Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Arab National Communism in the Jewish State

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Arab National Communism in the Jewish State

Article excerpt

Arab National Communism in the Jewish State, by Ilana Kaufman. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1997. ix + 139 pages. Notes to p. 157. Gloss. to 160. Bibl. to p. 168. Index to p. 173. $49.95.

Reviwed by Sheila Katz.

The Nazareth work camps organized by the Communist Party of Israel were among the most memorable experiences for young Arabs and Jews in the 1970s. Thousands of Arabs from all over Israel and from the West Bank (these latter defied the law prohibiting overnight stays in Israel), and hundreds of Jews from Israel and from progressive movements abroad, traveled to Nazareth to build, paint, fix, dig, hammer, and pave in the sweltering heat of the Galilee summer. They were sustained by the cool drinks offered by townspeople, and slept under stars of ever-rainless nights. Tables in the thankful shade of the forest lured young volunteers to stacks of pamphlets written in Arabic and adorned with pictures of Marx and Mao.

Arab National Communism in the Jewish State is essentially a history and analysis of a political party that reached its zenith in the 1970s, and that has survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. Kaufman's thesis is that the Communist Party of Israel (CPI) was one of the most significant mobilizing force of Arabs in Israel and that one cannot fully understand the aspirations of these Arabs today without taking into account the history of the Party. If one persists in reading beyond the somewhat tedious theoretical introduction on ethno-nationalism, and postpones until the end of the book asking whether detailed examination of such a seemingly marginal force in Israeli politics is justified, the reader will be rewarded with a fascinating history of the Party's relationship to the complex grievances and dreams of Palestinians living in Israel.

The CPI was originally founded in 1923 by radical Jewish leftists from Eastern Europe, some of whom fought in the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Party was admitted by the Soviet Comintern in 1924 and banned by the British colonial administration that same year. During the 1920s, the Party had a very small membership, consisting predominantly of anti-Zionist Jewish immigrants, educated urban Christian Arabs and some "mobilized workers" (p. 23). After the rise of Stalin, the Comintern, which did not regard Jews in Palestine as a national group, directed the Palestine Communist Party (PCP) to obstruct Zionist developments and to rouse the Arab peasant masses against British colonial rule (p. 24). So Jewish party cadres recruited members of the Arab intelligentsia who, in turn, cultivated ties with the Arab working classes. By 1935, the PCP was led by Arabs, and declared the Jewish Yishuv to be a colonizing movement. The Palestinian revolts of 1936-39, which widened the gulf between Arab and Jewish communities and increased the flow of Jewish immigrants from Nazi Germany, caused Jewish party members to identify more with the Yishuv.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Jewish members raised money for the Red Army and called for enlistment into the British army, while Arab members turned to trade unions and cultural clubs inside Palestine. Jewish and Arab party members alike sought freedom from British rule. Yet, the demand by Jewish members in 1943 that the PCP recognize Jewish national rights caused the Party to split. In 1948, six months after the proclamation of Israel's independence, Jewish and Arab party members reunited to form CPI-Maki. This union occurred because, although Soviet Marxism rejected Zionism, the USSR had actually voted for partition in the United Nations. The formation of CPI-Maki was especially significant in the context of what happened in the rest of the country, where Israeli statehood signaled a deepening division between Arabs and Jews.

In the protracted hostilities that ensued between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the CPI followed the Soviet policy of backing the Arabs against Israel. …

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