Mike Marqusee – If I Am Not For Myself

Today I went to Glasgow to hear Mike Marqusee speak about his new book If I am Not for Myself – Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew. You can read about the book on Mike’s blog, and details of the remainder of his short Scottish tour are here. In his talk, he described the starting-point for the book as his refusal to accept the label “self-hating”–a description of an anti-Zionist which can only make sense if you accept Zionism’s claim to be the sole representative of the Jewish people. To dispute that claim, he brought forward evidence from the prophets, from haskalah (Jewish enlightenment), and from the history of the Bund (the Jewish trade union federation of Eastern Europe and Russia). He emphasised that Zionism was not the inevitable path of European Jewry, but the product of accident and of mistakes (and also, I would add, of ruthless determination by Jews emulating the right-wing nationalists of Eastern Europe). Even though I came in more or less convinced of his arguments, I still found his talk informative and thought-provoking. (Incidentally, in case it worries you too, he gave a pretty good answer to my misgivings about adopting the label “anti-Zionist” in the twenty-first century).

I bought a copy of the book (well, my dad and I bought half a copy each :) ) and I’m looking forward no end to reading it. I strongly recommend that you catch one of Mike’s talks if you get the opportunity.

5 thoughts on “Mike Marqusee – If I Am Not For Myself”

  1. Utopians like Marqusee have never come up with how a more realistic or pragmatic outcome from the tumult of WW11 could have come about. Zionism has many sins and flaws, but Palestine was the only alternative for Jewish survivors given the policies of nearly all countries towards Jewish refugees before during and after WW11.

    Once the Jews from the Arab lands had fled or migrated en masse to Israel after 1948, they were never going back to Dhimmi status under the Arabs. That they then turned on the Arabs of Palestine and made them into another version of second class citizens is also shameful.

    Marqusee is not a self hating Jew, he’s simply a dreamer. Only dreamers are talking about a single state post-Zionist solution. There must be a long period of separation and cessation of hostilities before there can be a ‘coming together’ of Palestinians and Israelis.

  2. I raised a point related to your comment at the meeting and got what I thought was a very good response from Mike. I asked whether adopting a label of “anti-Zionist” didn’t commit you to some variation of the so-called “one-state solution”. Mike’s reply was that as someone committed against racism and imperialism, and committed to socialism and democracy, he has to oppose an ideology which privileges one part of the population over another just because of their ethnic origin or religious affiliation. I found that unanswerable. So I now think you should be able to criticise Zionism as an ideology separately from the discussion about what we think “should” happen in the region – that’s a different issue, about which I’ll post some more today.

  3. I’ll be interested in what you think ‘should happen’ in the region, admin.

    My position is that if there is no interest on the part of the 5 million Jews for a single democratic state (except for Pappe, Marqusee and a few hundred/couple of thousand? others) and no background at all of socialism combined with democracy (yet) on the part of the Palestinians, then we have to deal with realities, not dream about utopian solutions as if they are achievable any time soon.

    I now think that I understand what Mike Marqusee is trying to say. He is expressing an ideology of socialism and democracy as opposed to imperialism and racism in general terms.

    As the surviving victims of an extremely virulent form of racism were trapped in Europe after 1945, and the racism of the Israeli state had not yet appeared, what should these victims have done, or where should they have gone?

    I’m also sure that Mike has a sensible answer for the Jews of the Arab lands who had been living for centuries under the Dhimmi system. Should they have stayed put and worked for change from within? I seriously doubt that, knowing the culture and the ideology of Islam as practised in those countries.

    So, I started out calling Marqusee a dreamer, and I hold to that opinion!

  4. I now think that I understand what Mike Marqusee is trying to say. He is expressing an ideology of socialism and democracy as opposed to imperialism and racism in general terms.

    That’s right. I’ve now understood that that’s a valid point to make in respect of the inequality and injustice inherent in the version of Zionism that won out (as against, perhaps, the Zionism of Judah Magnes). It’s a really important point, and I’m glad I’ve finally seen it. It doesn’t need to be justified with any explanation of what “should” have happened in Palestine, or what the Jews of the Arab lands “should” have done, or what “should” now happen (etc, etc). I don’t see how any of these ought to influence how you judge an ideology that stands accused of being inherently unjust to the pre-existing people of Palestine.

  5. Admin, I concur with your comment. Nothing whitewashes the conduct of the version of Zionism which prevailed.

    It is reasonable to ask what Hamas has in mind as an antidote. My point here is that this Zionism triumphant is seriously flawed. Hamas triumphant would, in my humble opinion, be much worse.

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