Jan 26, 2009

"'Bring on the bulldozers and let's plant trees': The Problems of Labour Zionism

by Nava EtShalom and Matthew N. Lyons


"Labour Zionists, perhaps more than anyone, have shaped the idea that Israel stands for democracy and social justice, an idea that has become common sense across much of the political spectrum. However, for one hundred years, labour Zionism has played a major role in building Israel as an ethnically exclusivist state. At the same time, it has presented itself as a movement of the left that emphasizes collectivist and working class-based institutions, and it has mobilized progressive-minded people into supporting that state. In softer form, its portrayal of Israel has been taken up by Zionists further to the right and used as a public relations tool.

"At the heart of labour Zionism has been a contradiction between its Zionism and its avowed socialist commitment to human equality and social justice. The movement has dealt with this conflict by using its progressive self-conception to make Zionism look like an exciting vehicle for social change, while subordinating social justice to Zionism in practice. But the contradiction also makes labour Zionism vulnerable to internal critique and defections by those of its members who are willing to reframe Israel's history and politics in the context of imperialism. By training people in radical politics and structural analysis, labour Zionist youth movements give them tools that some have used not only to 'un-learn' Zionism but also to work against it."

read more

A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Canadian-based radical journal Upping the Anti, number 7 (October 2008). For information on ordering copies of the journal, see http://uppingtheanti.org/.