In total some 1,000 people attended. There was the Arab left represented by personalities like Omar Barghouti, the coordinator of the campaign for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS), Jamal Jumaa of Stop the Wall, Heidar Eid (by video link from Gaza), a political leader of the campaign to lift the blockade, recognised across the factions, or Abd el-Latif Gheith, chairman of the prisoners support association Adameer from Jerusalem (also by internet transmission) – to name only a few. Ahmed Saadat, leader of the PFLP lingering in Zionist jail, sent an address. A good portion of the participants came from Abnaa el-Balad, “children of the land”, the engine of the committee for a secular democratic state. There were also several Jewish Israeli partcipants like the professors Ilan Pappe and Yehuda Kupfermann and the veteran activist Eli Aminov. There was also a strong international participation from all five continents.
Moribund “left” Zionism
As opposed to classic colonialism, Zionism used to be based on a broad left wing which for a century even dominated the movement (for reasons which are not within the scope of this article). It drew its legitimacy – at least in the last decades – from the systematic abuse and exploitation of the Holocaust, conceiving Israel as a kind of atonement by the West for the genocide of the Jews committed by nazi Germany.
In contrast to right-wing Zionism, which could openly admit its aim to obliterate the Palestinians as a national collective, “leftist” Zionism needed to provide at least a kind of pro-forma solution for its victims. So the litmus test came about after 1989/91 with the establishment of the New World Order by the United States. All over the world, formal integration of popular leaderships into the power set-up of the pro-imperialist elites ended long-lasting violent conflicts. Regarding the historic demands of the liberation movements, these agreements often simply amounted to capitulations. Examples were Central America and South Africa. The Oslo agreement fit this very same pattern perfectly. Given its historic weakness, the PLO was ready for any sell-out.
Actually it was Israel who did not want an agreement. Not only the right wing had opposed the move displayed by the assassination of Jitzchak Rabin in 1995. The left also wanted at most to concede Bantustans to the Palestinians or not even this. In the refusal of a Palestinian state worth that name, Zionism remained unified. But Oslo has actually been the baby of left-wing Zionism. In the measure it moved against its own proposal, it destroyed its own reason to exist. And this is exactly what happened. The party which reined the fortunes of Zionism and Israel for nearly a century is today reduced to margins. The Peace Now movement, which sprang up against occupation of Lebanon and which hailed Oslo, today is no more than the shadow of itself. It supported both the recent bombing of Lebanon as well as the massacre in Gaza.
The products of the decomposition of left Zionism go in two opposite directions: on the one hand straight to the right, currently the predominant force, which continues to deny Palestinians the right to exist as a collective entity; on the other hand, a post-Zionist tendency seems to emerge, questioning the idea of an exclusive Jewish state and increasingly acknowledging its organically racist character. However, this movement is only incipient. Its first precursors were the “new historians” who dissected Israel’s founding myth by providing historical proof that Israel was based on expulsion, massacres and murder of Palestinians. Regrettably, for most representatives of the new historians, their findings did not lead to a substantial break with Zionism, but rather to cynicism. Benny Morris for instance, has called for the nuclear destruction of Iran. In stark contrast, Ilan Pappe, one of the representatives of the Haifa Conference, firmly stands for the establishment of one democratic state as a consequence of his historical research on the origins of the state of Israel.
Only recently, Pappe had been forced into exile due to massive and aggressive pressure against himself and his family. Today, however, the situation has changed. Social scientist and activist Ronnen Ben-Arie reports that the idea of a single state is publicly discussed at universities, and academics increasingly dare to take a clear stand. The radical Zionist website isracampus.org.il has published a long list of all those university staff who have fallen guilty of questioning Zionist dogmas.
There is the emblematic story of Tali Fahima, a young Jewish woman of Algerian origins. Originally a Likud supporter, she turned away from Zionism and went to the Jenin refugee camp to act as a human shield to Zakaria Zubeidi, a commander of the Palestinian al-Aqsa Brigades. Fahima saved Zubeidi’s life and was sentenced to three years imprisonment for “supporting terrorism”. Today, she considers herself Palestinian and lives in an Arab village.
Fahima remains an exception, or rather the tip of the iceberg. However, a number of movements emerge sustaining the new post-Zionist tendency. Among them is ‘Zochrot’, named after the Hebrew word for remembrance. It stands for the Palestinian Nakba, the expulsion of the Palestinians following the foundation of Israel. The initiative intends to counterpoise official Holocaust commemoration which is abused to support Israel’s legitimacy. Zochrot founding member, Eitan Bronstein, as well as other activists, participated in the Haifa Conference. Another example is the group ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’, an even bigger organisation, which calls Israel an Apartheid state. One of their activists, the mathematician Kobi Snitz, also took part in the conference.
Gabriel Ash, a Swiss representative of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN), stated that he refused to acknowledge any kind of Zionist legitimacy. However, decisions over how to solve the problems have to be taken by those concerned and must not be imposed from outside. Michel Warschawski of the Alternative Information Centre had stated similar arguments over the years, stressing that since Arafat was the legitimate leader of the oppressed Palestinian people, it was not possible to go beyond his positions. Against this background, Warschawski’s participation in the conference was highly valuable.
Generally, the high number of Jewish organisations and individual participants and conveners has to be considered a real breakthrough. In a side meeting Warschawski noted that the potential was even bigger. In fact, the possibilities to further develop incipient post-Zionism into anti-Zionism for a common anti-colonial state have never been better.
First of all the conference once again raised the flag of one common democratic state on a quantitatively and qualitatively new base. There was only one decisive specification, namely that the call for democracy must always include the right to return for those expelled. This was stressed by including it into the title of the conference.
In which way the general formula of a democratic state could be interpreted was nearly not discussed. Unity and inclusiveness was considered to be more important at this stage. Ilan Pappe commented that today, under the conditions of political fermentation, it was necessary to include all possible variants, as the debate is only at its very beginning. The member of the committee for a secular democratic state, Eli Aminov, voiced a rare criticism. He warned that the idea of a bi-national state could mean that the Jewish collective entity might continue its exclusive hold on territory, wealth and resources. He hinted at the example of South Africa.
We read this as a remark that beautified camouflages of the two-state slogan are still in circulation. But also the demand for one state can be exploited for Zionist purposes, as the recent interventions of die-hard Likud supporters in favour of “one democratic state from the river to the sea” have shown. They, however, always limit democracy in one way or the other to the colonisers, let alone that they would include the Palestinian refugees.
The most important discussion was started only at the very end of the conference when the participants and organisers met to decide on the future steps to be taken. A whole range of exponents—including the Anti-imperialist Camp—proposed to limit the title of the initiative to “one democratic state”. Declared aim of the intervention was to broaden the base of the movement by omitting the word “secular”. In this way, also Islamic organisations could be attracted, which for the time being remained absent.
The notion of democracy interpreted in a popular, anti-elite way includes the progressive aspect of secularism, insofar as it means mutual tolerance. In this way secular and religious people can jointly fight the common enemy of imperialism and Zionism. The limitation to secularism excludes the powerful Muslim resistance. A vast majority of them would support the democratic state, but they feel threatened by laicism. The example of Turkey proves them right. Furthermore one needs to consider the shift of the concept in Europe, where it has been transformed into an ideology of domination. The global mobilisation against the anti-imperialist resistance is led by Islamophobic secularism. Actually in the West itself, supporters of laicism are advancing the destruction of existing democratic rights under the guise of fighting fundamentalist obscurantism.
Among the Arab left within the 1948 territories, which is the main force of the movement for one democratic state, there is a strong fear to drown among the dominance of the Islamic movement. From there stems the attempt to defend one’s own identity. To explain the phenomenon however does not correct the mistake. What we need is to build movement as broad and as powerful as possible to challenge the enemy. To drop the specification of “secular” does not mean to tune down or to hide, but on the contrary to strengthen the potential of the movement which many Muslims have so far regarded with suspicion. If they joined, they would actually embrace historic leftist concepts and not the other way round.
No decision could be taken on the matter. This debate was left to be continued at the next occasions.
All participants are aware that the demand for one democratic state opens up great possibilities. This is true for the Arab world, for the international movement, as well as for the progressive Jewish milieu. The imperialist powers—which not long ago wanted to export democracy to Iraq and posed as the heralds of democracy—have a hard time to refuse the demand. They need to put a lot of effort into covering up that for them, Arabs are second-rate humans, entitles to fewer rights.
It was decided to organise another conference next year. Next time it won’t be held in Israel in order to allow the participation from other Arab and Islamic countries. The Anti-imperialist Camp proposed five elements for an agenda:
1) analysis of the crisis of Zionism
2) possible interpretations for a democratic state by a constituent assembly
3) continuing the debate on secularism
4) dialogue with Islamic partners
5) South Africa: no end of apartheid without social justice
The organisational committee was enlarged by international activists and organisations such as the Green Party USA and the Anti-imperialist Camp. Abnaa el-Balad was confirmed in their executive role.