Being Young,Queer, and Radical in the Promised Land
Aaron Lakoff, Interview 2005
“Anarchism stands for the suspicion of authority and suspicion of all governments and the readiness to criticize and rebel against any government that may have started out in a humanitarian way, but that became ossified and dictatorial. Anarchism has as its goal the idea of a decentralized society where individuals are free from the oppression of government and corporate power and the church.” Howard Zinn – Personal philosophy
Yossi is a young resident of Jerusalem and a member of the International Solidarity Movement. He is part of many social movements in Israel and Palestine, including Anarchists Against the Wall and Black Laundry, a radical queer group. … Here he speaks about anarchism in Israel, it’s relationship to the Palestinian struggle, and radical anarchist and queer culture.
Aaron: Can you tell me about the anarchist movement in Israel?
Yossi: Well, anarchism in Israel, or may we say in Palestine, was never a big movement or a popular movement. It’s because zionism was a nationalist movement, and most of the refugees who came here held beliefs of nationalism and zionism, and supported the idea of a Jewish state.
They chose to come into Palestine and build the Jewish state. So anarchism was very strange to them – it was not in their agenda. Although, there were a lot of socialists coming here, but they were socialist and nationalist at the same time. They were not trying to overcome the nationalist visions of socialism. So for historical reasons, anarchism was very small here.
Also, in the Palestinian or Arab culture, anarchism is not well known. It isn’t a popular stream of thinking. So for those reasons, we don’t have a historical background that goes back to the 19th century, or even the middle of the 20th century.
The first anarchists who were here came to Israel and then left back to Europe, understanding that Israel wasn’t there place. Quite a lot of anarchists were born to zionist families and chose anarchism as their ideology, but again it was very small groups.
In the 60s there were a few more because of the student movement in Europe, and people were influenced by all the revolutions outside of Palestine and Israel. … In the 80s the movement grew bigger because of punk. Punk fans came into the anarchist movement. … There were beginning to be more and more books and pamphlets about anarchism in the 90s. … Up until the beginning of the Intifada, there were many groups who were anarchist, anarchist-affiliated, or non-hierarchal.
A: Going back to 1948, you mentioned anarchists came to Israel and found it wasn’t a place for them. But if we look back to Emma Goldman’s time, just prior to 1948, there were large Jewish anarchist movements throughout Europe and the United States. Isn’t it surprising that none of them found their way into Israel?
Y: Well, the anarchist movement hated the Zionist movement. It’s not only anarchists – there were communists as well. Many communists came here and discovered that all those slogans of socialism were really just socialism for Jews.
There were so many racist campaigns. … People came here and found that their communist views had nothing to do with these racist policies happening here. A lot of them left and went to places like Spain, but many of them had no choice but to stay here because of Hitler and because they couldn’t go to the USA.
There were some anarchists that came here as refugees, but they didn’t want to come here. You can see all along an anarchist history which is quite Jewish. They were very, very anti-zionist – always criticizing the zionist movement, saying it was not answering the problems of the Jewish people.
“Anarchism stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion; the liberation of the human body from the dominion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.” Emma Goldman, Wikipedia info
A: You mentioned different issues that anarchists in Israel have been involved with over the decades, and then you mentioned the Intifada. Then recently there has been the Anarchists Against the Wall. Can you talk a bit about this group and what you do?
Y: When the apartheid wall was beginning to be built in 2002 and 2003, many people – very young Tel Avivian people, punks, gays, lesbians, and transsexuals – came to a village in Palestine. It was a very conservative village, but they were invited by the village to come there and to build a peace tent against the wall. This was in Mas’ha. That was for 5 months, and it was to make Israelis and internationals realize what was happening with the fence, what it was, where it was going to be built, etc.
All throughout those 5 months, a new thing came about in the radical left. It was the first time we were meeting Palestinians daily and living with them. It was a new thing for Palestinians as well. This was really a place of dialogue.
Out of this came a very close relationship between anarchist Jews and Palestinians. Of course anarchists were always against the occupation and the oppression of the zionist state, but I believe that this camp brought these issues into our daily lives. I think that this was the first steps of the Anarchists Against the Wall.
We began doing actions in the last days of the camp. We did direct actions against the wall in other villages. We tried to stop the building of the wall in Mas’ha, and the camp was destroyed by the army. They ordered us to never return there. This was the beginning of a direct action group that was anarchist-organized, non-hierarchical, and directly democratic. We began doing more actions in villages all over Palestine and all along the route of the wall. …
We always thought, ‘We’re Jewish. We’re not going to be shot by the army. It doesn’t happen.’ … Settlers are always doing much worse stuff than we do. They act very violently towards the soldiers, but no one would ever dream of shooting them.
I had been shot before with rubber bullets and tear gas, but it was my first time seeing someone being shot with live bullets. It made a lot of us realize that this army and this state are not ours.
As there were more demonstrations, more people kept getting shot, and even Israelis being injured, we did generate more media attention. But the media started treating us like hooligans. They accused us of acting irresponsibly and affiliating ourselves with terrorists.
The repression against us is becoming more severe. The state is taking us to court, although they lose. They haven’t even won one case yet, but it’s very important for the state to take us to court and to take our energy and our money.
Anarchists in Israel: “We Oppose Judaism As We Do Nazism”, 2012
A: There are many groups in Israel who are working in the peace movement to put an end to the occupation; Gush Shalom, Ta Ayush, and Peace Now are just a few. How do the anarchists differ from these groups in their actions?
Y: First of all, there are many groups in the peace movement who are very close to us. Black Laundry, for example, is a queer group against the occupation who are working a lot with the Anarchists Against the Wall and vice versa. Ta Ayush is quite active, and we work with them. We are not organized the same way, we don’t work in the same methods, but we do work together.
In terms of our ideology, we don’t have a list of our demands. Of course, most of us would like a ‘no state solution’. We are against any kind of separation, and we are against the wall no matter where it is going to be built. We are against the Palestinian Authority as well. We see the PA as another tool of oppression. We will work with them sometimes, but we still don’t support the PA like Gush Shalom does.
A: You mentioned that anarchism doesn’t have a tradition in Palestinian culture. How do you feel that anarchism relates to the Palestinian struggle?
Y: Of course, we’re always in demonstrations with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, nationalists, racist people, and we fight alongside them for the same goals. But there’s always a problem; how do we uphold anarchism, animal right, women’s rights, and queer rights while working with people who are against them?
It’s hard. We work with Palestinians all the time and we still say we don’t want a Palestinian state. I’m not fighting for a Palestinian state, I’m fighting for the end of the occupation and that’s the main goal.
And we’re not alone in fighting for this. There are many Palestinians who are not anarchist, but who are on the left – communists, socialists. There are so many that are fighting for the same goal; a one-state solution, and this is very close to our goal. …
First, we need to end the occupation and give the Palestinians their rights. After that, we can speak about how we want to live here….
A: Here you have anarchists who protest with Hamas, Fatah, and many factions of the Palestinian struggle. In essence, they’re still fighting for the same goal. Where do you view the anarchist role in this? To influence the Palestinians to adopt an anarchist society?
Y: It’s important to see that we’re not working in Palestine to educate. We are the occupiers, after all. We’re not there to tell them what to do, but we’re there to help them liberate themselves from our state’s oppression. That’s our main goal.
We’re not there to educate them about animal rights or other things we’re fighting for. We do have conversations with them or to influence on a personal level, but we’re not there as a group to change their minds. We would never hand out leaflets in Arabic explaining what anarchism is and why you should join us, because this is not our way.
However, we do try to influence when it comes to women’s rights. When we speak with the villages, we say we want the women in the demonstrations. Women from our group try to arrange women’s activities with Palestinians to empower women against the occupation. I think the main thing we should remember is that we’re not there to educate, because while they’re being occupied by our state we have no reason to come there and preach.
A: On a personal level, what does it mean to you to be an anarchist, but also a Jewish person living in the Jewish state?
J: Yeah, there’s something funny about it. Being Jewish in the Diaspora, as I understand it, is much different. You feel your Jewish identity. But you don’t feel that in Israel. You don’t care about Judaism in Israel. We say fuck it.
“You don’t care about Judaism in Israel. We say fuck it.
It’s like Christianity in the USA. Do you ask anarchist Christians in the US whether they feel Christian in their daily lives? No. They’re atheist, they’re anti-Christian, and they’re the anti-Christ most of the time.
My feeling here is that I do have some relationship with Judaism. I am an atheist of course, but Judaism and Hebrew is part of my culture. So I do have something Jewish inside of me like a Canadian has something Canadian inside of them. But again, I don’t feel Jewish in the religious way of it. I don’t care if I marry a Jew or a non-Jew, or about ‘keeping the Jewish people’. I have no problem with assimilation. My culture is Hebrew culture, Israeli culture. This has nothing to do with religion at all.
A: Can you explain the group Black Laundry and its relationship with the Palestinian struggle and the anarchist movement?
Y: We, as a queer community, have an interest to stop the oppression of other groups, and other groups have the interests to stop the oppression of us. We try to always connect struggles; Palestinian liberation, animal rights, queer rights, sexual freedom, body oppression, capitalist oppression. All of this we try to connect, usually working in a performance-art way.
We try to make a show out of our work. We work a lot inside the queer community about the Palestinians and about teaching people that their fight is part of a bigger fight against oppression. Being gay and rich in the center of Tel Aviv is not liberating yourself because it’s not liberating your community.
You’re not allowed to be queer in the Palestinian culture
About the Palestinian struggle, Black Laundry has never done actions inside Palestine. … You’re not allowed to be queer in the Palestinian culture. I work quite a lot in occupied Palestine, and I’m not out most of the time. It’s not something I would mention in a demonstration. …
And it’s not like Israel is the most liberated society, either. The main queer population in Israel who are being oppressed are the Palestinian-Israelis. If the Shin Beit (Israeli secret service) catches two Palestinian men in an Israeli park having sex, they often force them to become collaborators by saying that if they don’t cooperate, they will tell their families. … There have been numerous incidences when queer Palestinians have been forced to become collaborators.
A: Often times you hear that Israel is remarkably open towards queer culture….
Y: No, it’s the center of Tel Aviv which is open for queers who have money and who are consumers or part of the system. It’s not open for poor queers who are coming from Jewish-oriental families, it’s not open for Palestinians, and it’s not open for religious queers. Israel can say one thing, but usually they act differently.
The situation here is a lot like in the US, and you wouldn’t say the US is queer-friendly. Maybe San Francisco, but not in general.
(Aaron Lakoff is a member of the International Solidarity Movement, and a journalist with CKUT community radio in Montreal. To view his previous writing and photos, visit http://aaron.resist.ca.)