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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #285 - Interview, Henriette Dahan Kalev (Israeli anticolonialist): "Israel is only part of the capitalist body that crushes hopes for peace " (fr, it, pt)[machine translation]
Mon, 6 Aug 2018 09:17:53 +0300
Henriette Dahan Kalev, now retired, founded the curriculum for gender studies at Ben
Gurion University in Israel. Militant for peace, feminist, she is committed to the Bedouin
of the South. It highlights the racist bias of Zionism and its correlation with class
divisions. ---- Libertarian alternative: Can we begin by returning to your path ? Academic
work, communist, feminist, anti-racist, peace struggles: how does all this fit together ?
In You're so pretty - you do not look Morrocan you tell how you tried to become a good
little Ashkenazi, to erase your Arabity to conform to the dominant European model
advocated by the school in Israel. At Ben Gurion's tomb, you quoted him: " We do not want
Israelis to become Arabs. We have a duty to combat the spirit of the Levant, which
corrupts individuals and societies, and to preserve authentic Jewish values, as
crystallized by the Diaspora. Which makes him an ordinary colonizer, though sincerely
Henriette Dahan Kalev: I'm never sure what made me an activist: curiosity about the world
or the circumstances of life ? It was hard at home. It was complicated too with the
school. It took me a long time to become aware of the original racist bias. I was born in
Morocco, we arrived in Israel in 1949. In schools, there was no history of Arab Jews. But
I quickly realized that life was not rosy ! My mother worked hard, my father was not with
us. Very early, I had to work to support the family. After, I did lots of jobs while my
girlfriends went to university. I was angry, with my parents, with the destroyed world.
All this injustice has fueled the energy of anger in me.
AL: A perfect basis of intersectional injustice !
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Yes ! This is the emotional background of activism. Growing up, I
started to develop intellectually, to try to understand. And the less I understood, the
more I wanted to commit myself ! In high school, I first joined a youth movement to help
the poor in Jerusalem. Then there was the three years of compulsory military service. At
the age of 24 I became a " comrade " for the first time with RAFI, the Workers' Party, a
party formed against Mapai, very corrupt. The RAFI won and I, very quickly, I understood
how the power went within the organizations. So partisan activism was not for me, I did
not want to be involved in corrupt stuff.
It was finally in the Campus communist group at the university that I understood: we were
inspired by the French 68 and the civil rights movement in the USA. Eight years after the
assassination of Martin Luther King, in Israel the inequalities between the rich and the
poor were enormous ; we wanted to fight them by taking people down the street. But the
movement was empty because blind to the inequality between Ashkenazi Jews and Mizrahim.
I was born in Morocco, that's why I was sensitive to the injustices against poor
people, those on the outskirts of cities. I tried to support this question.
After 1967, the gap between Palestinians and Israelis increased. The society was really
broken, the great Zionist dream of unification of the Jews, collapsed. People were
disappointed, they were waiting for nothing. A boulevard for capitalist conquest. In the
1980s, inflation blocked any possibility of progress for people, the state was strong and
the population was weak. Politicians got involved with the capitalists, they privatized.
In my life, in that of my family, it had a real resonance. I identified with the Arab
population, with the injustice it was suffering in Israel. I was working in the occupied
territories, I saw the oppression where Jewish places were built among the Palestinians.
And around 1985/90, I became radicalized again: I joined the Alternative Information
In 1987, the Oslo process begins with the first intifada. I was finishing my thesis ,
and my marriage too ! But in 1993, we were back, we are at the top of the negotiations in
Oslo: we were thoroughly, we thought peace was coming. I had joined the Palestine-Israel
Jerusalem Link feminist group, there were Palestinian women, leftist students, women of
civil society, we were in touch with women's movements everywhere in Europe, in the
Maghreb, we supported the creation small businesses of very poor women. I was optimistic.
It went on until Rabbin's assassination in November 1995. Everything collapsed and all the
left went into depression. For a year, I did not do anything. And then I joined the Keshet
( Rainbow) and B'tselem because there was nothing else to do. Until 2000, I was very
much in the occupied territories, in Hebron, in Ramallah, I noted the human rights abuses,
I elaborated plans to fight against the injustices made to the women of the poor people,
the Bedouins . I began to invite people to visit the occupied territories, to strengthen
the struggle at the international level. I also acted as a lobbyist to influence people in
the media, administrations, lawyers, judges ... We started talking about a country for two
nations, to rebuild new hope. And there was still a disaster: 2001 is the second Intifada.
I continued with B'tselem and Keshet. But I was also very committed to university in
Beersheba and so I started to invest in relevant actions for people in the South. For
the Bedouins, totally deprived of their rights. I advised to do Palestinian-Jewish shared
education. Two of my students have created a bilingual school that starts in kindergarten.
This school still exists. Her name is Hagar, named after Abraham's second wife, the slave
who gave her a son while Sarah was barren.
AL: Sometimes you say Bedouins, sometimes Palestinians: it's the same ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Yes, but the Bedouins are the people of the South, they are the
poorest of the Palestinians in Israel. There were 100,000 Bedouins in 2000. Some have
signed an agreement with Israel, a recognition of Israel, which ensures the connection of
villages to infrastructure, water, energy. Others refuse to sign and live in the greatest
misery. In addition to the question of the installation of military bases in the desert,
which prevents the free movement. You see, the path is that of dramas, wars.
In 2006, new collapse with the second Lebanon war. Israel closes all borders, with Gaza,
Lebanon. I had just become director of B'tselem but it was impossible to collect
information at the base since there was only the phone and internet. For me it was
essential to travel to the occupied territories. Militant chatting in meetings or reports,
that did not interest me, so I left.
In the meantime, at Beersheba University, I took responsibility for building the gender
curriculum. I put all my energy there. And in 2008, we cut the ribbon ! It was a real
personal fight. To teach gender is not to teach, it is to talk about women's rights in the
sense of human rights, it is to understand politics in the issues of the relationship
between men and women. I went almost alone: for the genre, there was very little support.
I had to convince people who knew nothing about it. But finally, we managed to create a
strong commission ! All this until retirement in 2015 ...
AL: Your journey challenges the crossing of struggles, like that of the young Angela
Davis, Marxist activist aspired by the liberation struggle of the Blacks ... and us in
France, faced with the racism of the police, the state.
Henriette Dahan Kalev: The idea we had of feminism was that of Simone de Beauvoir: a great
hope ! The idea that when women organize, they can free themselves and stop being the
slave of the family and become master of themselves. But I discovered that in
organizations, the cleavages were taboo, hidden under the politically correct ... We made
the little hands and the rewarding tasks were due to others. Gradually the Mizrahim
organized to demand equality, there was a huge conflict that ended in a break. A new
movement based on Oriental women's issues has been created. Exactly like Angela Davis!
This feminist program is not the same: what was needed then was the care of children,
access to basic education, work. For the Ashkenazim, it was the white-collar professional
career. The lesson of all this is that sorority is an illusion, the unification of all
women, a fantasy. Women must organize themselves on their interest. There are class
differences between feminists. Organizing around a basic strong idea is better than a big,
broad plan that wants to encompass everything.
AL: Is the original racist divide also the cause of the more general political failure of
the Zionist project ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: After the disappointment of the failure of the unification of the
Jewish nation, Eastern voters have disavowed the left. In 1977, the majority of Mizrahim
did not vote for the workers' party but for the Likud. The most educated were finer and
remained left. But the Orientals are divided.
AL: Like Ashkenazi ...
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Yes. But for the poorest of the Mizrahim , colonization is the
solution to their economic problems, housing, work. The very opportunistic government
encouraged them to settle in the occupied territories. And today, the left is in great
crisis. As in France, no? She has advanced in a great hypocrisy, combining enrichment and
socialism, building unspoken relations with capital. Israel has become the symbol of
liberalism for the rich countries of the West. A very strong economy, driven by the arms
industry: the model of the fight against terrorism for Western countries, rich. This is a
very difficult trend to counter when Trump, for example, intervenes directly. The question
is no longer even between the right and the left but it is how to stop the international
temptation for militarism and nationalism. This is a global problem that also concerns
France, the USA. Israel is only one part of this savage capitalist body that crushes all
hope for peace by keeping war and fear in the center. I do not see hope. Nor for Israel,
AL: Militarism gives political direction ...
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Yes. In Israel's history, military service is obligatory but it is
also an ideology wedged between the trauma of the Holocaust and the fear of being
surrounded by enemies. This feeds the idea that Israel has no choice, can not afford the
luxury of suppressing military service, even if in reality it is not true. All Arab
countries do not want to crush Israel, which is also a strong country. But it's the basis
of Israeli identity. To change this vision is to take a very radical step.
AL: What do you think of the " new anti-Semitism " ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: I just read Étienne Balibar's article about neo-racism. In one
sense, he is right, there is an anti-Semitism linked to Israel, a country that crushes the
Palestinians in Gaza, a military country, strong: a good reason to feed a
neo-anti-Semitism. It is a Muslim racism, not fascist.
AL: However, what is striking in Israel as much as in France today is the deep need for
protection against anti-Semitism that is not at all disconnected from history. I see it
and hear it in all my friends, even you, who are all real leftists yet. In France, there
are Jews fighting for peace, who think that we should no longer talk about anti-Semitism.
On the contrary, I believe that we must talk about reality so that we can also fight a
strong struggle for both Palestinians and Fascists.
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Yes, I agree with you. But we must observe relativity.
Anti-Semitism is a reason to justify government policy ; the government says it's growing:
look in Paris, look at Marseille ! In a country as strong as Israel, the fear of
anti-Semitism must take second place, even in relation to France or England. I thought
back to our discussion of the nation, which would necessarily be perverse. For the
Palestinians, the idea of having a nation is vital but it is not vital for the French who
are already strong in their rights. The nation is also a hope of being realized when one
is weak. Once you grow up, you have to give up.
AL: Where is the solution to a state ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Before I had this hope but it will not work. We are in the third
generation of hate, soldiers who kill Palestinians or terrorists who kill Jews. It would
take dozens of mixed schools to educate all children in the belief that it is possible.
The other impasse is the demography: in 20 years, the imbalance will not guarantee the
future of the Jews so in the climate of hate, it is a real problem. In the short term, you
have to separate. But 20 years from now, a generation can be imagined. I am 71 years old,
I am not sure to see him.
AL: And the boycott, what do you think ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: People like me, fighting for peace ?! If I could say that the
boycott is helping the peace process or reducing terrorism, I would be for it. But in
fact, it weakens us rather than strengthens us ... To give equal rights, it does not work,
it is not useful.
AL: Can we come up with something ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Peace is a process step by step, like feminism. We take a problem
and we treat it. Immediately, we must guarantee the fundamental rights of Palestinians.
Before, when I was in B'tselem, I thought that by asking the powerful, we could convince
them to put pressure on the Israelis. I do not believe it anymore. The only thing that
matters is to do everything to stop the tragedy of the Palestinian people in Gaza. In the
West Bank, for 3 years there is a development. There are still attacks supported by Hamas
but the population prefers economic prosperity. This is proof that we can act. Not by the
BDS ; not by anti-Semitism; but by supporting the government of Gaza in its capacity to
invest in education, human rights, amenities. We must reduce the weight of terrorism
within society itself. And we will not get a solution without committing to the bottom
because it is the most populated corner of the world. It is necessary to study the
technological solutions: one speaks about building an island on the sea, to open a tunnel
to connect the territories. The desert can be landscaped so that settlement Jews leave the
West Bank. They will not be happy but we have no choice. To achieve that, you have to want it.
Israeli soldiers observe a Palestinian demonstration for the right of return in the Gaza
Strip in April 2018.
AL: What do you think of Zionism ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: I am critical. Zionism has succeeded in collecting Jews from around
the world after the Holocaust and establishing Israel, but we do not need Zionism in a
national sense. We have built a country of freedom and rights, now we must try not to
stick to nationalist ideas. Israel is strong enough to abandon the Zionist idea. But many
right-handed people think that without Zionism, Israel will be lost. I think it's going to
AL: Like Zeev Sternhell who says that the Israeli government has a pre-Nazi policy ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: After the war of 67, it was not understood that the Zionist
temptation would fall into the fascist trap. To speak of Greater Israel, to enlarge the
territory, to conquer Palestine to realize the great country of the Jews: it is classical
fascism. It's rooted in religious roots as much as in Jewish nationalism: it's scary.
AL: In France, we have the impression that criticism is censored in Israel.
Henriette Dahan Kalev: The government is right wing, militarist, so when Netanyahu talks
about the Iranian threat every day, it's not just for the real threat, it's the
brainwashing that's necessary for his policies. It is in this sense that censorship works
but on this point, I am more optimistic: freedom of expression is very protected in
Israel. The regime is democratic, it is the population that is not: it is not used to go
out on the street and therefore the handling is easy.
AL: In contrast to all that, in Tel Aviv, we feel a great freedom and a form of relief
from escaping all the oppressions of the world, including anti-Semitism.
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Yes, life is very light, very free, it has a lot to do with heavy
life: we can not live all the time in fear, fighting, etc .. Let us live a little because
we can not live every day in fear ! People are afraid that tomorrow the war of
extermination will break out so carpe diem !
AL: How to conclude ?
Henriette Dahan Kalev: I told you about my career since I was 20, 25 until today 71 ...
unfortunately, every time I develop a hope, a major crisis explodes. We must not lose hope
but my personal experience hurts me. I have a son, I do not know what I'm going to leave
him, I'm sad to talk about the future, this impasse. The hope is perhaps to open the whole
world. Move from one country to another without borders. We open Gaza, we open the
occupied territories, and we'll see what happens. Without negotiation, without a contract,
we stop all that. Simply let people realize their dreams, their lives. It's a pragmatic
AL: It's a very nice idea !
Henriette Dahan Kalev: Life is made of contrast, complexity, people want to live but when
the situation is crazy everything becomes tragic. It would be nice to see people take this
idea to realize it ...
Interview conducted by Valérie (AL Paris Nord-Est) in Beersheba on May 24, and completed
 You are so pretty, you do not look Moroccan , 2001.
 Mizrahi, Mizrahim in the plural, " oriental " in Hebrew, refers to migrant women
from the Near East. Israeli activists prefer this more political term to that of Sephardim.
 AIC is one of the first Israeli-Palestinian NGOs. It fights for equality between
Palestinians and Israelis and for the application of the law for Palestinian women. It
provides important information and analytical work - alternative - on the situation in the
Palestinian Territories and Israel.
 The Black Panther Political Struggle in Israel, 1991, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
 B'Tselem is an Israeli NGO that presents itself as Israel's center of information for
human rights in the occupied territories.
 Beersheba is to the south, near the Negev desert.
 Boycott, divestment and sanctions: an international campaign of which Alternative
Libertarian is a member, which aims in particular to boycott Israeli economic interests:
www.bdsfrance.org (note from AL CJ)
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