Introduction to Abraham Serfaty’s Letter to the Damned of Israel

Selim Nadi

In October 1979, while he was locked up by the Hassan II government in the Kenitra prison, the Jewish Moroccan Marxist thinker and organiser Abraham Serfaty wrote a text about one of his main political educators, Abdellatif Zeroual, who had died under torture 5 years earlier. Serfaty had been arrested, alongside Abdellatif Lâabi, in 1972, because of his involvement in the Marxist-Leninist organisation Ilal al-Amam [Forward]. The two men were only freed in 1991. One of the lessons Zeroual had taught him, Serfaty writes, was the meaning of concrete proletarian internationalism. This meant that while the task of the Moroccan Left was to organise the Revolution within the Moroccan borders, this task was never to be detached from the broader Arab Revolution.[1] This lesson would remain central to Serfaty’s theory and praxis. Indeed, as an Arab Jew, he attached a great importance throughout his life to the national question as an important component of the wider international struggle.


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Born in 1926 in Casablanca – a city about which he wrote a study in 1988[2] – in a Jewish family, Serfaty entered the Moroccan Communist Party, which was led by another key figure among Arab Jewish Communists – the Algerian born Léon-René Sultan –, as soon as 1944. Later, during a stay in France, he also entered the French Communist Party (PCF), of which he was a member from 1945 to 1949. It was during World War II that Serfaty had his main political education. Indeed, while the antisemitic laws of the Vichy Regime targeted Moroccan Jews, Serfaty’s anticolonialism crystallised. As Alma Rachel Heckman writes: “Figures such as Abraham Serfaty represented a new generation of Moroccan Jews whose political consciousness had been shaped by the war years.”[3] Indeed, it is worth nothing that Serfaty was no exception and that a number of important Arab Communists were Jewish, such as the already mentioned Léon-René Sultan, or the anticolonial communist activist Edmond Amran El Maleh, who worked closely with Palestinians throughout his life.

While being a member of the Moroccan Communist Party, Serfaty did not follow the PCF’s conciliatory line regarding colonialism and national independence and committed himself to the struggle for Moroccan independence. Serfaty got a diploma in engineering from the famous French University École des Mines and reflected a lot on issues of development and on the continuity of neo-colonial economic relations in Morocco. While he could have chosen a convenient career as an engineer, he chose the political path and struggled against the poor conditions of the Moroccan working class (e.g.: he supported the miners’ strikes in Morocco).

Serfaty was also interested in a range of international issues beyond Morocco’s borders, such as the revolutions in Vietnam, China, or Cuba. Even if it would be worthwhile to write a whole article about his anti-imperialist and proletarian commitment, we will focus here on a particular issue at stake in Serfaty’s involvement: his political reflections on the relationship between Palestinian liberation, Zionism and the “Jewish Question”. In the text that follows, Letter to the Damned of Israel (published in 1982), Serfaty reflects on antisemitism, anti-Zionism, as well as on the oppression of both Palestinians and Jews by Zionism. Insofar as this Historical Materialism issue is organised around the question of Marxism and Antisemitism, this article is key for several reasons:

  • Beyond his anti-imperialism, the issue of Zionism was crucial for Serfaty as a Jew – and connected to his fight against antisemitism. His reflections on Zionism were significant because they helped him to think about the meaning of Arab-Jewishness, the specificity of the social conditions of Arab Jews, and their specific class position within the Israeli society.
  • He considered Zionism as a specifically European phenomenon and perceived Arab Jews as a potential internal threat to Zionism.
  • This focus on Serfaty’s political thinking is crucial in order to avoid erasing Arab-Jews from Jewish history and from the analysis of antisemitism – or to confuse them into a “universal” Jewish people (which tends to means, in practice, to collapse them into the history of European Jews).

As such, Serfaty’s relationship to Zionism, as well as the fact that his being Arab and his Jewishness played a role in his harsh critique of Zionism – a critique grounded on Jewish texts as well as on the tradition of Arab Judaism – can help us to bring an different perspective to some of the issues raised by today's political debates on anti-imperialism, as well as on the connection between Antisemitism and Zionism. As such, the main question that will guide this introduction to Serfaty’s text is to understand to what extent Serfaty understood “identity” as a social category instead of as an abstract and individualist category – not only the “Jewish identity” of Arab Jews in Israel but also their identity as Arabs. 

While the question of “identity politics” is often dismissed by the European and US radical Lefts, Serfaty’s political reflections on these issues can offer some important contributions to our understanding of the intimate connection between issues of “identity” (Arab and Jewish in this case), anticolonial struggles, and class struggle. Indeed, Serfaty’s understanding of “identity” had nothing to do with many contemporary understandings of this concept. Because “Jews”, “Arabs”, “Sahraouis”, etc. were racialized both by the colonial power and the colonial social structures, their “identity” was built on such a racialization. This is exactly why, as we will see, Serfaty did not conceptualise “Jewish identity” as a universal one, but speaks instead of “European Jews” and “Arab Jews” – the social situation of the latter being very different because of its origins within colonial social conditions. Hence, according to Serfaty, “in the countries of the third world – and this is especially true in Arab countries – one cannot dissociate the problem of the class struggle from the question of identity”.[4] From this analysis also emerged Serfaty’s answer to the so-called “Jewish Question”, which he argued was to be found in anti-Zionism, as well as in the history, culture, and class positions of Arab Jews.

Ethnicity and Autonomy: From Sahara to Palestine

As a Moroccan, Serfaty was surrounded by debates touching upon the issues of ethnicity, colonialism, and the need for national autonomy. In 1985, three years after the publication of Letter to the Damned of Israel, while he was in jail, Serfaty had access to Cuban journals thanks to a comrade whose mother was Spanish. In one of these journals, Serfaty read a contribution by a guerrillero from Guatemala who argued that the indigenous question was crucial to the wider revolutionary struggle.[5] While we do not have further information about this specific article, it is clear that his interest in it was part of a wider engagement with the national question, ethnicity, and related questions.

During the same period, Serfaty also read the work of Mikhaël Elbaz, a Jewish Moroccan anthropologist who wrote extensively about Jewish Immigration. Several years later, Serfaty published a book based on discussions he had with Elbaz. In it, Elbaz explains that while he was teaching at Laval University (Quebec) in June 1984, he received a letter from political inmate n°19 559: Abraham Serfaty.[6] In this letter, Serfaty discussed some of Elbaz’s work and asked him about materials in order to continue his reflexion on Arab Jews in Israel. While this correspondent would prove infliential, Serfaty’s interest for national and ethnic questions dates back to several years earlier.

Indeed, already in the early 1970s, Serfaty – along the above-mentioned Lâabi – participated in the building of the Marxist-Leninist Moroccan organisation Ila Al Amam[7] which was the only Moroccan political organisation that explicitly supported the right to self-determination for the Sahraoui people. According to Serfaty, Sahraoui national consciousness was the result of a two-way process:

  • The struggle for decolonisation which saw the rise of a common interest – against French colonialism – between Sahraoui tribes and the Moroccan people.
  • The post-independence dismantling of the Sahraoui Liberation Army by the Spanish and French armies, with the logistical support of the Moroccan state. This process, called operation “Ecouvillon” [Swab], had the consequence of triggering the mass exile and dispersion of the Sahraoui people. Serfaty compares this 1958 dispersion of Sahraoui people to the 1948 PalestinianNakba. However, he writes, exactly as theNakba, the Sahraoui exile also contains the seeds of the rise of the Sahraoui people as an autonomous, self-aware and organised people.[8] In his marvellous study on the Saharan question, Ahmed-Baba Miské argues that the leader of the pro-monarchist Istiqlal [Independence] party Allal El Fassi played an important role in the Moroccan claims on Sahara, stressing the contradictions that can exist within a national liberation movement, which can struggle against colonialism on the one side (France) and deny the right to autonomy to another people (Sahara) on the other.[9] Serfaty was similarly very aware of this contradiction and argued that a struggle for decolonisation has its own political and social contradictions, and that is not a linear process. As we will see below, the question of contradictions in a colonial situation was critical in Serfaty’s analysis of Arab-Jewishness in Israel.

Based on these analyses, Serfaty was also critical about Pan-Arabism because it ignored the questions of minorities (Sahara, Berber, etc.). While the text presented in this special issue aims to illustrate on Serfaty’s analysis of Zionism and of the “Jewish Question”, his engagement with questions related to national and ethnic minorities remains important in order to grasp Serfaty’s ideas about Arab Jews. In her book The Sultan’s Communist, Alma Rachel Heckman writes that “[i]n the 1960s, Abraham Serfaty, a fellow Jewish Communist, proclaimed his “Arab-Jewish” identity as a way of underscoring his Moroccan patriotism.”[10] Hence, one could say that his criticism of the Moroccan Makhzen [Regime] was deeply influenced by his “Arab-Jewishness”, a social identity that helped him to grasp the issues of minorities within an analysis of the wider social context.

As mentioned previously, Mikhaël Elbaz helped Serfaty to reflect on these questions. In the book they wrote together, based on their epistolary discussions, Serfaty tells Elbaz that the link between ethnicity and class struggle in the Third World was a crucial issue for Moroccan leftists because of the Berber question in Morocco. According to Serfaty, the denial of the Berber reality by national movements in Morocco and in Algeria was one of the main sources for their respective post-independence troubles. Indeed, he argued that because of the French strategy regarding Berber people in Morocco – isolating them from the broader Arab population – the vast majority of the national movement considered the affirmation of the Berber identity as imperialist and complicit with the French colonial power. This was also a point of disagreement between Serfaty and a significant part of the Moroccan Left. For example, in 1958-59, an insurrection in the Moroccan Rif region was suppressed and this repression was backed by every single Moroccan political party, including the Communist Party.

It is in the context of his reflexion about the Arab Nation and its minorities, that Serfaty’s engagement with the disaster that Zionism represented – not only to Palestinians but also to Arab Jews – should be understood. Indeed, he argues that prior to the foundation of Israel there were no problems between Jews and Muslims in Morocco. However, he also rejects the idea that conflicts between Moroccan Jews (some of which were Berbers) and Muslims did not mechanically derive from the foundation of the Zionist state. Rather, they emerged as an effect of the political decisions supported by the Muslim and Jewish Moroccan bourgeoisies. The bourgeoisie and the commercial petite-bourgeoisie saw an opportunity of getting rid of their “poor Jews” – especially the Jewish peasantry of the Atlas Mountains and of South Morocco – who became the favourite target of the Zionist recruiters who were “recruiting” Moroccan Jews in order to send them to Israel.

In his discussion with Elbaz, Serfaty takes the example of a meeting between the Moroccan National Movement and the World Jewish Congress at Aix-les-Bains (France) in August 1955, regarding the departure of 45 000 Moroccan Jews between September 1955 and June 1956. He writes:

The poorest and the most vulnerable became the target of recruiters with the tacit, if not explicit, backing of the bourgeoisie, both Jewish and Muslim, who got rid of this authentic Judaism.[11]

While these Jews were ripped from their land in Amizmiz, in the villages of the Atlas, or in the Moroccan South in the 1950s, the biggest turn came with the 1967 so-called Six Day War. Indeed, Moroccan Jews were ripped from their country in June 1967. This was both due to the promotion of Zionism by the Jewish bourgeoisie of Morocco but also because of the racist politics of the majority of the Muslim bourgeoisie of Morocco who, beginning in 1961, literally “sold” Moroccan Jews to Zionism – in Serfaty’s words. The process of immigration by Moroccan Jews to Israel was, thus, not a simple effect of Zionist policies or propaganda, but a consequence of antisemitism in Morocco – largely promoted by the bourgeoisie. It is worth nothing that this does not mean that the lower classes were free of any prejudices against Jews, but that their ability in influencing the latter’s lives was much more limited. Hence the Zionist project worked hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism in Morocco, an issue to which we return below.

The Social Specificity of Arab-Jewishness

From childhood, Abraham Serfaty’s father had explained to him, especially when going to the synagogue, that Zionism was antithetical to Judaism – an idea that we also find in Letter to the Damned of Israel. But a large part of Serfaty’s reflexion on the Jewish question was developed while he was accompanying his father, who had health issues, in a Parisian clinic, in May 1969. It is in this clinic that Serfaty discovered and read Marxist thinkers that were not discussed in Morocco – he read, for example, Karel Kosik’s Dialectics of the Concrete, as well as Althusser, Ernst Bloch and Lucien Goldmann. It is also during this stay that he really thought about the so-called Jewish Question. In a book written with his wife Christine Daure-Serfaty,La Mémoire de l’Autre [The Other’s Memory], he writes that Kosik,[12] Marx’s text on the Jewish Question, as well as a number of readings on Arab Judaism. helped him to better situate the Jewish Question in Europe on the one hand, as well as Moroccan and Arab Judaism on the other. At that time, he hadn’t read Abraham Léon’s book, On the Jewish Question, which he later considered to be a masterpiece of analysis, whilst also recognising the validity of Maxime Rodinson’s critiques.[13]It is also during this period that Serfaty discovered the work of Emmanuel Levyné, with whom he later exchanged letters, as we will see below.

Serfaty stressed the fact that while Israel was presented as a state founded by “their Jewish brothers”, Zionists were, in reality, the oppressors of Arab Jews and denied the specificity of their identity. Zionism was originally a European ideology, Serfaty writes, and its effect on Arab-Jews was to deny the specificity of their history:

Zionism is contrary to the glorious history, spanning more than a millennium, of Arab and Mediterranean Judaism, which was historically forged in symbiosis with Islam within the Arab civilization.[14]

One of Serfaty’s main ideas was that there is no homogeneous Jewish people – he asked Arab Jews: “Do you form one people with your oppressors?”[15] By oppressors he meant European Zionists. Indeed, he refused to inscribe Arab Judaism in an imagined general History of Jews, with a homogeneous “Jewish subject”.

However, Serfaty did not consider Arab-Jewishness as an abstract identity. The issue of identity was very concrete to him and he criticised the progressive forces that despised engaging with it. Regarding Arab, and more specifically Moroccan, Judaism in the 1950s – the period in which, as we have seen earlier, Zionism ripped Moroccan Jews off from their country – Serfaty categorises poor Moroccan Jews into three main groups:

  • A group that is still rooted in a “two thousand year old past”;[16] a past made of peasant communities from the Moroccan mountains. This group is an integral part of arabo-berber society, which forms the deep reality of Maghreb.
  • The second group is made up of traditional urban communities – working in small businesses and handicraft.
  • The third group consists of the proletariat and semi-proletariat from Casablanca – a product of colonial misery.

Serfaty writes that these groups were organised around two main structures: the Moroccan rabbinate, an older ideological and cultural organisation, and the “Israelites Communities”, a social structure made-up by the colonial power, supported by the middle class and the big bourgeoisies. Hence, Moroccan Jews coming from the lower classes were socially torn between the ancient tradition and organisation of Arab Judaism and another structure shaped by the colonial power and the local bourgeoisie. While the Moroccan rabbinate attempted to struggle against Zionism – which it considered in contradiction with the Jewish religion (Serfaty refers especially to the 1952 Rabbis Council organised in Rabat, as well as to a letter written by the President of the Rabbinic Court from Meknès in May 1952) – it was not powerful enough to prevent the denial of Morocco’s ancient Arab-Jewish tradition by the alliance between the Jewish and Muslim Moroccan bourgeoisies, the French colonial power and, later, Zionism. The assault on traditional identities among Moroccan Jews was led by both antisemitism at home and by Zionism (from) abroad.

In his Letter to the Damned of Israel, he stresses the fact that Zionism was a critical tool in the attempts to rip Arab Jews away from their past – and their specificity. Looking at Arab Jews in Israel, Serfaty argues that the difference between them – who come, for a large part, from the working class – and the European Jews, is the attachment to the Jewish religion. Indeed, Serfaty argues in the 1980s, secularism is much stronger among European Jews – and the religious attachment is stronger among Arab Jews. A direct consequence of this is that Arab Jews are more likely to vote for the Likud Party – an Israeli right-wing Party, whose religious references are more numerous – than for the socialist and secular Ma’arakh.

In sum, the consequences of Zionism on Arab Jews could be seen as contradictory but it is this contradiction that explains the specific position of Arab Jews in Israel. Indeed, Arab Jews are ripped from their traditions – including religious ones – but, in the same movement, the manipulation of the Jewish religion is pushing Arab Jews towards the more right wing Zionist political movements. Should Arab Jews then, Serfaty asks, reject the Jewish religion in order to struggle against Zionism? This question is even more relevant since within the Israeli State, the only political forces struggling against Zionism are Marxist ones – political forces in which religion plays a minimal, if any, role. He answered with an emphatic “no”. Revolutionaries’ duty was to analyse the deepest social reality in order to grasp the seeds from which the struggle could develop. In the case of Arab Jews, Serfaty writes, this deep reality was in contradiction with the immediate reality. He asserts that one should first take into account the level of cultural oppression of Arab Jews within the Zionist entity.

The first thing that was, according to Serfaty, deeply anchored into the Arab Jewish popular masses – and that was crushed by Zionism – was the awaiting of the Messiah which had mainly been formalised through the Zohar (the foundational work of the Kabbalah). Serfaty writes that while they were facing oppression, awaiting the Messiah was a kind of light for Arab Jews. It was the already existing light in the present, of a future where God’s Kingdom will be established on Earth for every human being. Serfaty especially stresses the fact that Jews should contribute to preparing for this Kingdom wherever they are – something that was opposed to the Zionist colonial project; a project that needed to “import” Jews from abroad.

Hence, Serfaty insisted that the spirit of the Kabbalah and especially of the Zohar was the claim that the exile would not end with immigration to Israel – since, in doing so, Jews were separated from their culture and traditions. The Jewish settlement in Palestine, and later in Israel, was not understood as a “return” but as the true exile. Serfaty notes, therefore, that Zionism is a negation and a “monstrous perversion” of the Zohar.[17] While he was not a believer himself, he underlines nonetheless in a lot of his texts that in the Arab World there cannot be a difference between people who believe and people who do not believe in God. The only difference should be between the people on one side of the social order, and the reaction on the other side.

Several years before the publication of Letter to the Damned of Israel, between 1969 and 1972, he exchanged some letters with the anti-Zionist specialist of the Kabbalah Emmanuel Lévyne – whose work was very important in Serfaty’s eyes.[18] In one of these letters, written in 1970,[19] Serfaty writes that an important effect of Capitalism in Europe was that the values of Judaism were betrayed and distorted by the “exploiters of Humanity”. In this very same letter, Serfaty writes to Lévyne that the historical period that they are living in (the 1970s) was not so much a time of erasure of national specificities, but a time of fulfilment of those specificities. Therefore, he argued, the struggle against capitalism should take these specificities into account – the anti-capitalist struggle could not be successful if it tried to erase cultural and religious differences. A similar idea is to be found in another great anti-Zionist Marxist Jewish figure of that time – a European one this time: Maxime Rodinson. He defended the idea “that the only barrier to socialism in Muslim countries would be to put in place anti-Muslim policies”.[20]

The issue of the “Promised Land” was also central in Emmanuel Lévyne’s work, which again found echoes in Serfaty. Indeed, according to Lévyne, Zion was the Land of God, and in order to enter it one should renounce the desire to possess it. Hence, Levitism was opposed to political Zionism – because the colonisation of Palestine was never present in Jewish religious texts.[21] For Lévyne, as well as for Serfaty, Judaism had nothing to do with the colonisation of Palestine. However, in linking these two questions, the European and Arab Jewish bourgeoisies presented the colonization of Palestine as the main solution to the “Jewish Question” – and worked, sometimes, hand in hand with local antisemitism (whether in Europe or in Arab countries). It would rid them of Jews at home, allow them to lay claim over their goods and wealth, while simultaneously reinforcing dominant social relations and imperialism across the region.

Emerging from Serfaty’s analysis was the claim that Jews in the revolutionary struggles in the Arab world should not be understood as the “Jewish people”, understood to be outsiders in relation to the wider national community, but rather as simultaneously Jews and an integral part of the national community (the Moroccan one, in the case of Serfaty). It would be a mistake to try to “unify” Jews in a homogenous people by negating their national specificities. The letter to Levyne where Serfaty develops these ideas is especially interesting because, while Serfaty and Levyne had important disagreements (not least on the question of socialism for instance), they agreed on the importance for Jews to participate to the anti-zionist struggle. They did so both because it was an anticolonial struggle but also because Zionism participated in the destruction of the specific identities of both Jewish culture and Jewish communities.

Arab-Jews as a Threat to Zionism

It is because of this contradictory position that Serfaty considered Arab Jews as a potential threat to the existence of the Zionist state. There was, Serfaty argues, a fundamental contradiction between Arab ethnicities, which are oppressed in Israel, and the Zionist structure of the Israeli state. Hence Arab Jews should be aware not only of their “Jewishness” but also of their Arab identity. Arab Jews could participate in the building of a political movement that might break the Zionist structures from the inside. As a consequence, the social group of Arab-Jews – and especially of poor Arabic Jews – appeared to him as a weak link in the Zionist edifice.

The fact that anti-Zionism is of crucial importance for Jews – and especially for Arab Jews – is a recurrent theme in Serfaty’s writing. This was, for example, visible in 1969 when the Moroccan journal Souffles published a whole issue on the Palestinian Revolution. This issue contained an important paper written by Serfaty on Moroccan Judaism and Zionism. This article is historical in natures and returns to the themes of the life and culture of Jews in Morocco, and on the disaster that June 1967 represented, not only for Arab Jews but also for the Moroccan nation as a whole. Serfaty argued that the future of Moroccan Judaism as well as of Morocco itself are deeply connected to the future of Palestine. The struggle for the liberation of Palestine contains, in this view, alwaysper se an international dimension. RegardingSouffles, it is interesting to stress the critical role Serfaty played in the politicisation of the journal, a process in which these questions were paramount. Andy Stafford notes:

It was the arrival of Abraham Serfaty, mining engineer and trade union activist, on the committee of Souffles in 1968 that heralded the hardening of the journal’s politics and the consequent split three years later.

In his two-part piece in 1968 (in Souffles, no. 12 and nos. 13/14) Serfaty brought a Marxist rigour to the debates over culture and scientific progress in the journal. The triumphalism of the West – Israel – over the Arabs in the 1967 war had now pushed the journal towards a Marxist, militant intellectual, position (…).[22]

In the first extensive study on Souffles, Kenza Sefrioui writes that the issue of Palestine constituted a pivotal point in the politicisation of the journal. It was also the starting point of huge disagreements within the editorial board, especially on the role “cultural issues” should have in its pages.[23] However, Sefrioui also writes that Souffles was a political project from the very beginning (the journal was created in 1966), even if it expressed itself in the form of cultural analysis during its three first existence years of existence.

In their introduction to the English Anthology of Souffles-Anfas (Anfas being the Arabic language counterpart toSouffles, founded in 1971), Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio write that the journal played – despite its modest print run – an important role in establishing a transnational intellectual dialogue with other key Third World actors:

The journal was instrumental in establishing transnational dialogues between writers, artists, and activists from Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It published seminal works by tricontinental writers and political activists, such as the Haitian writer René Depestre, the Syrian poet Adonis, and Amilcar Cabral, the leader of the struggle for independence from Portugal in Guinea-Bissau, as well as key revolutionary and postcolonial texts, such as the ten-point program of the Black Panthers or the Argentine manifesto for a Third Cinema. Frantz Fanon, the theorist of decolonization and prophet of postcolonial disillusionment, was a particularly important interlocutor for the journal’s founding members. Heeding Fanon’s call to leave Europe behind, Laâbi advocated for what he called “cultural decolonization,” a process by which Moroccan writers and artists would break with stagnant French models and Arabic canons in order to forge new artistic forms and literary languages in dialogue with the rest of the decolonizing world.[24]

Andy Stafford also highlights this transnational dialogue in insisting on Souffles’ Tricontinental entrenchment: “Morocco became in the late 1960s, for a short period, the pivotal space […] for tricontinentalist ideas to take hold and be propagated. As with all pivots, sections of the Moroccan Left did as much to absorb and process the radical ideas emerging from Havana after January 1966 as to re-expedite them throughout the Arab and Muslim world”.[25] It is not putting it too strongly to say that if Souffles lost the important role it had played in this crucial political space, it was because of Serfaty’s involvement with the journal. This is not to undermine the role of the founders of the journal or of other important figures. However, Serfaty’s involvement brought an explicit Marxist framework to the journal and, as Stafford puts it, started the process of the “de-tricontinentalisation”[26] of Souffles – the orientation on Workers and Strikes “was to come at the expense of international coverage”.[27] However, Serfaty also played, as written above, an important part in putting the Palestinian question at the centre of Souffles – as well as a Jewish critique of Zionism.

Thus, as shown by his engagement in Souffles, as well as in the vast majority of his texts, the Palestinian issue was crucial to Serfaty’s political thought, not only as a way to fight settler colonialism but also as a way to stress the intimate bond between antisemitism and Zionism, which worked hand-in-hand and led, as a consequence, to the growing marginality of Arab-Jews in both their historical and Israeli societies. Because of this, Arab-Jews should play a central role in the anti-Zionist struggle.

Serfaty was opposed to the use of the expression “oriental Jews” (which included not only Arab Jews but also Jews from Iran or India) especially because the huge majority of these “oriental Jews” were, in fact, Arabs. Beside the fact that their cultural traditions were not the same as those of European Jews, it was important to him to stress the fact that Arab Jews were also Arabs. To achieve its mythical goals, Zionism had to crush Arabs. Hence, Serfaty writes that in order to make Arabs disappear Zionists do not hesitate to use the methods of genocide, like the massacres of Palestinians carried out in Sabra and Shatila (1982), but also before, in Deir Yassin (1948), Qibya (1953), or Kafr Qassem (1956). For the Israeli settler colonial project to succeed, the Arab has to become a sort of Untermensch and, as such, Arab Jews who are not just Jews but also Arabs, cannot escape this social condition. Hence, being Jew and Arab did not only mean being part of a long tradition and culture but did also mean that one had a specific social position inscribed into the social relations of (post)colonialism. While it is undoubtedly true that Arab Jews were not the victims of massacres like those meted out against Palestinians, their condition was not the same as the condition of European Jews living in Israel either.

Serfaty insisted on the fact that, in Israel, Arab Jews were treated as “schwartz”. Orit Bashkin writes that the “Arab culture of Iraqi Jews, as well as that of Jews from other Middle Eastern countries, was perceived as primitive and degenerate. In addition, it was racialized: these Jews were sometimes called kushim, shhorim, and schwartzes (derogatory terms meaning “black”) to signify their foreign and non-European racial identity”[28] This “schwartz” non-European racial identity meant that Arab Jews in Israel were forced into less qualified jobs, that their dignity was denied in society, and that they were used as cannon fodder for the Israeli army as well as for Israel’s colonial project. This was underlined by the fact that, as Serfaty puts it:

Zionism [is a] racist and chauvinistic ideology born from the crisis of Judaism in Eastern Europe at the End of the 19th century, in a context of European colonial expansion and is the contrary of every single tradition (…) of European Judaism.[29]

Hence, the fact that Arab-Jews were both necessary to the Zionist project but also had a lower social condition – a sort of internal antisemitism – made them, in Serfaty’s analysis, the weak link of Zionism. As a social group, they could sharpen the social contradictions within the Israeli state. However, in order to become an autonomous political force capable of challenging Zionism, Arab Jews had to become conscious of their identity – which was not a double identity but a unified identity based on their social conditions. In sum: Arab Jews living in Israel were both oppressed by Zionism but were also a tool of oppression of the Palestinian people – as Israelis and potential members of the Israeli army. The most exact terms to describe them was, according to Serfaty, as a “colonial minority”. But it is also this colonial minority, which he argued could become the best ally to the Palestinians.

Serfaty had participated in discussions with the Israeli Left – especially with Matzpen [Compass], the radical socialist Israeli Party, and the Israeli Communist Party. He acknowledged that the Israeli Left had a brave and difficult struggle to engage in. But he also added that this Left had to fulfil its commitments – which also meant committing to Arab-Jews as potential allies in the struggle against Zionism. This meant that Matzpen could not, for example, recognise both the unconditional right to resistance against occupation and, at the same time, decide to only support organisations of the Palestinian resistance which acknowledge the right to self-determination for the Israelian people. In Serfaty’s writings in the 1970s, the possibility for a part of the Jewish masses to liberate themselves from Zionism was intrinsically linked to the development of the Palestinian Revolution but also to the development of the Arab Revolution. Therefore, both had to be supported by Jewish activists.

For Serfaty, Jewish emancipation and the liberation of Palestine were linked – but it relied on the development of a higher level of consciousness among Jews living in Israel, and especially Arab Jews. On the issue of political consciousness, Serfaty developed his ideas over the years and, in the early 1990s, he wrote that one should not oppose “conscious” and “not conscious” ideas – using Paulo Freire’s idea that there is always an intuition inside an oppressed person, even if this person is overruled by oppression. Hence, consciousness was not something brought from the outside but it was the crystallisation of the “sensuous knowledge” – Serfaty used Mao’s concept. This is why a coherent project grounded on objective contradictions was needed in order to transform existing sensuous knowledge into a rational one. This was the role of Arab Jewish activists within Israel.

Simultaneously, Serfaty reflected on the Palestinian struggle. In his view, it was not only important for Arab Jewish activists in Israel to work on developing a revolutionary project, but it should also be articulated within the strategic project of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Hence, he argued that the PLO should incorporate within its strategy the resistance of oppressed Arab Jews in Israel. Regarding the different options within the Palestinian resistance, Serfaty was very clear about his position: the only project which could objectively answer the issues raised by the Zionist occupation of Palestine was the project led by Fatah, who wanted to build a democratic Palestinian state. Serfaty was opposed to the two-state solution. Not only was it impossible to achieve it, but he was also concerned for the future of Arab Jews in the Zionist state.

However, in the specific context of the early 1980s, he was clear that the first political step was a limited one and was for the Palestinian resistance to build its own state in the West Bank and in Gaza. This did not mean, however, that this Palestinian state should recognise the Israeli one. The second step was to politically divide the enemy forces from the inside, in the Israeli state but also in western opinion. In the context of the time, it was impossible for the Jewish population of Palestine – except for small groups of activists – to support the project of a Palestinian democratic state. This is why an intermediary step was needed in Serfaty’s opinion. This step was the building of two coexisting states based on the principles of secularism and democracy for all their citizens. Serfaty did not explain how to move from this intermediary step to the final goal. The only thing he stressed was that one cannot expect from the oppressed Palestinian or from Arab Jews to renounce revolutionary violence. His main political conclusion was that in fighting for this intermediary step without renouncing the armed struggle, it was possible to convince an important part of international opinion as well as of the Jewish Israeli population and to move to the next step: the liberation of Palestine and, with it, the liberation of Arab Jews in Palestine. 

The importance of Serfaty’s work today is critical. As accusations of antisemitism are used systematically to dismiss any critique of Zionism, the confusion between antisemitism and anti-Zionism has never been greater. Serfaty’s powerful commitment to the simultaneous struggle against both antisemitism and Zionism – a struggle which for him was always rooted in both anti-imperialism and the concrete analysis of identity formation amongst the oppressed – serves as an important intellectual guide for all of us today.


Bashkin, Orit 2017, Impossible Exodus. Iraqi Jews in Israel, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Elbaz, Michaël and Abraham, Serfaty 2001, L’insoumis. Juifs, Marocains et rebelles, Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.

Harrison, Olivia C. and Villa-Ignacio, Teresa (ed.) 2016, Souffles-Anfas. A critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Heckman, Alma Rachel 2021, The Sultan’s Communist. Moroccan Jews and The Politics of Belonging, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Lévyne, Emmanuel 1973, Le Royaume de Dieu et le Royaume de César, Beyrouth: Le réveil.

Miské, Ahmed-Baba 1978, Front Polisario. L’âme d’un peuple, Paris: éditions rupture.

Nadi, Selim 2018, ‘The Thinker and The Militant’, Translated by Joe Hayns, available at: <;

Sefrioui, Kenza 2013, La revue Souffles 1966-1973. Espoirs de révolution culturelle au Maroc, Casablanca: éditions du Sirocco.

Serfaty, Abraham 1977, Lutte antisioniste et révolution arabe, Paris : Quatre Vents Editeurs.

Serfaty, Abraham 1992a ‘Marxiste, décidément’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Dans les prisons du roi. Ecrits de Kenitra sur le Maroc, Paris: Messidor/Editions sociales.

Serfaty, Abraham 1992b, ‘La jeunesse militante marocaine’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Dans les prisons du Roi.

Serfaty, Abraham 1992c, ‘Mouvement ouvrier et révolution au Maroc. Le rôle du prolétariat de Casablanca’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Dans les prisons du Roi.

Serfaty 1992d, ‘Adresse aux damnés d’Israël’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Ecrits de prison sur la Palestine, Paris: Arcantère.

Serfaty 1992e, ‘Le sionisme : une négation des valeurs du judaïsme arabe’ in Abraham Serfaty 1992, Ecrits de prison sur la Palestine.

Serfaty 2018, ‘ ‘En tant que juifs antisionistes’ – Lettre d’Abraham Serfaty à Emmanuel Lévyne’ available at: <…;

Stafford, Andy 2019, ‘Tricontinentalism in recent Moroccan intellectual history: the case of Souffles’,Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 7, 3: pp. 218-32.

Rodinson, Maxime 2017, ‘Préface’ in Abraham Léon 2017, La conception matérialiste de la question juive, Geneva: éditions entremonde.

[1] Serfaty 1992b, p. 14

[2] Serfaty 1992c, pp. 158-69.

[3] Heckman 2021, pp. 67-8.

[4] Serfaty 1992a, p. 244.

[5] We do not have any information about this movement but it was probably the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres.

[6] Elbaz & Serfaty, 2001, p. 14.

[7] While we do not have the space here to develop on Ila Al Amam, we still have to say a few words about it. The starting point of this organisation was a theoretical debate held at Serfaty’s house. A leader of the Moroccan Communist Party asked Serfaty to host a meeting with Moroccan intellectuals and two PCF cadres. Hence, in April 1968, around fifty academics, writers, and politicians from several sections of the Moroccan Left came to Serfaty’s house, along with two important guests from the PCF. While the debate started on the topic of Althusser, it quickly shifted on the topic of Western culture’s inadaptability to handle the political issues faced by the Third World. As a heated debate ensued between the different persons present at the event, one of the two PCF cadres stated that this argument was to be found nowhere in the world except in China, and that Moroccan communists had to oppose the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Serfaty presents this debate, and especially the misunderstanding of the non-European reality by French comrades, as the starting point for the creation ofIla Al Amam two years later, in 1970.This organisation emerged as a split from the Parti de la Libération et du Socialisme (Socialism and Liberation Party (PLS), the former Moroccan Communist Party). Serfaty wrote several texts about this organisation, but a complete study is missing.

Brahim El Guabli gives a useful short description of Ila Al Amam : “In the case of Morocco, which I know best, the Marxist-Leninist movement, which also emerged as a response to the failure of the Moroccan Communist Party under the leadership of Ali Yata to disengage itself from Soviet domination and from its enthrallment with the monarchy in search of a dearly won recognition, sought to create the cultural conditions for the political revolution of proletariat. Since 1970, these groups formedIla l-Amām (Forward!) under the leadership of Abraham Serfaty, a Moroccan Jew, and Abdellatif Laâbi, a novelist and poet, and Abdellatif Zeroual, a philosophy teacher, and others. This revolutionary group congregated around the avant-garde social, cultural and political magazine Souffles/Anfās. In addition to its political engagement, Souffles/Anfās launched a “linguistic guerilla war” – to borrow Mohamed Khair-Eddine’s phrase in another context – on the Arabic language, which remained petrified in its classical moulds. After the brutal arrest and torture of hundreds of its members inside Morocco between 1972 and 1974, the movement mainly survived among the Moroccan diasporas. Upon the release of the majority of its leaders in the early 1990s, current and former members of the Marxist-Leninist organization have been the driving force behind the human rights movement in Morocco. Its members were also among the foremost producers of prison literature.” Mahdi Amel and Brahim El Guabli, February 1, 2018 [online].

[8] Serfaty 1992, p. 180.

[9] Ahmed-Baba Miské 1978, p. 51.

[10] Heckmann 2021, p. 1.

[11] Elbaz and Serfaty 2001, pp. 93-4.

[12] Serfaty was especially interested in Kosik’s chapters on the Metaphysics of Culture and on the Philosophy of Labor. Both chapters helped him to understand the fact that culture was rooted in the material history of humans. It is after having read Kosik that Serfaty started to reflect on the issue of cultural memory – especially concerning Moroccan Jews exiled in Israel.

[13] Rodinson 2017, pp. 9-60.

[14] Serfaty 1992d, p.3 translation.

[15]Serfaty 1992d, p.5 translation.

[16]Serfaty 1977, 16.

[17] Serfaty 1992e, p. 60.

[18] According to Serfaty, Lévyne was, at that time, a crucial person in the transformation of Judaism from a tribal religion to a universalistic ethic. It is through Lévyne’s work that Serfaty understood the Kabbale and the way it is deeply in contradiction with Zionism.

[19] Serfaty 2018 [online]

[20] Nadi 2018 [online].

[21] Lévyne 1973, p. 64.

[22] Stafford 2009, p. 225.

[23] Sefrioui 2013, pp. 92-3.

[24] Harrison and Villa-Ignacio 2016, p. 1-2.

[25] Stafford 2009, p. 218.

[26] Ibid, p. 224.

[27] Ibid., p. 224

[28] Bashkin 2017, p. 6.

[29] Serfaty 1992d, p. 32.

Not Your Good Germans

Holocaust Memory, Anti-Fascism, and the anti-Zionism of the Jewish New Left

Benjamin Balthaser

Mr. Hoffman: Your idea of justice is the only obscenity in the room. You schtunk. Schande vor de goyim, huh?

The Court: Mr. Marshal, will you ask the defendant Hoffman to –

Mr. Hoffman: This ain’t the Standard Club.

The marshal: Mr. Hoffman –

Mr. Hoffman: Oh, tell him to stick it up his bowling ball. How is your war stock doing Julie? You don’t have any power. They didn’t have any power in the Third Reich, either.

The Court: Will you ask him to sit down, Mr. Marshal?

The marshal: Mr. Hoffman, I am asking you to shut up.

Mr. Rubin: Gestapo.

Mr. Hoffman: Show him your .45. He ain’t never seen a gun.

The Court: Bring in the jury, Mr. Marshal.

Mr. Rubin: You are the laughing stock of the world, Julius Hoffman; the laughing stock of the world. Every kid in the world hates you, knows what you represent.

Marshal Dobkowski: Be quiet, Mr. Rubin.

Mr. Rubin: You are synonymous with the name Adolf Hitler. Julius Hoffman equals Adolf Hitler today.

~“At the Chicago Conspiracy Trial,” Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin et al.[1]


This piece is being made available as a preprint edition of the double-volume Marxism and the Critique of Antisemitism special issue of Historical Materialism. Further additions will still be made before then. The final published version of this text will be made available on the Brill website in the coming months. We ask that citations refer to the Brill edition.All Illustrations are by Natalia Podpora.


Early in the research for this project, I interviewed a long-time comrade in Chicago, Joel Finkel, who I knew as a socialist, 4th Internationalist, and active anti-Zionist with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).[2]  Eager to learn how his socialism, anti-Zionism and Jewish identity intersected, I sat him down for a long, nearly three-hour conversation at the famous Jewish deli in the strip mall zone west of the Loop, the last fragment of what used to be a thriving Jewish neighborhood before urban renewal and the expanding University of Illinois obliterated it -- a reminder that the suburbanization of Jews was done as much by bulldozer as it was funded by racially restricted FHA housing loans.  Like a number of other Jewish activists of his generation I have known through the years, Joel downplayed how much his Jewishness was central to his becoming a revolutionary: he wasn't religious, his parents were progressives but not in the Jewish left, and he underscored that the primary movers of his political life were objective and historical events such as the war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement.  He had a clear analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, the historical conjuncture of the 1960s, the role of Zionism in global imperialism, and thought of questions of personal identity as slightly foreign to his ears, as if I had asked him about his moon sign.  And then, perhaps two hours into the conversation about how he got involved in the movement and developed his political outlook, he choked up, flushed, and almost sobbed, "we couldn't let it happen to anyone else."  It, I asked?  "The Holocaust.  It couldn't happen again."[3] 

Finkel's formation is one I encountered often while reading memoirs and interviewing Jewish activists who were part of the New Left of the 1960s and early 1970s.  In another interview with Susan Eanet (now Klonsky), a former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activist and founder of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) and later the new communist October League, explained her own dedication to Palestinian liberation through Holocaust memory.  After talking for several hours in her northwest Chicago home about her Jewish upbringing, about her father who was a founder of a liberal temple in Washington D.C., and about how that related to her anti-Zionist writings for the SDS newspaper New Left Notes, she finally explained:  "we couldn't be good Germans."[4]  Jews, she said, more than anyone, should know the price of the world's silence as a genocide is taking place.  Tellingly, also Mark Rudd framed his resistance to the Vietnam War in the exact same way in his memoir of SDS, saying he "can't be a good German.”[5]  "In my home, as in millions of Jewish homes, "Hitler" was the name for Absolute Evil," Rudd explains, going to further to say "only this time, it was us, the Americans."  Like Klonsky, Rudd evoked the Holocaust not to suggest that Jews are special victims of a unique tragedy or to justify or rationalize their behavior, but to explain why they felt a personal responsibility to oppose fascism and colonialism done in their name, either as Jews and/or Americans.  Shortly after her release from prison, for Weather Underground member Kathy Boudine recollected that her decision to support the Black Liberation Army's campaign of bank robberies and jailbreaks rested on her analysis that America was in the process of committing multiple genocides and that she, like Rudd and Klonsky, thought "a lot about Germany" during the Holocaust: "how do you live a life when your government is doing what its doing?"[6]  In other words, she neither could be a "good German."

The idea that there is a particular Jewish responsibility to oppose fascism and the genocidal race theory behind it was expressed clearly by another member of SDS and early friend of Rudd, David Gilbert.  "For myself and many other Jews in the movement," Gilbert wrote in his memoir, "the bedrock lesson from the Holocaust was to passionately oppose all forms of racism" explaining also that he because of the Holocaust, he could "never join the oppression of other people.”[7]  And even though Gilbert's describes his parents as apolitical, he asserts "they taught me racism was wrong" a conclusion drawn from witnessing the violence of antisemitism.[8]  Rudd also locates the meaning of the Holocaust not only with destruction of European Jewry, but specifically with "racism; that's what anti-Semitism was.”[9] "Racism" as an explanation of antisemitism does not locate antisemitism as something unique to Jews, but as part of a larger structure of white supremacy, in so far as it connects the persecution of Jews to the oppression of people of color. In this way Rudd connects his support for SNCC not only with a political project, but his own personal story.  "With the solipsism of a child," he writes of reading Anne Frank's diary and looking at the death camp tattoos of his relatives, and "saw myself among the dead.”[10]  For Rudd and for many Jews in the movement, their attachment to fighting racism was a way of articulating their own feelings about being Jewish.  As historian Arlene Stein suggests, "I developed an intense, vicarious identification with the struggles of African Americans" as a means to better understand "the collective experience of trauma" after the Holocaust.[11] While Stein articulates this as a form of displacement, for Rudd and others it was a way to passionately connect with and honor their Jewish heritage.

It is often assumed that the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the emergence of the Black Power movement engendered a split between Jews and the New Left.[12]  This story is told by both progressive and reactionary historians alike, and is memorialized in iconic images such as the Jewish Defense League standing in front of a Brooklyn synagogue in sunglasses to “defend” it from a planned speech by Black Panther James Forman or Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 editorial for the Village Voice decrying to expulsion of the mostly Jewish white activists from Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (a position he soon, nonetheless, recanted after conversations with Stokely Carmichael and others).[13]  This split between Black Power and the anti-imperialist left is often said to coincide with the emergence of Holocaust memorialization.  Some, such as Norm Finkelstein understand the sudden rise of Holocaust memorialization in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a cynical move to “exploit Jewish suffering” for the project of Jewish nationalism, while others such as Michael Staub locates increased public expression of Holocaust memory within the context of a late 1960s Jewish revival.[14]  Either way, both narratives assume a tension between left-wing Jews and Black Power and anti-imperialism as given, and locate a new American Jewish commonsense of Jewish nationalism abroad and a quickening of Jewish identity politics at home as both totalizing and hegemonic.  The only problem with this narrative is that the most prominent, and visible, Jewish radicals of the 1960s and early 1970s – Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Mark Rudd, Susan Eanet/Klonsky, Rennie Davis, Dick/Mickey Flacks, David Gilbert – did not agree.  Not only did much of the Jewish New Left in organizations such as SDS and SWP continue to back the anti-Zionist Black Panther Party, many deployed Jewish memory of the Holocaust, the Red Scare, and antisemitism to formulate their revolutionary global politics. It is not so much that Finkelstein and Staub are incorrect, as their readings of a Jewish 1960s tend to write out of history how Jews in revolutionary – and non-Jewish -- organizations formulated a Jewish sensibility through Jewish memory, particularly of the Holocaust and the experience of right-wing antisemitism.

In this sense, Rudd, Klonsky, Gilbert, Hoffman, and Finkel’s deployment of the Holocaust speaks to ongoing and present debates about its meaning and relevance in the politics of Jewish memory and identity. There is a growing consensus that supposed silence among American Jews around the Holocaust was at best partial.  Scholar Hasia Diner counters the narrative that the Holocaust was "unspeakable" until the late 1960s, or that Jews refused to remember or honor the dead out of fear of antisemitism, or shame of victimhood.[15]  Diner documents how memorials, religious ritual, journal articles and art were created and disseminated by Jewish organizations, synagogues, and in private homes and community events.  Far from distant from the minds of Jewish Americans, the presence of the Holocaust reconstructed Jewish American life in personal and public ways.  Indeed, the Holocaust was a common enough reference point in Jewish life that Philip Roth's first published story in the late 1950s not only evokes the genocide, uses it as the punchline of an ironic joke.  Grossbart, the Jewish private who wants to avoid combat in the Pacific and leave base for treyf eggrolls on Passover, manipulates the scrupulous Sergeant Marx by suggesting Jews "let themselves get pushed around" in Germany and needed to "stick together."[16]  Indeed, one can read the entire collection of stories in Goodbye Columbus as a kind of meditation on the Holocaust, from "The Conversion of the Jews" to "Eli, the Fanatic."  The Jewish community in "Eli" are so desperate to not attract antisemitism they wish to ban a Yeshiva, but also so concerned about Jewish cultural continuance after the Holocaust, they do whatever their children ask of them, even convert to Christianity.  In evoking the Holocaust with irony and complexity, Roth signals less a silence on the topic, as much as an intimate knowledge of it and of the many ways it complicated and animated Jewish American life - a near decade before the 1967 War.

 Even for scholars like Diner acknowledge the "myth of silence" is a construction, however, there is an assumption that the Holocaust made the Jewish community fundamentally conservative and assimilationist.  As Norman Finkelstein documents, the 1967 Arab Israeli War sparked not only a wave of support for the victorious Israeli armies, government officials from the State Department to the Pentagon began to understand how Israel could be a strategic ally. “The Holocaust proved to be the best defensive weapon deflecting criticism of Israel,” Finkelstein writes.[17]  In service of Israeli nationalism, the Holocaust he argued was transformed from a fascist genocide that was part of a larger far-right racial project, to something very particular and “unique” that happened only to Jews.[18]  European historian Enzo Traverso takes this analysis a step further to suggest "the Shoah closed a cycle of European intellectual history, in which Jews had been a central part," transforming Jews from a "pariah" class to an integrated part of Western culture.  It is Henry Kissinger for Traverso, not Trotsky who inherits the meaning of the Holocaust in global politics.[19]  Citing the ways the Nuremburg Laws and American triumphalism celebrated both the inclusion of Jews into the fabric of mainstream American life and Israel into the sphere of the capitalist West, "the Jew" for Traverso has gone from being counter-modality to European modernity to its most ideal subject.  Citing both Israel and human rights law, Traverso argues that the "former trouble makers and disrupters of order had become its pillars.[20]  Historian of antisemitism Paul Hanebrink frames it another way:  as the victory over Nazi Germany became absorbed into the narrative of global American power, so did the Jews go from being a "Judeo-Bolshevik menace" to part of the "Judeo-Christian West.”[21] 

In an essay by Mark Tseng-Putterman in Protocols, he argues that the mobilization of the Holocaust not only justifies the state of Israel for a Zionist Jewish establishment, its very memory actually makes Jews less likely to see Israeli "culpability in the so-called conflict."[22]  For Tseng-Putterman, Holocaust narratives create a kind of "Jewish-exceptionalism" that serves as the ideological infrastructure for Zionism, and more broadly, blinds white Jews to ways in which they mobilize their own whiteness.  "Far from progressive," Tseng-Putterman continues, "the absolution of Jewish participation in white supremacy" by focusing on the Holocaust as the singular event defining antisemitism, "halts opportunities to challenge Jewish complicity."  Indeed, the article argues it is precisely through the American narrative of the Holocaust that Jews have been conscripted into the institutional relations of American liberalism and American empire.  That the U.S. can place itself as the protector of the Jews reinforces and can be understood to be the modality through which liberal white supremacist state maintains is legitimacy.  Not only are the Nuremburg Laws part of the legal superstructure of the global American empire, the incorporation of a certain kind of Jewish suffering is the way the state disavows its own history with eugenics and genocide.  "There is an order" to state violence, the author declares, and by centering the Holocaust as a primary part of that order, Jews literally whitewash their own complicity with whiteness and empire as well as allow the state to benefit from Jewish investments in a normative history of antisemitism.  In the order of state violence, the Holocaust is low on the hierarchy, and more silence, rather than less, is necessary.  The article suggests that Holocaust narratives cannot be mobilized outside of a context of whiteness and cannot but help, in such as a context, redeploy it. 

“Just as organized Jewry remembered The Holocaust when Israeli power peaked, so it remembered The Holocaust when American Jewish power peaked,” Finkelstein argues, suggesting that the Holocaust not only deflected criticism of Israel, but also deflected white Jews from criticism of their whiteness.[23]  As Jewish studies scholar Ben Ratskoff wrote in Jewish Currents, Jewish analogies to the Holocaust are the "narcissistic" means by which Jews "disavow" concern for and their complicity in white racism and the normative violence of liberalism.[24]  "2017 may have offered a strange solace" Tseng-Putterman writes, posing that antisemitism actually reassures Jews of their safety in the world, rather than threatens it, as it mobilizes the state in their defense.  Jewish memory of antisemitism not only exaggerates the threat of antisemitism, antisemitism is the very means by which Jews align their interests with the state – antisemitism is a form of state power.  Antisemitism in this formation, makes white Jews whiter; it solidifies their relationship to narratives and institutions of American power.  One may look no further than attacks against Jeremy Corbyn and progressive American socialists to see the ways in which a discourse of antisemitism protects the powerful, and is deployed as a weapon against democracy. 

Rudd, Klonsky, Gilbert and other New Left radicals articulate however a challenge both to the mainstream Jewish establishment’s Zionist conscription of the Holocaust, as well as to Traverso and Tseng-Putterman's narrative about post-Holocaust memory and Jewish identity.  While Traverso, Finkelstein and Tseng-Putterman are certainly accurate to point fingers at an increasingly reactionary Jewish establishment, their analysis tends to evacuate other possibilities for progressive Jewish life outside of or even oppositional to such institutions, with a logic, history, and subjectivity of its own.  Such discourse tends to flatten Jewish experience into an expression only of large – if quite powerful – Jewish institutions. As Michael Rothberg documents, Holocaust memory is "multidirectional," and emerged in the context of anti-fascism and de-colonial discourse in the 1940s and 1950s long before it emerged as a pillar for a muscular Israeli and/or U.S. nationalism.[25] While widely divergent in their political commitments and perspectives, both Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism and Aimé Césaire'sDiscourse on Colonialism, published in the early 1950s, locate both the origins of fascism and the roots of the Holocaust in European imperialism, in transnational, or perhaps supra-national projects of economic expansion and political repression.  Indeed, as Norm Fruchter wrote for the summer 1965 edition ofStudies on the Left, the wide-ranging anger at Hannah Arendt for her condemnation of both Jewish nationalists and Jewish leadership during and after the Holocaust was a markeddeparture for an American Jewish community that substituted the "secular values...of social justice, use of intellect, the pursuit of knowledge" for Zionism and its "myth of the victim which Jews tend to substitute for their history."[26]  This Rudd and Klonsky who do not wish to be "good Germans," the violence of fascism is not something that happens only to Jews, or can be accounted solely through Jewish history or Jewish victimization.  The violence of fascism is a structural part of imperialism, whether the genocidal levels of violence deployed against the Vietnamese during the U.S. invasion, or ethnic cleansing and militarism of the Israeli state.  The question for Jews is less how to memorialize the Holocaust as a uniquely Jewish tragedy, but rather what is the ethico-political stance the Holocaust requires of a Jew.

As Gilbert makes plain, Jewish survival is not the primary lesson the Holocaust imparts. While it is clear that Gilbert, Klonsky, Rudd, Deutscher and others understood Jews to be targets of fascist violence, they also understood that social solidarity, not Jewish particularism, or nationalism, was what Holocaust memory should mean. As Deutscher writes "I am a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated."[27]  Note the construction - it is not solidarity with other Jews that makes Deutscher Jewish, it is particular "force" that marks his passion and his solidarity.  It is the depth of commitment against persecution and extermination that makes the Jew.  While Gilbert does not explicitly say this, one could possibly derive that the lengths was willing to go, eventually to a life sentence in prison, marks the "force" of his solidarity, and hence his Jewishness. And yet Gilbert is also clear to normalize such feeling.  His parents, who he describes as apolitical, his father an Eisenhower Republican, mother a relatively liberal but not zealous Democrat, explicitly articulated that the lesson of the Holocaust was to stand against racism.  That this was the opinion of Jews who were otherwise politically in no way remarkable suggests less their idiosyncrasy by the articulation of a Jewish commonsense in the decades immediately following the Shoah, not an aberration.  When Rudd writes, "I saw myself among the dead" when he imagined the Holocaust as a child, it did not lead him to think Jews were exceptional - rather it led him into the struggle to oppose genocide and imperialism wherever he encountered it. 

Perhaps the most sustained engagement with the radical usable past of the Holocaust is Suzanne Weiss’ memoir, Holocaust to Resistance:  My Journey.  Weiss, a Polish survivor who spend the last years of the war in hiding and then in a Jewish orphanage in France, emigrated to the United States when two Jewish members of the Communist Party in New York adopted her in 1950.  The first time Weiss articulates herself as a Holocaust survivor in public however is many years later, during an official state visit by Ariel Sharon to Toronto in 2003.  Framing her own experience as both unique and yet at the same time part of larger structures of racialized state violence, she spoke the following at a rally outside of Sharon’s hotel:

Hitler's Holocaust is unique in history; nothing is 'similar' to it.  Still, many Israeli techniques -- the expulsions, the ghettoization, the pervasive checkpoints -- have a disquieting resemblance to Nazi methods. To oppose Sharon is not anti-Jewish....a united resistance can, like the anti-Nazi Resistance of my childhood, win out against the aggressors.[28]

Before this point, Weiss was no stranger to politics:  she had been a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) since her teenage years, and had organized antiwar demonstrations, visited Cuba on an official delegation, and worked in heavy industry trying to form unions among other workers.  And yet it wasn’t until she undertook a personal journey first to Poland, then as a social worker among Holocaust survivors that she articulated the meaning of her experience:  “I wondered whether Holocaust survivors differed from survivors of other traumas, tragedies, or genocides, such as Palestinian families subjected to daily terror, the destruction of their families, and the loss of their homes, possessions, and homeland,” she asked. “Holocaust survivors, I concluded, must be addressed not through comparison with other historic disasters…Yet working with Holocaust survivors sharpened my awareness of the suffering of all peoples emerging from genocide and societal traumas.”[29]  This double turn, in which Weiss recognizes the specificity of Jewish trauma does not make it perfectly analogous to other forms of oppression, yet her increasing awareness – unlike Traverso and Tseng-Putterman’s claims – increases her feelings of solidarity with other oppressed people, especially with Palestinians. 

It’s also clear in Weiss’ narrative that her conclusions regarding the Holocaust are not a rupture with her family’s past or her experience, but rather as she articulates it, a final culmination.  Throughout her text she sprinkles comments from her mother, such as “’Jewish people have a natural affinity to Negroes seeking human dignity,’ Mom said” on walking past a lunch-counter protest, or “The Ku Klux Klan hated Jews just as much as they hated Blacks," noting a synagogue was dynamited the same week as a Black church.[30]  During the Suez crisis in 1956, Weiss’ father confirmed his continued critique of Zionism by noting “Israel is on the wrong side again,” aligned with imperial west.[31]   Weiss’ most succinct articulation of a Jewish anti-Zionist subjectivity was in high school.  Troubled one day when a Jewish friend ask if she was a Zionist, she replied “no, I’m Jewish.”  For Weiss, her Jewish identity both preceded the question of Zionism, and also excluded it.  When she asked her red-diaper baby boyfriend about the incident, he explained that a “Zionist is anyone, Jewish or not, who defense the settlement of Israel as the Jewish homeland.”[32] 

Neatly separating Zionist politics from Jewish identity, Weiss’ sense of Jewish identity was reaffirmed, and reflected that Jews will experience antisemitism wherever they go, no matter the location or country – and couldn’t see how a nation-state would solve such a question.  She asked her rhetorically, “wouldn’t it be a convenient place to get rid of us all at once?” In this way Weiss both articulates an anti-Zionist common sense, in which Zionism is something both alien from her point of view, but also troubling:  she didn’t understand why it seemed important to her friend when it was something that seemed so far, so removed.  And her response – though equally laconic, was common diasporic reason – antisemitism is global, it makes sense then to be a global and dispersed people, on the move.  More than anything else, it was the brevity of the passage that was remarkable – in less than a page in a 300 page memoir, the question of Zionism was settled in her mind.  Are you a Zionist?  No I’m Jewish, seems paradoxical, yet it is the governing logic of the 1960s Jewish New Left.

While the central political “journey” in My Journey is from Holocaust survivor to revolutionary, the physical journey Weiss undertakes is from Poland, to France, to the United States, and then finally, in the 1980s, back to Poland.  While one cannot call it kind of reverse-Aliyah back to Europe, it is clear that Weiss finds a kind emotional and historical sense of closure by visiting the towns in which her family once lived.  For Weiss the return back to Poland is filled both with melancholy and also optimism. She travels to the Jewish cemetery in Piotrkow, where her mother and grandmother ran a bakery.  Finding the cemetery “overgrown with weeds” and the townspeople unconcerned with its upkeep, Weiss writes that “alone, I listened to the melancholic murmur of the breeze swaying leaves” before returning to Warsaw.[33]  Yet while in Warsaw, she is heartened to learn that the Solidarnosc movement, which the SWP supported, printed “anti-racist leaflets and posters…as proof that the union stood firm against xenophobic sentiment.”[34]  These twin feelings, that the murder, and erasure of her family from Poland, and the “Polish Spring” with the Solidarity movement, suggests that whatever her fight around Jewish identity and the Holocaust may be, there are European problems to be resolved in Europe.  The entire journey of the text, from survival to finally awakening of the political implications of the Holocaust, live within a political cycle around questions of capitalism, fascism, human rights, the state, and Jewish memory.  Israel’s only presence in the text is read only as an interloper, literally – as Ariel Sharon visits Toronto, much to the dismay of the Weiss and her comrades. 

The Anti-Zionism of the Jewish New Left

It is often assumed that with some exceptions, that the emergence of Holocaust memory among American Jews coincided with general American jubilance over the Israeli victory in the 1967 War.  As Norm Finkelstein writes, “American Jewish elites suddenly discovered Israel” after the Six-Day War, while Keith Feldman takes this step further to suggest, after Norm Podhoretz, “nothing less than the mass conversion of the American Jews to Zionism.”[35]  Amy Kaplan, Eric Dollinger and Melanie McAlister also document how the U.S. press and much of the Jewish and non-Jewish institutional world deeply identified with Israeli's lightening victory over Arab states, contrasting Israeli missiles blowing up Soviet jets before soaring over Africa to free hostages with "with images of Americans fleeing in helicopters from rooftops in Saigon."[36]  Many Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, identified on a personal level the Israeli victories as if they were their own.  For many scholars of Jewish life, the sudden identification of the United States with Israel, combined with Jewish class ascendency after World War II, marks the end of Jewish otherness in the United States:  internationally, and domestically, Jews had entered the mainstream of American life.  Rudd’s narrative it would seem, asks us to question that assumption.

On the level of large Jewish institutions, this narrative of Jewish “conversion to Zionism” and the sense of belonging it implies would seem to bare itself out.  Historian Matt Berkman notes how such jubilation followed the money:  he tracks how after the 1967 War, a massive institutional shift in communication strategies, donor accounts, and political priorities towards supporting Israel -- even among mainstream Jewish institutions such as the American Committee for Judaism (ACJ) that had up to this point remain non-Zionist.[37]  Prior to the late 1960s, most Berman comments that large Jewish institutions mostly focused on the plight of Jews in the U.S., including refugees and Holocaust survivors.[38]  This shift in funding not only suggests a turn to Zionism as definitional for American Jewish life, it also suggests that large Jewish institutions felt Jews were no longer, in the main, a special case needing extensive extra-governmental support.  And more than this, for many Jewish liberals who were turning away from what they understood as the excesses of the radical left, Israel seemed to be like America, only better - "there were no draft dodgers in Israel," historian Michael Fischbach writes of the new pro-Israel consensus, and Vietnam War, no burning ghettos, no drug addicts, no crime.[39]  This merger between liberals and conservatives on Israel was perfected by Otto Preminger and Dalton Trumbo's 1960 film Exodus, based on Leon Uris' novel of the same name.  As Kaplan notes, it frames Uris' narrative of Israel's founding as violent retribution for the Holocaust, while also maintaining concern with international legitimacy, the United Nations, and world peace after World War II.[40]  The new support for Israel seemed to both be a progressive war of liberation by a persecuted people, while also magically defeating America’s enemies supported by the Soviet Union.  Jews were America’s best story.  

For center-right and even liberal commentators such as Nathan Glazer and Irving Howe, supporting Israel took on a "mystical" importance, cementing Israel for the first time as not only a center, but the center of Jewish American life.[41]  For liberals such as Howe and liberals-turned-neocon such as Glazer, Jews who were outspoken in their antagonism against Israel or support for Palestinians, ceased to be Jews. As troubling as Howe and Glazer's conclusions are for their gate-keeping of Jewish identity, there are a number of radical historians who ironically uphold Glazer and Howe's thesis:  as Keith Feldman argues in his study on the role of Palestine in the formation of American empire, "both the Jewish left and the Jewish right felt threatened by the Black Power movement," especially Black Power activists' critique of Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.[42]  For the right, the Black left was dangerous because of their attention to Jewish practices of economic exploitation and their rising class status.  Jews Glazer felt, were singled out as the enemy of Black Power.  While for Feldman, the Jewish left does not descend into such racist rhetoric, Black Power organizations' increasingly hostile stance towards Israel and ouster of Jewish activists from Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meant for them the historic and often quite material alliance was over.  In titling his chapter "Jewish Conversions," Feldman documents the right-ward drift of former Jewish leftists, as their support for Zionism and multiethnic democracy isolated them from the radicalizing currents of the anti-imperialist left. 

While the convergence of Holocaust memory and support for the state of Israel became a mainstay of Jewish institutional life on both the center and right, it is often forgotten how marginalized Jewish centrists and conservatives felt themselves to be in the 1960s, especially on the question of Zionism.  Indeed, if anything, the Jewish mood by the late 1960s was quite the opposite: from the overheated rhetoric of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) to the more dulcet tones of Jewish professors and the Jewish press, the assumption was that Zionism was in crisis on the Left, even and perhaps especially because of the left's Jewish constitution.  The sense among Jewish right wing radicals, and liberal intellectuals seemed to be that Jewish youth sided far more with SDS than with the IDF, let along the JDL.  The mood was so dire that in 1970, a conference was convened by the Histradrut Cultural Exchange Institute in New York's Arden House, gathering over a dozen leading liberal to left Jewish intellectuals to discuss the crisis. The lineup included sociologist Nathan Glazer, socialist historian Irving Howe, distinguished Hebrew professor Robert Alter, Mordecai Chertoff, Harvard professor Seymour Lipset, journalist Leonard Fein among others, and with the exception of Noam Chomsky, there was broad consensus that the Jewish left had turned against Zionism and thus, in their reading, the Jewish people.  For Jewish activist and journalist Leonard Fein, he summed up the mood of the New Left by saying "considerable intellectual support the left once had for Israel is gone.”[43]

One fact that perhaps also would puzzle a contemporary readership was how Jewish these dignitaries of liberal Jewish life also assumed the left to be. Irving Howe laments that “Jewish boys and girls, children of the generation that saw Auschwitz, hate democratic Israel and celebrate as revolutionary the Egyptian dictatorship…a few go so far as to collect money for Al Fatah.”[44]  Buried in Howe’s lament is not only the grief over Jewish youth’s rejection of Zionism, but that in their revolutionary fervor, they are “indifferent to the antisemitism of the Black Panthers,” suggesting that Black Power and Jewish nationalism are diametrically opposed.[45]  Seymour Lipset also notes accurately that the "New Left is disproportionately Jewish," and concludes that then the New Left Jewish youth have joined a tendency " opposed to the Jewish people as a people.[46]  For Lipset and many others on the panel, the post-Bolshevik left has long opposed Jewish nationalism and Jewish culture, and the opposition to the state of Israel was not about American empire, but rather, the long war of the left to destroy Judaism in the name of universalism and advocacy for the most marginalized.   While some such as Walter Laqueur and Chertoff, this was explicable as a Jewish rebellion against one's liberal Zionist parents, and attributable the wider youth movement.[47] And for others such as Lipset, joining the left is blended with the desire to "assimilate" and to use the left as a vehicle to become fully American, for nearly all, there was an assumption that Yet for most, there was a broad recognition that the New Jewish Left, like the Old Jewish Left, was hostile to Jewish nationalism, or "particularism," especially as it manifested in the Israeli state.  For Glazer, this was all about race, as he cogently and perhaps aptly summed up the many alliances and solidarities of the left by saying bluntly:  "the New Left supports the Arabs because the blacks do" - which for Rudd and Klonsky would be a point of pride; for Glazer, an act of "sycophancy.”[48]  For nearly all the authors, again, Chomsky excepted, "there are Jewish interests and it is the thrust of the New Left to oppose them.”[49]  Or as SWP leader Gus Horowitz dryly summarized in 1971, "the Zionist forces are...on the defensive.  They are much less confident of public sympathy than they used to be.”[50]

What makes the New Left's anti-Zionism legible beyond just the opinions of individual activists and appear as an existential threat to Zionists and the Jewish right is that anti-imperialism had become perhaps the central slogan, the ideological anchor of New Left movements by the late 1960s.  The U.S. invasion of Vietnam was increasingly understood as part of the left commonsense as less a policy mistake, or even a crime, but an expression of U.S. imperialism, and one episode in a global fight between the Third World and the West.  As Martin Luther King reframed the War in his famous "Beyond Vietnam," no longer was the call for the U.S. to fulfill its own principles of democracy, but rather to grasp U.S. was on the "wrong side of a worldwide revolution," a phrase that would be understood commonly in the 1960s to mean the anticolonial uprisings from Vietnam to Cuba to Algeria to Ghana to South Africa.  King's shift in this moment was not only surprising to many because he "broke the silence," but he also signaled his support for New Left and their analysis of the War and the role of America in the world.  This connection between Black liberation and the struggle against imperialism was the core focus of the Black Panther Party, and came to be the dominant frame of radical analysis for the leadership and much of the membership of SDS.[51]  As David Gilbert summarized Eldridge Cleaver, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem; either on the side of the people of the world or of imperialism.”[52]  For the Jewish intellectuals gathered by the Center for Cultural Exchange, they understood very well what this broad global analysis would mean for Jewish nationalism - and indeed, the 1967 War seemed to cement Israel in the minds of much of the New Left as yet another imperial power.[53]

While high profile Jewish, left wing writers and activists such as I.F. Stone, Isaac Deutscher, Irwin Silber of the National Guardian and Noam Chomsky were publicly critical of Israel after the 1967 War, what obscures the Jewish left critique of Zionism obscured today (even if it was quite clear in the 1960s), is that the liberation of Palestine was understood by members of SDS and SWP as part of a larger anti-imperialist struggle against Western capitalism.  Rather than summarize the conflict as between competing religions or ethnic groups, SDS, SWP and their allies tended to frame Palestine, much as they did the struggle in Vietnam and Cuba, as part of a wider global conflict between the Third World and the capitalist West.  As Richard Saks, a member of SDS and later the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), framed it: in so far as “imperialism was at the center of our analysis of American capitalism,” we also understood that “Israel was an outpost of American empire.”[54] As Rudd summarized, support for Palestinians “It distinguished the true anti-imperialists from the liberals” and he wanted to be on the side of anti-imperialism.[55]   It was an issue that marked the New Left’s rupture with the liberal 1960s consensus, clarifying that the U.S. failure in Vietnam or the unpopularity with the draft were not particular issues to be solved, but systemic crises in a world system they meant to overthrow.  In 1968 the SDS leadership decided to explain its position Palestine in a series of articles by Eanet a staff writer for New Left Notes and someone close to leadership.  Eanet also expressed in an interview that it would be strategic for the articles on Palestine to be authored by someone who was not only known to be Jewish, but the daughter of the founder of a major synagogue in Washington D.C.[56]

Despite or perhaps because of Eanet’s background, her articles to do not frame the conflict in the Middle East as a Jewish and Arab issue, but rather in an editorial note describing the series, the editor argues that "outside of Vietnam" the "movement against imperialism in the Arab countries....may be the leading struggle against U.S. imperialism in the world today."[57]  Turning the New Right thesis that Israel is like America, but better, Eanet describes a country like the United States, only perhaps worse - as the dispossession of Palestinians from their land and Israel's expansive agenda is far from complete, and the Israeli working class saturated with racism. Eanet marks in the beginning of the article that the "situation in Palestine was analogous to the flight of early colonists in a land already occupied by Indian people." Noting that the it was the racism of early Jewish colonists that prevented them from joining with the Arabs against the British, Eanet also argues that it was Jewish racism that informed the Kibbutzim labor policy of hiring only Jews, not socialism.  Divesting Palestinians from their land and "means of production" in the cities was just a start:  "Zionism was an ever expanding policy," Eanet writes, and given the "metaphysical concept of a 'homeland' and 'chosen people'" the Israelis will "expand as they can militarily."  With the rise of Al-Fatah and its "support of the Arab masses" one should not only see the analogy to Vietnam, but the analogy to the United States:  one can stop an Indian War before it is over.  This analogy was furthered by a second SDS pamphlet by Larry Hochman, who argued the "fundamental...central issue in Southwest Asia is the fact that a Jewish state has been established in the Arab midst without the invitation or consent of the indigenous the aegis of Western imperial rule."[58]  

The SWP was generally aligned with SDS and with Black power positions on Israel-Palestine.  And like SDS, it was largely the Jewish members who argued and debated the policy on Palestine, at least in print – Peter Buch, Pete Seidman, Gus Horowitz, and John Rothschild.  In part the Jewish authorship of SWP pamphlets was explained by the need to defend the organizations against claims of antisemitism.  But it also seemed to come from a sincere desire by the Jewish members to not only shield the organization, but also address the ways in which SWP’s position is derived from a long, and proud, history of American Trotskyists taking a principled stand against Zionism, antisemitism and fascism, even when other Marxists were quiet.  The adopted resolutions and supporting materials, later published as a small book of around 80 pages titled “Israel and the Arab Revolutions,” was chiefly authored by Gus Horowitz, one of the few Jews in SWP who had grown up in an orthodox, Zionist household.  The pamphlet offered two major lines of argument – the first, that the Palestinian movement for self-determination was, unlike Nasserism and Ba’athism, a democratic people’s movement of the broader Middle East, and as such, an “advance” over the anti-colonial bourgeois nationalism that had come before in the region.  And because the movement was democratic in nature, Horowitz argued, it had the real chance to “appeal to the Jewish masses” and win them “away from Zionism.”[59] 

While SDS approached Israelis through the lens of “white skin privilege,” Horowitz tended to view the Israelis as both exploited by nationalism at the same time as they formed an “oppressor nationality” in relationship to Palestinians.[60]  Arguing that SWP is not only the strongest voice “against Zionism” on the left, it also is the “strongest opponent of anti-Semitism,” Zionism for Horowitz “does not advance the interests of the Jewish people – in Israel or anywhere else in the world.[61]  While Horowitz grants that Zionists have constructed their own “Hebrew nationality” that is distinct from diasporic Jewish identity, a Jewish-only state aligns Jews with “imperialism” and with their own bourgeoisie.[62]  It is for this reason that Jews in Israel do not have an independent working-class movement, fear invasion from the Arab world, and fear their growing pariah status globally – Israelis have sacrificed the possibility for peaceful cohabitation with their neighbors for a violent bourgeois nationalism.  Yet unlike the Arab national governments that are neither serious about Palestinian liberation and will deploy antisemitic rhetoric, Horowitz argues, the democratic nature of the Palestinian liberation struggle offers a place for Jews within it, if they are willing to give up on an ethnic state.  The fear that Palestinians will drive Jews into the sea is not the fear of antisemitism, but fear of revolution:  “to consider that the Arab revolution will necessarily threaten the national oppression of the Israeli Jews is an unfounded fear of the revolution itself, a fear which is incited for counterrevolutionary reasons by the imperialists and Zionists.”[63]  The situation for Jews in Israel Horowitz concludes, is not that of a religious or ethnic minority as it is in other countries, but as an oppressor – and the liberation of Palestinians will be their own liberation. 

While neither Eanet nor Horowitz identify themselves as Jewish in their articles, nor do their articles claim a particular Jewish subjectivity, for them as well as the other two-dozen or so New Left revolutionaries I interviewed, they understood their socialist anti-imperialism, including their anti-Zionism, as a continuation rather than a rupture with their Jewish sense of self.  For some such as Horowitz, Saks and SDS activist Steve Goldman, they identified primarily as Marxists and anti-imperialists, and yet, toward the end of the interview, echoed similar sentiments, that the “Jewish tradition” is to “side with the underdog,” and “the oppressed,” and because of this, most Jews are “less inclined to anti-communism,” and probably “more likely to sympathize with people of color.”[64]  This position – that they were both inside a tradition they could define and yet also, not defined by the tradition – was a common, perhaps the most common, sentiment among the activists – so much so I might almost call it a kind of Jewish subjectivity itself.  For for former SWP organizer Linda Loew, who like Saks came from a red diaper background, she summed it up simply by saying that she both liked being part of a multi-ethnic movement in which she could organize with farmworkers, students, and civil rights activists, and not feel that she was burdened by a sense of identity – which she thought of as her father’s intense sensitivity around perceived and real antisemitism.[65]  Yet she also prided herself on being the kind of Jew who opposed Zionism, and felt very much that she was carrying on the legacy of her parents.  “I didn’t feel there was a break,” she said, between her life in the New Left and her parents’ life, either in the kind of revolutionary work she was committed to in the SWP, or with her sense of what it meant to be Jewish.  Like Yuri Slezkine’s commentary on Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye the Dairyman” Hodel running off to be a revolutionary – even or especially an anti-Zionist one -- is in a larger Jewish sense, still all in the family.[66] 

New Left Anti-Fascism and (Jewish) Red Scare Memory

One reason for a Jewish left to oppose Zionism during the 1960s while also affirming a Jewish subjectivity may have been due to the way progressives tended to see the post-war prosperity in very different terms than large mainstream Jewish institutions such as AJC and ACJ and their adherents.  As Marc Dollinger writes, “American Jews celebrated the postwar consensus,” enjoying their “integrating into the suburbs” and finding “common ties” with their new often white, Christian neighbors.[67]  Along with this new consensus, of course, there was also a rapid rise in class ascension, fueled by the GI Bill, university entrance in greater numbers, and the beginning of the end of restrictive covenants backed by FHA loans – all things, it should be noted, denied to most African-Americans during the same period.  Yet while large numbers of Jews ascended into the middle class, for the many hundreds of thousands of Jews on the Communist and socialist left of the 1940s and the decade of the 1950s, the era of course, looked quite different.  For Jews on the left, whether in the Communist Party, as members of Communist affiliated unions and organizations, or simply people with strong left sympathies, the era appeared less as the birth of a new post-war consensus, and more like the emergence of a post-war fascism.                                                                                                                      

Several years before Philip Roth ironized Jewish assimilation in Goodbye Columbus, Jewish Communist writer Howard Fast published a different tale about Cold War Jewish life in the United States:Peekskill USA.  The short book is a first-person narrative of Fast’s role in the infamous Peekskill riot of 1949, in which gangs of right-wing vigilantes twice attacked the concert goers and supporters of Paul Robeson.  Fast was part of the initial organizing committee, using his name and reputation to help publicize the event, and on the first night, was also one of the concert attendees who organized resistance to the mobs: he and two dozen other men fought off the fascist attackers, protecting the concert space while others fled to safety. Fast’s analysis, supported by the Civil Rights Congress that urged him to write it, was that this event was the opening salvo of a new form of fascism that was emergent in American life.  As Fast writes, “thePeekskill affair was an important step in the preparation for the fascization of America and for the creation of receptive soil for the promulgation of World War III,” as a way he concluded to both prepare the U.S. for necessary “violence” to put down the left, and also begin preparations for new military conflict.[68]  As one of the many instances of “force and violence against the left” Fast saw the coming Cold War, what Dollinger refers to as “consensus,” as less a coming sign integration and liberal democracy, than as a right-wing purge of the left, and the intensification of a militarized state.[69]

The racial and political coordinates of the vigilante violence were quite stark to Fast.  The crowd that assaulted the concert goers shouted racist and antisemitic slurs, “screaming at us in a full frenzy…full of the taste of death,” promising that “every n- bastard dies here tonight!  Every Jew bastard dies here tonight.”[70]  Rather than just a random event or stray racial epithets, Fast cites both the ACLU and the Civil Rights Congress documentation of how both riots were premeditated, and done in full view of local and state police.  Fast not only witnessed police intermingling with the vigilantes, he watches as a cop “beat the windshield of the car in with his club while he drew his revolver with another hand, while “another policeman” was “smashing in the windshield of a car that asked for directions.”[71]  The racist and antisemitic rhetoric Fast also documents as systemic and premeditated.  Stickers were printed and plastered all over town reading “COMMUNISM IS TREASON.  BEHIND COMMUNISM THE JEW” and a statement from one of the groups organizing the riot read:

You Jews, and we mean you Communist Jews, have made yourself obnoxious and offensive to the American people, and you are only using the American Negro as a “Front” in your criminal un-American activities.[72]

Fast additionally documented an attempt to assassinate Robeson, with a sniper’s nest discovered in the trees behind the stage, and even before the full assault on the concert goers, black people were dragged out of cars in town and beaten in broad daylight.  Fast described the mob not as “lumpen” but as “prosperous-appearing men, well set up, well dressed, real estate men, grocery clerks, lunch counter attendants…” – not a rabble but “decent citizens” and civic leaders.[73]  It was an organized assault, from the top down.

Fast said he wrote the book to wake Americans up, for he felt Americans have an “amazing resistance…toward” the “acceptance” of an “unmistakable phenomenon – the cultivation and growth of American fascism.  We simply do not believe it.”[74]  As if to prove his own point, Fast himself documents multiple moments in the text when he either refuses to recognize what he is seeing, or refuses to listen to advice from people who had a better understanding of what transpired that week.  Frequently “Mrs M,” his children’s nurse, and a Black woman, admonished Fast for not understanding how “white folks behave” and left town before the second concert.[75]  Likwise, the night of the second concert, Fast frequently documents how he fails to comprehend what he sees:

"Then suddenly we had to slow down. The car ahead of us had fared worse than we; every window was smashed, even the rear window. I remember saying to R-

"The road is wet. They must have gotten the gas tank or the radiator."

There was a dark wetness that flowed out of the car ahead of us; and then we realized that it was blood, but an enormous flow of blood that ran from the car that way and into the road."

Even at the level of Fast's sentence, the "but" creates an opposition between what he sees and the enormity of it, revealing his own sense of unreality as he faced yet again another barrage of violence on the way out of the concert grounds. Through his Black nurse and his own feelings of unreality, Fast quietly documents not only the slowness of his own perceptual response, the much longer lineages of fascism his nurse seems far more aware of: “how white folks behave.”

Perhaps the most important Communist organization to make the connection between the U.S. and home-grown fascism was the Civil Rights Congress (CRC).   Founded in 1946 to replace the International Labor Defense, it took an explicitly antifascist approach to organizing against racism and anti-union suppression.  Placing the Holocaust at the center of its analysis of capitalism, William Patterson, its director, compared the fate of African-Americans in the United States to Jews under the Holocaust.  Furthering the analysis of Negritude theorist Aimé Césaire, Patterson held the origins of fascism lay in colonialism and slavery, systems that in an era of crisis, returned back to Europe to form fascism.  Following this logic, perhaps the CRC's most famous and controversial act was the We Charge Genocide petition delivered to the United Nations in 1951, claiming that under the U.N. charter, the United States was committing genocide against African-Americans, and U.N. intervention against lynching and Jim Crow was necessary.  What was remarkable about the CRC was that it was one of the few organizations with a sizeable grassroots Jewish and African-American membership and leadership to denounce the Rosenberg trial as a site of fascist violence.  One might even say that because of its Jewish and African-American members and leadership, it was uniquely suited to make such comparisons.  Unlike the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the NAACP that both denounced the Rosenbergs, the CRC connected the execution of the Rosenbergs to lynchings of African-Americans in the deep south and Nazi genocide in Europe[76].  The CRC, like the Communist Party and later the BPP saw the violent backlash against Communism, including the execution of the Rosenbergs, the bloody riot at Peekskill against Paul Robeson, and the jailing of Communists under the Smith Act as signs of incipient fascism.  Had the CRC not been banned in 1956 as a "subversive organization" under the same Act, it is very possible that it would have been among the groups sponsoring the BPP's "United Against Fascism" conference.  

Stanley Aronowitz's 1960s pamphlet on the specificity of American fascism likewise connects the Holocaust to the "systematic and conscious genocide against generations of blacks, both North and South," linking the Nazi mass murder to "lynchings" and the "brutality" with which "American Indians" were treated by an "advanced industrial country.”[77]  Aronowitz, who comes out of the left-labor tradition and was not allied with SDS, nonetheless saw in the Panther's description of the United States as fascist something that aligned with a longer left tradition in the United States.  Fascism for Aronowitz, is not merely a kind of lower middle-class populism, but a modality of rule that arises when the traditional modes of parliamentary hegemony are no longer sufficient to resolve contradictions or quell rebellion.  But rather than see fascism as a departure from normative modes of rule, fascism exists within and is an expression of U.S. liberal institutions, founded as they were on forms of capitalist violence.  Thus Aronowitz concludes, much like the CRC, that the "anticommunist purges" of the late 1940s and 1950s constituted a "prefascist stage" of American capitalism, which culminated in the "public trials of countless communists...the murder of Rosenbergs....witchhunts against trade unions....and the McCarren Act" which banned any organization affiliated with the Communist Party.[78]  Unlike the Zionists who might refer to the Holocaust as a form of Jewish exceptionalism, or radicals such as Tseng-Putterman who would order the Holocaust on a hierarchy, the CRC, Aronowitz, the CP and others thing of racial genocide and fascism in its many intersecting forms as a totality of capitalist rule. 

In this context, it makes sense that the most serious left-wing pamphlets and articles on antisemitism in the 1960s would appear from Marxist organizations.  While most New Left organizations had significant Jewish presence, their considerations centered on defending groups like SNCC and the BPP against charges of antisemitism for calls against Zionism.  In part because there is a lengthy Marxist literature on antisemitism, and in part from their own analysis of the role antisemitism plays in the construction of fascism, both the CPUSA and SWP devoted extensive resources to discussing the present role of antisemitism in America and its relationship to Zionism and the right.  Both CP and SWP publications do not single out antisemitism as a transcendent evil, nor mark the Holocaust as a singular event in human history.  Like Marcuse and the BPP, they locate the Holocaust within the larger structures of capitalism and imperialism, and see antisemitism as a structural and reoccurring feature of capitalist life.  In collection of essays in late 1970s on antisemitism and Zionism from Jewish Affairs, Communist author Hyman Lumer documents still active presence of antisemitism in American life.  Quoting from a University of California study, Lumer writes that two-thirds of Americans are antisemitic, one of third hold such views "private," another third are "outspoken antisemites" and a last tenth "advocate doing something to take 'power' from the Jews.”[79]  Lumer roots antisemitism in capitalism and imperialism, and in doing, places the "Nazi Holocaust" alongside the "millions of Africans" who "suffered death at the hands of slave traders" and the "genocidal extermination of the Indian people in the Western hemisphere.[80]  Like Hannah Arendt, Lumer locates antisemitism in both the economy in so far as he documents Jews' exclusion from "top executive and administrative positions" in banks, corporations, and elite universities, but he primarily aligns antisemitism as part of a political formation, the far right.[81]  "With a sharp swing toward reaction on the part of the Nixon administration....fascist elements...rise in an open, virulent expression of antisemitism," Lumer argues, further documenting the "desecration of synagogues" in recent months.[82]  Lumer who was one of the members of the Communist leadership who went underground in the 1950s and later arrested and jailed for a year under the Taft-Hartley Act for "conspiring to lie about membership in Communist Party" as an organizer in a labor union, was very familiar with both the fascist and antisemitic nature of the American state.  Like generations of Marxist critics before him, Lumer locates the rise of antisemitism as a means to deflect from the power of global capitalism, and shield the ruling classes from scrutiny. 

The specificity of antisemitism for the left, was not then simply an afterthought.  Pete Seidman, a red diaper baby whose father lost his job during the red scare, wrote the position paper for SWP on antisemitism.  While Seidman had been personally aware of antisemitism from a young age, as he was bullied and school and his father was a blacklisted former communist, it was the experience of being attacked by the ADL for SWP's support for Palestinians that goaded him into serious study on the question.  What is perhaps most remarkable about Seidman's study is the emphasis it places on the failures of liberal democracy to protect Jews from structural antisemitism both before and after WWII.  Antisemitism, for Seidman, is less a means for market liberalism to disavow the racial modalities of capital accumulation as Tseng-Putterman and Ratskoff suggest, than a structural part of the liberal state itself.  Focusing on the Roosevelt administration, Seidman shows how even while Roosevelt made token gestures toward Jewish inclusion and courted Jewish leaders of well-heeled organizations, on its most fateful policy decision, whether to allow Jewish refugees from Europe fleeing fascism, Roosevelt collaborated with assimilationist Jewish organizations to keep Jewish refugees out.  Not only did the Roosevelt administration not raise quotas, it intervened to ensure that even existing quotas were not filled, even after Kristallnacht made the Nazis' plans quite clear.  This did not change even after the full knowledge of the Holocaust was widely shared:  Roosevelt and later Truman's policy of keeping Jewish refugees out of the United States remained -- fearing that Jews, as the Nazis felt, would bring with them communism and other "unassimilable" ideas.  For Seidman, the Roosevelt administration's refusal to allow Jewish refugees was entirely in line with the antisemitic culture of assimilation, enthusiastically embraced by many Jewish organizations, including B'nai B'rith and the AJC, which felt that becoming "good Americans" was important than rescuing Jews from the Holocaust.  Seidman goes so far as to accuse the Roosevelt administration of conscious antisemitism, noting that despite the "carefully cultivated reputation as a friend and benefactor of the Jews," placed a know antisemite and fascist sympathizer, Breckinridge Long, in charge the administration's Jewish refugee policy.[83]