Anarchist hero Murray Bookchin was a Zionist who whitewashed Israeli colonialism and war crimes

Anarchist hero Murray Bookchin was a Zionist who whitewashed Israeli colonialism and war crimes

Benjamin Norton
12 min readJun 14, 2019


Murray Bookchin is something of a saint in the anarchist community. His ideas on social ecology and what he termed “libertarian municipalism” and “communalism” have influenced generations of self-declared leftists, and he was frequently cited as an ideological force behind the anti-globalization and Occupy Wall Street movements.

Bookchin became especially influential in Kurdish circles after Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), adopted his ideas to advance a vision of “democratic confederalism,” a vision his followers later attempted to implement in northeast Syria — with the help of the US military.

What is not often mentioned, however, is that — like many of his anarchists and “libertarian socialist” peers — Bookchin was very soft on imperialism, and in some cases downright apologetic.

Specifically, Bookchin was a Zionist who publicly whitewashed and even rationalized Israel’s crimes against humanity. He also frequently demonized independent post-colonial governments in the Global South, echoing imperialist propaganda and chauvinistic myths about countries targeted by the United States for regime change.

In 1986 Bookchin published a liberal Zionist screed that sounds like it could have been written by a neoconservative New York Times pundit today. The essay — which is reprinted in full below — uncritically rehashes Hasbara talking points, erases the history of the ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians, and blames neighboring Arab states and “Arab irredentists” for the failure of peace initiatives.

Bookchin’s essay betrays a racist view of Arabs, as inherently authoritarian, blood-thirsty anti-Semitic hordes. This hero of the anti-communist left depicts independent Arab nations as the true “imperialists” in the Middle East, and likens anti-imperialist leaders in the region to US-backed right-wing military juntas in Latin America.

This jingoistic outlook on the Global South might also explain why Bookchin’s proposed solution to halting the carnage of the mass-murdering capitalist machine was to move to an almost entirely white community in Burlington, Vermont and organize some community councils with his middle-class anarchist friends — while his government bombed and tortured poor people across the planet, including many Third World communists and socialists he excoriated as “authoritarian.”

Anarchists who enjoy support from US imperialism

Murray Bookchin’s explicit, public support for Israeli colonialism, and his equally strident condemnations of anti-Zionist leftists, have been quietly swept under the rug by a Western “libertarian” left that is eager to portray allies of US imperialism as the truly progressive forces.

With the international proxy war on Syria that began in 2011, Bookchin’s renown reached new heights. The Kurdish-led militia the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is linked to the PKK and whose political program is based in large part on Bookchin’s thought, has enjoyed the support of the US empire.

The YPG rebranded as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in 2015, at the direct request of the Pentagon. It subsequently allowed the construction of more than a dozen US military bases in northeastern Syria.

The SDF’s spokesperson insisted in 2017 that American troops would be remaining in the region “ for decades to come,” as Washington had a “strategic interest” in maintaining its military occupation.

A strategic interest indeed: this US-occupied area just so happens to have most of Syria’s oil reserves, and also serves as the nation’s breadbasket region.

US-backed Kurdish nationalists, proud followers of Bookchin’s anarchist ideology, have even acceded to Washington’s demands and held Syria’s own grain production hostage, refusing to sell wheat to Damascus, as a political and economic weapon.

In this roughly 30 percent of US-occupied, Syrian sovereign territory — an ethnically and religiously diverse area populated by not only Kurds but also Assyrians, Armenians, Turkmen, Arabs, and more — US-backed Kurdish nationalists created an autonomous region they referred to as Rojava.

Rojava was aggressively marketed as a utopian social experiment in egalitarianism, ironically by the very same corporate media apparatus that has spent decades publishing propaganda and justifying wars of aggression against any shred of socialism that has dared to challenge the US-led capitalist imperialist system.

Large segments of the Western left has fetishized the Kurdish groups in Syria with a kind of orientalist fixation, and mainstream journalists who are normally hopelessly antagonistic to the socialist left published report after report waxing poetic on how incredible, brave, enlightened, democratic, and feminist the YPG and its women’s wing the YPJ are — coincidentally right at the moment when these forces allied with the US and allowed American troops to occupy nearly a third of Syria’s sovereign territory. (By the way, there are women who fight in the Syrian army and allied militias, too — but they are dehumanized and disparagingly portrayed as “ Bashar al-Assad’s female fighters,” as if they were his personal property.)

Writer David Mizner noted that the US government’s propaganda arm Voice of America, a longtime vehicle for CIA lies and information warfare against the international left, “even gave Bookchin a pat on the back,” praising the Vermont anarchist for inspiring Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria.

The soft spot so-called “libertarian socialism” has for imperialism — and that imperialists have for “libertarian socialists” — might also explain why today’s leading anarchist giants, including Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, signed an open letter in the New York Review of Books in 2018 calling for the US empire to “continue military support for the SDF.”

Joining Chomsky and Graeber in signing the pro-military intervention letter were renowned academic Marxist intellectual David Harvey, Iraq War-supporting socdem Zionist Michael Walzer, and even liberal feminist luminary and former CIA agent Gloria Steinem — as well as Bookchin’s daughter Debbie Bookchin, who has devoted her life to Rojava.

Murray Bookchin’s Zionist essay and dehumanization of Arabs

It may come as no surprise, then, that this American “libertarian socialist” and avowed anti-communist, whose writings ideologically informed a militia that is openly allied with US imperialism, had actually supported Zionism and imperialist designs in the Middle East.

On May 4, 1986, Murray Bookchin published an article in his local newspaper, the Burlington Free Press, titled “ Attacks on Israel Ignore the Long History of Arab Conflict.”

The full text of the essay can be found at the bottom of this post, under the image.

This screed, by an ostensibly radical anarchist saint, sounds indistinguishable from the rhetoric of neoconservative pundits in the mainstream corporate media.

Bookchin portrays Israel as a beacon of democracy in a backward region, demonizing Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and beyond as all hopeless bastions of oriental despotism.

He condemns “anti-Israeli sentiment that has surfaced in the local press and the virtual equation of Zionism with anti-Arab racism,” and portrays Arabs as violent savages.

Bookchin implores readers to never “forget the Jewish men and women who were slaughtered by the stalwarts of Arab nationalism,” and blamed “Arab irredentists” for the failure of so-called peace talks (that in reality Israel and its loyal protector the US empire were never truly interested in pursuing).

He also condemns the “invasion of the country by Arab armies” without even mentioning the Nakba, Zionist militias’ murderous ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of the indigenous population of Palestine in 1947 and 1948, which created the refugee crisis that precipitated the Arab war.

In fact, this “libertarian socialist” idol goes so far as condemn Egypt, Syria, and Jordan as “imperialist,” insisting there would be an independent Palestinian state were it not for their war on Israel.

Bookchin’s essay turns reality on its head, depicting Israeli colonialists as hapless victims of “imperialist” brutality by authoritarian Arabs.

He likens Palestinian nationalist leader Yassar Arafat to the Nazi-collaborating Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and compares Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad to Washington-allied right-wing dictators in Latin America.

Bookchin also regurgitates imperialist propaganda and lies, claiming Assad “slaughtered between 6,000 to 10,000 people in Kama in February 1982, for daring to challenge his leadership of the country.”

What he does not mention, of course, is that this so-called uprising in Hama (which Bookchin misspells) had nothing to do with democracy or freedom. It was led by violent sectarian Islamist extremists who were directly backed by that benevolent democracy to the north, Turkey, and also enjoyed support from American and British intelligence services — much like the so-called uprising in Syria in 2011, an imperialist déjà vu.

Not one to let simple facts get in the way of his Zionist apologism, Bookchin instead condemns what he calls “Syrian imperialism,” and speaks of avowed secularist Hafez al-Assad as a sectarian Alawite parallel to the theocratic Israeli fascist Meir Kahane

In the article, Bookchin even notes that he wanted the Israeli colonial project to be a model of his decentralized vision of society, writing, “For years I had hoped that Israel or Palestine could have evolved into a Swiss-like confederation of Jews and Arabs.”

But the anarchist idol was not able to disguise his utter contempt for Arabs. Echoing racist tropes, Bookchin laments that Arabs are using the Palestinian plight to cover up their own “cultural problems.”

Murray Bookchin’s full article follows below:

“Attacks on Israel Ignore the Long History of Arab Conflict” — By Murray Bookchin

There is certainly much one can criticize about Israeli policy, particularly under the Likud government which orchestrated the invasion of Lebanon. But the torrent of anti-Israeli sentiment that has surfaced in the local press and the virtual equation of Zionism with anti-Arab racism impels me to reply with some vigor.

For years I had hoped that Israel or Palestine could have evolved into a Swiss-like confederation of Jews and Arabs, a confederation in which both peoples could live peacefully with each other and develop their cultures creatively and harmoniously.

Tragically, this was not to be. The United Nations resolution of 1947, which partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, was followed by the invasion of the country by Arab armies, notably the Egyptian, Syria, and highly trained Jordanian “Arab Legion” with direct or indirect aid from Iraq and other Arab nations.

In some cases these armies, particularly the Arab irregulars who accompanied them, took no prisoners in their assaults on Jewish communities. Generally, they tried to systematically obliterate all Jewish settlements in their paths until they were stopped by furious and costly Jewish resistance.

The invasion and the annihilatory combat it created set a terrible pattern of fear and bitterness that is not easy to erase from the minds of Israeli Jews. That a desperate lunatic element of Jewish zealots behaved in kind before it was stopped by the newly formed Israeli military forces should not allow us to forget the Jewish men and women who were slaughtered by the stalwarts of Arab nationalism even after they had raised white flags of surrender.

I have seen very little mention of this fearful pattern of “combat” which stained the Arab invasions of Palestine and so profoundly influenced Jewish confidence in the value of “truce negotiations” and the predictability of peace agreements with Arab irredentists. Indeed, the partition lines that were eventually established after the 1948 invasions were the product of bloody warfare — literally the give-and-take of battle — not the “imperialistic” or “land-grabbing Zionists,” to use the language that is so much in vogue these days.

Nor do I hear any longer of the ernest attempts by the the Haganah — the Jewish citizens’ militia of the partition era — to encourage Arabs to remain in their neighborhoods and towns, of the Israeli vehicles with loudspeakers that went through the streets of Jaffa, for example, urging Arabs not to succumb to the feelings of panic engendered by battle conditions and by extremists on both sides of the conflict.

That many Arabs remained in Israel clearly challenges the myth that Israeli Jews tried to rid the country of its Moslem inhabitants. What seems to be totally ignored is the certainty that there would have been an Arab state in Palestine side-by-side with a Jewish one if Egyptian armies to the south, Syrian in the north, and Jordanian in the east had not tried to seize both U.N.-Partitioned lands with imperialist interests of their own and, when this failed, used the Palestinian refugees as pawns in future negotiations with the Israelis and their western supporters.

There is another myth that must be removed: that the present volatile situation in the Middle East has its source in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts; indeed, that the relationship between the Jews and Arabs was “beatific” until it was poisoned by “Zionist ambitions.” Leaving aside the simplistic image of Middle East problems that this notion fosters, the extent to which it is a sheer distortion of Jewish-Arab relations in the past verges on the unspeakable.

Are we to forget that Arab persecution of Jews, while less genocidal than European, has a centuries-long history of its own with the exception of Moslem Spain and Ottoman Turkey? That Arab pogroms against the Jews accompanies the Jewish settlement of pre-World War II Palestine, culminating in the extermination of the ages-old Jewish community of Hebron (once the seat of the Hebrew tribal confederacy) in the late 1920s? That the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1930s (the precursor of Yassar Arafat two generations ago) was an avowed admirer of Hitler and called for a “holy war” of extermination of Palestinian Jews up to and into World War II? That Jordan’s “Arab Legion” systematically leveled the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem in 1948 and stabled horses at the Western Wall of Herod’s Temple, defiling the most sacred place of world Judaism?

Are we to forget that General Hafez Assad, the so-called “president” of Syria (elected by a “majority” of 99.97 percent of the Syrian “electorate”) slaughtered between 6,000 to 10,000 people in Kama in February 1982, for daring to challenge his leadership of the country?

One wonders why there was no storm of protest when Amnesty International in 1983 declared that “Syrian security forces have practiced systematic violations of human rights, including torture and political killings, and have been operating with impunity under the country’s emergency laws”? Why is there no concern over Syrian imperialism — notably Assad’s fantasy of absorbing Lebanon and Palestine, including Israel, if you please, into a Syrian empire — a goal every objective expert in the Middle East knows to be Assad’s Arabic version of Rabi Kahane’s insane version of a “Greater-Israel” — a notion that has been vigorously denounced by responsible Jewish and Zionist organizations in Israel and abroad.

If the “core problem” of the Middle East, to use Miriam Ward’s words in her Vermont Perspective of April 27, is the confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel, what would the whole area look like if Israel and its Jewish population magically disappeared from the scene? Would Syria be less of a police state than it is today and would its Sunni Moslem majority feel less dominated, exploited, and manipulated by General Assad, who tends to speak for the Alawite Moslem minority of the country?

Would Saudi princes cease to squander much of their country’s wealth on limosines, palaces, jewels, and real estate abroad, much less bring a modicum of freedom to their own people at home? Would Egyptian landowners, living in lavish opulence amidst incredible squalor, return a fraction of their landholdings to a starved Egyptian peasantry? Would Iraq free its Kurdish population to speak only of its most vocal and rebellious minorities, or meet their demands for genuine equal autonomy?

Would the Iraq-Iran war come to an end, a war that has already claimed a million lives in the past few years? Would Colonel Khadafy cease to be a strutting militarist who has been trying to eat away at the territories of many of his neighbors? Would Khomeni and Moslem fundamentalism, whose main thrust is against any form of modernity and western culture, give equality to women and freedom to critics of Iran’s present-day theocratic regime?

What is so disquieting about many persistent attacks of Israel is that they help to completely obfuscate what is really a “core problem” of the Palestinian people. This abandoned people is being used in the most unconscionable manner by the Arab states to conceal deep-seated economic, social, and cultural problems in their own lands and in the Middle East as a whole. That the differences between the Israelis and Palestinians have to be resoled equitably such that both people can live with a sense of security that resolves their fears of what has happened in the past and achieve a constructive harmony with each other goes without saying.

I am not sure what that solution will be. But it certainly will not be achieved by acts of PLO-related terrorism against independently minded Arab mayors who are trying to negotiate a settlement between the two peoples at one end of the spectrum or lunatics like Rabbi Kahane at the other end who are trying to expel the Palestinians from their landholdings and communities.

But crucial as such a settlement surely is, we should not bury the real “core problem” of the Middle East as embodied by its cynical politicians, landowners, oil barons, military juntas, fanatic clerics, and imperialistic predators in the welter and tragic problems that have emerged between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Given this background, it would be wise to remember that both peoples have more interests in common than they have differences. It would be a splendid example of political independence if people who raise a justifiable hue about military juntas in Latin America would remind themselves that they are confronted with an exact parallel in the Middle East — from Colonel Khadafy to General Assad?

Originally published at on June 14, 2019.



Benjamin Norton

Benjamin Norton is an independent journalist reporting on geopolitics. // Benjamín Norton es un periodista independiente informando sobre la geopolítica.