The wisdom of the late Akiva Orr

Akiva Orr died last week at 81, a leading Israeli anti-Zionist intellectual who was for one democratic state in Israel and Palestine. Joseph Dana wrote this heartfelt goodbye to Orr on facebook:

Akiva, you provided me grounding while I struggled to understand this place. You were an endless source of inspiration and humour, necessary guidance and support. I will not soon forget driving around in your cluttered car, finding half drunk bottles of whiskey in the glove compartment or the hundreds of emails, which were sometime impossible to understand. I wish that I could write that this place will soon be getting better but we would both know that is a lie. The only thing that I can say is that you will be missed and not forgotten.

I admired Orr for his generous support of the J14 movement; he explained to doubters that his own politicization began in 1951 with a seamen’s strike, and led in time to his recognizing Palestinian humanity.

Two years ago Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal did a great long video interview of Orr, below, in which they had to ask few questions. 

Author and activist Akiva Orr on Israel’s wars from Max Blumenthal on Vimeo.

Orr relates his story on the video: He was born in Germany in 1931 and emigrated to Palestine with his parents in 1934. His anti-Zionist father understood what a disaster the situation was when he explained to his son in 1948 (minute 7:30) that he regretted moving there: “I made a mistake, I didn’t know there’s another nation living here.” And so for the next 100 years Israel would be consumed by nationalism– and “all the talent and all the thinking, everything will be sucked into this.” A clairvoyant statement.

The video includes Orr’s insight that only Communists really seemed to care about other people, to not be entirely selfish (worth pondering). And at minute 56, Orr speaks about dual loyalty when discussing Baron Edmund de Rothschild founding early Jewish settlements in the 1880s that were welcomed by Palestinians.

“He never was a Zionist, he never wanted to create a Jewish state in Palestine… His model was the French colonization of Algeria.” Rothschild was a French patriot opposed to Zionism, Orr said; when Herzl approached Rothschild in the 1890s, he opposed him because the creation of a Jewish state would expose him to charges of dual loyalty. And the moment the Zionists began to come to Palestine after World War I, the hostility began– because Palestinians saw that they wanted a state.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 19 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. OlegR says:

    /”I made a mistake, I didn’t know there’s another nation living here.”/

    As opposed to what, staying in Germany ?
    What a grand idea that would have been.

    • No, he made a mistake in falling for the Zionist nationalist propaganda which has so disfigured and corrupted Israel, as he foresaw. At least he had the honesty to recognise it and say so, and feel ashamed of what they did to the the indigenous people who have done nothing to merit expulsion and the degradation of their lives.

    • tree says:

      Somewhere between 400,00 and 500,000 Jews left Germany and Austria prior to 1938. That was over two thirds of the Jewish population there. Only ten percent of them went to Palestine. The idea that there was no place for them to go other than Palestine is a false one, as proven by the statistics. Also, the Zionists in Palestine had a selection process that favored the young over the old, and committed Zionists over others, regardless of the need for refuge of a particular Jew. Thus Jews from the Americas were sometimes favored over European Jews in need.

      There were other options for Orr’s father besides moving to Palestine or staying in Germany, but he wasn’t aware until he got to Palestine that his decision was a wrong one. In the early years, Israel levied a large tax on any Jew leaving the country, thus making it difficult for those who were disillusioned to leave.

      • tree says:

        I’m listening to Orr’s interview now. I’ve always respected him as one of the first Israelis that I read who was willing to question and criticize his country on the basis of human rights and equality.

        According to Orr, his family was scheduled to move to the US. They had the required documents but decided to visit his mother’s brother in Palestine before moving on. His mother fell in love with the beaches and they decided to stay for a while. By the time his father decided it was a mistake in 1948, he felt that he was too old to start over again in another country.

    • W.Jones says:

      Maybe he meant moving there as opposed to someplace else, that was more pluralistic?

    • sardelapasti says:

      Oleg – “As opposed to what, staying in Germany ?
      What a grand idea that would have been.”

      Smart! That’s exactly the question to ask when all Israelian citizens who can manage it just move –escape– to Germany, with the US a far second in their preferences, and all those who can (no matter if of German or Eastern origin) do get a German passport. I suppose the German government also gives residency permits to Russians like you.

      Didn’t you hear that in 1945 German Nazism was defeated? No newspapers, what?

  2. Newclench says:

    He was a really great guy. I don’t know who the ‘next’ Akiva Orr is, but he’ll have these qualities: respect for others, sense of humor, and a clear view of the entire situation, without blinders for your own team’s flaws.

    The book Peace, Peace and there is no Peace is a masterpiece.

  3. lysias says:

    The video includes Orr’s insight that only Communists really seemed to care about other people, to not be entirely selfish (worth pondering).

    A year or two ago, I read Joshua Freeman’s book In Transit: Transport Workers Union In NYC 1933-66 , about the TWU union to which my busdriver father belonged. I was interested to learn what a major role American Communists played in the early years of that union, which greatly improved the lives of its working class members, including my father and his family.

    And of course it’s well known what a big role the CPUSA played in the early civil rights movement.

    There’s no doubt that Communist parties did a lot of harm in the countries in which they came to power. On the other hand, they did considerable good in the countries in which they did not.

  4. lysias says:

    “He never was a Zionist, he never wanted to create a Jewish state in Palestine… His model was the French colonization of Algeria.”

    The French colonization of Algeria was not a good model. If you talk to Muslims from Algeria, you will learn they despised French rule — and especially the European pieds noirs settlers — even more than Irish people despised their British equivalents in Ireland. The fact that, once Algeria achieved independence, the settlers were driven out by being offered a choice “la valise ou le cercueil” (suitcase or coffin) shows just how unpopular the settlers were.

  5. seafoid says:

    RIP. He was one of my favourite Ha’aretz analysts. It seems only those Israelis with nothing to lose are ready to see the situation for what it us.

  6. Don says:

    Assume he is the same Akiva Orr..?
    link to israelimperialnews.org

  7. W.Jones says:

    (( And so for the next 100 years Israel would be consumed by nationalism– and “all the talent and all the thinking, everything will be sucked into this.” ))

    Aren’t 90% or so of Nobel prize winners…?

  8. W.Jones says:

    “He never was a Zionist, he never wanted to create a Jewish state in Palestine… His model was the French colonization of Algeria.”
    How is he not a Zionist, if he supports the movement to return to Zion? Isn’t this significantly different than one European government setting up colonies for its own political control?

    • tree says:

      Orr was talking about Baron Rothschild who sponsored Jewish settlements in Palestine around the turn of the century. I think his point was that Rothschild was doing it for French colonial reasons, and not for Zionist reasons. He wanted to increase the influence of France, his country of citizenship, in the region.

      • W.Jones says:

        Yeah, I’m not sure how true that is. It could be. But were the Puritans trying to spread British influence in the New World? The Zionist immigration from France was only one part of the overall movement, and wasn’t he sponsoring the movement overall to some extent?

        Furthermore, one of the claims made is that the Isr.State is just a colony of the US, a mere outpost of imperialism, yet in fact that is only partly true, in my mind, because it has switched between the Soviet and “capitalist sides in the Cold War, for example.

  9. Dan Crowther says:

    ” I don’t divide the world into jews and gentiles, I divide the world into the oppressed and the oppressors. Thats my method. If you don’t like it….. Fuck Off!”

    - Akiva Orr. A Giant Amongst Men.