Letter to the Damned of Israel

Abraham Serfaty. Translation: Meriam Mabrouk and Joe Haynes

28 September 1982.

To my brother and sister Arab Jews, oppressed in Israel.

My brothers, my sisters, I am writing to you from the depths of a prison where I am being held as a revolutionary, in the same country from which you were chased. It is now twenty or thirty years since the lies of the Moroccan Jewish bourgeoisie pulled you into the trap that is Zionism. The discriminatory and racist politics of the majority of the Moroccan Muslim bourgeoisie did the rest, even whilst you were under the supposedly protective tutelage of the Moroccan regime, itself nothing but a feudal subjugator, reinforced by the racist brutalities of the police. Since 1961, this regime never hesitated to sell you off to Zionism.

My brothers, my sisters, I address myself to you in order to speak of your future and the future of your children. I would like to speak to you about the struggles you will have to undertake, if you have not already, to guarantee your children the justice, the peace, and the dignity that your exploiters have denied you up until the present, in your country of origin just as much as in the land of Palestine; a land which you were assured would be a happy and welcoming one for you, with a state, the state of Israel, that you were told was founded by your Jewish brothers.

Your brothers; what bitter irony! They are your oppressors. They despise you, only calling you ‘Oriental’ or ‘Sephardic’ to further deny your identity, and in their own jargon referring to you as schwartze. They deny you access to education, to skilled work, to dignity. They reduce you to workhorses for the most backbreaking of labours and to cannon fodder for their army, with their senseless, criminal dreams of domination and conquest. They refuse you even the chance to exercise the religion that our forefathers practiced for centuries. They have transformed this religion of peace, of justice, of mutual respect, into one of hate, of war, of injustice.

What a shame for the sacred memory of our forefathers! Murderers like [Menachem] Begin and [Ariel] Sharon, having their mercenaries massacre women, children, the old, in the name of Judaism. What shame; what sacrilege!


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.


Begin posed as someone who would put an end to the racism and the discrimination of which you are the victims. Begin is a terrorist trained in the fascist, Hitlerian demagoguery of Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist party: a party that can accurately be described as a Jewish variant of fascism, with which he marched in the 1930s in brownshirt, chanting ‘Germany for Hitler, Italy for Mussolini, Palestine for us!’ This fascist demagogue claims that the discrimination which you suffer is merely the result of Labour Party policy. But has racism and discrimination decreased over the five years that Begin has been in power? Has your lot improved? Quite the contrary. Has Begin’s placing in his cabinet – like a puppet – a careerist such as David Levy changed anything in your life, in your misery? Your future and that of your children remains just as impassably blocked, whilst the madness of colonisation and conquest never stops worsening, dragging you further into cycles of massacres and death. Going from a Peres to a Begin or back again will not and cannot change anything: The situation will remain thus, as long as this oppressive, racist, conquering regime persists.

Indeed, the root of the problem is not to be found in the knesset’s puppet show. It is in the racist nature of the regime that oppresses you, a nature that cannot be altered by a change of leader nor of party, but only by a radical change of the regime itself. In Israel, such a change could never come through the parliamentary way. It will be the result of struggle – of your struggle and that of all those oppressed people who are suffering under this yoke. And in your case, the first thing to do is to bring your fight to the streets.

Remember my brothers, my sisters, how the demonstrations of the Black Panthers almost twelve years ago shook the regime far more than a dozen electoral cycles would. You have expressed your anger – but without organisation, without a programme, without definite objectives. As a consequence, this historic movement was appropriated by professional politicians and thus lost to the quicksands of Israeli “democracy”: a democracy like that of Ancient Rome, in which you are the plebeians, kept in the slums and in ignorance; a democracy that for you means oppression, and for the Palestinian people, massacre; a democracy where real power is held by a barbarous military junta made up of solidly fascist generals, from Raphael Eytan, to Mordechai Gur, to Ariel Sharon. The deeper reality of this regime, founded on the racist, expansionist essence of Zionism and its organic alliance with imperialism, is that it is a forward military base for American imperialism’s domination of the entire Middle East – a military base of which the Euro-Americans, the “Ashkenazis”, are the pilots and technicians, and of which you are the workhorses and cannon fodder.

Such is the reality of this regime; such is its nature!

It is founded on a racist ideology, one which has nothing to do with the religion of our forefathers and which was rejected from the beginning by the rabbis of Europe, of America, and of the Arab countries. This ideology was only able to impose itself as a result of the capitalist Jewish bourgeoisie taking it up in the context of first Britain’s, then America’s conquests. The Zionist leaders did not hesitate to use the Nazi holocaust to drag the whole of European and American Jewry into their venture, making them, as required, the objective accomplices of the holocaust. In 1938, for example, Ben Gurion was opposed to every offer of evacuation of German Jews to England and the United States (see his 17 December 1938 letter to the Zionist General Council).

Zionism, this racist and chauvinist ideology born from the crisis of Judaism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century in the context of European colonial expansion, is contrary to all the traditions and all the achievements of European Judaism: The same tradition that gave the world Spinoza, Einstein, Freud, and so many others.

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. The splendour of al-Andalous’ golden centuries continues, moreover, to illuminate our culture through works such as the Zohar: an expression of this symbiotic relationship that did not cease to bring its message of fraternity and justice from the bottom of the valleys to the very tops of mountains, and across the plains where our mothers and fathers laboured. Since it reaffirms the essential content of the biblical message – a universalist call for justice and human dignity – the Zohar is opposed to the distortions that the ancient Hebrew state itself introduced (for the purposes of its dominant classes), as well as to the various legacies of that same tribal fanaticism.

Today it is Zionism, this tribal and racist ideology of modern times, that exalts fanaticism. Witness how the criminal Zionist leaders and the sacrilegious rabbis, created by and in the pay of the Zionist apparatus, deform the biblical message and deny its fundamental reality – one which has, through both Christianity and Islam, won over half of humanity. That message, enriched by the Gospels and Liberation Theology, served as a clarion call for the oppressed masses of Latin America; that message which, throughout history, has been the unshakeable core around which Judaism has maintained itself, despite all persecution. Thus the sacrilegious Zionist leaders overturn the religion of our fathers, transforming it into an ideology of racial hatred and war. This ideology, and the state apparatus which upholds it, has incessantly aroused in you a hatred of our Palestinian brothers – of our Arab brothers – only in order to make cannon fodder of you, as required for their criminal, senseless projects.

Zionism, an ideology that issued from colonial Europe and that is a foreigner to the historical essence of Judaism, is above all an ideology of war and conquest. The aim of Zionist leaders – the aim of Ben Gourion, who had nothing but contempt for you and your culture – was to create a “Greater Israel” from the Nile to the Euphrates. As bloodthirsty a villain as Sharon, crazed with ambition, pushes for still more conquest, wanting to impose Israeli hegemony from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean – even into the heart of Africa! The Lebanese war, the massacre of the Lebanese and the Palestinians, the death of your brothers and of your sons who died only to satisfy the dreams of Begin, Sharon and other Zionist leaders: this entire parade of crimes and tragedies is but another phase of the insane fantasy pursued by the Zionist clique with such great perseverance for more than half a century. Every means is acceptable – lies, crimes, wars – none of which will end except by the defeat of these dangerous men and their political and military apparatus.

This ideology of war and conquest, this ideology of insane rogues, is above all a racist ideology. It is the Jewish counterpart of Hitlerism. Hitler made the Jews the least of the ‘races’ … along with Arabs. Zionism does not change this hierarchy, other than to make Jews the first of the ‘races’.

It is imperative and indeed urgent to put an end to the myths of the “Jewish people” and the “Chosen people” on which the Zionist ideology is based. These ideas, born in the tribal period of the history of the Hebrews, must be rejected in our era . Do you form one people with your oppressors? What an insult! Both the Arab Jewish and European Jewish traditions view this notion as having a purely religious content: the “Jewish people” is therein analogous to the Islamic “Ummah” or to “Christendom”. As for the idea of a “Chosen people” – whose inanity Spinoza has shown – the great Jewish thinkers of Andalusian mysticism and their Arab successors understood it as a requirement that Jews behave, wherever they find themselves, justly: thus they would encourage the advent of God’s Kingdom on earth, bringing a reign of justice and peace forall people. Today, in a time when the great religions have abandoned their pretensions of superiority over other faiths and when dialogue between believers and non-believers is finally allowed, it is time for Judaism to definitively move beyond this notion. Thus it would conform to the universal content of its own religion as well as its historical dynamic, and could thus overcome the fatal regression that Zionism has caused.

Indeed, as Martin Buber has written, “Once religious rites and dogmas have become so rigid that religious feeling is no longer able to alter them, or even comply with them, then the religion itself becomes uncreative and therefore a source of falsehood.”

Martin Buber speaks out against the ultimate mendacity of such a tendency without understanding that it is inherent to the fundamental logic of Zionism. This logic wants to reduce Judaism to the tribal mores it knew two thousand years ago, making Judaism another form of racism. It proclaims the State of Israel a “Jewish state above all”, just as Hitler proclaimed Germany “Aryan”.

In order to achieve its mythical, mad objectives, Zionism must above all erase “the Arab”. It must first of all disappear the Arab Palestinians as a people without hesitating to resort to genocide, as in the cases of Sabra and Shatilla, and indeed throughout its long and bloody history since 1948, at Deir Yassin, Qibya, and Kafr Qasim. Zionism must reduce the Arab to a sub-human, and certain ideologues are happy to justify this erasure. 

This is why Zionism, in its racist anti-Arab logic, wants to debase you too to this condition, even whilst proclaiming you as full citizens of the state of Israel as Jews. This citizenship is nothing more than the citizenship of the plebeians of ancient Rome. It is precisely here that the reality of Zionism is unveiled: you are Jews, but you are Arab Jews. Your conception of life, your culture, and even your practices of Judaism are rooted in the centuries-old past, in the lands of the Atlas Mountains, of Yemen and Iraq, which our ancestors contributed to shaping. An Arab culture that was as equally enriched by the Jewish Arab philosopher Moses Ben Maimoun as it was by the Muslim Arab philosopher Ibn Rushd; an Arab culture of the interwoven songs and dances of peasants and artisans, of Muslims and Jews, from the mountains of Yemen to the oases of Tafilalt.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel – hold your heads high! This culture, our culture, is a culture of peace and justice, of harmony with nature, of familial and social warmth, and of fraternity and dignity.

What is this so-called “culture” that your oppressors want to impose? It is a mechanism of death and hatred, a world of bunkers and shrapnel that uproots the thousand-year-old olive tree in order to displace Palestinian peasants, and that makes of you slaves of Euro-American capital and indeed as the intended victims of its military maneuvers. What is this so-called “culture”, my proud and dignified sisters, that reduces many of you to prostitution? And you, my brothers, to unemployment and the misery of slums?

Hold your heads high! Wrest your freedom and your dignity from oppression! Destroy your oppressors and build a just society, a society of peace and fraternity!

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel, I am writing to you because even in the summer of 1982 – marked by the bloody reality and murderous insanity of the Zionist political-military apparatus, culminating on Rosh Hashanah, crimson with the blood of the innocents of Sabra and Shatila – a prospect for peace nevertheless lies before you. In the face of the Camp David fraud, the road to a realistic and lasting peace lies before you, in opposition to this murderous insanity.

Such is the objective of the realistic program of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO), sole representative of the Palestinian people, as adopted in Fez[1] alongside almost all the Arab states. I must insist that this program should be viewed as the PLO conceived it, that is, as a whole with eight inseparable points. It is important not to allow yourselves to be influenced by the propaganda claiming that this program is the PLO’s first step towards a capitulation, one which would converge with the projects of Ronald Reagan, Shimon Peres, and King Hussein.[2] Those latter projects are incompatible with the raison d’être of the Palestinian revolution: to win back the homeland whilst taking into account the right to life, peace, dignity, and respect for the culture of Jews who, deceived by Zionism, settled on this land.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel: I am a revolutionary militant. I have paid enough in struggle and sacrifices to be without personal ambition, and to have acquired a certain degree of lucidity. I know that the fight is hard, and that it will be harder for many years to come. I know that I will not personally witness the victory of this struggle, which is inevitable. It is with full responsibility that I am addressing you. I do not tell you to trust the heads of Arab states, whether feudal or bourgeois, kings or emirs, generals or colonels. You know the responsibility that they bear, both those who were and those who were not at Fez – a responsibility that lies in their false independence and in racist and chauvinistic demagoguery. They forced you to leave the land of your ancestors for your current exile: No, I will not ask you to trust them.

However, I know the people of Palestine, its militants and leaders. Strengthened by half a century of suffering and struggles, rooted in the millenial culture of the Holy Land, the Palestinian people are by far the most advanced of all Arab peoples. The Zionist rulers hailing from Europe, from Ben-Gurion to Begin, wanted to tear them away from this land where Muslims, Christians, and Jews have continuously lived in fraternal harmony for thirteen centuries, the imprint of which the Palestinians bear. The Palestinian people’s leaders and organisations were forged in the fire of one of the most difficult revolutionary struggles of this century; they carry the best that humanity has built in its long, painful march towards a society of justice.

Since the Palestinian people began their revolution, which allowed them to assert themselves as a conscious people with their own organisation — the Palestine Liberation Organisation, independent of any external control and their sole legitimate representative — they have continuously reassured all Jews settled in Palestine that there is a possibility of living in peace on this land. Whilst continuing their legitimate fight to liberate Palestine, they promise Jews full respect for their democratic rights and full equality of religion and language, under the condition that they renounce Zionism, which is in its essence opposed to a just and humane solution. Since January 1969, the Palestinian people have not stopped affirming this noble objective, each time more concretely. And, since 1975, they have clarified the steps needed to achieve it.

The Fez Initiative is part of this search for a realistic and viable route to peace. Certainly, it does not require Israeli Jews to renounce Zionism for specific, concrete steps to be achieved. The Palestinian people have reaffirmed, through the voice of their leader Yasser Arafat, their determination to maintain their legitimate resistance across all of the territories occupied since June 1967, and that by all means: “nothing more, nothing less”. The Palestinian people resists occupation and colonisation, as well as the terror inflicted by the leading Zionist clique, alongside their diplomatic efforts to implement the Fez Initiative.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel! Personally, I am convinced that the Zionist rulers — Begin, Peres, and the military clique who are the true masters of the state of Israel — will by every means block such a route to peace, and will not hide it either. Nevertheless, it is the only possible path, since the Palestinian people will accept neither submission nor any other form of capitulation: they will never renounce their legitimate and inalienable right to win back a homeland that was forcibly seized from them. This path – the only path towards a just and lasting peace for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews – is contrary to the very essence of Zionism, which can only bring its unreasonable, fanatical project to fruition through the negation of the Palestinian people. Thus, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, however deranged it may seem, speaks to the objective of the barbaric and criminal Zionist leaders: to block this opening to peace, precisely because it is realistic and viable.

The path to peace is possible. However, it is only possible if you throw off the yoke of your oppressors, the yoke of the Zionist apparatus. What is Zionism for you, concretely? What has it brought to you other than evermore suffering and misery? It has killed even hope. What is Zionism concretely, if not an institutional, political and military structure that ensures – through its interpenetration with the Jewish capitalist bourgeoisie of Western Europe and the United States – the survival and strength of the Euro-American caste that oppresses you? Within this structure, Israel is linked principally with American imperialism, which itself views the country as nothing but a means of dominating the region and as an immense advanced military base – of which you are the cannon fodder.

By fighting against the political apparatus of Zionism, against Begin, Peres, and the others, and by refusing to follow its military clique in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, you will fight against the core of your oppression: you will fight both for your liberation and a future of lasting peace for you and your children in the Near East.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel! I cannot, from my prison, thousands of kilometers away from the social and political reality that you live, tell you how or through which political and social organisations, whether they exist or are yet to be created, to proceed, though I aim to follow your struggle both with heart and mind. It seems certain to me that any organisation that claims to be Zionist can only reinforce your oppression, even as it claims to do the opposite. It also appears certain to me that you must get closer, within and for this struggle, to your Palestinian Arab brothers onto whom the status of ‘Israeli citizens’ was imposed. You must refuse to take part in any acts of repression aimed at our Palestinian brothers in the occupied territories, and in any military adventures, whether they be in Lebanon or elsewhere. Undoubtedly, you must fight alongside other progressive Israeli Jews, who work courageously for a real and lasting peace, for the evacuation of all territories occupied since 1967, and protest against the bloody and criminal maneuvers of Zionist leaders.

However, I do not think that this should prevent you from simultaneously asserting yourselves specifically as Arab Jews politically, culturally, and in all areas of social and political action. Take control of your culture and your identity; they are your primary weapons of liberation! But, of course, do not let your struggle be hijacked by these opportunists who only flaunt the label of “Sephardic” to better succeed in their careers and political ambitions, whether they be unscrupulous demagogues like David Levy, bourgeois politicians like Yitzhak Navon, or corrupt rabbis like Abouhatzeira, who tarnish the names of the long line of rabbis of the people, righteous and respected.

You are Arab Jews, my brothers and sisters; you are, we are, Arabs. You are also oppressed workers, and it is alongside your fellow oppressed workers, and above all, alongside other Arab workers, that you must fight your battle – all without allowing yourselves to dissociate from your identity. On the contrary, the more you can assert your identity in this fight, the more it can be incorporated into the shared struggle with all Arab workers and the oppressed of Israel, in the shared struggle with the first victims of Zionist and racist oppression, our Palestinian brothers, and in the shared struggle with all the progressive voices of Israel. With regards to the latter in particular, one must be careful not to counter the anti-“Oriental Jewish” racism of the Zionist political military clique with a reversed, anti-“Ashkenazi” racism. The more you are able to reclaim and reassert your identity, the more you will be able to overcome the divisions and mistrust between yourselves and your brothers in oppression and struggle: all of your brothers in oppression and struggle!

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel, to say more would be presumptuous on my part. This is an appeal for militancy, for dignity, for a future of peace and justice. In a secular state of Israel – freed from Zionist oppression and racism; having evacuated from all the territories occupied since June 1967 and rectified the injustices of the 1948 colonial aggression; having rid itself of the tutelage of American imperialism and its role as aggressor against the whole Near East – you and all the citizens of this state will be able to work fraternally alongside a Palestinian state, preparing for a shared future where the Holy Land, the land of Palestine in its entirety, will become a Palestinian, democratic, secular, reunified state. It would then be a beacon of light for all humanity, and above all, for the entire Arab region — not that of kings, emirs, generals and colonels, but founded by the Arab peoples, liberated from imperialist oppression, feudal and comprador reaction, and the so-called bourgeois saviours. Thus, in this glorious land of Palestine, in which fraternal unity has been reconstructed and taken to a higher level, Arab Judaism will be able to flourish. It will exist in creative and democratic harmony with all the other Islamic and Christian components of Palestinian society – an Arab culture and a Palestinian people of tomorrow. Similarly, the distinctive culture of those European Jews that the tragedies of history have discarded onto this sacred land and who remain attached to it, will be able to assert themselves and integrate into its culture, both themselves and their descendants. And thereby, simultaneously, the spiritual home of Judaism as a religion – the objective need for which is the only explanation for the irrational attachment that so many Jews across the world have towards the state of Israel as a Jewish state – would be attained in the Holy Land.

My Arab Jewish brothers and sisters, oppressed in Israel.

Such is the noble prospect before you. Such is the path that your vital struggle must follow.

Rise up against your oppressors, against the racist and criminal Zionist rulers!

For peace, fraternity, justice, for dignity, arise!

[1] Translators’ note: the Fes Initiative’s eight-point document is provided in the appendix.

[2] Editors’ note: History has unfortunately proven Serfaty - and the PLO majority which he was echoing - wrong on this particular claim. By abandoning the strategy that focussed on the liberation of the entirety of Palestine, the PLO opened the way for the Oslo accords, the institutionalisation of the Palestinian bourgeoisie within the structures of the Palestinian Authority, and the bantustanisation of its territory and people (see Farsakh 2005). Since this historic defeat, the Palestinian revolution has rejected this approach and returned to an approach which struggles for the liberation of the whole of historic Palestine, including in the lands colonised in 1948, and all of its people.