right of return for Palestinians - the basic point of any just solution. I am pretty sure that any poll on this question asked of Israel Jews will get "yes" result withing the scope of error margin.

I stumbled across Lidia on a page dedicated to whether the USA could defeat Iran in a war. I was surprised that the conversation so quickly devolved into N7 complaining Lidea was stupid and Lidia calling everyone Zionists and calling personal attacks meaningless at the same time. I think "she" is clearly passionate and engaged and has a good grasp of history, but that passion is overly directed in only one direction. There is no "left" anymore, perhaps there never was beyond revolutionary France. Things are not so black and white that all opponents are '"left" Zionists', all current geo-politcal winners are colonisers and all current geo-politial losers are inncent, oppressed peoples yearning for national freedom. We are all human beings - with the same passions, hubris, foibles and mistakes. You go far enough back in history and we are all colonizers; you go far enough forward in history and we are all colonized. I like your focus on history and looking at things without some of the over-hyped propagada of the USA defeating Iran in a month, but your anti-Zionism lacks the same perspective - it is all encompassing without compromise and dismisses all objectors; probably including myself.

EXCELLENT piece - especially good to share with all the soft Zionist activists in US who are signing on to the petition being circulated by JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) among others.

I'm a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, and I don't know what Sherna is talking about when she refers to a petition "being circulated by JVP" that stamps the organization as one of "soft zionism." JVP takes no position on one-state, two-state. Its objectives include, among other markers of justice, an end to the Israeli occupation, self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians, justice for Palestinian refugees, and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Our current petitions call on the largest retirement pension fund in the U.S. to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation, and on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to veto UN recognition of Palestinian statehood. Our support for the Palestinian campaign for statehood is not because we support a so-called
two-state solution, but because such a campaign speaks to the fundamental Palestinian right to self-determination, and thrusts the issue onto the global stage . See http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org...

Perhaps Sherna is confusing JVP with J Street, which, unlike JVP, is a Zionist organization calling for a a two-state solution and, also unlike JVP, is opposed to the Palestinian call for BDS.

Well, I'll make sure to circulate this among those who still think JVP is interested in a just solution for both Israelis and Palestinians and pretend not to take a stand on the two-state solution.

What does it mean in plain English? Does JVP support RIGHT of return for ALL Palestinians to ALL of Palestine? If so, why do not say it?

It's telling that the JVP member did not respond to the very direct question that lidia posed. That's been my continually frustrating experience with members of JVP...skirting the issue sitting in silent ambiguity, sometimes in the name of not wanting to alienate the liberal zionists. The truth, as far as i can tell, is that JVP is a liberal (possibly left) Zionist org. In fact, a member i know told me how members in meetings would say the purpose of them being in JVP was to express their love for Israel and find support for their views! This is not to say that there are probably a good number of anti-zionist Jews who are members of JVP. But, i think their strategy of joining JVP-type groups is a big mistake. Some of the anti-zionist Jews i know, who have joined JVP in the hopes of bringing left zionist Jews into the anti-zionist camp, have instead become left zionists themselves. Because of this, groups like JVP will never be an integral part to the full liberation of Palestinians, and like the author pointed out, it is a "sham solidarity."

The point is clear and needs to be extended to the U.S. left. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that one of the reasons we have been so unsuccessful in impacting the U.S. political system in regard to reducing U.S. support for the occupation is that most of the large groups who claim to working against the occupation still find it necessary to, in one way or the other, support Israel's essential right to exist, in so doing they validate the basic assertion of Zionism. This is particularly true of the Jewish groups such as JVP, of which I am currently a member-but I'm loosing patience quickly.

After the march, I wrote this on my blog Israel Reconsidered www.israelleft.com

As a liberal Zionist, one of very, very few in the crowd, I didn't feel like I really belonged. This was a Palestinian gig, and it belonged to Palestinians and their non-Zionist supporters, notably the many "internationals" present. There was no expression of the Israeli interest in an independent Palestine, of what it would do for Israel. (I had to leave before the speeches, though, so maybe somebody said something along those lines; I'm talking about the chanting and the general tenor of the march, which was about ending the occupation for the Palestinians' sake alone.)

So the mainstream, Zionist Israeli peace camp was no more than an auxiliary presence in this major Jewish-Arab effort; it played a very small, supporting role. That doesn't bother me, though. We were treated well, respectfully. "We live side by side, Israelis and Palestinians, in al-Quds-Yerushalayim, and together we're calling for independence for Palestine," said an Arab announcer, speaking Hebrew, at the park in Sheikh Jarrah.

Next time a Jewish-Arab, pro-Palestinian, purely non-violent (no stones) event is held, I hope Meretz, Peace Now and other liberal Zionists show up in much larger numbers. We're welcome, or we're certainly not unwelcome. And even if this is a Palestinian show, and our presence is no more than a matter of showing support from the outside, that's plenty good reason to be there.

So there is only one way to be in solidarity with Palestinians, complete identification?
Is there enough Palestinian\ Palestinian solidarity?

Comment on Budour Youssef Hassan.
I wonder if she in fact took part in this event. Having done just that I am amazed at the amount of distortion and - yes - villification. She begins to claim that only Israelis took part and that the aim was a Palestinian State in the Westbank and Gaza.This was not the case. Or does she want to say that Palestinians from East-Jerusalem are Israelis? And the main sogan was not "two states for two peoples" but: "Palestinian Independence". It was much more principled than traditional left-
Zionist manifestations. There were no Israeli flags, no Hatikva etc. She makes much of a difference
between the Hebrew and Arabic call to the demonstration. As if marching for the independence of
Palestine is in total contradiction to the liberation of Palestine. In fact Hebrew slogans wre precicly
in favour of the "liberation of Palestine". Other slogans included: Jews and Arabs against fascism,
we refuse to be enemies, we don't want to be occupiers etc. What's so wrong with them? How
can she claim that the Palestinian voice was inaudible? Even the Israeli-Jewish participants joined
in the Arabic slogans, some of them inspired by the Arab Spring. I find it cynical to summarize this
imortant initiative thus:"Those who seek appreciation and gratitude had better stay in their cozy chairs
in Tel Aviv. Attempts to exploit the Palestinian plight for political purposes and to turn the Palestinian
cause from a struggle for human rights, justice, freedom and equality into a parade of fake independence
and cliches must be called out and countered." It is understandable under the prevailing circumstances,
that "Israeli" Palestinians become frustrated des-illusioned an cynical. IBut in her article she uses the
remarkable march for her own cynical, dogmatic and self-centered reasoning.

John Bunzl
Vienna

Political Scientist
Middle East activist since before 1967.

I think an issue with building solidarity relationships is sometimes a lack of a positive vision and respect. Being an activist in the United States the leftist movement can be very negative and repelling for people who otherwise identify with the cause. While critique steers movements in the right direction, I strongly believe this must be coupled with a vision of what to do - not only what not to do. Those of us who want a change in this world in many different ways need to inspire and motivate people to join the cause, and be guided through constant introspection.

being settlers on the Palestinian land, including so-called Israel proper? Are those nice people ready to stop being privileged colonizers of places from where Palestinians were ethnic cleaned in 1947? Without the end of Zionist colonization all sweet words about "we refuse to be enemies" are valued zero. A colonizer and a colonized ARE enemies. Just read Frantz Fanon...

Dear Budour,
I am one of those Israeli’s who from time to time expresses ‘sham solidarity’ with the plight of the Palestinians.
I have not changed my colors, I am proud of many things in Israel, I am happy Israel is there for the Jews.
Yet, I have grave doubts about the line and the attitudes we have taken towards the Palestinians. The occupation is not only unhealthy for the oppressed, it is bad for the Israeli’s as well.
It warps the understanding of our youth what is right and what is wrong.
But there is a reality on the ground. Israel is not going to take back millions of ‘refugees’ who never lived here, but are fed ‘memories’ and hatred.
We absorbed our own Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
I did not morph into a Palestinian, and with all my sympathies for the plight of of your nation, your ‘maximalist’, or even extremist opinions will not act to bridge any chasm.
On the contrary, It is grist on the mill of many of my acquaintances who will react with ‘You see, there is nobody to talk to on the other side’.
So if you call my understanding and will to change things ‘sham solidarity’, that is what you are going to get, and nothing more.
Take it or leave it.
Eldad Kisch, Ramat Hasharon, Israel.
ekisch@bezeqint.net.

ANY who is still doubt the thesis of the article should only read the post by eldad kisch. Other left Zionists here said the same, he is just MORE sincere. eldad kisch "wants to to bridge any chasm" between colonizers and colonized - he is sure for disappointment. Do Palestinians really need such sort of patronizing colonizator' s help? Is it a help at all?

Left Zionists are NOT for Palestine. They are for Israel. Everyone who thinks that Israel settler aparteid state is OK could rest now. Anti-Zionists should stop arguing whether left Zionist could be real allies. They could not. Let us move on.

oh, the Palestinian refugees were never here? I suppose the East European Jewish "refugees" were always here? If they can claim that they had the right to return after 3000 years of absence, why can't the Palestinians come back after only 60? (Lets briefly forget that the Kazars and Askenazi are not even related to the middle eastern Jews). The memories that they are fed are about their country and until they don't get justice it's hatred that you will get.

Perhaps, within a unity state Left-Zionism can be acceptable. As a unity state would allow for the community self-determination of the Jewish people, just as it shall allow for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. As a potential unity state will dismantle the apartheid barriers and at the same time respect and recognize the communities in a fashion that represents the aims of justice, equality and brotherhood. Zionism of the current variety which exploits the Palestinian people, maintains a apartheid state and continually acts in a supremacist fashion however is not acceptable and should be opposed for what it is; which is a supremacist ideology that carries out a dogmatic belief that a certain group of settlers are entitled to land more so than others due to their beliefs and that in order to maintain the feeling of this entitlement they have the right to continually exploit, slaughter and ethnically cleanse a population that has been in the region for quite some time.

NO kind of Zionism is "good". Just as no kind of white supermacism could be good. Of course, non-Zionist Jews lived in Palestine and the whole of the ME before Zionism and, I hope, will live here after Zionism

I am a truly anti-Zionist Jew and would happily see the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state. When asked to put our names to the vote for a Palestinian 'micro-state' I was in a dilemma. On the one hand I know that this is likely to rebound on the Palestinians: "Well you wanted this and now you have it. You are not getting any more" - and similar consequences, intended and unintended. But not to sign also seemed an opportunity missed.... an opportunity to change the dynamic, end the stalemate, publicise the cause and bring the issue of right of return for Palestinians into centre-stage. So I signed. I am a bit regretful and hope it does not sabotage the real struggle. By the way, I did renounce my (Jewish) 'right of return' some years ago and would be happy to donate it to a Palestinian currently in exile.

If even the Palestinian leadership advocates internationally for the 1967 borders, how would you expect the Israeli left to do differently? The 1967 borders may not be the most fair solution, but it is certainly the most feasible among the set of fair solutions. 98% of Israelis jews will not accept what you probably see as a solution. And it's not only the Israeli left that believes in the 1967 borders solution, most of the pro-Palestine people in the world too. So if you want a peaceful solution, either you get 1967, or you won't get nothing at all, at least for some more decades.

Most importantly, do not allienate the small part of the other side with which you can at least talk with.

The opportunist capitalist Palestinian Authority gangsters know that they would be completely marginalized in a unified multi-national, multi-ethnic Palestine. So, probably, would be the leadership of Hamas, although not as completely as the former.

The 1967 borders are not only 'not [...] the most fair solution', but they are not any kind of fair solution. And, even if one were to ignore the refugees who are totally outside of Palestine, there is no way of partitioning that land that would not involve massive displacement of populations and, probably, violent confrontations.

Really, the only practical solution is one egalitarian, secular society in all of Palestine. (Ideally, IMO, it should include the Hashemite-occupied territory called 'Jordan', if a majority of the population of the latter is agreeable to that.)

I read the first sentence and thought the author had got the wrong title. Should be "Palestinians shun co-operation with Zionists". This piece reeks of the negative anti-normalization ethos.