Interview with Israeli anarchist Ilan Shalif

Ilan Shalif

Interview conducted by Greek libertarian journal Aftoleksi with Jewish anarchist Ilan Shalif. Born in 1937, Shalif can be described as the living history of anarchism in Israel. He was a member of the Israeli socialist organization Matzepn. After the breakup of Matzpen, Shalif continued his activities, participating in other initiatives in Israel, such as Anarchists Against the Wall and the now defunct anarchist federation Ahdut [Unity]. Despite his old age, he remains firm in his political ideas and continues his activism. He has authored numerous articles on direct democracy and antiauthoritarianism, as well as a fictional novel entitled 'Glimpses Into the Year 2100 (50 years after the revolution)' - a story about life in a future direct-democratic society.

Submitted by free_demos on May 22, 2024

Aftoleksi: Let us begin with what is currently taking place in Gaza. The world is witnessing the massacre of the population of a whole territory, while Middle Eastern major powers are, as many fear, on the brink of starting a third-world war (most notably Israel and Iran, but also Turkey and Saudi Arabia, under the approving eye of the US and Russia). What is your estimation of the situation?

Ilan Shalif:Israel continues terrorizing and killing the population of the Gaza strip. It still hopes to force more people to leave Gaza but it is actually only dragging time and evades the moment of admitting its defeat, having to release Palestinian prisoners in return for the Israeli captives, and enabling a new administration that is not in clear opposition to the Palestinian West Bank administration to manage the Gaza strip.

The brink of starting a third-world war is nothing more than a silly exaggeration. Israel cannot start such a war nor even a major confrontation without the US consent. The low intensity wars between Turkey and the Kurds, between Hezbollah (used by Iran) and Israel, and Israel serving as proxy for US interests which try to force the Russians out of Syria, are not preconditions for the eruption of a world war.

What can the resolution to this grim situation be? What was the initial proposal of the Jewish left for Palestine?

Until 1948 the Hashomer Hatzair, the main leftist-Zionist force of the time, said they are for a bi-national State but on the condition that it will be dominated by Jews. Thus, we cannot speak of real equality. After ’48 they supported the taking of land from displaced Palestinians for the creation of more kibbutzes. Their leftism was more to deceive young Israelis born in the country, who were leaning to the left, to keep them within the Zionist frame. And the truth is that they succeeded for a while.

And then Matzpen comes in…

Matzpen is a whole different thing. It began as a small tendency within the Communist Party of Israel that opposed the party’s mainstream Zionist-Marxist orientation, its unquestionable support for the Soviet Union, and Stalinism. Because of these disagreements they were expelled from the party, and created Matzpen as an anti-Zionist and anti-capitalist organization. In the following years, due to the lack of other anti-Zionist organizations, other anti-Zionists joined Matzpen that belonged to different tendencies: Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists. Thus, the organization obtained quite diverse and autonomous political character, which would later lead to a split by some of the Forth-Internationalists, Trotskyists and Maoists from Matzpen. But even after the split there were still some Trotskyists, that would remain in the organization along the rest of leftists and anarchists. Matzpen was the most radical leftist and anti-Zionist revolutionary organization in Israel during its existence.

What was the alternative that Matzpen offered to replace Zionism? Some sort of a confederalist alternative?

We proposed a revolution of the region (not confined within national borders), and that after this revolution the communities, without any government or national entity, would organize society from the bottom-up. We insisted that there is no place for national entities. The only viable alternative is one society for Palestinians and Jews (and other minorities) without any national entities to confederate.

But I personally prefer to use different term from confederalism, because when people speak of federations they either mean unions of nation-states, or of independent entities that are not part of a binding whole. I already made it clear that I reject the former, but I also have a problem with the latter, because it implies a loose way of organizing the world. But a society cannot be organized in a loose manner. It has to be organized in a real and cohesive libertarian-communist multi-leveled direct democracy - with various levels of committees, which coordinate things, while decision-making power always remains in the assemblies of the grassroots communities. This is my idea for an alternative to the present order, not because I experienced it in the kibbutz life, but because this is what it can be.

We also examine the project of direct democracy in a similar way with you, but we think that confederalism is a useful term, although we agree that it has been used in various, often conflicting, ways. That is, on the one hand we have nation-states taking over this terminology, so that they can refer to their centralized bureaucracies as federations (meaning nothing more than the supposedly “federal” USA or Russia). And on the other, it is being used by some lifestyle anarchists who use the term confederation as a voluntarist network, where decisions are never binding.

Take for example climate change, and the way it is being provoked by a fragmented, antagonistic capitalist order. To resolve such a crisis, you cannot have a loose organization. You need a coherent direct-democratic system of equality to prevent the destruction of our world. It is not by chance that I chose in my fictional novel for the revolution to have taken place when the world was on the brink of a climate catastrophe. It is in the face of this danger that people were faced with the need to organize direct-democratically in order for the world to be saved. It is not a matter of this or that group organizing in this way, and forming loose connections between each other. It requires the radical reconstruction of societies so that everyone can work together toward saving the planet.

But let’s scale down from such planetary threats and take for example any moderate-sized town. It has one sewage system, one electricity system, and other crucial public infrastructures. You cannot manage them on loose basis. For sure you will need a multi-level direct democracy of the city community.

Were there collaborations between Matzpen and socialist groups consisted of Palestinian Arabs?

There were some Arab activists who collaborated with Matzpen. They were attracted to our anti-Zionist orientation. In response, the Communist Party tried to frame us as traitors and agents of the secret services. We had collaborations with Arab people who were loosely related to the Al-Ard movement – a movement that revolved around the idea of Palestinians, Jews, and other ethnic groups living in one democratic and secular country. This was the kind of Arab activists we were in contact with.

We also worked a lot with village communities. There was a village back then, called Tira, that has since then grown into a city. And locals there were joking that if one day Tira becomes a city, they will elect me as mayor, because we were going there very often to organize political events and to sell copies of the Matzpen journal, which was written part in Hebrew and part in Arabic. The Arabs in these communities accepted us as political friends.

When one of our members was arrested they helped us gather signatures for his release. They helped us and were in good relationship with us because they accepted us as comrades in the struggle against Zionism.

After Matzpen was disbanded what other autonomous and libertarian-communist organizations were created?

All along the years there were small groups of lifestyle anarchists. They were mostly organized around animal rights and the Anonymous movement. At the beginning of the 2000s was formed, around anarchists involved in animal rights and social anarchists, the Anarchists Against the Wall initiative, which was active up to the late 2010. Also, there was, for a while during the 2010s, an anarchist federation called Ahdut (Unity), started by Jews from Russian descent. There were also couple of Palestinians (one or two) that participated, but we have to keep in mind that it was too dangerous for Arabs to engage in such activity, so although there were others that were generally interested, they avoided getting organized in Ahdut. Unfortunately, it functioned for only 6 or 7 years, and was disbanded after that. When they first contacted me, I told them that I would be interested only if they are a serious organization that conducts assemblies on regular basis. After a while they started organizing more seriously, and so I joined them. Unfortunately, after some time it began dissolving gradually.

Currently there is one active anarchist group, consisted again mainly by Russian Jews, called Kompass. But they are a relatively new group…

You were also participant in the Anarchists Against the Wall…

Yes, in the past I was also intensely involved in the Anarchists Against the Wall. Although there were anarchist activists within it (many of whom were not of the social, pro-organizational type of anarchism I abide to), in its nature it wasn’t an anarchist initiative. It was born from a series of joint actions by Jewish activists (some of whom anarchists) and Palestinian Arabs against the occupation. One of these activities was organized under the motto of ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’. It got great publicity and they decided to keep the name, because before that every action went under different motto. So, it was, before all an anti-Zionist initiative, rather than an anarchist one. But with the passage of time, some of the non-anarchist participants in the Anarchists Against the Wall became more acceptive of the libertarian ideas, some even began calling themselves anarchist.

Do you know of any anarchist group in the West Bank or in Gaza?

I know that there are some Palestinians that abide to anarchism, but they are afraid to organize, because it is too dangerous. When the anarchist federation Ahdut was still active we met some Palestinian activists in some of the villages in the occupied territories who regard positively our activity. When we printed (and translated) our opinion about the conflict in the region and gave copies of it to activists of the Palestinian village Bil'in and to activists of the joint struggle from other places, nearly all of them expressed their agreement with our anarchist-communist position. In general, I think that most Palestinians agree on some form of coexistence with the Jews, not because they like us too much or anything, but because this is the reality now. They don’t agree with the proposal of the radical islamists to expel all the Jews. It was to those people, that are in favor of a common future, that we tried to transmit our message of one society based on direct democracy. There was a survey in Gaza before the October attack that showed that approximately one third of its inhabitants were in favor of one society with Jews remaining in it.

There is, however, one group that pretends to be anarchist – Fauda. But they are not anarchist. They speak, for example, about God. And neither are they Palestinian. They are fake. They are a group that pretends to be both Palestinian and anarchist. There are too many things about them that point in this direction. I don’t know if they are just a bunch of crazy people from abroad, or a creation of the secret services. I honestly don’t know.

What about the ongoing mass demonstrations against the Netanyahu government? Do you see potential for something more than just a call to replace one politician with another?

The ongoing mass demos express the more moderate social-democratic Zionism against the more right-wing one, that is more chauvinist and even fascist in character and a proponent of extreme Neo-liberal capitalism. But nonetheless antiauthoritarian perspectives can emerge from any ongoing mass demonstration and direct action and so we attend the gatherings. We persist. The main Zionist part of the demonstrations has gotten used to us and rarely engages in arguing with us. There were few hundred people from the radical left at these demos that stood against occupation. In the beginning I personally counted also 20-30 anarchists, but they attended unorganized. I started carrying a large black and red flag in these demos all by myself for about a year. Gradually young Russian Jews joined me and even some of the new young Russian activists from Kompass joined with their banners too. As a result, at this year’s 1st of May demo we had an anarchist bloc once again since the disbandment of Ahdut.

And what are your thoughts on the Hamas rule in Gaza until the October attack?

I think it clearly couldn’t be worst, because Israel facilitated the orthodox Muslim radicals’ ascension to power in the Gaza strip. Israel helped create Hamas in its inner politics against the Palestinian Authority.

What do you think of 'Democratic Confederalism' - the political project developed in theory and in practice by the Kurdish freedom movement and the communities of Rojava? What are, in your opinion, its implications for the wider Middle Eastern region?

The Rojava struggle started as a self-defense struggle against ISIS at the forefront of which was the Kurdish PKK with Ocalan’s new councilist ideology. It is a struggle for autonomy with feminist and socialist characteristics. It is a good thing, something like Chiapas, that can serve as educational tool against capitalism and fascism.

But as for its potential practical implications for the wider Middle Eastern region I am not that optimistic. In this multidimensional conflict it could survive only because of US’s partial support (as an effective anti-ISIS power) and the tolerance of Assad as they did not join forces with those who wanted to overthrow his regime. In my opinion there is no chance of expanding this project to other countries of the region, not even to the Iraqi Kurdish region.

Now let us change topic. You have lived in a Kibbutz. Can you tell us more about the Kibbutz life?

Have in mind that the kibbutzes were subsidized by the capitalist Jewish elite, because it was the cheapest way to settle Palestine. But within the Kibbutz communities there was a level of direct democracy – from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. They usually operated without hired workers until 1948. But there are few today that even after the privatization of the Kibbutz continue to adhere to their old mode of organizing.

When the decline of Kibbutzism began?

You see, in 1948 the economy changed. There were a lot of options to exploit cheap immigrant labor and some Kibbutz communities took advantage of this. After 1977, when the left-wing Mapai (dominant in the Zionist project for many years: from before Israel’s created in 1948 until 1977) lost parliamentary power the capitalists began pressuring most of the kibbutzes to increasingly depend on outside capital. Most of the kibbutzes were in the sphere of agriculture and were not performing too good because their subsidies were stopped. It was a new era, very different from the one of 1948, when around 75% of the economy was held by cooperatives and socialized enterprises within the Zionist project.

So, in a way, this was one of the limitations of the Kibbutz – that they were too small-scaled and isolated from each other, thus becoming too dependent on Capital and on the resources of the State? Because of that they couldn’t create a system of their own?

The problem was that from the beginning they were subsidized by the Zionist system. Few of them flourished economically, but most of them operated on the brink of bankruptcy. In the Kibbutz even, the leftists described themselves as Zionist-Marxists (but in reality, were more Zionist than Marxist), while very few abided to the ideas of libertarian communism. You see, in the 1950s there was a split within the Communist Party, which was part of the Zionist establishment that built Israel, because of the choice of the establishment to align itself with the USA in the Korean War. So, there was a tendency of Marxist-Leninists that left the majority Zionist-Marxist Communist Party. Because of this a mass expulsion of Marxist-Leninists followed in the kibbutzes. There were probably few hundred that were thrown out. People who have worked and lived for many years in these Kibbutz were thrown out with no mercy – simply because they refused to abide to Zionism.

I was probably one of the last ones to be thrown out of a Kibbutz for having too radical leftist views and anti-Zionist activity. But due to the political environment of the time and the ongoing persecutions of political dissidents in Russia, it became unpopular to expel people on the basis of their ideas. So, there were several months of conflict within the Kibbutz between those who wanted to expel me and those who didn’t. Although my libertarian-communist ideas were to no liking to the others, I was among the hardest agricultural workers and was elected three times as the head of our Kibbutz’s political committee for external affairs. But in the end the Zionist-Marxist side prevailed, with 60% of the inhabitants of the community voting for my expulsion, and thus the Kibbutz had to pay me compensation. But I think that after me no one else was thrown out of a Kibbutz, because the compensations were mounting and were creating problems for Kibbutz budgets.

Were there disagreements within the Kibbutz regarding the inclusion of Palestinian-Arabs?

The Kibbutz, because from the beginning they were aligned to the Zionist system, they almost never accepted Arab members, even the more leftist Kibbutz. There was a tendency of Arabs who accepted Zionism and some of them even lived inside Kibbutz, but not as members, but as trainees. And once their training was finished they were refused membership. No one gave them land nor piece of the budget.

But despite all these shortcomings the Kibbutz were nonetheles a laboratory where certain libertarian ideas and practices were tested, but in a limited scope and timeframe.

Thank you very much for your time!

Source from the original Greek material: Aftoleksi

Comments

westartfromhere

1 month ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 23, 2024

adri wrote: I haven't seen any evidence regarding Israel's support for Hamas around the time of the First Intifada [1987]...

See Comments, Collusion between the State of Israel and Hamas

Ilan spoke: ...Israel facilitated the orthodox Muslim radicals’ ascension to power in the Gaza strip. Israel helped create Hamas...

adri

1 month ago

Submitted by adri on May 23, 2024

Re westartfromhere

Shalif wrote: I think it clearly couldn’t be worst, because Israel facilitated the orthodox Muslim radicals’ ascension to power in the Gaza strip. Israel helped create Hamas in its inner politics against the Palestinian Authority.

Yes, that's the correct wording; Israel supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, out of which Hamas and Islamic Jihad emerged. Israel never "founded" Hamas, however, as many people erroneously claim.

Incidentally, and unrelated to the article, it's also a bit disheartening to see all this cheerleading for Hamas among the "left." Hamas are not the "liberators" of Palestinians; they're anti-communist reactionaries and religious fanatics who played no small part in plunging Gaza into its current situation. It is not at all surprising that Israel has responded with disproportionate violence, as they historically always have, against Palestinians in retaliation for the 7 October Attacks. While Israel is responsible for their own actions, Hamas also bears some responsibility for the current bloodshed in Gaza, since it was easy to predict that the Netanyahu government would use the attacks as a pretext for the further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. It's also as if some people don't recall that Palestinians/Arabs had already tried engaging militarily with Israel countless times prior to the 7 October Attacks, and every time it has mostly been to Israel's advantage, resulting in the further annexation of land and the accelerated ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Leftist support for Hamas is also shared by Israel itself. Prior to the 7 October, the Netanyahu government had repeatedly emphasized how they planned to use Hamas in order to maintain the divisions between them and the Palestinian Authority/Fatah and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. The fact that Hamas is more militant has also been to Israel's advantage, as they can simply say that they refuse to negotiate with terrorists (i.e. they want the group who they can't negotiate with to stick around, seeing as how they don't want to negotiate in the first place).

adri

1 month ago

Submitted by adri on May 23, 2024

Shalif wrote: Israel helped create Hamas in its inner politics against the Palestinian Authority.

Just for clarity, I believe Shalif is referring to Israeli support and facilitation of Hamas following the Oslo Accords here, as the PA didn't exist during the First Intifada. Israel had originally supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza because the latter opposed the secular nationalism and militancy of the PLO/Fatah. Israel hoped to use the more religious Muslim Brotherhood as a deterrent against the growth of the PLO/Fatah.

what-now

1 month ago

Submitted by what-now on May 24, 2024

There's so much to comment on in this, both fascinating & irritating. Let me limit to one section

"There is, however, one group that pretends to be anarchist – Fauda. But they are not anarchist. They speak, for example, about God. And neither are they Palestinian. They are fake. They are a group that pretends to be both Palestinian and anarchist. There are too many things about them that point in this direction. I don’t know if they are just a bunch of crazy people from abroad, or a creation of the secret services. I honestly don’t know."

This is textbook badjacketing. Israelis & some of their manarchist friends abroad keep saying Fauda is suspicious or possible cops without meaningful evidence, the closest attempt to actually prove anything was this https://anarchistnews.org/content/fake-chaos-%E2%80%9Cfauda%E2%80%9D

All of the claims were responded to here https://rant.li/alks/on-palestinian-anarchists-fauda

It is possible that Fauda aren't genuine but serious evidence should be presented. If this story is good enough the amount of "western" anarchists who must be called fake would skyrocked

westartfromhere

1 month ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 24, 2024

Just to get this straight in our heads, 'Israel never "founded" Hamas' but 'helped create Hamas'.

adri

4 weeks 1 day ago

Submitted by adri on May 24, 2024

Even that's pushing it a bit, but it's still an improvement over falsely claiming that Israel "founded Hamas." I don't know why people don't just say "Israel supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza out of which Hamas and Islamic Jihad emerged." Starting to sound like a broken record here...

westartfromhere

3 weeks 3 days ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 30, 2024

Israel supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza out of which Hamas and Islamic Jihad emerged.

The question is, What is the present relationship between Israel and Islamism, and the working class in Gaza and its environs?

There was once a Kingdom of Judah, which started its life—and continued that way—in an antagonistic relationship with the northern Kingdom of Isra'el, as its oppressor.

The Jewish State has substituted its former subject, the forced labour of the children of Isra'el, for its modern subject, forced wage labour. Just like the Versaillaise of Old France.

Proletarian Revolution, Vol. II, Issue 7, pg 37

Submitted by IlanS on June 16, 2024

what-now wrote: There's so much to comment on in this, both fascinating & irritating. Let me limit to one section

"There is, however, one group that pretends to be anarchist – Fauda. But they are not anarchist. They speak, for example, about God. And neither are they Palestinian. They are fake. They are a group that pretends to be both Palestinian and anarchist. There are too many things about them that point in this direction. I don’t know if they are just a bunch of crazy people from abroad, or a creation of the secret services. I honestly don’t know."

This is textbook badjacketing. Israelis & some of their manarchist friends abroad keep saying Fauda is suspicious or possible cops without meaningful evidence, the closest attempt to actually prove anything was this https://anarchistnews.org/content/fake-chaos-%E2%80%9Cfauda%E2%80%9D

All of the claims were responded to here https://rant.li/alks/on-palestinian-anarchists-fauda

It is possible that Fauda aren't genuine but serious evidence should be presented. If this story is good enough the amount of "western" anarchists who must be called fake would skyrocked

I did no research about Fauda. I just took the data from texts in Russian avtono.org and other reliable anarchist-communists. The reference to "God" was in a publication of Fauda.