IF I AM NOT FOR MYSELF: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew
Your book is subtitled "Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew." Were you always an Anti-Zionist?
No. I grew up, in the 1960s, in a left-wing household in a largely Jewish New York suburb -- where
What changed your mind?
The contradictions I came to feel between my anti-racist and anti-war views and what
Why did you choose to make your grandfather a central focus of the book?
After my mother died in 2001, I inherited a box stuffed with my grandfather's papers: diaries, letters, campaign literature and hundreds of columns written for a
Fascism and anti-Semitism turned him into a militant Jew (he was actually half Irish), but he only became interested in Zionism from about 1940 -- when he interviewed Jabotinsky (and criticized him for making a war-time alliance with the British). In 1948, he filled the pages of the Jewish Review with his glee at Israeli independence ("the Bar Mitzvah of our people") and his outrage at the British and the Arabs. He had always seen himself as an anti-imperialist, he hated the
But my grandfather wasn't alone. The Western Left overwhelmingly supported the Jewish state. In the presidential campaign of 48, Henry Wallace constantly attacked Truman's alleged betrayal of the Jews in
In my grandfather's papers, I found echoes of current controversies and of my own experiences as a political activist. For me it was an intriguing example of life on the Left, in a particular time and place, and how activists, like everyone else, are driven both by inner demons and larger forces.
Some on the Left limit their criticism of
No. The Palestinian refugee population -- descendants of those driven out in 1948 -- now numbers at least 5 million, one half of whom live in
These two groups of people -- the refugees and Palestinians within
Why do Palestinians refuse to "recognize the Jewish state," and insist on the right of return for refugees from the Nakba in 1948?
The Palestinians' right of return is guaranteed in Resolution 194 which has been reaffirmed by the UN many times since 1948. It embodies a basic and widely recognised principle, without which, there would be no protection for victims of wars, and ethnic cleansing would be legitimised. To abandon the right of return is to abandon several million people, and to exempt Israel from the requirements we make of other states. It's not an impossible utopian demand, either. It's something that could be practically implemented through negotiations, though it would of course require major concessions from the Israeli side.
While Israel refuses to recognise its responsibility for the refugees and their descendants, it demands that these very people recognise its own "right to exist". It's an extraordinary demand. No one denies the fact of Israel's existence, but why should anyone anywhere be compelled to recognise the "right to exist" of a particular state formation? What's being demanded here is an ideological seal of approval: support for the right of the Jewish state to exist, in perpetuity, in Palestine, regardless of what that entails for others. Palestinians and their supporters are condemned because they refuse to certify as legitimate a national project built on dispossession and ethnic supremacy.
Is there reason to hope that a greater number of Jews will reject Zionism?
Yes. Israel's record has now been so exposed that it requires huge amounts of willful blindness to continue to defend it. The facts are now too well documented, too available. Also, despite everything, there remains a leftward bent within the US and British Jewish populations. It's a tradition that's been profoundly eroded over the years but is still quite tangible, and it can't be reconciled with Israel's behavior or Zionism's assumptions.
Despite strenuous efforts to keep Jews in the corral, most Jews in the US or Britain live wider lives and their views are shaped by the same things that shape other people's views. Like others, they find ethno-nationalism and blind chauvinism unappealing. I think the aggressive tactics of the ADL and the like have to some extent backfired -- though in the meantime they've taken plenty of victims. As the pro-Israel establishment finds doubt spreading among the people it claims to represent, it gets more strident and vicious. One of the themes of my book is that Zionism's hegemony within Jewish communities was the product of a particular history; it wasn't automatic; it's changed over time and it's changing now.
How do you evaluate the significance of growing opposition to a "two-state solution" and increasing support for one democratic state in all of historical Palestine?
It springs from Israel's refusal to countenance any meaningful form of Palestinian independence. All the "two state solutions" envisioned by Israeli leaders are aimed at perpetuating Jewish supremacy.
In one sense, the argument is simple: democrats oppose ethnically-privileg
Is it conceivable that a Zionist state in the Middle East will rest at peace with its neighbours? It would certainly continue to require huge subsidies from the USA and other Western countries and would continue to tie the Jewish population of Palestine to the broader imperial project in the region. That's a recipe for endless instability and injustice.
Mike Marqusee's Web site: <www.mikemarqusee.com>
Extract from If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew, by Mike Marqusee, in The Guardian: "The First Time I Was Called a Self-hating Jew" (4 March 2008)
Review of If I Am not for Myself in The Independent: Michael Kustow, "If I Am Not For Myself, by Mike Marqusee: Next Year -- Not in Jerusalem" (21 March 2008)
Michael Letwin is a co-convenor of New York City Labor Against the War.