That not all Jews in Israel are Zionists may not be a startling or revelatory proposition, but after 50 years of Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands, it is clear that the comparative power of non- and anti-Zionist (and post-Zionists for that matter) Jews in Israel is virtually negligible (that could, however, change), particularly if we are referring to their capacity or potential to alter the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or even have a significant impact on public opinion in this—after Maxime Rodinson and Baruch Kimmerling—colonial settler-state. In his book, The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (Verso, 2014), Ilan Pappe provides us with essential documentation and historical narrative of the Jewish individuals, groups, and political parties in Israel that are non- and anti-Zionist. In several significant respects, these individuals, groups, and parties are heirs to the political worldview of the “General Jewish Labour Bund in Lithuania, Poland and Russia,” in short, “the Bund.” These non-Zionist Jews were communist and more frequently socialist, dedicated to universalist and secularist principles, while no less committed to retaining their Jewish personal and collective identity. The following is a succinct introduction from Jewish Currents several years ago:
“The Jewish Labor Bund was one of the most important leftwing Jewish political organizations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It played a key role in the formation of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party well before its split into Menshevik and Bolshevik factions, and was influentially active in the 1905 Russian Revolution while emerging as a leader of Jewish self-defense against Tsarist pogroms. While the Russian wing of the Bund was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, the Polish Bund remained influential between the two world wars, and Bundist ideas traveled with Jewish emigrants to influence socialist movements throughout the world.
Of course, the Holocaust eliminated the mass Jewish labor movement in Poland, and then the post-war Communist takeover destroyed the Bund politically. While the organization later regrouped as a world federation, it survives today as only a marginal movement in Jewish cultural and political life. Even its historical and political significance is recognized by only small numbers of Jews and progressives.
Yet the Bund’s experience as an ethnic and class-based organization arguably encapsulates both the strengths and limitations of the historical, once-prominent Jewish engagement with socialist ideas and movements. The Bund was an internationalist organization that shared the core belief of all Marxist groups in a common class struggle aimed at achieving the liberation of all workers, whatever their national or religious origin. The Bund nevertheless insisted that Jews were a distinct national group, and that while Jewish workers should prioritize alliances with other socialists to advance the revolutionary cause, a separate Jewish socialist organization was required to adequately represent the national, cultural needs of working-class Jews in Eastern Europe.
The Bund opposed assimilation, defended Jewish civil and cultural rights, and campaigned actively against anti-Semitism. However, the Bund’s socialist universalism precluded support for the notion of Jewish national unity (klal yisrael) or for the narrow advancement of Jewish sectional interests. It eschewed any automatic solidarity with middle-or upper-class Jews, and generally rejected political collaboration with Jewish groups representing religious, Zionist or conservative viewpoints. The Bund’s famous anthem, known as “The Oath” (di shvue in Yiddish), composed by the Yiddish poet and cultural researcher Sh. An-sky in 1902, made no specific reference to Jews or Jewish suffering.
The Bund’s determination to be both militantly socialist and Jewish often left it politically isolated, accused of being ideologically purist and sectarian and unwilling to engage in pragmatic alliances with either moderate socialists or non-socialist Jews to achieve political power. Still, the Bund’s perspective arguably reflected the real experiences of its working-class constituency. Jews in Tsarist Russia and Poland between the wars were heavily divided by economic and social factors, with Jewish workers employed almost exclusively by Jewish employers, due to the anti-Semitism of their neighbors. As a result, the class struggle of Jewish workers was principally an internal Jewish class war. There was no united Jewish nation, and the Bund could not help seeing many Jews as the class enemy.
The Bund was disappointed by the failure of broader socialist groups to display active solidarity with persecuted Jewish workers or with the Bund’s consistent internationalist values. Tensions between the Bund and the Polish Socialist Party as well as the Bolsheviks/Communists (under their various titles in Russia and Poland) reflected the Bund’s concern that the specific rights of Jewish workers were being subordinated either to Polish nationalist concerns or to wider socialist agendas. This was why the Bund remained organizationally independent of these larger movements.” [….] The remainder of this article from Jewish Currents is found here.
The stage set, I now want to introduce this emotionally powerful film about a group of surviving members of the anti-Zionist and socialist Bund movement from Poland now living in Israel. Although made in 2012, it has now become available on YouTube. The story is of course tragic, but it’s a compelling reminder of what it means to remain committed to your ideals and principles even if those around you have lost their moral compass if not their minds. It is also a reminder of the fact that the many things we struggle for on the Left may not bear fruit for several or more generations, that we will likely never see the setting at the bountiful table we’ve been preparing for several centuries now. (‘Tis true, nevertheless, that we may win occasional battles and accomplish significant goals on a small scale, out of the limelight, on the terrain of everyday life or even within the greater social and cultural milieu.)
Here is the official introduction to the film: “Bundaim explores the personal journey and opinion of the Israeli director Eran Torbiner, who examines the Bund alternative, why it was forgotten following the Holocaust, and how necessary it is today.
Torbiner follows the last surviving comrades in Israel of the socialist and anti-Zionist Bund movement, the strongest Jewish movement in Poland and the main opponent of the Zionists before WWII. The Bund was established 110 years ago, at the same time as Zionism. The two have contrasting ideologies: the Bund’s central principles are socialism and the right of Jews to preserve and nurture their Jewish identity, the Yiddish language in particular, anywhere in the world and with equal rights. Zionism, on the other hand, struggled to establish a home for Jews in Israel, to create a new Jewish image and revive the Hebrew language.
The Bund and its leaders and activists were almost totally wiped out during WWII and their remnants were scattered to all corners of the world. Today, the last of Israel’s Bund members gather every two weeks, on Wednesdays, around tables set with white bread, herring and cheesecake.”