Really existing Zionism



Recognizing the centrality of colonialism against Palestinians in the formation of contemporary Jewish identity is an important step towards the decolonization of Palestine and Judaism

Since June 2013, when a mass movement took to the streets of Brazil, the country has experienced significant political polarization. This movement had an impact on the way Brazilian society and the Jewish community related to the Palestine/Israel issue. On the left, a growing number of social movements and political parties, such as PSol, have committed to a stance of radical solidarity with the Palestinians, adopting the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement as part of their platform. On the right, Israel began to play a central role in the political agendas of evangelical and neo-fascist groups that formed the basis of Jair Bolsonaro's government, elected in 2018.

In 2017, a group of far-right Zionist Jews invited Jair Bolsonaro to give a lecture at a Jewish leisure club in Rio de Janeiro. Amid laughter and applause from an audience of more than three hundred Jews, Jair Bolsonaro openly attacked Brazil's indigenous and quilombola communities. “Not one centimeter will be demarcated for an indigenous or quilombola reserve. Where there is indigenous land, there is wealth [to be explored] underneath’.

Outside the club, a crowd of more than a hundred protesters, made up mainly of young Jews from left-wing Zionist youth movements, condemned Jair Bolsonaro's presence, waved Israeli flags and sang in Hebrew. Protesters expressed their disapproval not only of Jair Bolsonaro's approach to Brazilian politics, but also Israeli politics. “Zionist Jews don’t vote for fascists,” they shouted. Left-wing Zionist intellectuals considered the event an important milestone that signified an unprecedented rupture in the hegemony of the progressive-liberal agenda of the Brazilian Jewish community.

In fact, the demonstration would lead to a public repositioning of Zionist Jews who support progressive agendas to join the rest of the Brazilian left in defending oppressed peoples and in the fight against fascism. From the point of view of left-wing Zionists, anti-Semitism on the pro-BDS radical left is the reason they are excluded from both the fight for justice in the Middle East and the battle against the Brazilian far right. According to them, the Brazilian extreme right and extreme left defend an “imaginary Israel” that rejects the plurality of Zionism and Israel.

According to this logic, left-wing Zionism would represent the only viable alternative against “extremism”. Left-wing Zionists argue that only dialogue would be able to resolve the Palestine/Israel issue and the differences within the Jewish community and the Brazilian left. This neoliberal discourse that states that “there is no alternative” has managed to attract growing support among Brazilian Jews and relevant sectors of the Brazilian left who are in denial about the reality in Palestine/Israel.

It is possible to observe a global crisis of left-wing Zionism, from Israel to Brazil, the United States and the United Kingdom. Jewish communities around the world underwent transformations in race and class relations after World War II. This explains, in part, why Brazilian Jews did not complete the polarization noted in Brazilian society to join the anti-Zionist left, instead, they joined the neo-fascist right.

Based on an analysis of the intellectual reflections and actions of this group, we argue that, with the help of Zionist elites and the coercion of the Brazilian state, left-wing Zionists act as guardians to prevent left-wing Jews and sectors of the moderate left compose radical movements for the emancipation of oppressed and exploited peoples in Brazil and Palestine. In this way, they manage to support both Israeli colonial claims to sovereignty over Palestinian territory and the legitimacy of Zionism within the Brazilian left.

We base our critique on reflections from anti-Zionist Jews, anti-colonial and colonial perspectives to demonstrate how left-wing Zionism functions as a soft and paternalistic version of the old colonial chauvinism. To do this, we tested the hypothesis presented by the American Jewish Marxist Alexander Bittelman, in 1947, that Zionists align themselves with the reactionary forces of the nation-state in which they live.

We understand the praxis of the Zionist left as a counter-revolutionary strategy to maintain the hegemony of liberal Zionism based on the exclusion of anti-Zionist alternatives, inside and outside the Jewish community. The historical analysis of the politics of the Jewish anti-Zionist movement breaks with the idea of ​​a harmonious coexistence within the Jewish community claimed by the Brazilian Zionist left.

The erasure of the anti-Zionist Jewish left from the history of the Brazilian Jewish community is a direct result of its historic defeat against Zionism. The academy has been an important tool that has helped liberal Zionism maintain its hegemony in the country. The few Brazilian authors who approach the particularity of the Jewish question from a Marxist point of view are invariably accused of falling into essentialism when dealing with the relationship between Jews and anti-Zionist communist movements.

We propose an alternative reflection that examines the anti-Zionist Jewish left, racism and colonialism as key elements to understand the contradictions between the Zionism that actually exists in Palestine and the progressive-liberal hegemony that prevails in the Jewish community in Brazil. Our aim is to provide a counter-hegemonic critique for an emancipatory praxis that rejects colonialism and understands the particularity of the Jewish question without subjecting it to class analysis.

First, we present the dominant literature's understanding of the role played by the Zionist left in the Jewish community and in Brazilian society in general. Next, we present a critique of the concept of “imaginary Israel” and locate it within the counter-revolutionary praxis of the Zionist left. Finally, we point out the ways in which the Zionist movement has acted to dismantle anti-Zionist Jewish alternatives in Brazil. 

The crisis of the progressive-liberal hegemony of the Brazilian Jewish-Zionist community

Alignment with the WZO was at the base of the Zionist movement in Brazil in the 1910s. It ended up becoming more dynamic when, in 1927, Russian immigrant Aron Bergman founded the Brazilian headquarters of the WZO. Poalei Tzion in Rio de Janeiro. Socialist Zionists constituted the majority of the Jewish community in the late 1930s and were responsible for building schools, libraries and youth movements, which formed its main social base.

These entities played a fundamental role in the expansion of Zionism, in the establishment of Hebrew as the Jewish national language, in the support of the Brazilian State for Israel and in the mobilization of financial and human resources for the Zionist colonization of Palestine, such as military training in youth camps for the training of new settlers.

According to Mônica Grin, the post-World War II period was marked by the rise of the progressive-liberal agenda in the Jewish community. The democratization of the country after 1945, after the end of the Estado Novo, resulted in a new model of institutions that represented the Jewish community in a territorial way. These entities were run by Zionist elites to represent all Jews in Brazilian society, especially before the national government. However, they were open to anti-Zionist groups, which were still numerous at the time, but remained independent.

The Jewish community's positions in favor of human rights, social justice, the fight against anti-Semitism and the defense of Israel as a democratic nation among the authoritarian countries of the Middle East would form a basis for a new social cohesion.

The defense of universal rights and democracy, in particular, and the expansion of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities would lead to Jews having their rights respected as individuals and as a group. This agenda created links with other social groups in support of national multiculturalism, religious freedom and the fight against racism. She transformed several progressive groups in society, such as sectors of the Catholic Church and the Black Movement, into allies in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Another example includes the alliances between left-wing Zionist groups and the Brazilian left. According to Michel Gherman, the relationship between Zionists and the Brazilian left went from empathy in the 1930s to hostility at the beginning of the XNUMXst century. According to him, even before the recognition of Israel by the USSR, there was closeness between left-wing Zionists and the PCB, the main representative of the Brazilian revolutionary left at the time. There was even sympathy among sectors of the PCB for the collectivist aspects of the Jewish State.

Even at the height of the “Zionization” of the Jewish community after the 1967 war, there was a relative proximity between left-wing Zionism and the Brazilian left. This proximity persisted during the country's redemocratization in the 1980s, when Zionist groups approached the PT, the main party of the Brazilian left, which adopted the international liberal consensus of peace, coexistence and two states. Thus, both Jews and the left embraced the “critically Zionist” position.

However, this liberal Zionist hegemony would go through a crisis after the Second Intifada (2000-2006), when, according to Michel Gherman, binary interpretations would result in extremist positions on the Brazilian left in relation to Israel and Zionism. This type of criticism from the left has confused Jewish, Zionist and Israeli identities.

Michel Gherman purposefully confuses anti-Zionist critiques of left-wing Zionism with isolated anti-Semitic statements from individuals on the Brazilian left. He states that the same reasoning underpins texts that accuse “minority groups of Jewish origin” of possessing a “hidden power” that would help them dominate the world and those that point out the structural characteristics of settler colonial Zionism in Palestine, including on the left. Zionist.

Therefore, any criticism of left-wing Zionism and its colonial characteristics could easily be framed as a denial of its possibility of existence. Left-wing anti-Zionism would be a new type of anti-Semitism. “In this sense, Jews cannot be right-wing or left-wing; they are exclusively Jews. Zionism, here, takes the place of an 'original Judaism', replacing the typical accusations found in traditional forms of political anti-Semitism... Brazilian Jews are seen as 'representatives' of a supposed 'Zionism' that is determined to defend the interests of Israel. Not exactly the real State of Israel, but an imaginary State, which has superpowers and is capable of exploiting and dominating other countries and economic systems.”

Furthermore, according to Michel Gherman, the BDS movement encourages “dangerous and widespread” confusion between Zionists, Jews and Israel, allowing the anti-Semitic left to reaffirm its position in support of boycott campaigns. Thus, BDS Brazil would benefit from left-wing anti-Semitism: “BDS activists appear to exploit the confusion between Jewish national and Jewish religious identities, between Jews and Israel, between Israel and the attitudes of specific Israeli governments, in order to reinforce their influence and political agenda among specific Brazilian political groups”.

On the other hand, Gherman, Grin and Caraciki understand the political growth of conservative evangelical groups in 2010, historical defenders of Israel, as a factor that pressured Jair Bolsonaro to embrace Israel as an ally in defending Western Judeo-Christian values ​​against threats coming from from the East, Islam and the left. In 2014, Jair Bolsonaro was baptized by an evangelical leader to gain the support of evangelicals. Since his inauguration, Jair Bolsonaro has become one of Israel's main partners and Israeli flags have become omnipresent in Brazilian far-right demonstrations.

As a result, this has triggered a neo-Zionist and ultra-conservative agenda led by previously marginalized far-right groups within the Jewish community. These groups sought to break with the progressive-liberal consensus and exclude “critically Zionist” Jews. Far-right Israel apologist groups have replaced left-wing movements as the main allies of Zionist elites.

Therefore, we would be witnessing a “deconversion” of left-wing Zionists, along with a symbolic conversion of evangelicals and Jair Bolsonaro’s supporters of Israel. Far-right Zionist groups, who consider themselves the “true” representatives of Jewish interests in Brazil, would be promoting a “cleansing” of Jewish-Zionist entities. This would be causing a breakdown in solidarity within the Jewish community and a crisis of representation supposedly never seen before.

A novelty that supports the alignment between evangelical extremism, Bolsonarist fascism and ultranationalist Jews is their essentially positive view of Jews, Zionists and Israel as defenders of their moral and political values. In fact, for liberal Zionist intellectuals, this essentially positive representation would not be a form of anti-Semitism, although many, including Jair Bolsonaro himself, defend openly anti-Semitic positions. In other words, their ultra-Zionist and anti-Semitic positions do not overlap, but exist as complementary phenomena. On the left, however, there would be an overlap between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

The depoliticizing structure of “imaginary Israel”

As a way of explaining the hegemony crisis of liberal Zionism, Michel Gherman developed the concept of an “imaginary Israel”, which is transmuted with that of the “imaginary Jew”, developed by Alain Finkielkraut for France at the end of the 20th century. For Michel Gherman, as well as for Finkielkraut, there were, both on the left and on the right, social constructions responsible for making Jews and, by extension, Israel, exceptional and guided by a supposed essentialist nature.

The left would see the Jewish-Zionist-Israel link as racist, colonizing, imperialist, capitalist and right-wing. The right would interpret this link as religiosity, messianism, conservatism and the defense of Western Judeo-Christian society. None of these imaginary perspectives would have room for the plurality and diversity of the “true Jew” or for the various types of Zionism and opposing strands in Israeli society.

“The new Brazilian right seems to attract groups from the new left. And, in a bear hug, this ends up killing both, since the most important thing is to suffocate those who contradict the versions of both sides, in this case, progressive Jews, liberals, left-wing Zionists.”

The theoretical elaboration of ‘Imaginary Israel’ has guided, in particular, the actions of IBI, an organization founded in 2017 that advocates a liberal Zionism that brings together left and right liberals in defense of a progressive-liberal hegemony. Its actions are aimed at entities representing the Jewish-Zionist community and important circles in Brazilian society, such as literary festivals, film fairs, political parties, media and public universities.

The IBI slogan, “Zionism is plural”, functions as a veil of multicultural tolerance behind which hides the ambition to antagonize criticism from Palestinians and radical left-wing movements that point to the colonial characteristic of Zionism actually existing in Palestine. For Michel Gherman, director of IBI, and Thomaz, pointing out the ways in which colonialism structures reality in Palestine/Israel constitutes a misrepresentation that erases the complexity of the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict”, in an argument similar to that which wishes to erase the complexity of the Jews.

According to IBI president David Diesendruck, the organization was funded as a reaction to the “pain” caused by polarization in Brazilian society.[38] In ethnographic research carried out between 2015 and 2017 with Brazilian Jews who identify as left-wing Zionists, Bianca Marcossi noticed a shared pain among those who claim this identity. This suffering would be due to isolation and marginalization in Brazilian society as a result of polarization around the Palestine/Israel issue.

The common basis of left-wing Brazilian Zionists includes support for the Palestinian State and the end of the occupation of Palestinian territories, in addition to Zionism based on humanist and Jewish ethical values. Marcossi notes a common effort by left-wing Zionists to self-define their Zionist identity in an idealistic way that has no correlation with actually existing Zionism.

Marcossi highlights how this desire to end the occupation is considered a necessary priority to save Israel and the Zionism that they understand to be true: the one that would have existed until 1967, before the “deviation” caused by the Zionist right. This “deviation” discourse is also observed in the criticism of the actions of the Zionist extreme right against the liberal consensus in the Brazilian Jewish community.

Left-wing Zionist intellectuals wish to redefine this individual suffering as an identity with a privileged perspective that allows a better understanding of reality, positioning themselves on two sides: the left and Zionism. They intend to make their political proposal of “two states for two peoples” the most rational, as it is based on a privileged experience of suffering that seeks moderation. While the far right defends an apartheid state, resulting from its ambitions to annex the West Bank, the project of a democratic binational state is gaining ground on the left.

In the words of IBI's executive coordinator, Rafael Kruchin: “on the left and on the right in Brazil, there is a clear dichotomy that opposes those who fight against 'barbarism' and those who fight against 'colonialism'... Each side of this binary reality sees and proclaims itself as the locus of excellence and clarity, and does not seem, at the current moment, willing to rethink its classification categories... We need to start talking about concrete alternatives to the current situation and, who knows, the possible two-way solution States.

Therefore, “Imaginary Israel” serves as a theory of liberal Zionism to resume the two-state project and reestablish a liberal-progressive hegemony in the Brazilian Jewish community through the strategy of dialogue. This structure seems critical, but it is based on a false polarization that equates left and right in a “horseshoe theory.”

In this paradigm, the political spectrum would be shaped like a horseshoe, which would make the extreme left closer to the extreme right than the center-left. Therefore, left and right would not have qualitative or teleological differences.

According to Sabrina Fernandes, the “horseshoe theory” can only be observed in an environment of great depoliticization like that of Brazil since June 2013. The idea of ​​a plurality against “binarisms” defended by the paradigm of the “imaginary Israel” of the left Zionism imposes a depoliticization that demobilizes the structural antagonisms resulting from the settler colonial reality at the root of the inequalities of power and the conditions of oppression and exploitation between Jews and Palestinians. Consequently, it constructs a representation in which the conflict ceases to be colonial and becomes between liberals and extremists. “Imaginary Israel” is an ideology that justifies the role of left-wing Zionists as guardians of the Jewish community and the moderate left against the increasingly “extremist” positions of the radical left. In this false representation of reality, leftist Zionists are equal to Palestinians in terms of victimization.

For example, in an article on Jewish fundamentalism, Gherman and Grin state that extremists form “violent gangs that fight Palestinians and progressive Jews with equal violence,” as if implying that progressive Jews experience the same suffering following massacres like the of Hebron in 1994, that the Palestinians, who are subjected to the systematic theft of homes and land, among other acts of violence committed by extremist settlers that end up benefiting the settler population as a whole.

This distortion of reality is based on fallacies that benefit a right-wing liberal project by limiting the possibility of conciliation exclusively to liberals enrolled in a neoliberal order in Brazil, which can be seen in the statement that Zionist settler colonialism is a figment of the imagination left fundamentalist and that the BDS movement benefits from radical left anti-Semitism. Another form of depoliticization occurs through the discourse strategy, which is presented as the rational and technocratic solution in accordance with neoliberal conflict resolution procedures and supposedly rises above the ideology of the “pro-Palestinian” left and the “pro-Palestinian” right. -Israel".

In this way, the theory of “imaginary Israel” reproduces the old strategy of “complexity” that has historically kept activists on the international left afraid of being accused of anti-Semitism when criticizing Zionism and its colonial praxis – a recurrent practice, as observed in the case of Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom. Consequently, the colonial and racist aspects of Zionism are ignored. Anti-Zionists' radical forms of criticism are portrayed as “irrational”, forcing the left to adopt more moderate positions.

The trap of plurality: the surveillance of the Brazilian left

In 2010, we observed the growing impact of new organizations linked to left-wing Zionism on the Brazilian left, moving it away from the BDS campaign or opposition to Bolsonarism in the Jewish community. On some occasions, there was articulation with non-Zionist Jewish groups that agree with the hegemony of liberal Zionism, such as ASA in Rio de Janeiro and Casa do Povo in São Paulo.

The main area of ​​activity was the radical left party PSol, created in 2005 as a socialist alternative to the PT, a party that became more suited to neoliberal hegemony. Several left-wing Zionists joined the PSOL in Rio de Janeiro in the 2010s, such as Guilherme Cohen, leader of Jews for Democracy, trained in the Zionist youth movement and former advisor to former deputy Jean Wyllys, an important leader of the LGBTQ cause and ardent opponent of Jair Bolsonaro.

Marcossi notes that the recruitment of allies on the Brazilian left seeks to reinforce belief in left-wing Zionism among liberal Jews in crisis. Faced with the suffering they endure, they tend to move towards the anti-Zionist left or the Bolsonarist right. The Israeli Zionist left, especially Meretz, often sends delegates to convey the teachings of the “homeland” to those whose beliefs are in doubt, in order to prevent their departure.

In the election for mayor of Rio de Janeiro in 2016, which pitted the evangelical Marcelo Crivella against Marcelo Freixo, from PSol, the left-wing politician was accused of anti-Semitism because sectors of his party claimed that Israel promoted the genocide of Palestinians. With the support of the Zionist left, Marcelo Freixo sought to distinguish himself from the anti-Zionist wing and adopted the traditional stance of the Zionist left of differentiating the State of Israel from the government of Benjamin Netanyahu: “Being against a government is not being against a country”.

It is important to highlight that PSol is a party with tendencies without centralism, and that Wyllys and Freixo were independent politicians. Trends can have a specific ideology, such as Trotskyism or ecosocialism, or a more general approach to socialism. As a result, there are divergences between the positions adopted by some internal tendencies and independent deputies and the official statements adopted by the party's International Relations Sector on issues such as Palestine/Israel, Venezuela and Syria.

Consequently, PSol is seen as Zionist and pro-Palestine at the same time. This type of contradiction is not seen in smaller radical left parties that adopt a centralist organization, such as the PCB, a Marxist-Leninist party, or the PSTU, a Trotskyist party. The PSTU is particularly involved in solidarity with the Palestinian cause and rejects any rapprochement with the Zionist left.

There are also collaborations between different groups for initiatives such as trips to Palestine/Israel for important figures on the Brazilian left. Wyllys went to Palestine/Israel in 2015 on a trip organized by Gherman, Cohen and other members of Progressive Jews, PSol, CONIB and the Brazilian Embassy in Israel. According to the politician, the objective was “to make a connection between the Zionist left and the Palestinian left and advance the debate on the Occupation within the left”.

Jean Wyllys' itinerary followed the script of left-wing Zionism: meetings with figures such as David Grossmann and Nitzan Horowitz; visits to Israeli-Palestinian NGO Combatants for Peace, to Yad vashem and kibbutz Zikim, linked to Hashomer Hatzair and built on the Palestinian village of Hirybia; and a talk on “peace” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In an orientalist tone, Jean Wyllys wrote about the trip: “the rights guaranteed by the Israeli LGBT movement are a beacon in a region dominated by fundamentalism, totalitarianism, misogyny and homophobia.”

According to Jean Wyllys, during his trip he learned that “Zionism is not synonymous with Jew”; that “anti-Zionism is used to disguise anti-Semitism”; that “there are Zionists who are against the occupation of Palestinian territories (…) and in favor of the two-state solution”. Marcossi states that the politician “started to ‘see’ through the eyes of his ‘hosts’, adopting the same hope as them, the same repudiation of the BDS movement (…) and the same method, dialogue”.

The case of Jean Wyllys is an example of a successful venture by the Zionist left to “teach” Brazilian society, through the recruitment of non-Jewish intellectuals, how to contest hegemony on their side. In the view of the Brazilian left-wing Zionist activist: “(Wyllys) expressed positions that are very close to ours, practically similar. If it’s not for the difference in positioning, which is neither Jewish nor Zionist, but just for the understanding of reality, (it’s) very close.”

This effort was also directed at other public figures in an attempt to normalize left-wing Zionist discourse in the country, such as Gregório Duvivier, an influential comedian with great public influence who is also affiliated with PSol; Paulo Abrão, a human rights activist responsible for organizing “meetings and dialogues between Palestinians and Israelis” for peace through the Ministry of Justice; and Djamila Ribeiro, an important intellectual of the black movement, who approached the Zionist left after understanding as a form of racism the criticism that Roger Waters and others supportive of the Palestinian cause, including black activists, made to the black Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento for performing in Israel.

Gherman, Wyllys and Ribeiro share a common understanding of anti-Zionist criticism as a form of intolerance against their individual identities, adhering to a political strategy close to that of the Brazilian moderate left, which is based on a pragmatic adaptation to the dominant neoliberal order. From this perspective, the liberating utopia of decolonization and the BDS movement are portrayed as oppressive because they confront Israeli “plurality” and exclude their supposedly “real” partners: the Zionist left.

In this way, the Zionist left rejects the true Palestinian – one who claims a settler colonial perspective and adheres to a strategy of anti-colonial refusal against the normalization of Israeli colonial racism – in exchange for an imaginary Zionism based on misrepresentations of reality that disguise colonialism. of the colonists. Just as Finkielkraut does in relation to Europeans, left-wing Zionists take a stance that presents itself as universal and see anti-colonialism not as humanism, but as prejudice and moral relativism.

Zionist colonialism and counter-revolutionary praxis

Judith Butler, in Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism, notes that any project of Jewish coexistence in Palestine must begin with a double movement, at once recovering and denying the Jewish ethical tradition. Judith Butler points to cohabitation with the non-Jew as the central ethical substance of diasporic Judaism, representing a commitment of secular, socialist, and religious Jewish traditions to equality and justice. These Jewish resources are what allow the construction of cohabitation in Palestine, as well as “the critique of state violence, the colonial subjugation of populations, expulsion and dispossession.”

At the same time, Judith Butler posits that it is crucial to reject this Jewish tradition as exclusively Jewish and Jewish ethical values ​​as exceptional. This movement aims to prevent the construction of a privileged Jewish position to understand and act on reality, even an anti-Zionist position. That is, Jewish critique of Zionism must question the Jewish framework toward more fundamental and universal democratic values ​​in order to move beyond the Judaism originally claimed as the exclusive framework for thinking about ethics and politics.

All criticisms of Zionism and Israel made by the Zionist left contribute to sustaining a privileged position of thinking and acting on the issue of cohabitation between Jews and non-Jews in Palestine and Brazil and, therefore, cannot move away from the structure of Judaism. By ignoring settler colonialism as a structural dimension in Palestine/Israel, leftist Zionist intellectuals disregard how it structures their own consciousness, identity, and action. As Franz Fanon observed, it is the colonial structure that produces colonial agents, not their individual practices.

Patrick Wolfe asserted the centrality of the binary divide between settler and native as the structural dialectical relationship from which it is possible to understand all the other multiple ramifications in a settler colonial situation like Palestine/Israel. For indigenous peoples, as in the case of the Palestinians, placing the colonial relationship in binary terms such as colonizer and native, oppressor and oppressed, still makes sense and is not at all imaginary: it is how the ordering of populations in that territory was originally produced by the racist imperatives of the Zionist colonizers and which continues to underlie their material relations.

Identity is not something constructed from speeches and imaginations, but from material processes. Israeli settler colonialism created Palestinian indigeneity, which has recently resurfaced in debates about Palestine and has become an important aspect of political mobilization, both national and global, constituting connections with the struggles of other indigenous peoples against settler colonialism.

However, interaction with the native Palestinian population does not appear to have consequences for the nature and identity of liberal Zionists. As Gabriel Piterberg observes, “what ‘we’ have done is, in fact, what ‘we’ are.” Liberal Zionists, however, rely on idealistic and particularistic interpretations of the material historical process, as in the case of kibbutzim. By portraying it as a utopian socialist Zionist movement, they ignore the central role it played in ensuring the forced colonization of Palestinian lands and building a settler society on the ruins of indigenous society.

Historically, the radical left has fought against social forms that rely on nationalism to carry out oppressive practices such as colonialism, even those that claim to be socialist. The rupture with the Second International at the beginning of the 20th century resulted from disagreements that pitted communist and anti-colonial revolutionaries against European social democracy, which supported colonialism as a necessary step to achieve socialism in the peripheries.

This has been the central element of the anti-Zionists' historical position: the rejection of Zionism as the solution to the Jewish question. Colonialism has been a plural phenomenon in its methods and ideologies, but it is structurally based on the same racist logic of plunder, exploitation and dehumanization, even when it declares its “humanitarian intention to promote the realization of perpetual peace”. The plurality of Zionists who have had an impact on the material reality of Palestine represents the plurality that colonialism in general, and Zionist settler colonialism in particular, can assume.

Developed as a nationalist project for the “normalization” of diaspora Jews around the time of their colonization in Palestine and the construction of a sovereign Jewish state in the territory, Zionism was never a movement aimed at the emancipation of anyone other than the Jews themselves. . Rather than rejecting the national paradigm that was at the root of their own exclusion in the quest for internationalist emancipation, as communist Jews did, Zionists claimed the same weapons of oppression that gave rise to modern anti-Semitism for their national liberation outside of Europe. The subjugation of an indigenous people gave the Zionists recognition as equals by their former oppressors, the Europeans. Thus, the Zionists simply reversed the game of exploitation of man by man.

The positivist interpretation of socialism was fundamental to the construction of the soft and paternalistic aspect of Zionist colonialism, as observed in the work of Borockov, an influential Marxist Zionist intellectual in the leadership of the socialist Zionist movements responsible for the establishment of Israel. Although Borockov identified somewhat with his fellow anti-Zionist Marxists of the early 20th century, such as Vladimir Medem and the Bund, socialist Zionists have always sought to distinguish themselves from the bourgeois and liberal Zionism of Herzl on the one hand, and the anti-Zionism of the Bund and of the Bolsheviks, on the other.

Despite their differences, the Zionists agreed on a territorialist solution to the Jewish question and the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine based on the destruction of native society. Borokhov saw the evolution of the productive forces toward a socialism led by Jewish settlers as beneficial to native society. From a Marxist perspective, Borockov reproduced the colonial “civilizing” discourse of the settlers, very present in Herzl's work: “The population of Eretz Israel will adopt the country's new economic and cultural model. Indigenous peoples will assimilate economically and culturally with those who took the lead in developing the productive forces.”

Borokhov's socialist Zionism supported interclass Jewish solidarity above the international solidarity of the proletariat. As a result, the labor movement became the spearhead of Zionist settler colonialism.

The Histadrut, the Zionist workers' union, was instrumental in building an exclusive settler economy, separate from the native economy, expelling Palestinians from the land and labor market and laying the foundation for a Jewish state founded on continued exclusion and segregation. of the native population. The Histadrut went so far as to prevent class solidarity between Jewish and Palestinian workers under the auspices of the Communist Party of Palestine, which was anti-Zionist.

Today, despite the weakening of the Zionist left, the colonial structuring of solidarity has been maintained. The focus of the actions remained on the class struggle among the settler community, as revealed in the 2011 demonstrations by liberal Israelis, to the detriment of solidarity with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, new softer and harsher forms of government alternated in dispossessing Palestinians, both heavily based on neoliberal relations since Oslo.

Various left-wing movements around the world have adapted to new forms of (neo)liberal colonialism, such as the construction of the Belo Monte plant in Brazil by the PT government, which expropriated indigenous populations. Other forms include multicultural projects of inclusion and socioeconomic recognition that have not altered the racial structure of societies.

The Brazilian Zionist left reproduces the colonial paternalism of Israeli liberals as benevolent carriers of what would be the best alternative for the Palestinians. They defend an imaginary Zionism that, in the end, is a fraud that serves as a ruse to combat the anti-Zionism of real Palestinians and Jews and guarantee the perpetuation of the hegemony of liberal Zionism.

As such, they are part of what Florestan Fernandes called a “prolonged counter-revolution”: a permanent effort by the Brazilian dependent bourgeoisie to mitigate the contradictions arising from inequality and exclusion that are capable of becoming a revolutionary political force. Although an alignment between Zionist elites and the dependent bourgeoisie in Brazil is quite evident under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, their association in eliminating the anti-Zionist communist left has facilitated the country's subjection to US imperialism and proximity to Israeli interests since the decade from 1930.

As will be demonstrated below, Zionist leaders did not extend ethno-religious solidarity to anti-Zionist communist Jews who were persecuted by the Brazilian State at different moments in history.

The Zionist left acts evasively in the field of hegemony to co-opt and empty the political content of the opposition project and, thus, contribute to the defense of Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian lands. This type of action, which Gramsci called “transformism”, seeks to construct opponents, in other words, Palestinians, according to colonial perspectives.

Instead of anti-colonial revolutionaries who resort to anti-colonial rejection as a form of liberation from the place in which colonial racism initially placed them, the Zionist left's “imaginary Israel” paradigm reduces Palestinians to rational, rational (neo)liberal human rights activists. moderates who maintain peaceful dialogue with their Israeli colleagues. This type of reasoning, characteristic of neoliberal human rights, reproduces colonial racism by keeping Palestinians confined to a place established by Zionists.

This counter-revolutionary praxis of the Zionist left refers to a historical position of European leftists who rejected the anti-colonial violence of the colonized and supported liberation in the colony merely as a by-product of the revolution in the metropole. In a 1957 article, Fanon condemns the French left for failing to understand how class struggle takes the form of national liberation in the colonial situation.

For the Martinican intellectual, this lack of understanding of colonialism was what led the French to reduce the opposite of colonialism to the “individual scale of less racist, more open and more liberal behavior” and to criticize the “excesses” of anti-colonial violence. “The pseudo-justification for this attitude is that, to have influence over French public opinion, certain facts must be condemned, unexpected excrescences must be rejected, “excesses” must be repudiated. In these moments of crisis, of face-to-face opposition, the FLN is being asked to direct its violence and make it selective.”

Thus, Judith Butler posits as a basis for cohabitation between Jews and Palestinians, rather than an “easy multiculturalism (…) that the vast and violent hegemonic structure of political Zionism must cede its dominance over these lands and populations.” Due to their settler colonial logic, Zionist movements act to eliminate anti-Zionist forms of rejection in order to maintain exclusivity over Jewish identity and Palestinian land. This does not mean that Zionists act with the same violence against Palestinians and other anti-Zionists, including Jews, but it is important to emphasize that these practices are interconnected. As Judith Butler observes, although it is necessary to contest the hegemonic control that Zionism exercises over Judaism, it is equally necessary to contest the colonial subjugation that Zionism has imposed on the Palestinian people.

The movement for the national liberation of Palestine is what it currently represents, based on particular and universal emancipation, transcending its existence as part of the anti-imperialist struggle. Therefore, ethical Judaism requires anti-Zionist practice and radical solidarity with the anti-colonial rejection of BDS.

Anti-Zionist Jews and the counterrevolution in Brazil

During the formation of the Brazilian Jewish community in the 1920s, politics was an important marker of identity among Jews, in addition to their region of origin, ethnicity and religiosity. Despite a shared sense of fraternity and connections between them, Zionists and anti-Zionists constituted groups with antagonistic projects and political entities. While Zionists mobilized in favor of the Jewish colonization of Palestine and lobbied national elites, anti-Zionists favored an integrationist and internationalist praxis that aimed at the assimilation of Jews in Brazil and their involvement in workers' movements.

Socialist Zionists position themselves between Zionist elites and anti-Zionist communist movements. Socialist Zionists participated both in communist Jewish entities, such as BIBSA, founded in 1915 by activists from the Bund and Marxism-Leninism, and in the Brazilian Zionist movement itself, disputing its leadership. The Jewish anti-Zionist movement was present in Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Niterói and São Paulo.

In Rio de Janeiro, several communist Jewish organizations were created, such as BIBSA, the popular kitchen Abeter Kich, BRAZCOR and the Morris Wintschevsky Brazilian Workers’ Center. Jewish communal life had important interactions with other racially oppressed populations, such as Afro-Brazilians, and communist movements, especially the PCB. The PCB reorganization conference in 1925 was held in the BIBSA building during the Carnival holiday to escape police surveillance.

This proximity resulted in the creation of the Jewish Sector at PCB, linked to BIBSA. Its main function was to provide financial support and protection to communist Jews persecuted by the state. The Jewish Sector emphasized the particularity of Jews on the Brazilian left, albeit as part of the internationalist struggle. There were also several Jewish communists involved in the “general struggles” of the PCB, who played an important role in the failed communist uprising of 1935.

Disagreements between Zionists and anti-Zionists grew around disputes in the educational field due to the absence of a strong social base for anti-Semitism in Brazil. Black and indigenous populations already functioned as the Other in Brazilian structural racism. Brazilian religious syncretism tolerated Judaism and Jewish immigrants were included in a state project to promote the whitening of Brazilian society at the beginning of the 20th century. Therefore, Jews were not coerced into identifying with the “homeland” or the Jewish community.

The linguistic dispute between Yiddish and Hebrew was the vehicle for conflict between Zionist and anti-Zionist political projects. The 1922 WZO conference determined that Zionists must promote the hegemony of Hebrew in Jewish education to achieve hegemony over Jewish identity and political action. In 1925, the JCA, involved in the Jewish colony in southern Brazil, began to support the teaching of Hebrew and Zionism. This resulted in a fracture of community solidarity.

In 1928, faced with disputes over the direction and ideology of BIBSA, the communists expelled the Zionists. As a result, the Scholem Aleichem School, linked to BIBSA and the PCB, began teaching primarily in Yiddish and based on a materialist perspective.

According to a police report on the actions of Socialist Zionism and its leader, Aron Bergman, in the fight against anti-Zionism: “as for the Polaé Sion Socialist Party in Brazil, it was a socialist aspect of the Zionist doctrine with the aim of helping the workers in Palestine, limiting their activities in Brazil to a financial campaign Kapai Palestine Arbeiter Fond. It is worth highlighting, however, that this society was guided by an ideology antagonistic to communism. Aron Bergman … declaring himself a social democrat, led in 1929 a public demonstration against the adherents of communism who, at the time, were gathering in Scholom Alechem.”

Despite this setback in the dispute with the communists and the increase in anti-Semitism in Brazil, the 1930s witnessed the consolidation of Zionism. The Estado Novo, started in 1937, had a Nazi at the head of its political police and part of its social base was formed by the Brazilian Integralist Movement, the largest fascist group outside Europe. In 1938, the dictatorship ordered the dissolution of all Zionist centers and made it difficult for Jewish immigrants to enter the country.

However, there was no climate of fear and persecution against Jewish immigrants. The Zionists easily adapted to the restrictions imposed by the government, adopting Brazilian names and promoting activities that escaped surveillance. Between 1933 and 1945, 24.000 Jews entered Brazil, which meant an increase of almost a third in the overall Jewish population.

The main concern of the Estado Novo was the construction of an authentically Brazilian identity and the preservation of the “Brazilian family tradition”. Anti-Jewish hatred was an ideology restricted to small parts of the government and to integralism. The dictatorship was mainly conservative, xenophobic and anti-communist. As a result, communist Jews were the most persecuted. In other words, anti-communism was a greater threat to Jews than anti-Semitism.

Communist Jews were arrested, tortured, murdered and deported. Olga Benário Prestes was deported to Europe and murdered in an extermination camp. The police closed BRAZCOR and invaded BIBSA. The government worked primarily to prevent the immigration of communist Jews, while tolerating that of Zionists. Presented as nationalism with ambitions to colonize another country, Zionism was not seen as a threat by the Estado Novo.

There were acts of Jewish solidarity during this period. However, Zionist groups tried to differentiate themselves from anti-Zionists and lobbied Brazilian elites to position themselves as the true representatives of the Jewish community. At the same time as they created support in Brazil for the Jewish State in Palestine, Zionists sought to weaken anti-Zionist alternatives on a social basis.

For example, Horácio Lafer, a prominent businessman and Zionist leader, refused to express his solidarity with persecuted Jewish communists when questioned by police. The Sholem Aleichem school was raided following complaints from Zionist parents, and at the I.L. Peretz, the Zionists attempted to take control, resulting in confrontation and police intervention.

Zionist elites, in turn, began to build their hegemony in the Jewish community and Brazilian society during the repression of communist Jews. As a result, the Brazilian State lobbied and supported the plan for the division of Palestine, which created the State of Israel at the 1947 UN General Assembly, chaired by Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha.

Violence and consensus under liberal Zionist hegemony

Greater solidarity among Brazilian Jews was only resumed when anti-Zionist groups, weakened by State violence, consented to the Zionist project in Palestine after the recognition of Israel by the USSR. Although they did not see Israel as the solution to the Jewish question, the communists began to raise money to support the settlement and the Haganah. Amid a Zionist outbreak in the country, many anti-Zionists joined the ranks of socialist Zionism, and communist organizations became more diffuse.

Amid the formation of progressive-liberal Zionist hegemony, communists adopted a position better defined as non-Zionist than anti-Zionist. They stopped confronting the Zionist project, understood as inevitable. For Jacob Gorender, an important member of the PCB: “When the State of Israel became a reality and was recognized by the Soviet Union from the beginning, I never questioned Israel's right to exist as a state. But I never considered the State of Israel as the solution to the so-called Jewish question.”

Although politically weakened, non-Zionist Jews still represented an important part of the community. They sought to compete for representation in Jewish bodies to avoid unconditional support for Israel. At the same time, they organized new Jewish institutions to preserve Yiddish culture and mobilize new generations for national and internationalist struggles. The greatest example was Casa do Povo, founded in 1946 in São Paulo as a space for the Jewish anti-fascist struggle.

The institution was an important cultural and political center that also included another Sholem Aleichem School, a Yiddish newspaper, a youth club, and a theater. The school became a highly regarded educational project, housing children of Jewish and non-Jewish workers, including members of the clandestine struggle against the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

In the beginning, the House of the People was composed of both communists and socialist Zionists. Internally, the communists sought to maintain control of the institute to preserve it as non-Zionist; externally, they competed with other left-wing Zionist organizations for the hearts and minds of the Jewish community.

When the USSR took a belligerent stance toward Israel and in support of Arab nationalism in the 1950s, confrontation between communist and Zionist Jews increased in Brazil. Times of international crisis were opportunities to challenge the direction of Jewish organizations. In one of these episodes, the Zionists took control of the People's House under the leadership of Iankel Len.

Later, the communists managed to regain control of the institution, which became directly linked to the Jewish Sector of the PCB. The head of the Jewish Sector was also director of the Casa do Povo. This connection was fundamental for the activities of communist Jews to continue after the 1964 military coup. The confrontation increased after 1967, when the Jewish Sector publicly accused Israel of acting in an imperialist manner, leaving it isolated from the rest of the community and bodies. representatives, who cut off all political and financial support.

Although socialist Zionists also participated in campaigns against the dictatorship, a large number of them chose to emigrate to Israel during this period. Non-Zionist communists remained in the resistance and, once again, suffered greater persecution, imprisonment, torture and murder by the regime. Once again, the Jewish communists could not count on the support of entities representing their community, as they preferred to maintain good relations with the dictatorship. Left-wing Zionist militants were protected by agreements between Zionist institutions and the military regime. State anti-communism, supported by the bourgeoisie, in the context of the Cold War, remained a greater threat to Jews than any form of anti-Semitism.

The Jewish Sector and the PCB suffered a severe blow in 1975, when the dictatorship chose ten PCB party leaders to be assassinated and persecuted dozens of activists, including ten teachers from the Scholem Aleichem School. Jewish journalist Vladimir Herzog was murdered because he was tortured during the persecution of communist Jews. His death was an important turning point that led to popular mobilization and contributed to the eventual decline of the dictatorship. It was also a moment that attracted solidarity from liberal Zionists such as Rabbi Henry Sobel. However, this did not end hostilities with organized non-Zionist Jews.

Faced with persecution by the dictatorship, the isolation imposed by Zionist institutions and the socioeconomic rise of Jews who, well integrated into Brazilian whiteness, left their neighborhoods of origin for high-standard areas, the non-Zionist communist movement lost its social base. As a result, the Scholem Aleichem school closed in 1979. A group of communist Jews under the leadership of Max Altman, who presided over the People's House between 1965 and 1979, understood that the non-Zionist Jewish cycle had come to an end. It is fair to say that these events were in the interests of both the military regime and the Zionist elites.

In 1982, during a large demonstration against the massacre of Sabra and Shatila at the Casa do Povo, oppositionists set fire to Altman's car amid clashes that took over the streets. Faced with the Zionist siege of the Casa do Povo, the communists left the institution, which, in turn, endorsed a liberal-progressive Zionist hegemony during the Brazilian democratization process in the 1980s. The institution ended up losing relevance, deteriorated and ended up closing your doors. Although it reopened in 2011, the current People's House is made up of docile, non-Zionist Jewish institutions that consent to Israeli settler colonial sovereignty over Palestinian territory.

Therefore, it is possible to see how liberal Zionist hegemony was built and maintained through violent actions against the anti-Zionist alternatives that confronted Zionism – from above, by the anti-communist State, and from below, by Zionist movements, including those on the left, through of denunciation, isolation, expulsion and deconversion of communist Jews. In other words, a hegemony, as Gramsci understood it, ultimately guaranteed by coercion when cultural disputes proved insufficient.

It is important to note how the decline of the non-Zionist Jewish movement coincided with the consolidation of the Brazilian Palestinian movement. In 1980, FEPAL was created as the official representation of Palestinians within the PLO. Soon after, the Palestinian movement became the main target of Zionists, including progressives. Rabbi Sobel declared in 1985 that a gathering of Palestinian youth held that year was to “train terrorists.”

The resurgence of anti-Zionist movements

The class conciliation and pragmatism that characterized foreign policy during the New Republic (1988-2016), especially in the period when the PT was in power between 2003 and 2016, guaranteed the hegemony of liberal Zionism until the beginning of the 2010s. However, the persistence of Palestinian grassroots mobilizations and radical left movements during the 1990s and 2000s allowed Brazilians to respond to the Palestinians' call for solidarity and BDS in 2005.

In 2007, left-wing activists and members of the Palestinian movement who were part of the radical left opposition to the Lula government formed Mopat. The BDS Brazil movement's first campaign was against the Free Trade Agreement between Mercosur and Israel, signed in the same year. At the same time, there was a strengthening of Fepal, an organization closer to the moderate left and the PT administration. In 2010, Brazil recognized the Palestinian State.

In 2011, the World Social Forum-Palestine held in Brazil allowed a transnational meeting of activists in defense of Palestine and served as an opportunity for the creation of new movements in the country, such as FFIPP-Brazil. This organization, whose reach in Brazilian society goes beyond ethno-national identity, served as an incubator for a new generation of anti-Zionist Jews.

This group promoted an important demonstration in front of the Israeli Consulate in São Paulo against the massacre in the Gaza Strip in 2014, which marked the return of anti-Zionist Jews to the political scene of the Brazilian left. Organized as a result of the international radicalization of the Palestinian struggle after the Second Intifada, this new generation of anti-Zionist Jews is a true representation of Brazilian radicalization after June 2013, in opposition to the counter-revolutionary Zionist left that emerged against Jair Bolsonaro in 2017.

However, the active vigilance of the Zionist left, in alignment with the interests of the bourgeoisie in maintaining closer ties with Israel for the purposes of military security technology and agricultural trade, has prevented more Jews and left-wing organizations from joining the ranks of the new movements. pro-Palestinian anti-Zionists.


In this article, we saw how the Zionist left combats the radicalism of the anti-colonial struggle of Palestinians and also of left-wing Jews and non-Jews. The result is the confinement of the opposition to a docile anti-Zionism, subjected to the hegemony of liberal Zionist colonialism.

The discursive frauds of the Zionist left find support among liberal Jews and Brazilian left liberals accustomed to conciliation with the national bourgeoisie and conservatism in foreign policy. In this way, left-wing Zionists ally themselves with the interests of the dependent bourgeoisie and act as guardians, preventing Jews and other militants from the Brazilian moderate left from assuming a more radical anti-Zionist position.

The “deconversion” and exclusion of left-wing Zionists that we are witnessing in the Jewish-Zionist community constitute the reproduction of the old hegemonic logic of the Zionist movement in Brazil, which used to be directed only at anti-Zionist Jews. Faced with the new configurations of anti-communism with the rise of the new right in 2010, the Zionist left begins to receive the same treatment as the anti-Zionists it helps to exclude.

Furthermore, Zionists lose sight of real new anti-Semitism because of their exclusion from their analysis of the dynamics of colonialism and racism. The Israelis' alliance with imperialism and their resulting positioning as defenders of Judeo-Christian civilization made Jewish identity racially privileged. The contemporary Brazilian right continues to confine the Jew to a fixed identity, although no longer negative. The positive essentialist turn that instrumentalizes Jews for the anti-communist and Islamophobic political project of the extreme right only serves to reverse the polarity of the racialization of Jews, but does not break with anti-Semitism.

Therefore, the Zionist left does not work to dismantle anti-Semitism, but mainly to preserve soft colonialism in Palestine and Brazil. Recognizing the centrality of colonialism against Palestinians in the formation of contemporary Jewish identity is an important step towards the decolonization of Palestine and Judaism.

Bruno Huberman He is a professor of the International Relations course at PUC-SP. Author, among other books, of Neoliberal colonization of Jerusalem (education). []

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