Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Promised Land (1982)

From the December 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “promised land” of Biblical myth is so-called because, for all the impoverished Jewish and Arab workers who are trained to kill over it. “promised” is all it will ever be. Investors, capitalist employers of one side or another will continue to dominate, or come to dominate, the lucrative industry and markets there as long as world capitalism remains.

Class division among Jews was typified towards the end of the last century by the reaction of the “Cousinhood” of established Anglo-Jewry to the wave of poorer Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. For example, Benjamin Cohen, the Conservative MP for Islington at the time, supported the 1905 Aliens Act to limit further immigration. The historical tendency towards international integration and class polarisation makes Jewish nationalism, like its Palestinian counterpart, a pointless and reactionary response to the exploitation and oppression of the past and present. There is no Jewish “race": Israeli and British workers share the same interest in i breaking down national boundaries and forming a democratic, socialist society.

In the nineteenth century, Zionism developed as a nationalist movement similar to many others involving the setting up of capitalist states. Because of the banning of Jews from many fields of work in the Middle Ages, and the Christian ruling against taking part in money-lending, many Jews ended up as moneylenders. This was used as part of the vicious campaign of persecution directed against Jews over centuries, as they were used as a scapegoat for the problems of poverty and conflict which were endemic to the rise of capitalism. In the twentieth century, the idea of giving the Jews a country where they might be safe from the painful discrimination and attacks they had suffered was harnessed to the need for Western capitalism to have an outpost in an area of great strategic importance, the Middle East.

As early as 1840 Lord Shaftesbury, anxious to ensure an overland route to India, proposed a scheme of Jewish colonisation to use “the wealth and industry of the Jewish people for the economic development of a backward area”. In the nineteenth century Rothschild invested £2 million in Palestine, and the French government showed an interest in colonisation. The first Zionist conference was held in 1897 at Basle, at a time of violent anti-semitism in Germany and France. Herzl originally advocated a Jewish settlement in Uganda, but the congress decided on the area of Palestine, because of its religious significance. For thousands of years, it had been a crucially situated trade centre. The pogroms in Russia since the 1880s had sent thousands of Jews fleeing across Europe, and the prospect of a Jewish state seemed welcome to them.

During the First World War, as pact of its contradictory war-bribes, Britain promised the Jews a “national home” and the Arabs independence throughout the Middle East. In 1940 Joseph Weitz, then heading the Jewish Agency Colonisation Programme, wrote in his diary:
Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country . . . the only solution is Palestine without Arabs (Quoted in Socialist Charter, February 1979).
Indeed, the attempt to solve the problem of anti-semitism within a nationalist framework demanded that Jews should remain in a majority in the newly created state, with all of the immigration restrictions that implies, if the exercise was not to lose its point.

The state of Israel was founded in 1948, and by 1968 the annual influx of capital invested in the area was equivalent to about one tenth of the total world “aid” bill. Most of this capital was owned by British, French and American investors who did not live in the Middle East and for whom the religious ideals of Zionism meant nothing, other than a pool of labour inspired by those ideals to work hard to produce a substantial return for such investors.

Did the formation of Israel solve the problem of anti-semitism? Clearly not, and for three reasons in particular. First, the only real binding factor between people calling themselves Jewish is the acceptance of Judaism. Like other religions, Judaism is a reactionary dogma with its own implicit racism, in its reference to the “chosen people”. Second, capitalism generates racism and divisiveness because of its class divisions, and the competition between nations over world markets and between workers over jobs. The problems of poverty, unemployment, state violence and war are as evident in Israel as anywhere else. Israel is allied to the segregated state of South Africa. At least three Israeli trade unions bar Palestinian Arabs. The elements of Jewish culture which have attracted some to Zionism are all but wiped out by the demands of the capitalist state. Shops are opened on Saturdays, despite the religious ruling against it, to compete more aggressively for the market. Yiddish has been all but suppressed.

Thirdly, there is the creation of a new, Palestinian "diaspora” around Israel, and a Palestinian minority within Israel. The search for a scapegoat for the problems of the area, in the form of “Arab terrorists”, or the official anti-Jewish policies of some of the surrounding Arab states, are yet another way in which Zionism has generated racism, rather than ending it.

The persecution of Jews over many centuries, culminating in the Nazi genocide of the ’thirties, led many Jews sincerely to hope for a better future in the creation of a “humane” Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Such hopes are dangerously idealistic, and have themselves proved divisive and reactionary. The Zionists and Palestinian nationalists who argue over the borders in the area hardly own between them a single acre of that territory. As workers, owning no substantial property, they are arguing about where and by whom they will be exploited. The solution to the oppression which Jews have suffered is not to build “Jewish” prisons, tanks and bombs. The truncheons in the hands of Israeli police feel no different to those wielded in Germany, Russia or Ireland. In this respect, Israeli nationalism is basically no different from dozens of other nationalist movements with their roots in the nineteenth century expansion of capitalism. Each has its own myths, its own religious sanction, irrational loyalties, violence and senseless support for capitalism.

One final way in which racism is still being generated is in the reaction towards Israel’s recent military policies. Liberal newspapers like the Guardian, for example, have tried to interpret events by unsubstantiated racist myths:
Most opponents of the government are Ashkenazi, and most supporters of the government are oriental. "And those people don't understand peace or compromise.” said the journalist, "they understand dominance. And that's what Begin promises them.” For much of this constituency, the arguments about Palestinian purposes don't matter. (Martin Woollacott, 2 September 1982)
Like every other state, Israel is a political unit for the accumulation of capital. From 1948 to 1968, productivity increased nine-fold. Lacking natural resources, Israel imports more than 67 per cent of its raw material requirements, uses its pool of labour to work these up into finished products, and then exports nearly half of the resulting industrial production to earn foreign currency. In 1981, about 5 billion dollars was received from industrial exports, and 7.5 billion dollars spent by Israel on the world market. Since the early ’seventies there has been a high technology boom, which has largely replaced textiles and other industries of the ‘fifties. The general way in which the profit system functions across the world has been very clearly summed up in the ease of Israel as follows:
That magic ingredient (“added value”) is the difference between the cost of raw materials, plus transport and related costs, and the same price after the raw materials have been turned into highly sophisticated equipment . . . the higher the added value, the more foreign currency Israel earns. With diamonds, for example, the added value is between 20 and 25 per cent; in many electronic and other highly sophisticated products, it can reach between 45 and 70 per cent.
British Israel Trade, journal of British-Israel Chamber of Commerce, May/June 1982.
The wages and salaries on which the majority of Israelis depend in order to live are simply one of the "related costs" which this process seeks to minimise.

Seventy per cent of capital in Israel is owned by private investors, ten per cent is controlled by the state and about twenty per cent is owned by Hevrat Ovdim, the industrial holding company of the Histadrut, the main trade union, which is otherwise known as the General Confederation of Labour. In any of these cases, the same extraction of "added value” from the subordinate class of wage- and salary-workers is carried on in the interests of capital; 35 per cent of the budget goes on arms. When the Sinai Peninsula was evacuated it still had over 17 billion dollars' worth of military bases and armaments invested in it. It was Israeli and American shareholders who lost out as a result, not wage-earners or peasants.

Earlier this year, the President of the Israeli Bonds Drive attended a London lunch given by Bank Leumi for “business people and financiers”. He reported that Israel’s stock exchange, currently valued at over 11 billion dollars, is growing "by leaps and bounds" and is second in profitability only to Singapore, with an average rate of profit of 18 per cent. Israel Bonds are now the third most widely held security in the USA, after US government bonds and shares in AT and T. The President of the Bonds Drive stressed that Israel Bonds were “making an important contribution to peace". They are in fact doing so no more than Israeli bombs.

Some of the more idealistic of the early Zionists thought that it would be possible to establish a separate country which would be insulated from the conflicts and crises of world capitalism. This hope has also been shown as ill-founded by the course of history. Ernest Japhet, Chairman of Bank Leumi, said at the Industrial Club in Israel in January 1982, that “the Israeli economy, more than many other national economies, is dependent on developments in the world economy” and he went on to list problems such as fluctuations in markets and prices, and the uncertainties of market demand for Israeli exports.

The only practical way in which the majority of Israelis. Palestinians and others in the Middle East are going to come together in harmony and solidarity is through the recognition of their common class interest against their border-drawing rulers. How many Arab workers and peasants sat at the Arab summit conference of oil-sheiks and princes, which proclaimed the PLO the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”? How many Israeli workers, their wages and salaries trailing desperately behind the spiralling cost of living in Israel, are among the millionaire shareholders in high- technology industries, or American and French arms and firms?

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli workers have recently been involved in the Peace Now movement against the war in the Lebanon. If they are to make their dream of peace into a practical reality, they must be prepared to throw off their ideological chains of religion, nationalism and support for the profit system in any of its many forms. They could do worse than to follow the advice given nearly a hundred years ago. in the Yiddish socialist paper Arbeiter Freund (“Workers' Friend"). January 15, 1886:
We say again that no colonisation, no land of one's own and no independent government will help the Jewish nation. Jewish happiness will come with the happiness of all unhappy workers, and Jewish emancipation must come with the general emancipation of humanity.
Clifford Slapper

Blogger's Note:
A correction to an item in this article appeared in the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Especially scanned in 'cos of this correction notice that appeared in the January 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard.