by Nava EtShalom and Matthew N. Lyons

Many leftists think of Zionism as a right-wing movement and ideology. But Israel’s recent assault on Gaza was directed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of Israel’s Labor Party – a party with socialist roots. For half a century this party, and the broader labor Zionist movement including forces farther to the left, dominated the Zionist settlement in Palestine and in the State of Israel that emerged from it. Labor Zionists directed the 1948 war and the Nakba, the mass expulsion of Palestinians that accompanied Israeli independence. They established a state and legal system based on discrimination against non-Jews. They led Israel’s 1967 conquest of Gaza, the West Bank, the Sinai, and the Golan Heights, and began the illegal program of building Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. These actions embody a colonialist program that is fundamentally at odds with social justice and human liberation.

Yet labor Zionism originated in the ferment of Marxism, anarchism, and radical populism that inspired millions of European Jews in the early 20th century. Labor Zionists celebrated the working class and built a network of collective institutions in Palestine and Israel, most notably the kibbutz (communal farm) movement, which many saw as the model for a future revolutionary society. To this day, labor Zionist organizations and traditions underpin “progressive” Zionist politics in the United States, Canada, and many other countries. In this way, in addition to producing many of the institutions and individuals responsible for a century of violence against Palestinians, labor Zionism has provided progressive cover for those very actions, allowing Israel to present itself as a state based on democracy and social justice while it pursues a strategy of mass displacement and occupation.

We have written an article that examines the contradictions at labor Zionism’s core, with a combination of historical analysis and first-person reportage. “‘Bring on the bulldozers and let’s plant trees’: The Story of Labour Zionism” shows how the movement has used the longing for social justice to bolster Israel’s oppressive system. This critique is especially timely given the Israeli Labor Party’s central role in the most recent campaign of atrocities against the Palestinian people of Gaza and elsewhere.

The article appears in the current issue of the Canadian-based radical journal Upping the Anti (# 7, October 2008). For information on ordering copies of the journal, see uppingtheanti.org.

The full text of “‘Bring on the bulldozers…” is available online.