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1962-2000: Matzpen, the enemy within

category mashriq / arabia / iraq | the left | opinion / analysis author Thursday March 18, 2010 21:53author by Michael Warschawski Report this post to the editors

From 1962 to 2000, the Israeli far left was embodied by Matzpen, a newspaper and an organization that left a strong mark on the Israeli peace and pro-Palestinian movements.


1962-2000: Matzpen, the enemy within

From 1962 to 2000, the Israeli far left was embodied by Matzpen, a newspaper and an organization that left a strong mark on the Israeli peace and pro-Palestinian movements.

Reading Israeli newspapers headlines from between 1968 and 1971 (there were more than a dozen at that time), it might seem that Israel had three main parties: the Labour Party, Gahal (the future Likud) and... the Israeli Socialist Organization, better known as Matzpen ("The Compass"), the name of its monthly journal. As subscribers to the "Argus de la presse" press monitor, every week we received dozens of clippings from various newspapers. Matzpen was a name known to all and, as the voice of the enemy within, was accused in the media and on the streets (though not the police, well-informed as they were) of all possible crimes imaginable, from the attack on the oil refineries in Haifa to the success of the Egyptian army at the Suez Canal in October 1973. The Israeli ambassador to West Germany claimed that we were "no more than 20,000 activists"! Instead, not even at its highest point did the movement ever achieve more than about a hundred.

The Communist Party staggered by the Six-Day War

Two factors explain this popularity. The first is that after the June 1967 war, there was no longer any opposition - all the political parties of the left and the intellectual critics had joined the "union sacrée" and supported the war, except for the Israeli Communist Party which, for its part, remained for many years stunned by the Arab defeat, as its leaders and Arab militants had gambled on a victory of "progressive States" - Egypt and Syria - linked to the Soviet Union. Throughout Israel, the dozens of male and female Matzpen activists were the only ones to loudly denounce the occupation, to speak of "Palestinians" (a new concept at that time in Israel) and to support the emerging Palestinian national movement - something the ICP itself would only do after 1972 - while clearly defining itself as a left-wing, anti-Zionist organization. This peculiarity of Matzpen is linked to the qualities of its public speakers and spokespeople - especially Moshe Machover, Akiva Orr, Haim Hanegbi and Arie Bober - and their knowledge of the history of Zionism and the State of Israel. The right-wing political scientist Ehud Schprinzak once said in an interview that his inability and that of the government's propaganda teams to successfully counter the effects of Matzpen abroad was due to the fact that "the Matzpen militants knew everything about the history of Israel, whereas we knew nothing...".

The second factor was related to the times: we are in middle of the "May 1968" period, and while Matzpen recognized itself in this new Western far left, the latter "adopted" Matzpen and served as a loudspeaker for our ideas across Europe and North America. In turmoil-filled universities, the name of Matzpen was better known than any Israeli government minister, with the exception of the sinister Moshe Dayan.

Little by little, Matzpen, which had been especially active in the universities, gained ground among young Israeli high-school students, so much so that the Education Department of the municipality of Haifa, a city where Matzpen was very active, even organized an "anti-Matzpen seminar" which was compulsory for high-school seniors.

The war in October 1973 (the "Yom Kippur" or "October" War) confirmed what Matzpen had been preaching in the desert: that the Arab states would soon return to war because they could not accept the crushing defeat of 1967. At that time, Israeli strategists were predicting "a thousand years [sic] without war or peace"... Paradoxically the October war - that only Matzpen had predicted - marked the end of its monopoly as an opposition force.

The earthquake provoked by the victorious crossing of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian army and Syria's recapture of the Golan Heights in the space of 24 hours, would cause a gradual shift in opinion, which questioned the politics of war and occupation, leading to the birth of the Peace Now movement in 1978.

Dissolving into the wider pacifist movement

The 1982 Lebanese War was to see the first mass anti-war movement, and Matzpen militants played an important role in its emergence. But Matzpen lost its more or less unique role as political opposition and became more of an ideological movement within the larger movement, and a bridge to the Palestinian movements, with whom we had kept close ties since the early 1970s.

This bridging role was the cause of the first repressive measures against Matzpen. Until then, the Israeli authorities had tolerated its activity. It had been the object of social ostracism and occasional bouts of police harassment - censorship of the newspaper in particular. But in 1987, the Alternative Information Center (founded by Matzpen) was closed by the authorities and its director accused of "supporting terrorist organizations." But the First Intifada was about to explode and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories were about to express themselves in a massive way for the first time. The organization continued to exist for another ten years or so, publishing its paper and organizing political discussion circles, but there was no longer any real reason for it to exist, and its activists directed most of their energy into directing the Israeli solidarity movement with the Intifada.

Shortly before the new millennium, Matzpen dissolved after thirty-eight years of action and political education which, as one of Israel's "new historians" wrote, "discovered decades before what the academic world believes it has discovered today". Anti-Zionism is no longer a marginal current in Israel. And Matzpen made an enormous contribution to that.

Michael Warschawski (Jerusalem)

Original French version published in "Alternative Libertaire", February 2010.
English translation by FdCA International Relations Office

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author by Ilan S.publication date Fri Mar 19, 2010 00:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Some remarks on inaccuracies by the author who should know better...

Till the splits in 1970, Matzpen never had more than 30 members, with a significant number of Palestinian citizens of Israel. With the full circle of supporters it may have reached around a hundred.

The Communist Party also supported the Israeli establishment and till this day has never renounced the allocation of 75% of Palestine to the Palestinian Jewish minority.

As mainly anti-authoritarian anti-capitalists (libertarian communists), Matzpen never supported any national movement. We were in friendly communication with the more radical and secular part of this movement and joined the struggle against the 1948 and 1967 occupation, transfer and suppression of the Palestinians in our way.

As for repression against members, the repression against Palestinian members of Matzpen started much earlier. In 1968/9 our member Halil Toama even served a sentence of 9 months in jail for socializing with like-minded people from East Jerusalem.

In 1970, the Lambertist Trotskyists and the Third Worldists left Matzpen, while the author of this article and other supporters of the Trotskyist 4th International tried to take over Matzpen in 1972. When they failed, they left and called themselves Matzpen-Marxists. The CIT was their project.

During the '80s (mainly 1984-5), Matzpen helped to end the ban on Palestinian radicals participating in elections together with other radicals not in the CP.

Later Matzpen's main specific activity was support for the Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu. After his release, the focus was on Kav La'Oved - the alternative to trade unions - which serves Palestinian and guest workers mainly. The Trotskyists have dissolved, but the original Matzpen still exists. Lately some of the members have been involved with the Anarchists Against the Wall initiative.

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