Politics, Philosophy, Polemics

Archive for the ‘Anti-Zionism’ Category

Free Speech – From the Vaults – Bernard Levin

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, Freedom of Expression, From the Vaults on January 23, 2015 at 10:28 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on January 17th 2015, 12:31 pm

In early 1987 the UK Jewish community was in uproar about the play, Perdition, which was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The play was written by Jim Allen, who had been associated with an extremist Marxist group. The controversy is obvious when one considers the author’s own words about the play: “it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel.” (Time Out, January 21-28, 1987). While the play was cancelled because the Artistic Director lost confidence in it, a debate raged in the press about the historical aspects of the play, whether the play was antisemitic, artistic freedom and free speech.

Of all the articles written about the controversy, one of the most eloquently and passionately argued was that by the late Bernard Levin for The Times. (“Waking the dead to revile the living,” February  2, 1987, p.16). He accused the play of a “peculiar vileness” from which antisemitism “oozes.” He said the author had unashamedly reproduced “Stalinist disinformation,” to write a play “littered throughout with inexcusable errors and horrible lies.” Despite these views Levin was a passionate defender of free speech. He concluded his article as follows:

…free speech is for swine and liars as well as upright and honest men. I have insisted that any legally permissable view, however repugnant, is less dangerous promulgated than banned, and I would defend its promulgation even if the opposite were true. I have glorified in the central paradox of democracy, which is that it tolerates, and must continue to tolerate, the activities of those who wish to destroy it.

In all the beliefs I have lived, and I am minded to die in them; how then can I defend the suppression of this play? I cannot, which is not to say that if it had never been written it now should be. But it exists, and ‘He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still.’ With a heavy heart, I yet must say it: Let them have their play.

It is a shame he is no longer with us.


From the Vaults – Spare Rib, August 1982

In Anti-Zionism, Feminism, From the Vaults on May 15, 2013 at 8:30 AM

This is a cross post. It was originally published on Harry’s Place on May 11th 2013, 5:55 pm

Spare Rib was a prominent feminist magazine that ran from 1972 through to 1993. After a twenty year absence it is to be relaunched this month. This presents an ideal opportunity to reproduce highlights of an article written by Roisín Boyd and based on conversations with Nidal, a Lebanese woman, Randa, a Palestinian woman, and Aliza Khan, an Israeli woman.  The article was published in Spare Rib, issue 121, August 1982, pp.22-23.

Women Speak Out Against Zionism


‘If a woman calls herself feminist she should consciously call herself anti-Zionist’


Nidal: There is an enormous difference between being Jewish and being Zionist, The main idea behind Zionism is that all the Jews should gather together and form a nation, because they are in danger from the ‘non-Jews’, what they call Gentiles. Which is so similar to the Nazi ideology that the Jews should not be with the Gentiles…..

Aliza: Zionism….was created by European Jews who used anti-semitism for their own interests. Its aim was never to fight anti-semitism, moreover it saw anti-semitism as its best ally…..After the second World War, Zionist leaders used to say that Jewish people should thank Hitler because without him, the state of Israel would never have been created. If we are concerned about anti-semitism we must fight Zionism. To be anti-Zionist is to be anti-imperialist, and to be against the fact that Zionism (and the founding of the state of Israel) caused Palestinians to be refugees…..

Nidal: If you dare call yourself a Palestinian in Israel you would get five years in jail….

Aliza: …. The kibbutzim are male dominated and many produce military equipment. Woman work mainly in the kitchens and do the ‘normal’ jobs that woman always do. If a woman calls herself a feminist she should consciously call herself anti-Zionist….

Aliza: What Israel is doing now in the Lebanon is nothing new but an extreme part of its nature. Killing people, barbarically, children, women, with poisoned gas and cluster bombs. It’s hard to imagine how human beings can do this. My mother, who emigrated to Israel from Germany, rang me two weeks ago and said that she is broken hearted because what Israel is doing now is what the Nazis did to her….Women must come together against [Zionism] because our sisters are being murdered….. I am calling you sisters, to come together against the holocaust of the Palestinian and Lebanese people. There is no way we can sit quietly and do nothing about it.

In the months that followed, Spare Rib went on to publish an article “Woman Against Zionism” that suggested Jews were answerable for what Israel was doing in Lebanon. The magazine received more than forty letters from women opposed to the expressed views. The editorial collective refused to publish them.

Akiva Orr 1931-2013: An Obituary

In Anti-Zionism, Israel on February 13, 2013 at 9:42 PM

This is a cross post. It was originally published at Harry’s Place on February 13th 2013, 12:29 pm

There are two types of anti-Zionist: those who can do little more than regurgitate stock phrases: “racist,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansers,” “colonial settlers,” “Nazis,” etc., or plagiarise the work of others and those who have something interesting to say. It is because Akiva Orr fell into the latter camp, together with the fact that I had some familiarity with his background and output, and combined with my own interests in Marxism and anti-Zionism, that I was interested in developing a cordial relationship with him.

I began corresponding with Aki in 2006. As well as email, there were some telephone conversations that could go on very long into the night. He invited me to stay with him in his house near the Israeli town of Netanya. While I never took him up on that kind offer, I did, on a trip to Israel in the summer of 2009, arrange to visit him with my friend Paul Bogdanor. This meeting was ostensibly to discuss the Kasztner case and his involvement in the notorious anti-Zionist play, Perdition, one which caused a storm of controversy in the UK in 1987. The meeting ended up going on much longer than anticipated and included our taking him out to dinner to hear more of what he had to say.

He was born in Germany, immigrated to Palestine in 1934, and did not become politicised until a seaman’s strike in 1951. He joined the Communist Party but became disillusioned with it due to its slavish following of the Soviet line. The Communist Party expelled him in 1962, but if it hadn’t, he would have left. Aki was not lacking in opinions. When we asked him about Trotsky, he dismissed him as someone who “would have been worse than Stalin” had he obtained power. Together with Moshe Machover and others, Aki formed the Socialist Organisation in Israel known as Matzpen.  The aim of Matzpen was for a “de-Zionised” Israel. The organisation’s solution to the Middle East conflict (The Times, June 8, 1967) was a “revolutionary transformation.”

The Zionist power structure and all elements of Jewish supremacy must be abolished totally. This must be achieved only through internal joint struggle of all non-Zionists inside Israel who wish to integrate this state in the Middle East…

This federal state will participate in the process of political and economic unification of the entire Middle East.

Readers might not be surprised to find out that Matzpen never had more than a few dozen members.

Orr came to London for post graduate studies in 1964. He continued his activity with Matzpen and became, again with Machover and others, a co-founder of the Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee (Abroad), known as ISRAC(A). They published a magazine ISRAC which promoted their anti-Zionist views.  They integrated themselves in what became known as the New Left and had articles published by Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group, and also in Socialist Worker.

Orr returned to Israel in 1990 because, as he told me, his mother, who lived in the country, was getting very old and he wanted to spend time with her and also because he preferred the climate.

When we met him, as well as discussing the Kasztner case and Perdition, we were able to ask him about Matzpen and the backing of the terrorist activities including plane hijackings by Marxist PLO groupings. Orr’s response was that while he personally did not agree with such tactics, he did not feel that it was his place to tell the Palestinians how they should resist Israel.

Aki was very keen to tell us about his LSD trips that he experienced in London. He was highly enthusiastic about the drug and promoted its use. Another area that he was keen to discuss was his own political trajectory beyond Marxism and anarchism to something he labelled autonarchy, a form of direct democracy.

I was never going to agree with his political outlook, but when I heard that he died over the weekend, I felt sad. The truth is, despite our political disagreements, I liked him.

The inscription page of one of Akiva Orr’s books that kindly he gave to me.

A film portraying a sympathetic account of Matzpen featuring Akiva Orr.

The Perdition Affair

In Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, From the Vaults, Israel, Trotskyism on May 17, 2012 at 6:41 PM

In 1987 a debate occurred in public sphere on a play written Jim Allen, someone who had previously been associated with Gerry Healy’s organisation the Socialist Labour League, a forerunner to the WRP.  The play was called Perdition and was in the genre of faction, a fictional play with historical facts brought in. The historical facts in this case was that of the Zionist leaders in Hungary during the Holocaust and of Zionism in general during the 1930s and 1940s. The play was loosely based on the Kasztner trial that occurred in Israel in the 1950s.

Allen was quoted in Time Out, (January 21-28, 1987) declaring the play:

the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches on the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.

The play was due to be shown at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs but was pulled by the theatre in January 1987 shortly before public previews were due to go ahead. The Artistic Director, Max Stafford Clark, had lost confidence in the play. But this was not before there had been a storm of controversy played out in the press and as a result of meetings that had occurred between the theatre and the play’s critics. Critics had accused the play of distorting the history of the Holocaust and of antisemitism.

One of the more interesting polemical exchanges on the play was in a few issues of the Trotskyist magazine Workers’ Liberty, the magazine of the organisation Socialist Organiser, the forerunner to today’s Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The reason for this post is that the AWL have recently published the debate on their website.  Sean Matgamna, writing under his pen name, John O’Mahony, wrote the initial article attacking the play. In two subsequent issues there was an exchange between Matgmana and the anti-Zionist activist Tony Greenstein. The Engage web site has linked to this debate and a discussion is under way where both I and my good friend Paul Bogdanor have commented.

For those interested in either the anti-Zionism from the far-left in the UK or in portrayals of the Kasztner affair, then an understanding of this play and the controversy that ensued is useful. One of the more important debates on the play was a televised debate on March 18, 1987 for Channel 4’s Diverse Reports. A recording of this programme has been uploaded to the Internet and can be seen below: