World Socialism’s Anti-Israel Turn

Shimon Peres could once be the honorary president. No more.


Protesters hold a Palestinian flag and the initials of the anti-Israel BDS movement in front of the German Parliament in Berlin, June 4.
Protesters hold a Palestinian flag and the initials of the anti-Israel BDS movement in front of the German Parliament in Berlin, June 4. PHOTO:CLEMENS BILAN/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Can this marriage be saved? Israel’s Labor Party suspended its membership this month in Socialist International, a global organization of leftist political parties. One might ask what took so long. Socialist International has been anti-Israel for decades, but last month it accused Israel of “apartheid” and endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, known as BDS, that targets the Jewish state.

International socialism was not always hostile to Zionism. The labor group Poalei Zion joined the Labour and Socialist International in 1923. Stalin’s Soviet Union was the first country to recognize Israel formally. And as recently as 2003, Israeli statesman Shimon Peres could still serve as the Socialist International’s honorary president.

But the left turned against Israel after the 1967 Six Day War—which, as scholar Joshua Muravchik observes, struck a blow against pan-Arabism and “cleared the field” for particular Arab nationalisms, including the Palestinian form. For the left, that reframed Zionism from a story of Jews fighting for a home into another Western effort to oppress a Third World people.

In the 1970s Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, then the International’s vice president, worked openly to cement an anti-Israel leftist consensus. In the wake of the oil crisis, he chaired the International’s fact-finding mission that blamed Israel for the lack of Middle East peace, and in 1979 he was the first Western leader to host Yasser Arafat, issuing a joint statement criticizing Israel. Mr. Kreisky often castigated his fellow Jews with anti-Semitic terms and Nazi analogies, while praising Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi and Hafez Assad. In his memoir, he admitted a “critical attitude towards the existence of the state of Israel.”

Now, in addition to urging a boycott, the International condemns Israel’s Law of Return for diaspora Jews as “racist” and demands “the immediate release of all the Palestinian prisoners,” which would include terrorists.

Why should anyone care? Because this is no fringe group. Some 35 of the International’s member parties are in government, including Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party, Portugal’s Socialist Party, South Africa’s African National Congress and Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. The group, led by former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, also includes France’s Socialist Party, India’s National Congress, Mexico’s PRI, and Israel’s far-left Meretz party. (Britain’s Labour Party has observer status.)

Another member is the Palestinian Fatah party, which brought a large delegation to last month’s meeting. The International’s “Ethical Charter” pledges “to refrain from all forms of political alliance or co-operation, at any level, with any political party inciting or trying to inflame prejudices, ethnic or racial hatred.” Fatah’s leader Mahmoud Abbas has said, “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem,” and he attributed the Holocaust to Jewish “social behavior.”

Not much has changed at the Socialist International since the days of Bruno Kreisky: There is one standard for Jews, and one very different standard for their enemies.

Mr. Kaufman is a Robert L. Bartley Fellow at the Journal.

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