The Left and Israel: Party-Policy Change and Internal Democracy

Article excerpt

by June Edmunds. London: Macmillan, 2000. 221 pp. $65.00.

Conflict between Zionists and the Arabs has bothered European leftists at least since the period of the Mandate. Supporters of national liberation have worried about competing Jewish and Arab national movements. Doctrinal opposition to violence has made leftists alternatively anti-Arab and anti-Zionist, depending on events in the Middle East and perceptions of which side is responsible for beginning a cycle of violence, and which has been the most aggressive. Electoral tactics also influence the postures of party leaders. At times these have depended on the changing importance of voting blocs. And intra-party conflicts have led opponents of the current leadership to adopt postures about the Middle East that seem as much concerned with capturing party control -- or at least embarrassing those in control -- as with expressing deeply held feelings about Zionists or Arabs.

June Edmunds explores these issues in the context of British and French Socialist and Communist parties. She focuses on four periods: Israel's War of Independence, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

The principal chapters deal with events within and surrounding the British Labour Party. These chapters provide an impressive list of the elements that seemed to have shaped party postures and their changes: widespread sentiments shared by the public, party activists, local and national leaders; personal predilections of individuals at the pinnacle of the party, including visceral feelings that could be labeled Judeophile, anti-Semitic, pro- or anti-Arab; factions and individuals who have challenged party leaders; changes in British national politics or events in the Middle East that lead to changes in the postures, or in the tactical calculations of those involved in setting party policy; variations in the responsibilities felt by party leaders when they have moved between roles in the opposition and government; and changes in British demographics that have made Jews or Muslims more or less important in the electoral districts targeted by Labour candidates.

The big picture is that Labour tended to support Zionist or Israeli policies through the Six-Day War of 1967. …