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Akiva Orr 1931-2013: An Obituary

There are two types of anti-Zionist: those who can do little more than regurgitate stock phrases: “racist,” “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansers,” “colonial settlers,” “Nazis,” etc., or plagiarise the work of others and those who have something interesting to say. It is because Akiva Orr fell into the latter camp, together with the fact that I had some familiarity with his background and output, and combined with my own interests in Marxism and anti-Zionism, that I was interested in developing a cordial relationship with him.

I began corresponding with Aki in 2006. As well as email, there were some telephone conversations that could go on very long into the night. He invited me to stay with him in his house near the Israeli town of Netanya. While I never took him up on that kind offer, I did, on a trip to Israel in the summer of 2009, arrange to visit him with my friend Paul Bogdanor. This meeting was ostensibly to discuss the Kasztner case and his involvement in the notorious anti-Zionist play, Perdition, one which caused a storm of controversy in the UK in 1987. The meeting ended up going on much longer than anticipated and included our taking him out to dinner to hear more of what he had to say.

He was born in Germany, immigrated to Palestine in 1934, and did not become politicised until a seaman’s strike in 1951. He joined the Communist Party but became disillusioned with it due to its slavish following of the Soviet line. The Communist Party expelled him in 1962, but if it hadn’t, he would have left. Aki was not lacking in opinions. When we asked him about Trotsky, he dismissed him as someone who “would have been worse than Stalin” had he obtained power. Together with Moshe Machover and others, Aki formed the Socialist Organisation in Israel known as Matzpen.  The aim of Matzpen was for a “de-Zionised” Israel. The organisation’s solution to the Middle East conflict (The Times, June 8, 1967) was a “revolutionary transformation.”

The Zionist power structure and all elements of Jewish supremacy must be abolished totally. This must be achieved only through internal joint struggle of all non-Zionists inside Israel who wish to integrate this state in the Middle East…

This federal state will participate in the process of political and economic unification of the entire Middle East.

Readers might not be surprised to find out that Matzpen never had more than a few dozen members.

Orr came to London for post graduate studies in 1964. He continued his activity with Matzpen and became, again with Machover and others, a co-founder of the Israeli Revolutionary Action Committee (Abroad), known as ISRAC(A). They published a magazine ISRAC which promoted their anti-Zionist views.  They integrated themselves in what became known as the New Left and had articles published by Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group, and also in Socialist Worker.

Orr returned to Israel in 1990 because, as he told me, his mother, who lived in the country, was getting very old and he wanted to spend time with her and also because he preferred the climate.

When we met him, as well as discussing the Kasztner case and Perdition, we were able to ask him about Matzpen and the backing of the terrorist activities including plane hijackings by Marxist PLO groupings. Orr’s response was that while he personally did not agree with such tactics, he did not feel that it was his place to tell the Palestinians how they should resist Israel.

Aki was very keen to tell us about his LSD trips that he experienced in London. He was highly enthusiastic about the drug and promoted its use. Another area that he was keen to discuss was his own political trajectory beyond Marxism and anarchism to something he labelled autonarchy, a form of direct democracy.

I was never going to agree with his political outlook, but when I heard that he died over the weekend, I felt sad. The truth is, despite our political disagreements, I liked him.

The inscription page of one of Akiva Orr’s books that kindly he gave to me.

A film portraying a sympathetic account of Matzpen featuring Akiva Orr.