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Comment on Palestinian football

Charlie Pottins, member of the Jewish Socialists' Group  

Andy Newman's report and comments on the Sakhnin football team (Football and the Palestinians) was interesting and thoughtful. Too often the Palestinian issue, like others, is kicked around like a political football, by players only interested in scoring points.

Yet in some parts, Andy's thoughts did not quite gel.  Discussing why Israel, though situated in Asia, should be participating in European football, or Eurovision Song Contests (Surely a deserved punishment?!, Though shared with Morocco and Tunisia I seem to recall),  Andy refers to it as a "settler colon state".

Yet, as he notes, a large proportion of the Israeli population are Jews originating from Middle Eastern and North African countries. True, these Sefardi, and more properly Misrahi (Eastern) Jews found themselves in conflict with the Israeli Establishment, which remains predominantly European in origin, like is its Zionist ideology.  Having brought them in to replace Palestinian labour, and as cannon fodder, it denied their culture and treated them as inferior.

Since the party dominating the state's first decades was Labour, resting on union, co-operative and governmental institutions, the "poor whites" were attracted by Right-wing parties' demagogy, as well as the chance to prove themselves "not Arab", and for some, openings in business and politics. But class struggle continues regardless, and several workers' leaders challenging the Histadrut union bureaucracy in unofficial strikes etc came from the 'Sefardi/Misrahi' working class. In the 1970s, youth from Moroccan and Iraqi families formed the Black Panther movement to challenge discrimination and poverty, and it soon gravitated to the left, and recognised common interests with Palestinians. The Panthers' best-known figure, Charlie Biton, took his Knesset seat alongside the Communists.
Today the Israeli  peace camp includes groups working specifically among their own culturally and socially disadvantaged communities, and linking their calls for an end to occupation and a just peace with the Palestinians to the fight for social justice in Israel. It is a difficult task, not helped when Westernised middle class liberals express smug contempt for the poor and uneducated; still less when bombs go off in crowded markets or bus queues, rather than targeting those in power.

None of this negates Andy's basically accurate description of Israel as a "settler state". Nor does the fact of a mainly Arab "Israeli" football team mean there are no similarities between Israeli society and South African Apartheid.  But they do show that while simplification may work for sorting out "goodies" and "baddies", it does not suffice for understanding political reality, let alone trying to change it. In football, you can decide what team you "support" (and with Sakhnin, I was rooting for the Israeli team for once!). In politics, the sides are rarely simple, and you must work out what your "support" means. 

Andy's conclusion may be morally unassailable:
"There is only one hope, a secular Palestine including all the land from the banks of the river Jordan right to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. That can, in turn, only be achieved by a socialist solution across the Middle East with full rights for Jews, Kurds and all national minorities".

But how, and by whom can this be achieved? We all want to get there, but which way do we start from here?  At present there is a legitimate Palestinian national struggle against occupation, colonisation and oppression; a social struggle within Israel as anywhere (including of course, Arab states); and an Israeli  peace movement which, while not giving up on nationality, has challenged the authority of the state (e.g. by young people refusing to serve in the army, saying they would rather go to jail than be oppressing another people). Incidentally, it also has an initiative called Ta'ayush (partnership), not unlike the Sakhnin soccer team in that it was started by Israeli Arabs, and is mixed, which takes food and medical supplies through to blockaded Palestinian villages in the occupied territories. 
I assume we would not lecture those taking part in each of these struggles that they were wasting their time because "What you need is a socialist Middle East" (or let's face it, a socialist world).  Being polite, as Middle Easterners are, they might reply "That's a very nice idea, but how?"  Socialists must address themselves to the question of how, on what programme, working people engaged in today's struggles can unite, because only then can we turn the future vision from being just a utopian dream. 


October 2004


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism