I first met Arieh in January 1981 when I arrived at Kibbutz Ein Dor as a new immigrant from America. Arieh and his wife Regina “adopted” me and my family and over the course of the next 17 years, our friendship grew closer and my respect for the man and his work grew deeper.
It is unlikely that Arieh’s name is familiar to socialists outside of Israel (and probably even inside Israel) and that is unfortunate. Because Arieh represented the very best of socialist Zionism.
He was both an outstanding Marxist thinker and lived his ideals in practice as a member of a kibbutz. He fought for socialist values as he attempted to live a life according to those values.
Born in Hungary, raised in the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement there, Arieh came to Palestine in time to miss the German occupation of his country and the Holocaust. His brother was not so lucky, and wound up playing a leading role in the Jewish resistance to the Nazis, eventually to die at the hands of the Germans.
Arieh came with a small group of Hungarian members of Hashomer Hatzair to create a kibbutz in the lower Galilee, Ein Dor, which was established at its current location in 1948.
He wrote numerous articles; was fluent in more languages than I can remember; and was blessed with a sharp sense of humor.
Arieh’s most important and enduring work was written and published in French and called La defi national. It appeared in a Hebrew edition thirty years ago. The book opens with the following sentence:
“Marxism must set for itself a rule – to update itself constantly, in order to serve as a theoretical basis for revolutionary practice.”
His book was an attempt to do precisely that in regards to the national question which Arieh correctly saw as central to the problem facing both the socialist Zionists and the Palestinians.
Arieh was an outspoken opponent of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. As early as 1967, shortly after the Israeli victory in the Six Day War, he warned against the dangers of occupation and the illegal Jewish settlements that were being built even then — under a Labour Party government.
He could not bring himself to support the party to which he had devoted the first several decades of his life — Mapam, the United Workers Party — when it formed an alliance with the Israel Labour Party. In his view, the country needed a party of the left that was uncompromising in its opposition to the occupation and its support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
The Labour Party was not then, or now, that party.
Arieh returned to the ranks of Mapam only when it finally broke free from Labour in the last 1980s. He was a strong supporter of Meretz which was the result of Mapam’s merger with other pro-peace factions.
His main political activity over the last several years of his life was as ‘academic director’ of the Tel-Aviv based International Center for Peace in the Middle East.
In discussions with me, I recall him constantly hammering home the idea that first of all, and above all, Israel must reach an agreement with the Palestinians — that without this, there could be no struggle for social justice in Israel. Solve the national question first — then work on everything else.
I imagine that when most people on the left in Europe and elsewhere picture in their mind an Israeli, they think of someone like Benjamin Netanyahu. But there was always another kind of Israeli, the kind typified by Arieh Yaari. A man who devoted his entire life to the struggle for peace and socialism.
May his memory be blessed.