As I write this foreword to Clyde Holding’s 1975 Sam Cohen Memorial Lecture, this country is embroiled in an election campaign made bitter and divisive by extraordinary and undemocratic actions never before known in Australia.
I take no smug satisfaction from prophetic words I used towards the end of the 1971 Inaugural Sam Cohen Memorial Lecture, but it is sobering to recall them: I believe therefore that Sam Cohen would be profoundly concerned at the emerging pattern of politics in this country. To the deliberate perpetuation of constitutional anachronisms, which he so well knew operated against the interests of the people for whom he cared, is being added a new dimension — the divisive and diversionary dimension which involves the deliberate creation of bitterness and hatred, the refusal to debate issues on their merits. Sam Cohen more than most men knew the potential danger of this tactic. His people in many lands had paid the ultimate sacrifice in situations which had developed from its usage. If he were still alive, he would be warning us all against a cheap and easy resort to the tactic in this country.
The spirit of Sam Cohen would counsel us nevertheless not to give in, not to be overcome by the gross dishonesty, inhumanity and mindless hatred of some of the nations of this world. His message, I am sure, would be to practise non-violence and restraint however difficult that task might be.
There are issues concerning the human spirit which are embodied in the State of Israel and her struggle for survival which must transcend political considerations.
Whenever mankind releases his violence and his passions from one nation to another in the form of war, it will most likely be in the future as it has been in the past, the people of your community who will suffer most. Despite the enormous provocation of these countries of the East and the Third world making decisions that are palpably dishonest, I plead that at least we should seek earnestly to see whether some sort of sense can be imbued into the minds of those men and those nations. At times this will be difficult, at times seemingly impossibly difficult, but try, I believe, you must.
As a rational thinking and humanity eventually prevail, the viability of the great State of Israel will indomitably persist.
As I have said before with perhaps just a touch of plagiarism, if the bell tolled for Israel, it will have tolled for each one of us and we will all be diminished if Israel disappeared.
I certainly believe that Israel will not disappear. I believe that whatever cynical and dishonest a collection of men there are both here and internationally, both individually and through organisations and whole nations, Israel will prevail.
It will prevail because the cause of Israel is so intrinsically strong, because there are sufficient numbers of men and women of goodwill and decency to ensure it.
My own commitment to Israel will never cease while I have breath in my body. As that great Australian Ben Chifley said, there is a light on the hill. Aiming resolutely towards that light we shall overcome, we will overcome – – – we must overcome.
President, AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY, Australian Council of Trade Unions.
SAM COHEN MEMORIAL LECTURE
The honour for me in delivering the Sam Cohen Memorial Lecture is twofold. Firstly, Sam Cohen was a friend, a colleague for many years and in the many struggles we shared together, both in the Labor Movement and the broader community outside, his insights, courage and patience were a constant source of strength to all who were privileged to know and love him. Secondly, at a time of comparative peace in the Middle East, it is important to examine the cause of Israel and its special significance and relevance to the Australian Labor Party, a cause for which Sam Cohen in his lifetime was a truly able advocate.
The emergence of oil diplomacy, and a hardcore of votes ever present at the United Nations designed to isolate the State of Israel from the family of nations, have all had their effect within Australia of gravely distorting the facts surrounding the creation of Israel, the nature of that society and its particular relevance to the Australian Labor Movement.
Fringe radical groups in Australia have also helped obscure the facts. As terms like “Zionism” became emotively equivalent to “Imperialism”, the P.L.O. in these circles took on the aura of “Freedom Fighters”, as with the cessation of the war in Vietnam, they became almost overnight the fashionable “Cause Celebre”.
In dealing with “The Labor Case for Israel”, I must ask many of you, so more knowledgeable than myself, to bear with me if I seem to be stating the obvious. I do so because given arguments that in so many cases not merely distort history, but border on fantasy, truisms are not merely relevant, but unfortunately necessary.
The Land and the People
The basic attachment of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel has been well expressed in the Israel Proclamation of Independence as declared in 1948:
“In the Land of Israel the Jewish people came into being. In this land was shaped their spiritual, religious and national character. Here they lived in sovereign independence. Here they created a culture of national and universal import, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.” “Exiled by force, still the Jewish people kept faith with their land in all the countries of their dispersion, steadfast in their prayer and hope to return and here revive their political freedom.”
Although the great majority of Jews lived, for the best part of twenty centuries, in exile from Palestine and although the land was ruled by a succession of foreign conquerors, there was always a Jewish presence and a Jewish community. In fact, through the successive invasions and immigrations of many people in the region, the one constant fact about Palestine was that there were always Jewish communities in Jerusalem and other parts of the country which maintained their distinctive cultural life, produced their own spiritual leaders and provided the focus for the aspirations of the Diaspora.
It was in Palestine that Jews completed the Jerusalem Talmud, the great compilation of Jewish Law. It was in Palestine that the definitive text of the Old Testament was fixed. It was in Palestine that the Code of Rabbinical Law in daily use was compiled.
While the Land’s geo-political location has made it an objective of imperial conquest throughout history and while it has been invaded by Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantians, Arabs, Crusaders and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, it must be emphasised that the only periods in its history when the Land was independent have been the periods of Jewish sovereignty. No other people ever attained independence there.
In fact, only with the return of the Jews to the Land and the establishment of Israel have the indigenous Palestinian Arabs awakened to their own hopes for national self-determination and independence.
The attachment of Jews to the Land was not only a religious and spiritual abstraction. Certainly Jews prayed: “If I forget thee 0 Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning”, and “Next year in Jerusalem” during the most solemn moments of their ritual. But the attachment also went beyond the religious expression. Jews preserved the Hebrew language for the purposes of study, scholarship, and correspondence with Jews in other communities.
There is no parallel in history for the Renaissance of an ancient language turned modern which compares with the survival of Hebrew. The return of Jews to the Land did not begin with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 as is often suggested. Modern Zionism did indeed start the waves of immigrants in the 1880’s, but only the frame and the capacity for organisation was new, the movement of Jews to “THE! R LAND” had never ceased.
There was much movement during the days of the Moslem conquest and, despite the meagreness of surviving records, tenth century appeals for “Aleyah” by the Karaite leaders in Jerusalem have survived.
When Jews began systematically returning to Palestine in the 1870’s and 80’s, they found an Arab population of some 300,000 to 350,000. As recent research has demonstrated, a significant percentage of that Arab population was itself of relatively recent origin, having come in successive waves of immigration from Egypt during the 19th century. The return of the Jews created a situation in which the rights of two peoples had to be reconciled. The fact that the Arabs were there could not disqualify the aspirations of the Zionists since Jewish homelessness and the deprivation of rights to a national existence were all too terrible facts of life for the Jewish people.
No one could point to other territory to which Jewish nationhood had title and, conversely, it was clear that for reasons of history, religion and cultural attachment, the Jews did have a claim to Palestine. The question became one of compromise.
For all the changes in the last 100 years, the conflict remains one between a Jewish national aspiration which was and remains ready for co-existence and the exclusivist demand by the extreme Arab position which is predicated on eliminating the national rights of Jews in the region.
The Labor Movement and Israel
The Australian Labor Movement’s interest and involvement with Zionism and Israel goes back even before the well-known activities of the then Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Herbert Evatt. In the 1940’s prominent Labor Parliamentarians and leaders of the Trade Union Movement were active in the Australia-Palestine solidarity committees. There is some historical irony in the way the idea of “Palestine” has been transformed. But in those days, Palestine was seen to be a Jewish National Homeland by many members of the Labor Movement. It was a time when Palestinian Jews were fighting alongside Australians and Allied Armies against Nazism. It was a time also when Labor idealists were looking beyond the War to reconstruction and were already aware of Zionist experiments in communal living such as the Kibbutz, in Trade Union and socialist enterprises such as the Histadrut and in the varieties of co-operative farming and industrial ventures which a small community of some 600,000 Jews in Palestine had already been able to establish.
It was Evatt who dramatically expressed the natural affinity between the Australian Labor Movement and the emerging State of Israel. It was Evatt who returned to Australia after his term as President of the United Nations in 1948 and said that he saw the admission of Israel as the 59th Member of the World Organisation as “the most satisfactory moment of my Presidency”. In the generation which followed, the Labor Movement has continued to express this natural affinity. Leading members of the Labor community have seen in Israel not only a society led by a Labor Government for all of its 27 years but a range of innovative lifestyles and democratic socialist initiatives which are directly relevant for those of us trying to create a democratic socialist society in Australia. The fact that Histadrut, after the Government, is the largest owner of economic enterprises in Israel, the fact that these enterprises account for 17% of Israel’s gross national product and that they employ 22% of the labor force is of more than passing interest.
The Histadrut experiments in industrial democracy are of tremendous importance to Australia, where our industrial arbitration system provides the basis for continuing confrontation over the division of spoils, but which fails to provide a structure within which the broader issues of democratizing our factories, workshops and places of employment can be resolved.
Take the social services made available to its members by the Histadrut from a health insurance service through old age homes, children’s institutions, loans and other financial assistance to elderly workers and funds for helping the dependants of deceased members.
Then there are the cultural and educational services which the Trade Union Movement in Israel offer. The Histadrut has its own publishing house, two daily newspapers, choirs’, art circles and it sponsors Israel’s largest sports and athletics organisation. The Trade Union Movement can claim an adult membership which accounts for half the population. There are about 100,000 Arab and Druze members who, as Israeli citizens, are full members of the Histadrut. Over 60% of the Arab workers belong. All receive the same pay as Jews for equal work and all enjoy the benefits of Israel’s social and labor laws.
Israel’s successes and failures with the absorption of immigrants, and the attempts to maintain a viable multi-ethnic society, are also directly relevant to Australian democratic socialists bridging the gap between the established haves, and the new settlers; encouraging cultural variety together with some basic national cohesion and belonging; extending equal opportunity to those who are handicapped because of language, or background, or lack of education and understanding of an advanced technologically-based society.
Only now are some of our educationists able to grasp the significance of Israeli educational programmes designed to provide for the easier integration of the new settler.
It was a Labor Government which introduced Australia’s immigration programme, a programme which has transformed Australia in a generation. We are beginning to come to grips with the problems created as a result. Israel has also been transformed in a generation by its own immigration programmes undertaken against a background of far greater stress and external hostility. Those of us who have been to Israel find that here again, democratic socialists have much in common.
Australian Foreign Policy and Israel
Unlike the super powers, and unlike the former colonial powers who used to have a vested interest in the region, an Australian Government’s policies are not as central to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. But they are important and relevant in a moral sense and as part of the contribution to a solution based on principles which are just and fair to the parties involved.
Israelis have proved in four wars in 2% decades that the survival of Israel ultimately rests on the people of Israel themselves. Whatever financial, political and military support they receive from the United States or from other nations in the final analysis, Israel survives because of the determination and capacity of its own people. To that extent, Australia’s attitudes are relevant, because at a time when the pressures of the Third world are increasingly directed towards isolating Israel, it matters that countries like Australia should remain as friends who are credible. An Australian Labor Government which is not part of the super power conflict and which does have standing amongst the non-aligned world can therefore make a contribution to the resolution of tension in the Middle East..
The United Nations resolution on Zionism In this context, it is worth looking at the recent vote,in the United Nations where a majority supported the Arab view that: “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”. I believe that Zionism is the expression of the historical aspirations of the Jewish people for a home and a land of its own which arose out of the suffering and anguish of a homeless Jewish people. The Australian representative at the United Nations who spoke against that resolution and denounced it in the strongest.terms, put it this way: “This is a proposition which we will not accept in any sense. The attempt of the co-sponsors to equate Zionism with racial discrimination is, we believe, a distortion of fact, is unhelpful in the Middle East, and regrettably weakens the essential purpose of the resolutions which we have just adopted. Moreover, we are concerned at the very real possibility that this resolution, if adopted, will exacerbate religious animosities in a number of countries”.
The American delegate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said: “A great evil has been loosed upon the world. The abomination of anti-semitism – has been given the appearance of international sanction. The General Assembly today grants symbolic amnesty -and more – to the murderers of the six million European Jews”.
Whatever else Zionism may be, it is not and cannot be a “form of racism”. Israel is remarkable for the range of “racial stocks” from which it has drawn its citizenry. There are black Jews, brown Jews, white Jews, Jews from the Orient and Jews from the West.
More than half of Israel’s population were either born in Arab countries or are the children of such Jews. The population of Israel includes large numbers of non-Jews, among them Arabs of both the Muslim Christian religions and Christians of other national origins. Most of them are citizens of Israel, and those who are not can become citizens by similar legal procedures to those which exist in Australia or in most nations of Western Europe.
The idea that Jews are a “Race” was invented not by Jews but by those who hated them. The result has been that today anti-Zionism has often become a polite, even a socially acceptable form of anti-Semitism. This does not mean that every anti-Zionist is an anti-Semite. But it would be hard to find an anti-Semite who is not also an anti-Zionist.
It is both reasonable and natural that the Labor Movement should also be concerned with the Palestinian people. This is both a human and political issue at the very centre of the conflict. It should be recalled that the same resolution of the United Nations which called Israel into being also recommended a Palestinian Arab State alongside a Jewish one. It was not Israel’s fault that such a State did not eventuate. In 1949, after the Armistice, Israel was one of the few supporters of a Palestinian State. It was the Arab world which strangled the idea at its very beginning. It was the Hashemite King Abdullah of Jordan who annexed the West Bank and it was Egypt which put the Gaza under a Military Government for nearly twenty years. In the period between 1949 and 1967, Israel did not occupy Arab territory; the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had the opportunity for a State of their own. It was Inter-Arab rivalry and power struggles which prevented the Palestinians forming their own State. Israel cannot be held responsible for that failure.
Today the point must be clearly made that it is both proper and legitimate for those of us in the Labor Movement who are concerned about the conflict and want to be truly even-handed to say that the Palestinians must have every opportunity to create a national home of their own. What has to be understood is that no such Palestinian State can be created on the assumption that it will replace a destroyed Israel. What has to be further understood is that such a dream is both futile and dangerous. Clearly, after four wars the Israelis have demonstrated that rather than forfeit their State, which embodies all their hopes, they will just simply fight to the end.
My own overwhelming impression of Israel is that as long as there is one rifle, one bullet and one Israeli, the State of Israel will still exist. The dream of destroying Israel is therefore a nightmare. It means contemplating a holocaust which will be more terrible and more far-reaching in its consequences for the Jewish people everywhere and for the world generally than even the holocaust which overtook the Jewish people in the Second World War.
It is therefore important to distinguish between the rights of the Palestinians to have a State of their own alongside Israel in an area to be determined by negotiations and with boundaries agreed upon which are secure and recognised by both sides, and the continuing insistence of the P.L.O. that Israel must ultimately be done away with. It is both possible and desirable that members of the Labor Movement should be able to support the idea of a peaceful, independent Palestine without supporting either the methods or objectives of Terrorist Groups whose real support amongst the Palestinians is at best questionable and who have certainly been unable to demonstrate that they speak for the genuine interests of the Palestinians.
The role that the Labor Movement in Australia can play best is to express its sense of identity with Israel and its willingness to pursue this principle even if this is against the mainstream of power in the world community. The United Nations resolution provides a classic example. For let us ask ourselves who were the sponsors of the resolution against Zionism?They were a group of States whose racist record is hardly enviable. The prominence of Syria, Iraq and Libya in pushing the resolution was in sharp contrast to the record that they and other Arab States have in emphatically suppressing non-Muslim and non-Arab minorities in their own countries. Amongst those who are loudest in their condemnation of Zionism, the Police State, the Dictatorship, and the Military Junta were all prominent. In none of these countries is there a free Labor Movement, a genuine Trade Union Movement or a viable system of Parliamentary Democracy. The Australian Labor Movement must be able to make the necessary distinctions of principle and in that lies its best contribution to a peaceful solution.
We must never forget that an Australian Labor Government in office helped give birth to the infant State of Israel. Throughout the International Labor Movement, we can acknowledge, but also take some pride in the fact that a Labor Government in Israel has given her people a leadership that has enabled Israel not merely to survive four wars, but to create a set of social institutions of great significance to democratic socialists throughout the world. It is interesting to ponder how much further these extraordinary and vital concepts and structures could have been taken if peace and not readiness for war had not so heavily taxed Israeli resources. It is perhaps in this area that the productive genius of the Jewish people will make one of its contributions to a troubled Western World – a world in which the rate of change has placed many existing social institutions under a range of challenges with which they cannot cope.
That the Jewish people have come home is now one of the dominant facts of this century. Their real title deeds were written by the heroic endurance of those who maintained a Jewish presence in the Land all through the centures and in spite of every discouragement. The agonies of her people in four wars since the establishment of the State has simply deepened the mystical attachment of the Jewish people for their Land.
Settlement of problems in the Middle East, which comprehends these facts, riot merely leaves much which is genuinely negotiable, but provides the basis for a permanent and lasting peace.
A Labour Government in office, conscious of its own historic role in assisting in the creating of the State of Israel, aware of the significance and relevance of Israeli social structures to its own political objective, perceiving its own sense of moral purpose in Foreign Policy, can as a non-aligned voice outside the framework of the great power conflict — help provide a path to peace in the Middle East and, by that peace, help ensure that the achievement of the people of Israel in the future will be as worthy and as noble as their past.