Monthly Archives: May 2021

Labor for Palestine with Suzanne Adely and Michael Letwin (Empathy Media Lab Video Interview)

Labor for Palestine with Suzanne Adely and Michael Letwin (Empathy Media Labor Video Interview)

Labor for Palestine was launched in April 2004 by New York City Labor Against the War and Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition to reclaim the legacy of working class solidarity with Palestine in the United States, as reflected in groundbreaking statements by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in 1969, and wildcat strikes against the United Auto Workers (UAW) leadership’s support for Israel in 1973.

In this episode, we spoke with Labor For Palestine organizers Suzanne Adely who is the Co-Director for the Food Chain Workers Alliance and President-Elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and Michael Letwin who is a public defender in New York City and former President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW 2325.

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • The recent general strike in Palestine and about work conditions for Palestinians;
  • What is Labor for Palestine and why is it misleading to frame the violence as between two conflicting parties;
  • What led to the recent violence; and
  • Why organized labor should get involved in this struggle.

Website – 
Youtube – 
Short – 
Podcast – 
Twitter – 
Facebook – 
Instagram – 
Tiktok – 
Linkedin – 

U.S. Labor Must Stand With Palestine! (Updated Endorsers)


U.S. Labor Must Stand With Palestine!
Labor for Palestine, Nakba Day, May 15, 2021

As workers, labor, and anti-apartheid activists, we join millions around the world to unequivocally condemn Israel’s genocidal attacks on the Palestinian people: mass evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem, storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque, waves of state-sponsored violence throughout the West Bank and the ’48 areas (stolen from Palestine in 1948), and merciless bombardment of Gaza that has already killed and wounded hundreds of people, many of them children.

Recent reports by B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch only belatedly acknowledge what Palestinians have always said: this is not an “Arab-Israeli conflict,” an “Israel-Hamas war,” “communal clashes,” or a “civil war,” but rather another chapter in more than a century of Zionist settler-colonialism — as symbolized by Israel’s very establishment through the uprooting and ethnic cleansing of over 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba (“Our Catastrophe”), whose 73rd anniversary is today, May 15, 2021.

These crimes are only possible because of $3.8 billion a year (or $10+ million *per day*) in bipartisan US military aid that gives Israel the guns, bullets, tanks, ships, jet fighters, missiles, helicopters, white phosphorus and other weapons to kill and maim the Palestinian people.

This is the same system of racist state violence that — with direct Israeli support — brutalizes BIPOC and working class people in the United States and around the world. With Israel’s knee on their neck, Palestinians can’t breathe since 1948, and we unconditionally stand with their resistance in all parts of Palestine, just as they have stood with our struggles for Black and Brown Lives, Standing Rock, migrant rights, and beyond. 

We urge workers and labor bodies in the US to join the growing mass protests against apartheid Israel, and to support the Day of Action in Solidarity with the Palestinian Uprising and General Strike: Tuesday, May 18. We uplift the Italian dockworkers who refused to ship weapons to Israel on April 14, thereby answering the urgent May 13 appeal for international solidarity, signed by Palestinian trade unions, to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).

BDS is inspired by the worldwide divestment campaign that helped topple apartheid South Africa, and reflects decades of Palestinian boycott and mobilization against Israeli colonization. It requires not only an end to the 1967 Israeli occupation, but an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and implementation of the right of Palestinian refugees to return. 

On this 73rd anniversary of Nakba Day, as Palestinians courageously resist brutal Israeli attack, we urge the labor movement to respect the BDS picket line by:

• Endorsing BDS, along with UAW 2865, the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the United Electrical Workers, IWW, and other US labor bodies, and with labor organizations around the world, who have already done so.

• Ending, once and for all, US labor officialdom’s long and shameful complicity in Zionism by divesting labor bodies from Israel Bonds, and severing all ties with Israel’s racist labor federation, the Histadrut, and its US mouthpiece, the Jewish Labor Committee.

• Mobilizing our collective power at the workplace, as demonstrated by dockers in South Africa, India, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Italy, the ILWU on the West Coast of the United States who have refused to handle Israeli cargo, and AROC’s Block the Boat campaign against an upcoming Zim Lines arrival at the Oakland Port.


On behalf of Labor for Palestine
(organizational affiliations listed for identification only)

Suzanne Adely, Al-Awda-NY; Arab Workers Resource Center; Food Chain Workers Alliance (staff); President-Elect, National Lawyers Guild; 

Monadel Herzallah, Arab American Union Members Council

Ruth Jennison, Department Rep., Massachusetts Society of Professors, MTA, NEA; Co-Chair, Labor Standing Committee Pioneer Valley DSA

Lara Kiswani, Executive Director, Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)

Michael Letwin, Former President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys/UAW Local 2325; Organizing Collective, USACBI: US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; DSA Palestine Solidarity Working Group

Clarence Thomas, Co-Chair, Million Worker March; Executive Board, ILWU Local 10 (retired)

Endorsements (as of May 23, 2021)

Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
AFSCME 3800 – UMN Clerical Workers Union
ALAA/UAW Local 2325, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem Union, Family Defense Practice Unit
DSA AfroSocialist & Socialists of Color Caucus
DSA Palestine Solidarity Working Group
Black Attorneys of Legal Aid (BALA) Caucus, ALAA/UAW 2325
Attorneys of Color of Legal Aid (ACLA) Caucus, ALAA/UAW 2325
LGBTQ+ Caucus, ALAA/UAW 2325
CUNY Adjunct Project
Labor Against Racist Terror
Jews for Palestinian Right of Return
Central Jersey DSA
NYC DSA Labor Branch

Individuals (list in formation; organizational affiliations listed for identification only)

  1. Daniel Ashworth, ALAA/UAW 2325
  2. Ellyn Kessler, ALAA/UAW 2325
  3. David Klein, California Faculty Association (CFA)
  4. Steve Brier, PSC-CUNY, AFT Local 2334; School of Labor & Urban Studies, CUNY
  5. Susan Morris, Former Executive Board Member, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Retired)
  6. Lisa Edwards, ALAA/UAW 2325
  7. Jamila Hammami, Steward, Co-Organizer for Labor & External Relations, CUNY Graduate Center PhD Social Welfare Program, PSC-CUNY
  8. Ryan Kelly, National Writers Union
  9. Nora Carroll, ALAA/UAW 2325
  10. Lauren Restivo, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  11. Michael Shannon, ALAA/UAW 2325
  12. David Sole, Past President, UAW 2334 (Retired)
  13. Erin Tomlinson, ALAA/UAW 2325
  14. John King, UAW-ACT 7902
  15. Dennis Gallie, UAW 249 (Retired)
  16. Goetz Wolff, Board Member, UC-AFT 1474 (UCLA); LA County AFL-CIO
  17. Ed Kinchley, Delegate, SF Committee on Political Education (COPE), SEIU 1021; Delegate, SF Labor Council
  18. Win Heimer, A&R, AFT 4200R
  19. Azalia Torres, Former Executive Board Member, ALAA/UAW 2325 (Retired)
  20. Eli Nadeau, SENS UAW 7902
  21. Susan Stout, Unifor 2002 (Retired)
  22. David Walsh, NALC 214; Delegate, SF Labor Council
  23. Dan Kaplan, Executive Secretary (retired), AFT 1493
  24. Dave King, Co-Chair, Climate Jobs PDX
  25. Lauren S. King, Climate Jobs PDX; Portland Jobs with Justice
  26. David Clennon, Convention Delegate, Screen Actors Guild-AFTRA
  27. Judith Ackerman, AFT and 1199SEIU
  28. Amy Muldoon, CWA 1106
  29. Val Sanfilippo, Retired Steward, SEIU 221
  30. Francis Cook, UFT, AFT Local 2; MORE Caucus (Movement of Rank and File Educators in the UFT)
  31. Hayat Bearat, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  32. Milad Momeni, CLSWU
  33. David Laibman, PSC-CUNY (retiree chapter)
  34. Mike Gimbel, AFSCME 375, Retired Executive Board member
  35. Elizabeth-Ann Tierney, Alternate Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  36. Ayami Hatanaka, ALAA/UAW 2325
  37. David McKeown, IBEW Local 6 (retired)
  38. Greg Giorgio, Delegate and Secretary, IWW Upstate NY Regional
  39. Carol Elaine Gay, President, NJ State Industrial Union Council; CWA retiree
  40. Alexander Hu, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  41. David Letwin, Executive Board Member, Rutgers AAUP-AFT Local 6324
  42. Alexandra Smith, ALAA/UAW 2325
  43. Aaron Goodwin, UAW 2865
  44. Diana Dooley, IBEW Local 6
  45. Gabriel Camacho, Political Director, UFCW Local 1445; LCLAA member at large
  46. Ron Jacobs, Steward, AFSCME 1343
  47. Naomi Sharlin, UFT, AFT Local 2
  48. Nicole Camera, UFT, AFT Local 2; MORE Caucus (Movement of Rank and File Educators in the UFT)
  49. Mark D. Stansbery, Board Member and Chair of Organizing and Mobilization, CWA 4502; Ohio AFL-CIO and Central Ohio Labor Council
  50. Jane Rubio, UFT, AFT Local 2
  51. Joan Hwang, Organizer, Workers Assembly Against Racism
  52. Rebekah McAlister UFT, AFT Local 2
  53. Jennifer Kovacs, ALAA/UAW 2325
  54. Hollis Higgins, NALC Branch 442 (retired)
  55. Leah Martin, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  56. Danielle Bullock, UFT, AFT Local 2; MORE Caucus (Movement of Rank and File Educators in the UFT)
  57. Brian Lewis, Steward and Delegate, AFSCME DC37, Local 375; DC37 Progressives; NYC-DSA Labor Branch
  58. Malcolm Sacks, UFT, AFT Local 2; MORE Caucus (Movement of Rank and File Educators in the UFT)
  59. Aisha Lewis-McCoy, Alternate Representative, LGBTQ Caucus, ALAA/UAW 2325
  60. Sara Catalinotto, Retired Delegate, UFT, AFT Local 2; Labor Against Racist Terror
  61. Susan Moir, Massachusetts Teachers Association (retired)
  62. Leah Margulies, ALAA/UAW 2325
  63. Monica Shah, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  64. Andrea Alajbegovic, LSSA/UAW 2320
  65. Lucy Herschel, Delegate, 1199SEIU, UHWE
  66. Calypso Taylor, ALAA/UAW 2325
  67. Alex Jallot, Delegate, Pace High School, UFT, AFT Local 2
  68. Yessenia Mendez, LSSA/UAW 2320
  69. Ian Spiridigliozzi, ALAA/UAW 2325
  70. Hoda Mitwally, Delegate, LSSA/UAW 2320
  71. Royce Adams, International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1291; CBTU/APRI
  72. Josh Komarovsky, LSSA/UAW 2320
  73. Will Chaney, GEO/UAW 2322 UMASS-Amherst
  74. Robert F. Williams, GEO/UAW 2322 MSCA Westfield State University
  75. Erik Mears, UFT/AFT Local 2
  76. Cherrene Horazuk, President, AFSCME 3800 – UMN Clerical Workers Union
  77. Annie Zirin, CTU/AFT Local 1
  78. Meaghan Whyte, Delegate, LSSA/UAW 2320
  79. Hector Agredano, Pasadena City College Faculty Association
  80. David McNally, Texas State Employees Union/CWA Local 6186
  81. Jessie Muldoon, Site Rep., Portland Education Association
  82. Brenda Stokely, Social Service Employees Union local 371 DC 37 AFSCME, AFL-CIO; Million Workers Movement NE Region co-organizer
  83. Camila Valle, UAW 2110
  84. Alejandro Coriat, NOLSW 2320; Legal Workers’ Rank and File
  85. Vish Soroushian, NOLSW/UAW 2320
  86. Hector Agredano, Pasadena City College Faculty Association
  87. Ramzi Babouder-Matta, Steward, CWA 1180; Labor Against Racism and War
  88. Sarah Soliman, Worker Advocate, Worker Justice Wisconsin
  89. Elly Wong, Steward, NPEU (IPFTE Local 70)
  90. Naib Mian, Unit Council, Bargaining Committee, New Yorker Union, News Guild NY Local 31003, CWA
  91. Lucas Koerner, Harvard Graduate Students Union – UAW 5118
  92. Martha Grevatt, Retired Executive Board Member, UAW 869
  93. Dianne Mathiowetz, UAW 10 (retired); Producer and Host, The Labor Forum, WRFG 89.3FM
  94. Stephen Terry, ALAA/UAW 2325 (retired)
  95. Gabriella Ferrara, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  96. Patricia Lavelle, ALAA/UAW 2325
  97. Spencer Eliot Smith, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  98. Meghna Philip, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  99. Kevin Duffy-Greaves, LSSA/UAW 2320
  100. Amanda Lipari, Civil Vice President, ALAA/UAW 2325
  101. Lindsay Cowen, Delegate, LSSA/UAW 2320
  102. Karen Sullivan, PSC-CUNY
  103. Mimi Rosenberg, ALAA/UAW 2325; Producer and Host, WBAI radio, 99.5 FM’s labor program Building Bridges
  104. Benjamin Bisaro, ALAA/UAW 2325
  105. Andrew Smith, Shop Steward, AFSCME, DC 37, Local 1503
  106. Shayan Mirzahaidar, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  107. Basir Mchawi, PSC-CUNY/AFT
  108. Emily Woo Yamasaki, LSSA/UAW 2320
  109. Susan Williams, MD, Former Delegate, Doctors Council, SEIU Local 10MD (retired)
  110. Hoang Gia Phan, Massachusetts Society of Professors (MSP-UMass Amherst)
  111. Michael Novick, former steward and member, house of reps, former member of Human Rights Committee, United Teachers Los Angeles (joint NEA-CTA/AFT-CFT)
  112. Robin Strauss, PSC-CUNY/AFT
  113. Maria Amor, UAW 2320
  114. Estee Ward, Make the Road New York – NOLSW/UAW 2320
  115. Noha Arafa, ALAA/UAW 2325
  116. Terry Fitzgibbons, Building Rep., NJEA/Education Association of Passaic
  117. Sherry J. Wolf, CWA 1032
  118. Damon Fillman, Steward, CWA 1032; Rutgers AAUP-AFT
  119. Alan Maass, CWA 1032
  120. BJ Walker, CWA Local 1032
  121. Lauren Tomkinson, CWA Local 7799
  122. Alexandra Haridopolos, Delegate, UFT/AFT Local 2
  123. Marty Goodman, Former TWU Local 100 Executive Board (1997-2006)(retired)
  124. Caryn Schreiber, ALAA/UAW 2325
  125. Emma Goodman, Vice President, ALAA/UAW 2325
  126. Ray Siqueiros, AFT Local 8002
  127. Stephane Barile, Site Rep., New Haven Teachers Association, CTA
  128. Nora Christiani, ALAA/UAW 2325
  129. Gregory Butterfield, NOLSW/UAW 2320
  130. Kathleen Shannon, Staff Organizer, Rutgers AAUP-AFT Local 6323; CWA local 1032
  131. Marie E. Kelly, At Large Member, National Nurses United
  132. Katherine Fitzer, ALAA/UAW 2325
  133. Pooja Patel, ALAA/UAW 2325
  134. Daniella Korotzer, ALAA/UAW 2325
  135. Angelica Barrios, 1199SEIU (Forensic Social Worker)
  136. Lauren Katzman, ALAA/UAW 2325
  137. Gloria Banasco, ALAA/UAW 2325
  138. Maureen Stutzman, ALAA/UAW 2325
  139. Omar Alam Rana, Alternate Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  140. Monica Bustos, 1199SEIU
  141. Matt Caldwell, ALAA/UAW 2325
  142. Michael Gibbons, Representative, LGBTQ+ Caucus, ALAA/UAW 2325
  143. Mirna Haidar, ALAA/UAW 2325
  144. Kip Bastedo, ALAA/UAW 2325
  145. Jonathan McCoy, ALAA/UAW 2325
  146. Joe Piette, NALC Branch 157
  147. Naila Siddiqui, Vice President, ALAA/UAW2325
  148. Hannah Deegan, ALAA/UAW 2325
  149. Mallory Harwood, ALAA/UAW 2325
  150. Titus Mathai, ALAA/UAW 2325
  151. Michael Pate, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  152. Rebecca Kurti, 1199/SEIU
  153. Kar Nowakowski, ALAA/UAW 2325
  154. Keith Malonis, 1199/SEIU
  155. Katharine Kuhl, ALAA/UAW 2325
  156. Angie Rodriguez, 1199/SEIU
  157. Mik Kinkead, ALAA/UAW 2325
  158. Sophie Cohen, ALAA/UAW 2325
  159. Neil Friedman, PSC-CUNY Retired Chapter
  160. Jordan Manalastas, ALAA/UAW 2325
  161. Leon Pulsinelle, NJEA
  162. Brianda Guzman, 1199/SEIU
  163. Larry Hales, 1199/SEIU
  164. Aissatou Barry, Delegate, ALAA/UAW 2325
  165. Benjamin Jarvis, Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 1520
  166. Elena Landriscina, ALAA/UAW 2325
  167. Susan Kingsland, 1199/SEIU
  168. Alex Washington, ALAA/UAW 2325
  169. Grover Francis, ALAA/UAW 2325
  170. Taylor James, Former Executive Board Member, ALAA/UAW 2325
  171. Haley Pessin, Interim Delegate, 1199/SEIU; Legal Workers Rank and File
  172. Tarini Arogyaswamy, ALAA/UAW 2325
  173. Ferdinand Cesarano, 1199/SEIU
  174. Lori Masco, ALAA/UAW 2325
  175. Patrick Matutina, ALAA/UAW 2325
  176. Kathleen Wahl, ALAA/UAW 2325
  177. Hilary Dowling, ALAA/UAW 2325
  178. Raissa Carpenter, ALAA/UAW 2325
  179. Khouloud Ballout, 1199/SEIU
  180. Laurie Dick, ALAA/UAW 2325
  181. Samantha Plummer, UAW 4100; Central Brooklyn DSA
  182. Hannah Hussey, ALAA/UAW 2325
  183. Stephanie Hedgecoke, Recording Secretary, CWA 14156
  184. Bill Riggin, ALAA/UAW 2325
  185. Ivan Pantoja, Former Executive Board Member, ALAA/UAW 2325
  186. Marlen S. Bodden, ALAA/UAW 2325
  187. Candace Graff, ALAA/UAW 2325
  188. Jeff Schuhrke, Representative, UIC United Faculty, AFT Local 6456
  189. Norman Koerner, Alliance of Charter School Employees, AFT
  190. Whitney Powers, Steering Committee Member, CWA 7799
  191. Alex Wolf-Root, President, CWA 7799
  192. Bri Dobson, CWA 7799
  193. Hypatia Ostojic, Systemwide Chair, Peace and Justice Committee, UPTE CWA 9119
  194. Patrick Langhenry, ALAA/UAW 2325
  195. James Lauderdale, Lead Senior Civil Service Advocate (retired), SEIU Local 721
  196. Amanda Achin, Classified Staff Union, Massachusetts Teachers Association; Boston DSA Labor Working Group
  197. Darrin Hoop, Building Rep., Seattle Education Association; National Educators United
  198. Richard Blum, ALAA/UAW 2325
  199. Catherine Khella, Organizing Committee, NYC DSA Labor Branch
  200. David Guerrero, Delegate, 1199SEIU
  201. Asa Mendelsohn, UC-AFT 3299
  202. Helen Scott, Department Rep., United Academics: AAUP/AFT Local 3203; VT AFL-CIO State Labor Council
  203. Nancy Welch, UVM United Academics AAUP/AFT, Local 3203; Upper Valley Democratic Socialists of America
  204. Liz Medina, Executive Director, Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO; UAW 2322
  205. Ron Jacobs, President, AFSCME 1343
  206. Heidi Fox, Vermont State Employees Association
  207. John Davy, Vermont State Employees Association
  208. Shannon Dufour-Martinez, AFSCME 1674
  209. Kit Andrews, Vermont State Employees Association
  210. Stephanie Higgins, union staff, GEO-UAW 2322
  211. Stanley Heller, AFT 1547, retired; Middle East Crisis Committee (Connecticut)
  212. Susan Klein, Unite HERE Local 34, Yale Unions Retirees Association
  213. Frank Panzarella, Former President, IAM Local 1990; New Haven Energy Task Force / Fight the Hike
  214. Martha London, Professional Staff Union/Massachusetts Teachers Association (Retired)
  215. Dylan Kupsh, UAW 2865; NSJP, UCSB SJP, UCLA Grad SJP
  216. Marsha Love, United Association of Labor Educators


What We Did: How the Jewish Communist Left Failed the Palestinian Cause (Jewish Currents)

Original online here.

What We Did: How the Jewish Communist Left Failed the Palestinian Cause

A reckoning with the events of 1948, when the American Jewish Communist left—and the magazine that later became Jewish Currents—abandoned the idea of a single state in Palestine with equal rights for all.

Dorothy M. Zellner

May 12, 2021

The June 1948 cover of Jewish Life, the magazine that later became Jewish Currents.

This article appears in our Fall 2021 issue.

I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD when World War II ended, but I remember the way the war lived in our house. Both my parents were secular, non-Zionist Jewish immigrants and lifelong followers of the Soviet Union, which they believed would end exploitation, poverty, and racism. My siblings and I have memories of blacked-out windows and air raid sirens and the sound of incessant war reports on the radio, which my father turned up as loudly as possible to drown out the normal din of childhood. He raved almost daily, waving his fists in the air, cursing the “Nazi swine!” and obsessively following the progress of the Red Army, which he hoped would save not only the Jews but the entire human race. I cannot recall my parents talking about what many American Jews of that period considered the promised land, the Zionist project in Palestine.

Until the late 1940s, the Soviet Union and its Communist followers in the United States opposed the partition of Palestine to create a Jewish state, advocating instead for the establishment of a single state that would confer equal rights on everyone who lived there. In the US, this Jewish Communist left was small in number but influential. Thus it was significant that in 1947, the year I turned nine, the Soviet Union abruptly altered its position, throwing its support behind the creation of what would become the State of Israel. After a brief period of shock and confusion, the Jews of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) followed suit.     

I learned of these events only a few years ago, when I went searching for a record of how my own political forebears reacted to the founding of the State of Israel. The impetus for my research was the 20 years I spent living in the American South, five of them spent working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the early 1960s. What I learned from SNCC is still firmly planted in my head, especially the wisdom that if you are white and anti-racist, you need to organize inside the white community, where racism lives. After a few decades of denial, I became a Jewish activist in the Palestine solidarity movement 18 years ago. In the past few years, I’ve sought in particular to reckon with how the community of my own origins, the American Jewish Communist left, acted in 1948, and how it might be implicated in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. 

Facing the mistakes of the Party that I so respected remains an incredibly painful task. All these years later, I still applaud its pioneering role in organizing interracial labor unions during the Great Depression, its heroic participation in the Spanish Civil War, its courageous fight against fascism during World War II, and, most importantly, its constant, uncompromising struggle against racism. Yet I am deeply critical of the way the CPUSA followed the Soviet party line—both when it came to Israel and on other occasions—to the detriment of its own internal democracy and stated principles.  

In the process of researching the Communists’ support for the founding of Israel, I discovered the magazine Jewish Life, which played a significant role in shaping the way American Jewish Communists viewed that event. Somewhat to my surprise, I learned that Jewish Life was the precursor of Jewish Currents, which was renamed in 1956 when it severed its relationship with the CPUSA. It occurred to me that the magazine—and today’s Jewish left—confronts a similar challenge: As in the 1940s, the idea of a single state in Israel/Palestine that confers equal rights on all its inhabitants is again part of the political discourse—and, as in my childhood, the pull of Jewish nationalism stands in the way of making it real. We would do well to confront the forces that led to the Jewish Communist left’s about-face in the days before the establishment of Israel, and which still impact our work today.  

WHEN JEWISH LIFE WAS FOUNDED in November 1946, it joined two other English-language publications aligned with the CPUSA in New York. Alongside the monthly magazine Political Affairs, where the CPUSA held its theoretical discussions, and the daily newspaper The Daily Worker, the community’s paper of record, the new monthly hoped to become the Jewish cultural hub of the left. Its first issue, for example, contained contributions from such icons as the playwright Arthur Miller and the artists Marc Chagall and Ben Shahn. (My research is confined to East Coast, English-language papers, excluding the CPUSA’s West Coast newspaper, The People’s World, and the Morning Freiheit, a Yiddish-language daily newspaper.) 

The three publications often shared the same writers, and always followed the same political line. If any of their editors or writers had openly objected to a Party position, they would have faced an uproar, and perhaps even expulsion, which would have cost them precious political and personal relationships. That didn’t mean that CP members were expected to fall in line like zombies. Positions were supposed to be informed by vigorous debate among the rank and file, to ensure a measure of democracy. Likewise, if the debate started at the top, it was supposed to work its way down. But once a position had been agreed upon, members were expected to uphold it, even if it contradicted their own views. This structure was supposed to allow the international party to execute its program effectively. But the reality was different: The rank and file were most often bypassed, while leadership—especially the Soviet leadership—made the decisions, expecting members to follow without complaint.  

When Jewish Life began publishing, Europe was still in ruins, and vast numbers of displaced people were locked out of safe havens like the US, with many thousands of Jews trying to reach Palestine. This made it all the more striking that the new magazine positioned itself as a non-Zionist, if not anti-Zionist, voice. From its first issue, its support for a single democratic state in Palestine with equal rights for all made it an outlier in the American Jewish world. “Only the blind among us . . . will agree to support anything else but an independent Palestine in which both Jews and Arabs can live in peace and freedom,” wrote Alexander Bittelman, a frequent contributor to the Party press and an editor at Jewish Life, in the magazine’s inaugural issue, adding that partition into two states would “violate every single precept of democracy.”

The inaugural issue of Jewish Life, in which Alexander Bittelman wrote that “Only the blind among us . . . will agree to support anything else but an independent Palestine in which both Jews and Arabs can live in peace and freedom.”

Jewish Life distinguished itself from other Jewish media with its insistence that the Jewish people were not a “nation,” which would have required them to share a common territory, language, economy, and culture, according to the standard Communist definition. The magazine argued that Jews did not satisfy all these conditions, but had enough common history and cultural characteristics to be classified as a “people.” On these grounds, the magazine advocated for directing Jewish energy toward life in the diaspora instead of toward the creation of a Jewish state, arguing that Jews should struggle where they lived for full equal rights and safety. (The Communists were not alone in promoting binationalism in Palestine; influential individuals like Rabbi Judah Magnes, Martin Buber, and Albert Einstein and organizations like the American Council for Judaism held similar positions in the 1940s but were unable to gain political traction.)

Jewish Life also criticized developments on the ground within the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. The Yishuv’s leading institution, the Histadrut, also known as the Jewish Federation of Labor, excluded Palestinian Arab workers from membership and refused to organize or represent them. In 1947, an early editor of Jewish Life, Louis Harap, referred to the Histadrut as a “Jim Crow” institution. Since anti-racism was central to the American Communist world—being charged with “white chauvinism” was grounds for expulsion from the CPUSA—the term “Jim Crow” was the strongest imaginable form of condemnation.

Then, on May 14th, 1947, the Russian delegate to the United Nations, Andrei Gromyko, suddenly announced to the UN General Assembly that, while the Soviet Union still supported a single state in principle, it would be “necessary to consider an alternative solution” if this plan was “unrealizable on account of the deterioration of relations between Jews and Arabs.” Since the UN’s special committee had already concluded that there was no way the two communities could coexist, the only “alternative solution” was partition—in other words, the creation of a Jewish state.

Gromyko’s speech marked an “astounding” shift in policy, in the words of historian Gabriel Gorodetsky—one that may have “changed entirely the history of the Middle East.” Most historians have generally viewed the USSR’s decision to throw its support behind the Zionist cause as a realpolitik effort to undermine Britain’s imperial power in the region. But the greatest beneficiaries were Zionist leaders such as Abba Eban, a future Israeli foreign minister, who commented: “Such a position was an incredible opportunity; in a moment all our plans on the discussion at the UN were completely changed.”  

THE ZIONIST COMMUNITY in the US was thrilled by Gromyko’s speech: The Jewish Telegraphic Agency called it “sensational” and “welcomed.” The US Communist left was dumbfounded. In an unusual comment, a columnist at The Daily Worker remarked on the Soviet “departure” from its traditional line; usually such zigs and zags were studiously ignored. Both Political Affairs and Jewish Life were silent in their June issues; when they responded in July 1947, Bittelman wrote both articles. In Political Affairs he wrote that Gromyko had laid out a “just and democratic set of principles for the solution of the Palestinian crisis.” In Jewish Life, he wrote, “Gromyko’s heart is with the Jewish people because we had suffered from fascism more than the others.”

On November 29th, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution in favor of partition. Both the US and the USSR voted in favor. Fighting broke out between Palestinian Arabs and Jews. With the likelihood of a Jewish state looming, Jewish Life described partition, which it had previously decried as “undemocratic,” as a “great and historic event.” The cover of the magazine’s January 1948 issue exhorted: “Safeguard the Jewish State!” 

With the likelihood of a Jewish state looming, Jewish Life described partition, which it had previously decried as “undemocratic,” as a “great and historic event.”

In the winter and spring of 1948, the US Communist publications became more and more militant in their support of the Jewish state. The Daily Worker ran no substantive articles about the lives of Palestinian Arabs, and ignored essential context, like the fact that the indigenous people of Palestine constituted a majority of the population and had lived in the country for uncounted centuries. When Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed the creation of Israel on May 14th, 1948, the American Jewish left joined in the rejoicing. The publications noted that the USSR was the first to offer de jure recognition of the state, three days later. (The US recognized the new state within minutes but took nine months to bestow de jure recognition.)  

It is likely that there were some dissident writers and editors who did not altogether accept the Party’s or the publications’ new position. Bittelman hinted at this in Political Affairs in February 1948 when he wrote that some critics had wondered whether “Communist support of a Jewish State in Palestine became possible only through a departure from Marxism”—only to declare that no, this was not the case! In another allusion to internal criticism, he wrote some months later, in August 1948: “Some comrades had difficulties for a while in seeing that the Jewish people in Palestine had the right to self-determination.” In a third exception to the general exuberance over the state’s founding, a columnist for The Daily Worker wondered if in fact Arab–Jewish cooperation could have worked, since it had “never been tried.” The strongest dissent from the growing nationalist fervor came from A.B. Magil, the lone journalist for Jewish Life and The Daily Worker who seemed to have any degree of political independence or empathy for Palestinians, and who wrote from Israel that he feared that “chauvinistic anti-Arab practices” were “being encouraged or ignored by the dominant Zionist leadership, which play into the hands of the British and American imperialists and their Arab agents.” But such acknowledgement of disagreement or uncertainty remained rare, and there is no evidence that dissidents on this issue ever cohered into an internal faction.     

When the armies of seven Arab nations invaded within days of Israel’s declaration of statehood, the leftist publications cheered on the Zionist militias. Jewish Life’s June 1948 cover bore the title “That the Jewish State May Live” over a photo of picketers in front of the White House, holding signs saying “Arms to Haganah” and “Halt Arms Shipments to the Arabs.” The magazine cried, “The blood of patriots must be replaced,” and urged everyone to donate blood to replenish that shed by the Zionist forces. 

When the armies of seven Arab nations invaded within days of Israel’s declaration of statehood, the US Communist publications cheered on the Zionist militias. Jewish Life cried, “The blood of patriots must be replaced,” and urged everyone to donate blood to replenish that shed by the Zionist forces.

The Party publications printed not only nationalist calls to arms, but also, shockingly, outright falsehoods. The Daily Worker ran one story reporting that Arabs had planned a gas attack on Jews (this never happened) and another alleging that Haganah soldiers killed by Arab forces had been decapitated (also untrue). All three journals, like most US publications, blurred the accuracy of their coverage by using the word “Arab” to include both indigenous Palestinians and armies from neighboring Arab states, as if all “Arabs” were interchangeable, undifferentiated by geography or culture. This made it nearly impossible for readers to understand who was fighting whom and why. But the central message was clear: The Jewish State was what counted to the Party and the broader Jewish left. 

Meanwhile, a human calamity was taking place. In the spring of 1948, the Communist journals said virtually nothing about the huge numbers of Palestinians forced to leave their homes—an event now referred to as the Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic. (No Jewish Life reader could claim ignorance: The New York Times ran many stories about the desperate refugee crisis.) The first acknowledgement from the Communist left came in July 1948, when A.B. Magil wrote in The Daily Worker that by that date over 250,000 Palestinians had been displaced. Later, he wrote in Jewish Life that some 400,000 “are refugees, homeless and wretched.” These numbers vastly understated the actual scale of the suffering: Modern historians agree that more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes between 1947 and 1949.

Throughout, the USSR continued to serve as Israel’s staunchest ally—a dynamic that would persist throughout the state’s early years. When the UN sought to establish a “right to return” for Palestinians in a December 1948 vote, the US voted yes and the USSR voted no. (The Daily Worker’s sole mention of this staggering vote was an oblique reference to a “committee to establish peace in Palestine,” only one part of a complex resolution.) The Soviets even funneled arms into Israel by allowing the Czechs, whose foreign policy they controlled, to sell armaments and airplanes to the fledgling IDF. Historian Martin Kramer quotes Ben-Gurion as saying that the Soviets “saved the country, I have no doubt of that. The Czech arms deal was the greatest help, it saved us and without it I very much doubt if we could have survived the first month.”

A GENERATION LATER, how can we account for the startling enthusiasm with which the Jewish Communist left embraced the new state, knowing only too well that Israel was compromised with “Jim Crow” institutions from the start? Perhaps a significant degree of sympathy for Zionism, exacerbated by Holocaust trauma, had always existed within the CPUSA, and the rank and file, previously unable to express this sentiment, were suddenly granted permission by the Party leadership. Given our people’s near-extermination in Europe, I’ve wondered if I may be holding the Jewish Communist left to an impossibly high standard by insisting that they should have stood up for someone else in that era—in addition to standing up to a cherished organization that was central to their lives. Perhaps it’s unfair to expect them to have been immune to the fear and panic and grief that resulted from World War II, and to resist the promise of Jewish statehood. 

But I remain heartsick and ashamed that the editors of Jewish Life, and American Jewish Communists more generally, showed so little empathy for Palestinians in the months surrounding Israel’s founding. Bound as they were to follow the Party line, they could still have sought to humanize the Palestinian Arab community in their pages, interviewing Palestinians about their lives and their vision for Palestine. The magazine could have cleaved to its stated Communist principles about the rights of Indigenous people, unity of all workers, and equality. Expressions of humanitarian concern about the huge number of refugees would have been welcome. 

Historians do not say “what if?” but luckily I am not a historian, so I can wonder what might have happened had the USSR stayed true to its original support for a single state. Although it would have been outvoted in the UN, it could have used the moment to promulgate its declared beliefs about equality. Its position would have altered the political environment and perhaps mitigated some of the disastrous effects of the Nakba. If the Soviet Party had expressed public concern for Palestinians—via statements, delegations, even demonstrations—the Communist Parties of the world would have followed its lead. Some national parties were highly influential; Italy’s, for example, was the second largest political party in the country. 

Or, another alternate history: What if the Jews of the American Communist left had been willing to stand up not only to Zionist forces but to their own comrades? It does not seem unreasonable to expect courage and solidarity from people who, a few short months before they cheered Israel’s founding, had imagined Jews and Palestinians living side by side.

I believe the time is not far off when the creation of a single state with equal rights for all will again be on the agenda. Facts on the ground have destroyed any pretense that a two-state solution is possible. And now that the two leading human rights organizations in the world have used the word “apartheid” to describe Israel, it is obvious that Israel can never become a real democracy if it remains only a Jewish state. When a single democratic state becomes a serious political alternative, Zionists and other supporters of the Israeli state will throw everything they have at us—they’ll say that not only are we self-hating Jews, but that we advocate a second Holocaust, in which all Jews living in Israel will be slaughtered by vengeful Palestinians. In that moment, we will need to have conquered our own latent nationalism if we are to act as true allies to Palestinians and Israelis who advocate a single state. They will need support from around the world. To provide it, we will need daring solidarity, steadfast commitment to our principles, and independent thinking. If we learn from what happened 73 years ago, maybe we can do better the next time around.

The original version of this article, including footnotes compiling the author’s extensive research, is available here.

Dorothy M. Zellner is a longtime social justice activist who worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Conference Educational Fund in the early 1960s, and at the Center for Constitutional Rights and CUNY School of Law. She has also contributed several articles to Jewish Currents. She is one of six editors of the prize-winning book, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.