20 December 2011

A Chanukah offering

I just thought I'd offer the following thoughts for Chanukah, something on a lighter note than my usual fare. Well, sort of…

I've just been reading “The Non-Jewish Jew” by Isaac Deutscher, first published in 1968. I know, I should have read it years ago, but I was kind of busy when working as a sociologist, and Deutscher's work didn't really cross my horizon back then. We have to bear in mind that, though he was still a Marxist, he had long renounced his anti-Zionism and had become a sort of non-Zionist. Earlier in the book, in the first essay, "The non-Jewish Jew", Deutscher specifically wonders if an earlier renunciation of his anti-Zionism by him and a specific appeal to East European Jews to head for Palestine might not have saved some of the lost lives. After all, in the early 1930s, he had been expelled from the Polish Communist Party for specifically warning of the threat of Nazism.

What caught my eye in particular in the collection was his essay, based on an interview in New Left Review, 23 June 1967 (a mere 2 months or so before he died) entitled “The Israeli-Arab War, June 1967”, and it is interesting for the foresight he displays as to the problems Israel's military victory could well bring it. His first sentence is “The war and the ‘miracle’ of Israel’s victory have solved none of the problems that confront Israel and the Arab states.” Given his Marxism and his experience of the 20th Century, this is perhaps not surprising, but it is, regrettably, prescient, as we know only too well some 44 years later. What, to the present writer, is surprising is that, throughout the essay, he dismisses the idea that the Arab states genuinely offered any sort of existential threat to Israel.

It is impossible, after this length of time, to know what would have so convinced him: Egyptian tanks rolling into the Negev, the UN peacekeepers having been withdrawn? Syrian tanks storming down the Golan Heights into the Huleh Valley? The Jordanian Arab Legion smashing its way into the New City sectors of Jerusalem? What more than had already happened prior to 5 June 1967 he would have needed short of that is something we will never know, and he never had the opportunity to debate this with any nay-sayers.

However, his last paragraph is most instructive. In full, it reads: “The Arabs, on the other hand, need to be put on guard against the socialism or the anti-imperialism of the fools. We trust that they will not succumb to it; and that they will learn from their defeat and recover to lay the foundations of a truly progressive, a socialist Middle East.”

O, if only (to paraphrase him) “The Arabs [would give up] never miss[ing] an opportunity to miss an opportunity” Abba Eban, as if any of you needed telling.

I actually managed to find a link to that interview in the New Left review, here, but, regrettably, you'll have to pay to read it (and I didn't). Probably easier to get the book from the library.

By Brian Goldfarb.