The British left and Zionism

History of a divorce

Author: Paul Kelemen

This study examines how the diverse strands of the British left have interpreted the conflict in Palestine. From being overwhelmingly supportive of the Zionist movement’s effort to build a Jewish state in Palestine and welcoming Israel’s establishment the left, in the main, has become increasingly critical of Israel. The Labour Party, for much of its history, had portrayed Zionist settlement as a social democratic experiment that would benefit both Jews and Arabs. Its leaders turned a blind eye to the Zionist movement’s sectarian practices which through its trade union and agricultural co-operatives aimed to build an exclusively Jewish economy. The rise of fascism in Europe and the Holocaust reinforced the party’s support for Jewish state building in Palestine. The British Communist Party was by contrast critical of Zionism but in 1947, following the lead given by the Soviet Union, endorsed the United Nations’ partition of Palestine and subsequently ignored the plight of the Palestinian refugees. It was not until the rise of the new left, in the late 1960s, that Palestinian nationalist aspiration found a voice on the British left and began to command mainstream attention. The book examines the principal debates on the left over the Palestine/Israel conflict and the political realignment that they have helped to shape.

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