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Saying goodbye to Akiva Orr

We have very few role models in the Israeli Left – few that we can follow their footsteps, few torches to light a dark and lonely path, few lights to pave the way. Aki was one of those, and now with him gone, the road seems a little darker.

By Leehee Rothschild

I’ve been sitting and staring at this photo for the past few minutes, trying to put together some words to go along with it. The sentence that keeps repeating in my mind is “This is exactly how I felt when Tanya [Reinhart] died.” I suppose it is quite an accurate description.

I could not say that I was well acquainted with Tanya. She was my professor in one of the most significant classes that I took in my first degree. A class in which I had relearned how to read newspapers, to look for the limitation of discourse within the text, and to search for the things said between the lines, and more importantly, for the things that are not. She had also been a partner for cafeteria talks during the breaks, and for leftist protests in the campus, during the later days of the Second Intifada. I hadn’t known her well, and yet, upon hearing on her death I felt like I was hit with a well-directed punch, and when I tried to express how I felt, I couldn’t find the words among the strong sense of loss and confusion.

I can say the same things about Akiva. I was never a student of his, but during my early days of activism, when I first walked into Salon Mazal, then on Allenby-Montefiore in Tel Aviv, Raanan convinced me to stay and hear Akiva Orr talk. I hadn’t known who he was back then, and today I don’t remember much from this lecture about cosmology, but I left it knowing that I was lucky to have met him. In the following years I got to know both Matzpen and Aki somewhat better, through books and texts, if not in person. He was the sort of person whose mere existence within the Israeli Left served as some sort of a comfort.

I won’t go in lengthy detail about his biography here. I’m quite certain that people more fitting for this job will do so in the next few days. I will say, however, that to my young eyes he seemed like one of those people who were always there, whether in the dramatic moments of the 1951 Seamen’s Strike, and in the days in which only Matzpen dared to speak out those things that needed to be said. He was one of those who never gave up, who kept on fighting against the occupation, Zionism, capitalism – a Sisyphean struggle which can easily make one despair. He was one of those who tried to pave the way, beat the system, and offer some real alternatives to parliamentary democracy, even if I am not certain whether direct democracy is the answer. One of those who knew how to be part of the Left and criticize it at the same time. And one who determined to always, always side with the oppressed.

We have very few role models in the Israeli Left – few that we can follow their footsteps, few torches to light a dark and lonely path, few lights to pave the way. Aki was one of those, and now with him gone, the road seems a little darker.

Rest in peace, comrade. I hope I shall succeed in walking in your way.

WATCH Akiva Orr talking about the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

Leehee Rothschild has been active in the Palestinian struggle for over a decade. She currently works with Anarchists Against the Wall and Boycott From Within. She writes about activism and political struggle on her blog, Radically Blonde and other publications.

Read more:
Akiva Orr, co-founder of Israeli radical left party, passes away
Akiva Orr on J14: ‘The longest journey starts with one small step’ 

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    1. XYZ

      Two ironies in his talk in front of about 20 people.
      (1) Had the Zionists not been setting up the Jewish state in Palestine, he would not have had anywhere to flee in 1934 to get away from the Nazis. He should have shown a little gratitude….he himself alludes to the fact that the Palestinians rejected his families right to come to the country.

      (2) He laments “Avodah Ivrit”…having Jewish employers hire Jewish workers (don’t forget that Palestnian Arab employers probably didn’t employ Jews, either). Come on, be honest, if Jewish employers HAD continued to hire Arab labor, as a good Communist, he would have accused them of “exploiting” Arab labor. We just can’t win in these people’s eyes!

      Reply to Comment
      • Y-Man

        every single European Jew who fled the Nazis went to Israel?

        Reply to Comment
        • XYZ

          Please provide a list of countries outside of Jewish Palestine that actively encouraged Jews in Europe fleeing Nazism to come to their countries and were willing to take an unlimited number of them.

          Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            You are missing the point XYZ. the Nazi occupation occured between 1930s-1945, before Israel even came into existence. It was the British Mandate that allowed Jewish immigration (unlimited) to Palestine and then restricted after the consequences of such were getting out of hand. It goes back to the fact that the Zionist leadership and the British agreed to settle the Jews in Palestine (later on the Holocaust occured and the agreement still continued). Had they chosen Argentina (as Herzl suggested) or other places such as Uganda, again they would have a refuge.

            Reply to Comment
          • XYZ

            The outright ignorance or, to be less charitable, the willful distortion of history I see goes a long way to explaining the nonsense we keep hearing from the “progressives” regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
            For Leen’s benefit, I will simply point out that the “agreement between the Jewish Agency and the British Mandatory regime was unilaterally abrogated by the British in 1939 and never reinstates, unlike what Leen claims. This was a death sentence for the Jews of Europe.
            Another falsehood is Leen’s claim that Argentina would have ever agreed to unlimited Jewish immigration, and if Uganda had been accepted as a Jewish home, Leen would have been the first to point out (correctly) that the Jews are aliens there, she would say that the Jews are anti-black racists and that any Jewish state would have been just as illegitimate as the Palestinians and their apologists clain Israel is.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            Uh I wasn’t talking about 1939. I was talking about Balfour Declaration of 1917. Way before the Nazis were even in existence.

            Well if Argentina was under British occupation, it might have been forced to (see, Palestine). Same thing with Uganda.

            But yes, you still didn’t disprove that Israel was in existence pre-1948 (or pre-holocaust). Nor did you disprove my claim that the British mandate played a part in Jewish immigration to Palestine.

            But please, make assumptions about me and predict the things I am about to say. It is a bit weird you are doing this I must say.

            Reply to Comment
          • Leen

            You know to be honest, I would have been all for the British to settle the holocaust victims in Britain. I think it seems fair no? They played an effective role in liberating the concentration camps, as well as cooperating with Zionists. It seems to me an extension of good will to also host holocaust victims.

            Reply to Comment
      • Roberto K

        “as a good Communist, he would have accused them of “exploiting” Arab labor.”? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s like saying that “good Communists” supported racist “whites only” employment policies in the U.S. to protect non-whites from being exploited.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Nonsense

      There was a jewish state 1934? And that was the only place where jews could flee?
      Interesting hasbara history lesson.

      Reply to Comment
      • Leen

        Apparently. Remember Israel is thousands of years old. it was an empty desert waiting to blossom.

        Reply to Comment