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Matzpen

Matzpen was an anti-Zionist Israeli socialist group active between 1962 and the early 1970s. They supported self-determination for all people, and analysed Israel as a settler-colonial state. They called on Israel to repeal the Law of Return, which allows Jewish people from anywhere in the world to turn up in Israel and immediately claim citizenship, and any other law that privileges Jews over non-Jews, and also called on it to give Palestinians, whose country is actually is, the right to return. They were also, of course, a socialist organisation, and so campaigned persistently around issues of workers’ rights and organisations; one of the things they demanded was independent trade unions which would not be subservient to the Zionist cause. Despite the brief period of their existence, they’re attracting more interest from academics and leftists in the modern day, as an organisation that was really ahead of their time.

Matzpen was founded by a quartet of Israeli Jews who wanted the organisation to be non-sectarian, given bitter experiences in the Israeli Communist Party and “socialist Zionist” Mapam (now subsumed into Meretz). Its membership was not limited to Jews; several Palestinian activists were also significant in the organisation. The Jewish members also included people from Sephardic and Mizrahi backgrounds, and the group was quite rooted in the working class.

Apparently, Matzpen is best known for an ad they (and their sympathisers) published in the liberal newspaper Haaretz in September 1967, calling on Israel to withdraw from the territories it had occupied three months earlier. Translated into English by +972 Magazine, its text went:

Our right to defend ourselves from extermination does not give us the right to oppress others. Occupation leads to foreign rule. Foreign rule leads to resistance. Resistance leads to repression. Repression leads to terror and counter-terror. The victims of terror are mostly innocent people. Holding on to the occupied territories will turn us into a nation of murderers and murder victims. We must leave the occupied territories immediately.

Earlier that same year (before the ‘67 war), Matzpen had published an article, The Palestine Problem and the Israeli-Arab Dispute(external link), which at least one of its co-founders, Moshé Machover, thought was a more important document that outlined its positions. This is where, for example, they outlined their analysis of Israel as a settler-colonial state and demanded the abolition of all laws that privileged the settlers above Palestinians.

Matzpen was ultimately wrecked by splits. In 1970 there were two small splits, one which thought there needed to be greater emphasis on the anti-capitalist struggle, and another that wanted more emphasis on supporting the Palestinian struggle. There was a bigger and more destructive split in 1972, where a Trotskyist faction split because they wanted the organisation to explicitly defend the violent suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion in Russia in 1921. Veterans of these organisations are still active in radical leftist politics in Israel today, but the organisations of that era themselves are long gone.

Machover is the last surviving founder of Matzpen, and cautions against the idea that colonialism can be defeated in Israel while capitalism remains in force. Contrasting the situation in Israel to the defeat of apartheid in South Africa, he points out that the capitalist class in South Africa were dependent on the labour of oppressed African workers to make their profits. It was the rebellion of those very workers that created an economic crisis that the apartheid regime could not recover from; they were forced to give way to majority rule. Israel’s founders recognised this as a danger, and so always sought to make sure that the working class was as Jewish as possible (and also insisted on Jewish workers organising in Jewish-only trade unions, to try to prevent solidarity or unity between different sections of the working class). Mach­over reckons that, therefore: There is no reason why the Hebrew working class would want to exchange the Zionist regime for a democratic state that is capitalist, because it would entail a loss of privilege: from an exploited class that is part of the privileged nation, to an exploited class that is not part of a privileged nation. What’s the gain in this? A socialist revolution, how­ever, would clearly be beneficial to the Israeli Jewish working class. Mach­over also acknowledges that the Stalinist notion of socialism in one country is not possible, and especially not in a country so tiny as Israel-Palestine; instead, he believes Palestinian liberation will come from an international socialist revolution. That said, he’s also somewhat pessimistic about the likelihood of such a thing, viewing “a second Nakba” as more likely 😔

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