The Forgotten History of the Jewish, Anti-Zionist Left

Progressive Jewish opposition to Zionism

Zionism was for many years a minority movement throughout most of the Jewish world. Prior to the Holocaust, its political significance was minimal. Poland was thought of as being the Zionist heartland.  Even there, a mere 25 – 30 per cent of Jews supported Zionism during the two inter-war decades. In the USA, a meager 88,000 out of four million American Jews promised support for Zionism in 1933. In fact, the American Zionist Federation had declined in huge numbers since the late 1920s. In countries where Zionism was once a powerful ideological tool, such as Hungary and Romania, Zionism was viewed with cynicism; as an extremist movement with utopian, if not politically perilous objectives.
The objection to Zionism was generally ideological in substance. The first source of opposition was religious. Many Reform Jews tended to acknowledge their Jewishness in religious terms and not as an ethic identity. On the other hand, Orthodox Jews believed that the Jewish homeland would emerge only with the coming of the Messiah. This became a point of contention.  A second concern was the question of nationalism. Jews realized that Zionism was an obstruction to national identities and a threat to natural citizenship rights in their existing mother country. The liberal Jew also rejected Zionism because it would set them apart from the secular tradition and leave them isolated. Finally, there was the Jewish Socialist political paradigm, which challenged class and ethnic identity. Jewish socialists saw Zionism as being diametrically opposed to Zionism as a reactionary diversion from the task of fighting anti-Semitism and defending Jewish rights in the Diaspora.
In the accompanying interview “Sarah Lazare speaks with Benjamin Balthaser, an academic in multiethnic literature. He examines the erased history of anti-Zionism among the Jewish, working-class left in the 1930s and ’40s. Balthaser discusses with Lazare about the colonial origins of modern Zionism, and the Jewish left’s quarrel with it, on the grounds that “it is a form of right-wing nationalism, is fundamentally opposed to working-class internationalism, and is a form of imperialism”. Balthaser argues that this political tradition undermines the claim that Zionism reflects the will of all Jewish people, and offers signposts for the present day”… For Jews in the United States who are trying to think about their relationship not only to Palestine, but also their own place in the world as an historically persecuted ethno-cultural diasporic minority, we have to think of whose side we are on, and which global forces we want to align with…“If we do not want to side with the executioners of the far-right, with colonialism, and with racism, there is a Jewish cultural resource for us to draw on — a political resource to draw on.”

This is a long read. But in times when Zionism exercises political leverage beyond proportions it had never reached, the interview helps to understand the links between Zionism as rooted in colonialism and as a racist ideology. Please widely disseminate.

Ranjan Solomon


The Forgotten History of the Jewish, Anti-Zionist Left

The roots of modern Zionism are in colonialism. This was the foundation of the Jewish left’s opposition to Zionism in the 1930s and ’40s, on the grounds that it is a form of right-wing nationalism and imperialism that is fundamentally opposed to working-class internationalism.

 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push to forcibly annex up to 30 percent of the occupied West Bank is exposing the violence inherent in imposing a Jewish ethnostate on an indigenous Palestinian population. While the plan is delayed for now, the human rights organization B’Tselem reports that, in preparation for annexation, Israel already ramped up its demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank in June, destroying thirty that month, a figure that does not include demolitions in East Jerusalem.

The theft and destruction of Palestinian homes and communities, however, is just one piece of a much larger — and older — colonial project. As Palestinian organizer Sandra Tamari writes, “Palestinians have been forced to endure Israel’s policies of expulsion and land appropriation for over 70 years.” Today, this reality has evolved into an overt apartheid system: Palestinians within Israel are second-class citizens, with Israel now officially codifying that self-determination is for Jews only. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to military occupation, siege, blockade, and martial law — a system of violent domination enabled by political and financial support from the United States.

Anti-Zionists argue that this brutal reality is not just the product of a right-wing government or failure to effectively procure a two-state solution. Rather, it stems from the modern Zionist project itself, one established in a colonial context, and fundamentally reliant on ethnic cleansing and violent domination of Palestinian people. Jews around the world are among those who call themselves anti-Zionists, and who vociferously object to the claim that the state of Israel represents the will — or interests — of Jewish people.
Read full interview