Ben Herman


Zionism and the Lion

(August 1938)

Published in The New International, Vol.IV, No.8, August 1938, pp. 236-38.
Transcribed by the Socialist Workers League of Palestine.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

We cannot be oblivious to the many interests which Britain has in the Mediterranean. Fortunately for us British world interests are essentially the preservation of peace, and therefore in the strengthening of the British Empire it is not we alone who see an important guarantee for the strengthening of international peace. England will have bases of defense on sea and on land in the Jewish State and in the British corridor. For many years the Jewish State will stand in need of British military protection and protection entails a measure of dependence.

Thus speaks the Labor-Zionist, Ben-Gurion, member of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization, a leading member of the Palestine Labor Federation, the Histadruth, and the head of the Jewish Agency’s Jerusalem Executive. Zionism dependent upon England! Where could a more open indication be found of the crisis into which the whole Zionist movement has been plunged by the proposed plan of Great Britain for the partition of Palestine?

Britain’s course in Palestine is based upon her well-known policy of divide and rule. In 1917, the famous Balfour Declaration was issued. In order to obtain the support of the Jews for her war against Germany, England promised that Palestine would become a National Homeland for the Jewish people. The fact that two years previously, to obtain the support of the Arabs, a promise was made that Palestine would become part of an independent Arab nation bothered the English diplomats not one whit.

The Balfour Declaration has allowed Britain to parade as the friend of the Jewish people. Actually, however, Britain is a “friend” of the Jewish people and of the Zionists only in so far as she allows hope to spring eternal in the Zionist breast. But these hopes, sad to relate, England dooms to eternal disappointment. The essence of Britain’s policy is to encourage the Zionist movement as a buffer against the Arab national movement, as a bogeyman which strikes fear into the hearts of the Zionists and makes these cling more firmly than ever before to the apron-strings of Mother England.

Britain suppresses the Arab terrorist movement against the Jews, with just a sufficient demonstration of force to keep the Arabs aware of who the real boss is but not enough to afford the Jewish masses as any real protection. Britain proffers the bait of Jewish immigration into Palestine and for this Zionism is ready to sell its soul. At the same time, however, immigration quotas are cut to the bone. The 1937 labor Immigration quota was so infinitesimal, that for the first time in its history the Jewish Agency rejected the available immigration certificates as a measure of protest. On March 14 of this year, Ormsby-Gore, Colonial Secretary, announced that the entry of all Jewish laborers was indefinitely suspended.

Britain is haunted by the fear, natural to all imperialist powers, of the Arab nationalist movement. She follows, therefore, a carefully conceived program of keeping the Jews and the Arabs at constant odds with each other. This divides the Palestine masses and at the same time creates a “law-and-order” problem which Britain graciously agrees to solve by maintaining her armed forces in Palestine. Britain allows the Zionists their illusory dream and in return obtains a mass base against the Arabs. She simultaneously diverts the Arab nationalist movement from its legitimate goal of colonial liberation into a pogrom movement directed against the Jews.

Britain’s whole policy is epitomized in the proposed plan for the partition of Palestine. This scheme would divide the land into three parts: an Arab state, a Lilliputian Jewish state, and a British military corridor. Such a plan seeks to sharpen the antagonism between the Arab and the Jew while at the same time appearing to satisfy the claims of both. The need of the Jewish-Zionist State for more land would abolish forever all hopes of Arab-Jewish reconciliation and would initiate a period of bitter warfare. Britain would be allowed a free hand to establish a powerful military base which would completely dominate both proposed states and employ the antagonism between them to perpetuate her influence. This is a perfect solution for England and would enable her to preserve her domination of Palestine with a minimum of effort and expense.

This whole strategy of forcing a stalemate between the Arabs and the Jews forces the Zionists to cling ever more closely to Britain. Not that they are satisfied with the concessions, but because for them, without Britain there is nothing.



Is Zionism Possible?

British diplomats can lightly promise Palestine to both the Jews and the Arabs.

But Palestine is a vital and sensitive nerve-center for British imperialism. It will be surrendered by her only to superior military force. The land of Jehovah is also the guardian of the Suez Canal, Britain’s jugular vein in the Near East, the gateway to her African colonies and the route to India. The harbor of Haifa is a proposed British naval base. Oil pipelines from Iraq terminate here and provide a refueling station for British ships. The Holy Land is intersected by such mundane realities as railway lines and air routes.

Britain, moreover, cannot permit the realization of Zionism because of her need to placate the 12,000,000 Arabs of the Near East. The sentiment of these people is becoming more and more anti-Zionist. Britain cannot permit the existence of the pre-conditions for the physical absorption of the oppressed Jewish people into Palestine. The Jews can have the door of the country really opened to them only on the basis of the most advanced industrial methods, only after the development of efficient and large-scale machinery which will provide the means for the support of the inhabitants of the land. But it is entirely excluded that Britain will permit such an eventuality.

The development of modern industry will mean the concomitant germination of a modern industrial proletariat. This possibility can do nothing but strike fear into the heart of England, which sees the proletariat everywhere in a state of unrest. A significant modern working class in Palestine would serve as the guiding force for revolution and would move the whole nationalist movement along the lines of an anti-imperialist struggle. Britain is well aware of this danger. The existence of a modern proletariat in Egypt is such a specter to the friend of the Jews that proposals have been made for the digging of a new canal to take the place of the Suez and which would wind through southern Palestine to the Red Sea. Every possible obstacle is placed in the path of the development of industry. Onerous duties are placed upon the most vital industrial necessities, while at the same time real tariff protection is denied to Palestine industry. Trade relations with surrounding lands are impeded, and industry and intensive agriculture are subjected to rigorous taxation. Transportation facilities remain backward and government loans and credits are conspicuously absent.



Zionism and the Arabs

If Britain will not really allow the realization of Zionism then why does the movement continue its partnership with her? Palestine is already peopled by a nation of Arabs who are hostile to the aims of Zionism; Zionism cannot therefore succeed in making any inroads without the support of the power of England. Mass uprisings of the Arab people have taken place regularly and repeatedly ... 1920, 1921, 1929, 1933, 1936. These movements began as movements for national independence but degenerated into terrorist movements against the Jews, much to the benefit of the Arab landlords and British imperialism, who are enabled by Zionism to canalize the movement into the harmless (to them) stream of anti-Semitism. This anti-Semitic trend is spreading among the Arabs of the whole Near East. For more than a century the Jews in all the countries of the Near East outside of Palestine have lived in peace with their Arab neighbors. The partition plan has raised the Zionist question to the fore once again and has led to the rise of vicious anti-Semitic trends. These trends are undoubtedly encouraged by the reactionary feudal elements that, like Britain, benefit from the division of the population into warring groups. But their existence cannot be waved aside.

The Zionists cannot understand why the Arab population should be hostile to the idea of a Jewish homeland. They are fond of citing statistics to demonstrate, in the best Great Power manner, that the standard of living of the Arabs is constantly rising in the Jewish areas, and that the conditions of life of the Palestine Arabs are superior to those of the Arabs of the surrounding land. But somehow, like the colonial people everywhere, the Arabs do not seem to be influenced by these statistics and opposition to Zionism and British imperialism remains.

This is a hard cold fact, which the Zionists are forced to admit. Says Ben-Gurion at the conference of the Palestine Labor Federation in 1937: “For 6 months Jewish, Arabic, and British blood flowed for only one cause, for the stoppage of immigration ...” And at the Zionist Congress he adds, “The opposition of the Arabs is constantly growing stronger and Arab power is constantly increasing.” The Jewish Day, writing of the 1938 annual convention of the Labor Federation states, “Mr. Ben-Gurion warned against the illusion of finding a pro-Zionist attitude at the present time among the Arabs.”

Arab hostility to Zionism need be no mystery to us. Zionism bases its claim to Palestine not upon the right of a people to determine the destiny of its own land but rather upon a chauvinistic claim to privileges over and against the Arab people. That this claim is based upon the Bible changes matters not one whit. Let us listen to Ben-Gurion once again:

Our right to Palestine is not the right of the Palestine Jews but of the entire Jewish people, which is scattered the world over and of which only 3 percent live in Palestine. The importance of Palestine for the Jewish people lies not in its being the habitat of 400,000 Jews but in its being a place for continuous and expanding Jewish immigration ...

For the rights of the Jews in Palestine are different from the rights of the Arabs; Palestine Arabs have the rights proper to all inhabitants of the country. Armenian and Ethiopian inhabitants of Palestine are entitled to the same rights even though their numbers are small. However the Arabs of Syria, Iraq, or Saudia have no rights in Palestine. On the other hand, the rights which the Jews have in Palestine is their right not as inhabitants of the country, but as Jews, whether they live in Palestine or in any other country. The fundamental Jewish right – is in reality the right in Palestine of non-Palestine Jews, the right of immigration ...

The Jewish and Arab claims are not equal with regard to Palestine.

Ben-Gurion bases his remarkable claim to Palestine upon the Bible: “The Bible is our mandate.” But the Arab masses who live and toil on the land do not read or recognize the Jewish Bible.

Ben-Gurion’s fantastic claim to Palestine simply means that the Arab population, which is the overwhelmingly majority, cannot have the right to decide the fate of the land. And this is the whole basis for Arab opposition to Zionism. The decisive question upon which all Zionist tendencies are fated to break their necks is the question of the unconditional independence of Palestine from imperialism and the right of the population to govern itself. The Arab masses raise the demand for the right of self-determination. Among their demands we find the following:

  1. That a genuine representative government be permitted and set up.
  2. That the Mandate be terminated as soon as possible.
  3. That they have an independent and sovereign state.
  4. That their land be returned to them free of mandates.

It is the elementary duty of every proletarian revolutionist to support the right of every nation to self-determination. While not every demand of the Arabs is progressive and deserving of support, the above demands express their desire for independence and are entirely progressive. But Zionism is utterly incapable of giving aid to these demands and, quite the contrary, is their uncompromising and inveterate enemy.

A section of the Zionist movement tries to hide this reality with mealy-mouthed declarations that to free Palestine would only mean to deliver it up to some other imperialist power. This is the time-worn argument of the opponents of colonial liberation and, as always, is sheer hypocrisy. Real freedom for Palestine can come only through an armed uprising of the masses and this movement would be the spark to set the entire Near East and North Africa ablaze and would release such energies and enthusiasm among the oppressed masses that the whole imperialist system would begin to totter and crumble. To destroy the invincibility of one of the most powerful imperialist powers would be to dig the grave for all imperialist powers. And conversely, to oppose the movement for colonial liberation in any single land is to help perpetuate imperialist domination everywhere, to delay and oppose the world revolution.



Zionism and British Imperialism

Faced by a hostile population, Zionism is forced to seek for some ally, to lean upon some powerful friend. The “friend” of the Zionists is Great Britain. The most clear-cut declaration of prostitution to England in return for protection from the Arabs comes from the Zionist-Revisionists. Says their leader Jabotinsky, on the Arab question:

I willingly confess that we have no “Arab” policy and doubt whether such a policy is at all practicable. History teaches that all colonizations have met with little encouragement from the “native” on the spot; it may be very sad but so it is, and we Jews are no exception. We should of course be genuinely glad if some Zionist party would succeed in discovering some way to convert the Palestine Arabs to pro-Zionism.

But, continues Jabotinsky, nonchalantly, if the Arabs are hostile then we can sell out to Great Britain:

I need not dwell on the well-known truism of Palestine’s importance from the viewpoint of British imperial interests; I have only to add that its validity depends on one paramount condition: namely that Palestine should cease being an Arab country. The defect of all England’s “strongholds” in the Mediterranean roots in the fact that (with the only exception of little Malta) they are all of them inhabited by populations whose national magnetic centers lie elsewhere and who are therefore organically and incurably centrifugal. England governs them against their will, and this is a precarious hold under modern conditions. There will inevitably come a day when Gibraltar will revert to Spain, Cyprus to Greece, Egypt is already “gone” for Egypt is politically if not racially Arab. Should Palestine remain Arab, Palestine would follow the orbit of Arab destinies – secession, Federation of Arab countries, and elimination of all traces of European influence. But a Palestine predominantly Jewish, Palestine as a Jewish State, surrounded on all sides by Arab countries, will in the interests of its own preservation always seek to lean upon some powerful Empire, non-Arab and non-Mohammedan. This is an almost providential basis for a permanent alliance between England and a Jewish (but only a Jewish) Palestine.

This is the logical fruit of Zionism. But even for Zionism to promise to become an open and reactionary tool of British imperialism will not gain it the support of England. Britain cannot allow the development of Palestine industry and the consequent birth of a large modern industrial proletariat even though the Zionists may agree to mobilize these masses in support of imperialism. Proletarian masses have the bad habit of deserting their misleaders with historic regularity. Moreover one cannot reckon with Britain alone. It will be the colonial slaves who will be the victors after or during the coming war and explode the entire foundation from under the very feet of those who place their reliance upon the stability of imperialism.

But, our Zionist friends will protest, Jabotinsky and his gang are a crew of scoundrels and fascists, who have split away from the World Zionist Organization to set up a separate international organization. We might expect then, a vigorous attack upon these reactionary ideas by the Labor-Zionist leaders. But alas! Let us hear from Ben-Gurion:

But Great Britain is interested in maintaining a stronghold in the Near East and in Palestine. A large number of Jews strengthen such a hold but it also increases the Arab opposition and Great Britain must send an army to safeguard law and order.

This statement differs from the statements of the Revisionists only in that it is much more brief and to the point.

If Ben-Gurion’s infinite trust in Great Britain is an enigma to some unsuspecting people, what term could best describe his sanguine hope for a peaceful and gradual growth into a socialist Palestine? The painful problem arises as to who, in the face of a hostile population, is able to maintain this peace. It is that great friend of socialism, Mother England. A socialism protected by Great Britain? Some may ascribe this idea to excessive optimism. But this is far too indulgent a characterization.

Ben-Gurion speaks as the mouthpiece of the British diplomatic service, which seeks to hide its war preparations with sugar-tongued phrases for peace. What other interpretation can be placed on his statements: “... in the strengthening of international peace”, or “... British interests are essentially the preservation of peace”?

Ben-Gurion long ago took the first step onto the inclined plane of Zionism. Let us not be surprised then to see him slide to the bottom. From Zionism to the support of British imperialism. From the support of British imperialism to the support of its wars. This is the irresistible and inexorable logic-chain of Zionism. To paint Britain as a lover of peace is only the first step to supporting her wars in the name of peace; and Ben-Gurion is not at all loath to take the final step. Says the Jewish Day (May 10, 1938): “David Ben-Gurion ... urged world wide military and naval training of Jewish youth and fortification of key points in Palestine as necessary to the Zionist cause.”

Again some Zionists will protest – we will fight only in defense of Palestine, never in the interests of British imperialism. Idle protest! Even the consolation of a defensive war is forever denied to you. The only war confined to Palestine can be a war between the native masses and Great Britain. To fight on the side of Britain in such a war is to support a war for the perpetuation of colonial oppression and exploitation. If Britain goes to war as part of a general imperialist conflagration the whole character of the war will be determined and dominated by the imperialist aims of herself and her rivals. Support to such a war at any single sector is to support imperialism.




It is an encouraging sign, however, that not all Zionist tendencies and individuals give support to the openly chauvinist declarations of Ben-Gurion. Many Zionists affirm their hatred of British imperialism and all its wars. But it is not enough to express opposition to Ben-Gurion’s conclusions. We must be able to refute them. Ben-Gurion’s support to imperialism derives from his Zionist premises. If you accept his premises, you can avoid his conclusions only by falling into irreconcilable contradictions, which express themselves in an inability to carry out abstract anti-imperialist declarations into the realm of living reality and action. In any case the possibility of a capitulation to imperialist war is ever present.

A typical example of the fate of such Zionism is Hashomer Hatzair, a left-wing grouping, containing in its ranks many young workers and students who are extremely sympathetic to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism. Hashomer realizes that Britain attempts to utilize Zionism for its own imperialist ends and as a weapon against the Arabs. Hashomer therefore demands the fullest cooperation and equality between the Arab and Jew. But Hashomer remains Zionist; therefore its actions necessarily run counter to its abstract declarations. In 1937, it addressed a leaflet to the Arabs expressing noble ideals for Arab-Jewish peace. But it mentions not a single word about the burning need of the Arab masses to throw out their own landlords and take over the land. It mentions not a syllable in support of the Arab demands for a representative assembly and for independence. It says nothing about throwing out British Imperialism. In a recent book, Deep Furrows (p.136), Ben-Shalom, one of the leaders of the Hashomer describes how groups of Hashomer Hatzair members in Palestine picketed Jewish landowners during a period of unemployment for employing Arabs from distant villages rather than Jewish workers.

Hashomer Hatzair declares itself opposed to British imperialism. Single-handed among the Labor-Zionists it opposes the vicious partition scheme. Among its arguments against partition it states that such a plan could only mean the perpetuation of British domination over Palestine. But in practice, because it is Zionist and therefore cannot counterpoise an independent Palestine to a divided one, Hashomer is forced to accept British domination. It opposes British imperialism in the form of partition only to insist upon defending it in the form of the Mandate. The thesis proposed to its last national convention reads: “The demand for the institution of a direct fight against English imperialism is one which we have always considered valueless. Events of recent years have established our point of view emphatically; we must reckon with the factor of England as a constant in the coming political period.” And again “The best solution for us in this historical period is the Mandate ...” Suppose Britain goes to war in “this historical period” for the purpose of defending the Mandate? The logic of defense of the Mandate is to support such a war. We certainly hope that this question receives serious thought from the Hashomer.

Together with all the great powers of the world, Britain, the guardian of the Zion, is preparing for a new imperialist war. In spite of all its hypocritical protestations for peace, which are ardently seconded by the social-patriots among the workers, we know that in reality it is preparing to send the workers and peasants of its far-flung empire to their death in a struggle to defend its right to oppress and exploit the peoples of the world and to defend its dominion based upon spoliation and murder. Are you for or against this war? There will be no other alternative. All groups, tendencies, parties, and individuals must reply, clearly and unambiguously, to this question.

The crisis of the coming war will unleash a whole series of rebellions on the part of the oppressed colonial slaves. Part of this mighty progressive movement will be a powerful movement in the British colonies, including Palestine. Are you for or against this movement? You cannot be against this movement for colonial liberation and still carry on a fight for the socialist revolution. Zionists, from Revisionist Jabotinsky to Labor-Zionist Ben-Gurion, have already indicated what their reply is going to be. The logic of Zionism forces them to become willing tools of Great Britain. These facts should compel all Zionists whose first loyalty and objective is the defense of the socialist revolution and the struggle against imperialist war to a revaluation of their whole position and to a real discussion of their attitude toward the coming war and war preparations.


Last updated on 11.6.2002