Colin Shindler (author of the excellent Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization) writes at The Jewish Chronicle:
Ralph Miliband was a member of [the Marxist Zionist youth movement] Hashomer Hatzair in Belgium. As the storm-clouds gathered over Europe in the late 1930s, many left the movement since Zionism at that time seemed no answer to the advance of Nazism. Many were also repelled by the show trials in the Soviet Union and Hashomer’s subservience to Stalinism.
At Cambridge in the 1940s, his friend and fellow Polish Jew, Yaakov Talmon, tried to persuade Miliband to emigrate to Palestine with him. Miliband remained; he was wedded to the intellectual socialist tradition of Orwell, rather than to the Marxism of the kibbutz. Talmon became one of Israel’s most revered historians.
On the eve of the Six-Day War in 1967, Miliband entered into a ferocious correspondence with a fellow Belgian Jewish Marxist, Marcel Liebman, in which he strongly supported Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. Miliband sarcastically asked Liebman how many Arab protests about persecution of Jews in the Arab world had taken place.
Miliband further commented: “It is no duty of socialists to support pseudo-socialist revolutions unconditionally, they should do it in a nuanced way. But the rottenness of official Marxism in our time makes this kind of attitude impossible.”
Hashomer Hatzair established dozens of kibbutzim in pre-Israel Palestine and later in the State of Israel; it belatedly broke with the Soviet Union in the early 1950s. Its members also included Tony Cliff, the future Socialist Workers Party leader and anti-Zionist, and Mordechai Anielewicz, the movement’s leader in Warsaw, who was killed while leading the 1943 Ghetto Uprising.
Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in the south of Israel is named in his honor. The Marxists and socialists of the kibbutz held off thousands of Egyptian soldiers for five days during the 1948 War of Independence before it was overrun, giving the Israeli army time to prepare a successful defense of Tel Aviv. I visited the kibbutz museum in 1986 and photographed an issue of Hashomer’s underground publication Neged Ha-zerem (“Against the Current”), printed during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw and featuring a map of Palestine with the locations of Hashomer’s kibbutzim.