Spartacist Canada No. 166
Defend the Palestinians!
For Proletarian Internationalism, Not Appeals to Imperialism!
Young Spartacus pages
The Israeli army’s massacre of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship bringing aid to besieged Palestinians in Gaza, sparked worldwide protests in early June. Sections of the International Communist League joined these protests in solidarity with the Palestinians and their supporters. At rallies in Vancouver and Toronto the Trotskyist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs called in particular on the labour movement to defend the Palestinians against Zionist state terror.
Under the Conservative Harper administration, Canada has stood out for its belligerent support for the Israeli Zionists’ murderous campaign against the Palestinians. In this, they overshadow even previous Liberal administrations as well as the historically pro-Zionist NDP. Under Harper, the campaign of harassment, slander and threats against pro-Palestinian activists has greatly increased. Among the main targets are advocates of the campaign for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS), which appeals to capitalist governments, corporations and university administrations to act on behalf of the Palestinians through trade and other sanctions against Israel.
In the week after the Mavi Marmara assault, NDP deputy leader Libby Davies faced a barrage of criticism for voicing opposition to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Other NDPers helped turn the screws on Davies, while party leader Jack Layton called her support for BDS a “serious mistake.” He added that the NDP believes Israel has the “right to exist in secure borders in a safe context.” Israel’s “secure borders” mean the apartheid wall, full land and sea blockade of Gaza, and regular military assaults on the Occupied Territories. In a grovelling apology, Davies later affirmed her full support for NDP policies on Israel.
Each spring, organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week on the campuses face smears of “anti-Semitism” for defending the Palestinians. Last year Carleton University in Ottawa banned a poster depicting a young Palestinian boy under a falling Israeli bomb. This was a few months after the Israeli army led an assault on Gaza that killed 1,300 people! University of Toronto president David Naylor personally intervened to prevent pro-Palestinian organizers from booking rooms on campus. Earlier this year the media and local politicians in Toronto waged a furious campaign against the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid in the annual Pride Parade.
Last winter Ontario Conservative Party MPP Peter Shurman introduced an Orwellian motion to condemn the term “Israeli Apartheid Week” because it “serves to incite hatred against Israel.” The motion was endorsed unanimously by all present, including NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, long a favourite of the NDP loyalists of Socialist Action. DiNovo spoke in favour of the motion while reiterating her party’s support for a “two-state solution” in Israel/Palestine: in other words, the continued confinement of Palestinians in the open-air prisons of Gaza and the West Bank. As defenders of all the oppressed and opponents of racist, capitalist injustice, the Spartacus Youth Club says: Defend the Palestinians! Hands off their supporters!
On Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions
Swedish dock workers took action against the attack on the Mavi Marmara through a week-long labour boycott of Israel from June 23-29. During that week, they refused to handle ten cargo containers being shipped to or from Israel. Longshoremen at the Port of Cochin, India, refused to work cargo from an Israeli-owned Zim lines ship that had been unloaded in Sri Lanka and then shipped to Cochin in a feeder vessel.
In Oakland, California on June 20, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members honoured a picket line of some 800 protesters calling to boycott a Zim lines container ship. The Oakland protest, which was endorsed by the Oakland Education Association and publicized by the San Francisco and Alameda Labor Councils, followed an ILWU Local 10 executive board resolution “condemning this Israeli attack” and calling for “unions to protest by any action they choose to take.” Supporters of the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the ICL, joined the Oakland picket as an expression of commitment to the defense of the Palestinians against Zionist state terror, which is armed and bankrolled by U.S. imperialism. More recently, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) announced it would endorse an aid ship to Gaza in October, aiming again to break the Zionist blockade.
We support time-delimited actions of labour solidarity like union boycotts called around concrete demands in defense of the Palestinians. We also support standing boycotts of military shipments to Israel, which would be a real blow against the Zionist butchers and, even more crucially, their bloody imperialist patrons. Our purpose in calling on the labour movement to “Hot Cargo Military Goods to Israel!”—as one of our signs said at the Oakland protest—is to strengthen the fighting power and class consciousness of the working class in solidarity with the exploited and oppressed of the world, and in opposition to capitalist class rule in the imperialist centres.
While supporting the labour actions that have occurred in solidarity with the Palestinians, we oppose the political strategy of the reformist union bureaucracies that initiated them. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), for example, links its call for a labour boycott of Israeli goods to a demand that the capitalist South African government “support the international campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions.” Similarly, the organizers of the Oakland protest gave a labour veneer to the BDS campaign. (For more details see “ILWU Ship Boycott: Token of Solidarity with Palestinians,” Workers Vanguard No. 963, 27 August.)
Open-ended boycotts and campaigns for divestment and sanctions against Israel are counterposed to the international working-class struggle on which the liberation of the Palestinians is premised. Pressure campaigns on capitalist governments like those proposed by BDS activists build illusions in “democratic” capitalist countries like the U.S. and Canada. We have no illusions in the “good will” of Canadian capitalists or their state. The capitalist state—at its core the cops, courts and military—is the dictatorship of the ruling bourgeoisie. In addition to maintaining the conditions for the exploitation of the working class, the capitalist state in Canada oppresses Native peoples, the Québécois and immigrants. Canada is part of the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan, yet there are no calls for a general boycott of Canadian goods or institutions!
As opposed to time-delimited labour boycotts, open-ended boycotts of states like Israel are not only ineffective but also could prove harmful to the working class in the boycotted countries. If successful, such campaigns would actually be a blow against the only force that can be mobilized to smash the Zionist state from within: the Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers of Israel.
In its call for labour action against Zionist terror, the Swedish dockers union demanded that Israel pay “respect to international law.” Similarly, a 2006 resolution by the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) called to support the BDS campaign until Israel “fully complies with the precepts of international law.” In its 2008 endorsement of the BDS campaign, CUPW also cited the need to uphold “international law” as stipulated by the United Nations.
This is in line with the entire BDS campaign, which invokes the UN as an ally against the Zionist rulers. Whatever criticisms of Israeli policy are occasionally expressed in UN resolutions, opponents of Zionist terror must place no reliance on this imperialist den of thieves and their victims. Time and again, the UN has acted to deepen the oppression of the Palestinians. The UN presided over the 1947 partition of Palestine, and its “peacekeepers” disarmed Palestinian fighters in Lebanon in 1982, setting up the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by forces acting on behalf of the Israeli army.
Zionism, Apartheid, Divestment
BDS supporters model their boycott campaign on that carried out against South Africa in the 1980s. The divestment and sanctions campaign against South Africa was centrally promoted by the bourgeois-nationalist African National Congress (ANC) and backed by many reformist left groups internationally. It was based on a claim that South African capitalism could be fundamentally reformed through pressure from “democratic” imperialist powers like the U.S. and Canada. In fact, it was not divestment but the mass social struggles of the black and other non-white toilers, centred on the working class, that paved the way for an end to direct white-supremacist rule in South Africa.
At the time, our organization uniquely told the truth: that divestment was at best an empty gesture; that if foreign companies did withdraw substantial productive assets this would hurt black workers and weaken the powerful black union movement; and, most crucially, that it was obscene to look to U.S. imperialism and its Canadian junior partner as a force for “democracy” anywhere in the world. The divestment that did occur largely took the form of overseas corporations signing over their interests to local subsidiaries, which often treated their workers even more brutally. Indeed, there were strikes by black oil and rubber workers in South Africa against such divestment schemes. As we wrote in reporting on these strikes:
“The only kind of ‘divestment’ that will benefit the exploited and oppressed will be proletarian revolution, and the expropriation of these riches by a black-centered workers government as part of a socialist federation of southern Africa.”
—“Black Workers Strike Against ‘Divestment’ Union-Busting,” Workers Vanguard No. 486, 29 September 1989
That is no less true today, as ANC leaders like Jacob Zuma—allied with COSATU and the South African Communist Party in the governing “Tripartite Alliance”—continue to serve as black front men for a neo-apartheid capitalist system. Under this system, the economic foundations of white supremacy based on the superexploitation of black labour remain intact.
Most of the reformist left in Canada has embraced the BDS campaign. An article co-authored by Abbie Bakan, longtime spokesman of the social-democratic International Socialists (I.S.), in Race & Class (July 2009) calls to “constructively embrace and advance” the BDS movement because it “is showing all the signs of a current that can grow significantly and can serve as an important step in forging global solidarity against racism, colonialism and oppression.”
For its part, Fightback, the Canadian section of Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency (IMT), calls to “abandon the blanket boycott of Israel” and “adopt a workers’ boycott” (marxist.ca, 18 December 2009). In keeping with their tradition of acting as a left cover for the mainstream social democrats and trade union bureaucrats, Fightback uncritically lauds the union leaders who led the boycotts in the wake of the flotilla attack. They cite the Swedish and South African port workers’ campaigns as “reminiscent of the best traditions of workers’ international solidarity” (marxist.ca, 15 June) but erase the fact that the statements by these same unions explicitly promote the BDS campaign and/or “international law.”
Behind the IMT’s present posture is a history of shameful positions on the Palestinian question. In 2008, for example, they refused to call for military defense of the Palestinians against Israel, even as the Zionists were ramping up their attacks on Gaza and enforcing a starvation blockade as a form of “collective punishment” for Hamas’ electoral victory. Instead, the IMT called on the working masses of both sides to “turn your arms against your true enemies—your own leaders” (marxist.com, 21 January 2008). This stance reflects craven indifference to the Israeli bourgeoisie’s drive to further immiserate the Palestinians. While we oppose Hamas’ indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians (along with its entire reactionary Islamic fundamentalist worldview), we do not draw an equal sign between such attacks and the Israeli state offensive. We are for the military defense of any Palestinian force standing in the way of Israeli military assaults.
For a Socialist Federation of the Near East!
At the protests against the Mavi Marmara atrocity the SYC put forward the Marxist perspective for the social and national liberation of the Palestinians: common class struggle by the Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers against both the Israeli and Arab ruling classes culminating in international workers revolutions to sweep away the forces of capitalism, backwardness and reaction. Combating liberal illusions in the BDS movement, we argued that solidarity with the oppressed means first and foremost opposing our “own” ruling class and fighting to bring down Canadian imperialism through socialist revolution at home.
The current plight of the Palestinian masses is a product of the system of world imperialism, which carved up the Near East under the auspices of the UN decades ago in such a manner as would guarantee perpetual ethnic tensions throughout the region. The suffering of the Palestinian people has intensified since the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, the world’s first workers state, product of the October 1917 Russian Revolution. The collapse of the USSR, which acted as a counterweight to imperialism internationally, deprived the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of crucial material aid. The 1993 U.S.-engineered Oslo accords between the PLO and Israel guaranteed the perpetual immiseration of the Palestinians in disconnected mini-states under the control of a pliant Fatah, the PLO’s dominant political wing.
Today Hamas is portrayed by some on the left as an “anti-imperialist” alternative to the corrupt and politically bankrupt Fatah. Islamic fundamentalists like Hamas and Islamic Jihad are vile anti-Jewish and anti-Christian religious bigots who seek to imprison women under the veil and extirpate any manifestations of social progress. Hamas is descended from the clerical-fascist Muslim Brotherhood, which became prominent in Egypt in the late 1940s. Under the slogan “communism = atheism = liberation of women,” the Muslim Brotherhood mobilized a terror campaign against Communists and secular forces.
Hamas was initially supported by Israel as a counterweight to the secular-nationalist PLO. Carrying out attacks on secularists and Communists, the Islamists engaged in neither political nor military struggle against Israel. With the beginning of the first Intifada in 1987, the Islamists feared that if they stood aside they would lose their following. Hamas was founded the following year as an Islamist political movement with an armed wing. It sought to fuse the national struggle, previously a secular movement containing a leftist component, with reactionary Islamic fundamentalism. Only in the fall of 1989, when Israel discovered that Hamas had killed two Israeli soldiers, did the Zionist state break relations.
Today the Fatah-ruled West Bank is little more than a concentration camp surrounded by a heavily guarded wall and sliced up by Zionist settlements, checkpoints and bypass highways. Heavily armed Israeli settlers continue to build houses and farms on land confiscated from Palestinians. In Gaza, 1.5 million Palestinians live under a starvation blockade enforced by the Israeli military and upheld by the Egyptian government. What was once the most cosmopolitan population in the region has been smothered by decades of oppression by Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. All Israeli troops and settlers out of the Occupied Territories—including East Jerusalem!
Both the Palestinian and Hebrew-speaking nations have the right to self-determination, but because the two nations are geographically interpenetrated, under capitalism self-determination for one can only be achieved by denying it to the other. Every bourgeois “solution” to the Palestinian national question either perpetuates the oppression of the Palestinian Arab people or envisions a reversal of the terms of oppression, denying the legitimate national rights of the Hebrew-speaking people. In situations of interpenetrated peoples, a consistently democratic solution to the national question, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees, can only be achieved through socialist revolution. Only the proletariat in power has an interest in resolving national antagonisms and can begin to meet the material needs of all working people.
Israeli society is not a seamless reactionary mass. Unlike Arab nationalists, Islamic fundamentalists and many pro-Palestinian activists, we make a distinction between the Hebrew-speaking nation and the relentlessly murderous Zionist state. Israel is a class-divided society with a proletariat that is exploited by the imperialist-backed Israeli bourgeoisie. Since the end of the first Intifada, Israel has brought in as many as one million migrant workers, many from East Asia, to replace Palestinian labour. Sephardic Jews, though overwhelmingly under the sway of right-wing and religious parties, suffer great discrimination and poverty. The Palestinian Arabs who constitute 20 percent of Israel’s population—and are only nominally “citizens”—are saddled with poorly paid, dangerous jobs as well as all-sided legal and social discrimination.
We have no illusions that breaking the Israeli working class from its Zionist overlords will be an easy task. Indeed, it will likely require the victory of socialist revolution in one of the other Near Eastern states to break the Hebrew-speaking proletariat from Zionist chauvinism. But proletarian revolution is essential if there is to be any kind of future for the myriad peoples of the Near East.
The working class in the surrounding Arab countries must come to the aid of the Palestinians by opposing their own bourgeoisies and rejecting the Arab nationalism that they peddle. The Arab ruling classes are responsible for countless atrocities against their own people as well as against the Palestinians. The Hashemite government in Jordan, for example, killed 10,000 Palestinian militants during the 1970 Black September massacre. Arab workers must also reject the widespread, poisonous anti-Semitism that the Arab regimes promote to turn anger among the oppressed masses away from them and against a supposed “common enemy” in Israel.
What is necessary is the forging of revolutionary parties throughout the Near East, built in opposition to all forms of nationalism and religious fundamentalism and committed to the struggle for socialist revolution which, on an international scale and extended to the advanced capitalist world, can finally open the door to human equality and liberation. The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, which laid the basis for the liberation of the tsarist empire’s many subjugated peoples and was an inspiration for anti-colonial revolts throughout the Near East, is our model in this task.
The SYC looks to win youth to the program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, which uniquely shows the road to emancipation from capitalist oppression and degradation. The BDS campaign reinforces liberal illusions in the ability of students, consumers and other “concerned citizens” to reform capitalism through pressure tactics, as well as illusions that the Canadian imperialists can be a benevolent force on the world stage. We in contrast look to the social power of a class-conscious proletariat to finally do away with the capitalist system that perpetuates imperialist subjugation. We fight to build a multiethnic, revolutionary party of the working class to lead a socialist revolution.