Israel, Syria and the International Refugees Crisis
(The article below is the translation of a Hebrew original, published on the website of the RCIT Section in Occupied Palestine /Israel.)
The difficult scenes of the suffering of refugees, mainly Syrian who wish to travel to countries like Germany and Austria, have brought to mind images of Jews who were transported in freight trains to death camps. The numbers written on the arms of these refugees only sharpened this memory.
In this context, it should be noted that all those political forces which supported breaking the back of the revolutionary struggle of the working class between the two world wars, preferring Nazism over the socialist revolution, bear responsibility for the Jewish Holocaust. This includes American, French and British imperialism, Stalinism, and the leadership of the Zionist movement. As one of the Warsaw ghetto fighters, the leader of the resistance wrote: “Don’t blame only the Nazis; they were all guilty.”
The Causes of the Refugee Crisis
Today, the ones to blame for creating the suffering of millions of Syrian refugees are first of all the imperialist powers lead by the United States, Britain and other European countries which initiated the First Gulf War (1991), thereby beginning the dismantling of the imperialist order established in the Middle East following World War I and II. The imperialist greed for oil and gas is the number one cause of today’s refugee question.
Second place goes to the Assad regime in Syria, which is responsible for the mass slaughter of Syrian masses ever since the beginning of the protest movement in 2011. Iran which at one and the same time is prepared to serve US imperialism and give support to Assad is also responsible, as are Russian and Chinese imperialism, driven as they are by economic motives to support the corrupt regime of Assad.
The sectarian, outrageously murderous policy of arch-reactionary Daesh and al-Qaeda also contributes no small part to the creation of the refugee problem in Syria. While revolutionaries don’t give these latter, despicable forces a shred of political support, in the war against the no less brutal Assad regime, supported as it is by Russian and Chinese imperialism, it is the duty of Marxists to support militarily any organization not subject to imperialism in its fight against imperialism. The Islamist movement in Syria, despite being utterly reactionary, dreaming as it does of a reestablishing a Caliphate, and despite the support in money and arms it receives from the venal, reactionary monarchic regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is not subject to imperialism.
To those socialists who are appalled at the notion of supporting militarily such Islamist movements because of their inherently ultra-reactionary nature, we have only to recall two precedents: the struggle of the self-proclaimed Mahdi of Sudan, Muhammad Ahmad, against British imperialism led by General Gordon in the 1880’s, which was analyzed by Engels in terms of anti-imperialism and class struggle (1); and the struggle of the Riffian people, North African Berbers, against French and Spanish colonial occupation which was supported by the Communist International during Lenin and Trotsky’s time. Were the Mahdi’s movement and that led by Abd el-Krim in the short-lived Republic of Rif not Islamic fundamentalist in nature?
Of course, the ultimate solution in Syria, as the entire region, is its unification by means of a democratic struggle led by the working class under a revolutionary communist leadership. This struggle will not stop with the creation of a bourgeois state but will move on to bring about a socialist revolution. However, today it is extremely difficult to see such a struggle on the horizon. This struggle will eventually come, but it will take time.
Meanwhile, demands must be made upon the imperialist countries to open their gates to the refugees and the handling of the refugees’ needs should be given to the labor unions in cooperation with democratically elected committees of refugees themselves, as we have no confidence in the solutions of the capitalists and their representatives in parliament.
The Syrian “Opposition Leader” Kamal Labwani
In response to the Syrian refugee crisis, the chairman of the Zionist Camp, Isaac Herzog, wrote on his Facebook page:
“Jews cannot be indifferent when hundreds of thousands of refugees are begging for a safe haven. Our people experienced the silence of the world and therefore cannot remain indifferent in light of the murder and massacres taking place in Syria. This morning, I participated in the Shabbat Culture event hosted by the journalist Yoav Krakowski from the “Voice of Israel” [Israel state-run radio] and told him that yesterday I spoke with Kamal Labwani, a prominent leader of the Syrian opposition who was exiled from his country, and with whom I keep in close touch since the start of the civil war in Syria. Labwani asked in the name of the leaders of the Syrian opposition to initiate an international emergency conference to deal with the tragedy in Syria. I added that Israel should attend such a conference and participate in international efforts, including the supervised absorption of refugees and in the continuation of humanitarian measures already being carried out in Syria. The situation in Syria is extremely complex. Yesterday, Wahid Balous, the leader of the Druze in Syria, was murdered. The Druze are also threatened and persecuted there and this murder is just more oil spilled onto the dangerous fire burning there now.”
Of course, it’s worth knowing exactly who this Kamal Labwani is, this Syrian opposition leader with whom Herzog maintains such close ties. It will come as no surprise to learn that that he is a friend of Israel and American imperialism, Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, submitted a publicized initiative whereby Israel was called to give to the Syrian opposition military and diplomatic assistance in its struggle against the Assad regime, as a preliminary step to peace and normalization with the future government of Syria. According to a report in the London daily Al-Arab, the initiative was coordinated with Arab and regional officials in cooperation with members of the US Congress, and it has received the blessing of senior officers and commanders in the Free Syrian Army. As part of its efforts to promote the initiative, al-Labwani travelled to secret meetings in Germany, and even expressed his readiness to visit Israel “if this will serve the Syrian people, peace, and the peoples of the region.”
Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, a physician born in 1957, served two prison terms during the regime of Bashar al-Assad, 2001-2004 and 2005-2011, first for his role in the “Damascus Spring” and the other following a visit to Washington in which he met with American officials to discuss replacing Assad’s regime with one closer to the United States. In his 2005 trial he was convicted of “harming the national security” of Syria and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but was released in November 2011 after having served half of his prison term as part of the regime’s attempts to placate domestic public opinion in the wake of the growing protests. After his release, al-Labwani participated in non-violent demonstrations which took place in Syria and called for replacing the regime. Not much later, al-Labwani decided to leave the country for fear of being arrested or assassinated, reached Jordan and was there granted political asylum in Sweden. From then on he focused the bulk of his activity in Turkey as a member of the Syrian National Council, and after its dissolution, as a member of the Secretariat General and of the Founding Committee of the National Coalition of Revolutionary Forces and the Syrian opposition. At the beginning of 2014, he resigned from the coalition, which he accused of financial and administrative corruption and reproducing the culture of conduct characteristic of the tyrannical Assad regime, and began to act independently.
In recent months, in a series of articles and interviews in the Arabic, Israeli, and Western press and television media, al-Labwani announced his initiative to promote cooperation between the Syrian opposition and Israel, which would lead – after the conclusion of the civil war in Syria and the overthrow of the current regime – to a close peace and normalization between the two countries. The background to this initiative, as al-Labwani explained, was the impasse which the civil war had reached in Syria, meaning the military status quo on the ground and the failure of diplomatic talks which had taken place in Geneva under the auspices of the United States, Russia, and the United Nations. According to al-Labwani, cooperation with Israel, which enjoys military power and political influence in the international arena, particularly in the US, could possibly help the Syrian opposition to tip the balance of military power and diplomatic efforts in its favor, end the ongoing bloodbath in Syria, and ultimately defeat the Assad regime. The main military role al-Labwani suggested for Israel under the proposed cooperation focused on establishing a restricted flying zone in southern Syria from within Israel’s border without Israel’s penetrating Syrian territory by land. According to his plan, Israel would intercept any Syrian fighter plane a moment after its take off using the anti-aircraft systems at its disposal which cover a range of over a hundred kilometers stretching from the Golan Heights to Damascus, and which includes, among other places, al-Soidaa, Daraa, the southern portion of the Damascus countryside, and the Syrian-Lebanese border. NATO, for its part, would be responsible for attacking Assad’s military airports. As part of the diplomatic role Al-Labwani allocated to Israel, the latter would be asked to remove its opposition to the toppling of the Assad regime and would agree to the transfer of arms from the West to the opposition forces.
Al-Labwani highlighted a series of strategic assets which his initiative would give Israel, and which would make it serve the shared interest of both sides: On the security level, it will thwart plans by Hezbollah to set up in the Golan launching bases similar those it has in southern Lebanon; the Syrian opposition led by him will commit itself to remove the military option against Israel; and the opposition will work to establish, after the establishment of a legitimate government in Syria, a peace treaty subject to an agreement on the Golan Heights.
Regarding the fate of the Golan Heights as part of a future peace agreement between the sides, Al-Labuani was somewhat vague about the exact details of the proposed arrangement. In an interview with Al-Arab, he hinted that the Syrian opposition should give up the Golan Heights in exchange for Israeli cooperation in overthrowing the Assad regime, or “sell” it to Israel, as he put it, rather than lose all of Syria. (2)
In short, we see that Al-Labuani is a top-notch agent of imperialism, bending the struggle against Assad to the needs of the United States and Israel.
Israel Opposed to Refugees
This does not mean that we shouldn’t demand that the gates of the State of Israel be opened to Syrian refugees and even more so to the Palestinian refugees who were expelled by Israel 1947-48. Of course, bourgeois Zionist Israel will never dare do this, and the solution will ultimately come within the framework of a different type of state, democratic and red.
However the Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vehemently rejects the entry of Syrian refugees into Israel for the usual reasons that we now hear echoed by the right-wing government in Hungary: the demographic threat.
“Israel is a very small country, with no demographic or geographic depth, and we must therefore control our borders against the entrance of illegal migrant infiltrators to say nothing of terrorists. This is what we did for our border with Sinai, where we have stopped all infiltration.” (3)
This does not mean that in Netanyahu’s memory there are not images of Jewish war refugees from World War II. Recently he said: “We already have a historical memory of what happened when Europe labeled Jewish products.” True, he wasn’t referring to the Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel in 1947-48 or to Syrian refugees today, but rather to the products of the settlers who, under state auspices, stole Palestinian lands which Israel occupied in 1967, as a continuation of the 1948 Nakba. This was Netanyahu’s reaction to the decision of the European Parliament which in a vote of 525 for and 70 against, decided to mark the products of the settlers as such.
Imperialist Boycott and Working Class Boycott
The European parliament is not attempting to prevent the suffering of the Palestinians, for if it were it would have ended its political and military support for Israel a long time ago. The struggle of the Palestinian people which has neither surrendered nor been broken despite constant repression, is what ostensibly drives the Europeans to seek a solution precisely in the framework of their surrender and the re-establishment of the imperialist order just as the latter is crumbling.
The Israeli right-wingers are correct when they claim that this decision of the European Parliament is a step towards a general boycott of Israel. We also understand that a boycott on Israel would be a real step towards war, and this is certainly not on the historical agenda today, and therefore the European Parliament isn’t talking about a total boycott against Israel, but only a limited one. As revolutionary Marxists we are of course in favor of actions by trade unions, academics, and the consumers of food products against the oppression of all the Palestinian people from the river to the sea, but we do not support a boycott of the hypocritical imperialist countries against the imperialistic State of Israel just as we wouldn’t support any party in a war between Europe and Israel, but rather would call for transforming such a war into one of the working class and the poor against the capitalists and their governments: “Peace to the shacks! War on the palaces!”
On the other hand, we will not oppose this boycott, since opposition to it would be support for Israel. The correct position is to encourage the BDS movement and to abstain from supporting the position of the European Parliament.
(1) See on this e.g. Friedrich Engels: On the History of Early Christianity (1894), in: MECW Vol. 27, p. 448. See also Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky: Modern History of the Arab Countries, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1969, Chapter XIX: The Mahdi State In The East Sudan, pp. 258-261
(2) Ophir Winter: Senior Syrian opposition leader publicly calls to be assisted by Israel, 30/5/2014, The Institute of the Middle East Media Research
(3) Netanyahu on refugee absorption: ‘Israel is a very small country, we must control our borders’, NANA, 09.06.2015, http://news.nana10.co.il/Article/?ArticleID=1146856