An edited version of an article by N. Israeli (Akiva Orr and Moshe Machover)
The relation between Zionism and anti-Semitism is surrounded by an emotional smoke screen that deters many people, including Jews, from voicing their apprehensions about Zionism. This reluctance is well known to Zionist public relations men, who make use of it in a kind of emotional blackmail.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the largely middle-class Jews of Western Europe had achieved a large measure of legal equality with Gentiles. They were, however, still far from having attained full social integration, and a recrudescence of anti-Semitism threatened the gains they had made. At the same time, the Jewish poor of East Europe were still denied even the most elementary civil rights, and the anti-Semitic reaction was intensifying in all spheres of life. Zionism emerged from the growing frustration of the struggles for full social integration and democratic rights. Zionist ideology gave an illusory explanation of the defeat of these struggles. It proclaimed that minority persecution is not the result of specific social, political, economic and cultural conditions. Rather, Zionism declared, minority persecution is inherent in human nature. There is thus no point in trying to combat it; instead, one must accept it and accommodate as well as one can to this inevitable, eternal evil.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, an assimilated West European Jew who was shocked into awareness of his “Jewishness” by the Dreyfus Affair, summed up his attitude toward anti-Semitism:
“In Paris, as I have said, I achieved a freer attitude towards anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognized the emptiness and futility of trying to ‘combat’ anti-Semitism.” 1
This pessimistic starting point, which postulates an immutable, inherently evil human nature, is often toned down by official Zionist spokesmen. But it is voiced loud and dear by those who do not have to make allowances for diplomacy. J. Bar-Yossef is typical of the more extreme position:
The generation in which Zionism was born had great faith in human progress and fraternity. It accepted Rousseau’s theory that human nature is basically good: let people live decently and human society will become an angels’ society … The minority must realize that human nature is basically evil, that the majority will always treat the minority according to its whims. Occasional waves of liberalism have only a temporary character … No education, progress, liberalism, humanism can save the minority when the terrible hour comes. 2
There is another current within Zionism that emphasizes not the purported impossibility of successful integration and assimilation, but rather regards them as disastrous. Often, these two currents mingle, but the most uncompromising advocates of the second one denounce the interpretation of Zionism as a response to pressures from outside and regard it as corrupting to Zionism as a natural expression of Jewish nationalism. Israel Sheib expresses this view:
The root of all trouble in [Jewish] history stems from the French Revolution and the damnable Emancipation. Zionism was forced upon us. Most of the people who are now here [in Israel] are here because they could not live elsewhere, could not assimilate. Why is there no mass immigration of many thousands of Jews to Palestine, now that we have redeemed it? Don’t tell me it is the fault of the Jewish Agency or that there are no economic means. The Diaspora is deep within us and religious Jewry did not pioneer the resurrection in Palestine. This was handed to Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben-Gurion, and they were products of an emancipation that went bankrupt. Hence all our other complexes such as “we came here,” “we are progressive,” “we are humanitarian,” etc. All this is so because the two great revolutions, the French and the Russian, carried the banner of integration, assimilation, cosmopolitanism, ideas which we were among the first to accept, and when we come here we feel uncomfortable. Since we failed over there and came here, we feel uncomfortable in regard to the Arabs, militarism, war. This discomfort is the spiritual crisis. Even religious Jewry today believes that the Messiah will come of his own, that it need do nothing, that there is a state, a Zionist organization, a ruling party, that they deal with practical politics. But we are dealing with matters of eternity, not of politics. Hence the trailing of all parties behind the historical events instead of blaming the way. 3
Thus, to the false generalization that minority persecution is inherent in human nature is added the wish to perpetuate Jewish separateness, “Jewishness” as a supreme value. The first approach considers anti-Semitism an evil and integration an inevitable failure; the second considers anti-Semitism a blessing and integration an evil to be avoided. A hazy combination of both approaches motivates most articulate Zionists. And therewith arises a certain characteristic ambivalence of Zionism toward anti-Semitism. On the one hand, anti-Semitism is hated and feared because it injures and threatens the very existence of the Jews. But on the other hand, it perpetuates “Jewishness” by forcing the Jews to band together in self-defence.
The liberal Zionist Uri Harary expresses this ambivalence in a somewhat modulated tone:
It is of course not customary to talk about it in public, but many of us felt a tiny bit of joy when we read newspaper reports of the swastika epidemic in Europe in 1960; or about the pro-Nazi movement in Argentina. Today, too, we have very mixed feelings when we read about the growing anti-Jewishness of Negro leaders in America. Together with all the anger, shock and humiliation, these phenomena form a part of our world outlook because Zionism said, and is still saying, that this is the way things are. This is what has to be as long as Jews live among Gentiles. 4
More direct are the words of Dr. Gevaryahu in a report on the situation of the European Jewish communities:
Swedish Jewry is also corroded by assimilation, and even the idea of immigration to Israel is still remote … Anti-Semitism has a certain role to play in preserving Jews and Jewishness … Anti-Semitism is similar to the Jewish way of making a living—to be too wealthy or too poor is unhealthy for the existence of Judaism. The same holds true for anti-Semitism: Too much or too little is not welcome, but in reasonable amounts it is. It reminds the Jews who they are and forces them to stick to their people and remain loyal to their ancient homeland. 5
Once the postdate that minority persecution is inherent in human nature is accepted, the rest of the Zionist argument follows easily. If the hostile majority cannot be expected to overcome its evil ways, the only possibility left for the minority is an exclusive self-liberation. This was the idea behind Leo Pinsker’s booklet of 1892, Autoemancipation, which asserts that the only way in which a persecuted group can gain control over its destiny is through the establishment of its own nation state in which it wields majority power.
But Zionism did not abolish minority persecution in Israel, nor can it. Instead it transformed Jews from a persecuted minority into an oppressing majority. Zionism merely succeeded in creating its own version of the world from which the Jews were rejected. Herzl, in fact, devoted many pages of his diaries to describing the Jewish state as a liberalized version of the Habsburg empire, of Viennese society in the late 1890s.
In prescribing immigration to Palestine as the only possible solution to the problem of anti-Semitism, Zionism ironically found itself in the same camp with those anti-Semites who replied to the struggles of the Jewish community for civil rights and social integration with the slogan “Go to Palestine.” Typically, the initiative in the struggle against Nazism during the 1930s came from non-Zionist Jews and their organizations. The fiercer the struggle became, the further apart the Zionist organizations stood from the rest of European Jewry. The underlying considerations are spelled out in a letter from Ben-Gurion to the Zionist executive, dated December 17, 1938:
The Jewish problem now is not what it used to be. The fate of Jews in Germany is not an end but a beginning. Other anti-Semitic states will learn from Hitler. Millions of Jews face annihilation, the refugee problem has assumed world-wide proportions, and urgency. Britain is trying to separate the issue of the refugees from that of Palestine. It is assisted by anti-Zionist Jews. The dimensions of the refugee problem demand an immediate, territorial solution; if Palestine will not absorb them another territory will. Zionism is endangered. All other territorial solutions, certain to fail, will demand enormous sums of money. If Jews will have to choose between the refugees, saving Jews from concentration camps, and assisting a national museum in Palestine, mercy will have the upper hand and the whole energy of the people will be channelled into saving Jews from various countries. Zionism will be struck off the agenda not only in world public opinion, in Britain and the United States, but elsewhere in Jewish public opinion. If we allow a separation between the refugee problem and the Palestine problem, we are risking the existence of Zionism.
Saving Jewish lives from Hitler is considered by Ben-Gurion a potential threat to Zionism unless the Jews thus saved are brought to Palestine. When Zionism had to choose between the Jews and the Jewish state, it unhesitantly preferred the latter.
It is often argued by advocates of Zionism that had a Jewish state existed in Palestine before World War II, it would have saved most of Europe’s Jews. The fact that the Jews in Palestine escaped extermination is used to provide the factual support for this argument.
The truth, however, is that the Jews in Palestine were saved simply because the Nazis did not conquer the Middle East. There is no reason to believe that they would have treated a Jewish state any differently from the way they treated all other Jewish communities. And as for the belief that the Jews in Palestine would have behaved differently from the European communities under Nazi occupation, the evidence is hardly decisive. It is known that on the eve of the battle in El-Alamein this issue was debated in the Zionist and other executive committees. While one group advocated concentrating all Palestinian Jews on Mount Carmel in a final, Masada-like battle, another anticipated some modus vivendi with the Nazis. It was even argued that the industrial potential of the Jewish community in Palestine be used as a bargaining card in negotiations.
To sum up: Zionism accepts anti-Semitism as the natural, normal attitude of the non-Jewish world. It does not consider it a distorted, perverted phenomenon. Burdened by this attitude, Zionism can respond to anti-Semitism, but cannot confront it, denounce it or fight against it. In Palestine, Zionism created an exclusivist, oppressing society in which the Jews were made a majority so as to exercise broad rights, while the minorities (especially the former Palestinian majority) suffer political, legal, social and economic discrimination.
The Zionist assumptions have fostered a matter-of-fact approach to anti-Semitism among many Zionists in which the anti-Semite appears to the Zionist not as an enemy against whom an implacable struggle must be waged, but as a potential bargaining partner with whom arrangements can be negotiated to achieve a common goal; e.g., the removal of Jews from non-Jewish society and their concentration in a society of their own. Thus could Theodor Herzl negotiate with Plehve, the notorious anti-Semitic Tsarist Minister of the Interior who, in 1903, granted him a letter stating that the Zionist movement could count on the Tsarist government’s “moral and material assistance with respect to the measures taken by the Zionist movement which would lead to the diminution of the Jewish population in Russia.“ 6 A similar arrangement was negotiated between Arlossorof, secretary of the Histadrut, and the Nazis in 1934. Most infamous of all such negotiations were probably those carried out in Budapest between Rudolph Kastner, secretary of the Zionist committee in that city, and Adolph Eichmann in 1944. Having won Kastner’s co-operation by allowing a thousand of the wealthiest Jews to escape to Switzerland, Eichmann used him to coax another 800,000 reluctant Hungarian Jews to board the trains to Auschwitz.
The mutual understanding between Zionism and anti-Semitism is shared by both sides on the political and personal levels. Typical is the following excerpt from the diaries of R. Meinertzhagen, Allenby’s political officer from 1919-21:
“My inclination towards Jews in general is governed by an anti-Semitic instinct which is invariably modified by personal contact. My views on Zionism are those of an ardent Zionist” 7
The massacre of the Jews during World War II completely transformed the image of the leadership of the Jewish community in Palestine. Whereas up to the war this leadership was accepted as representative of a small though unique Jewish community, after 1945 (and especially after independence in 1948) it became accepted as the only legitimate representative of world Jewry. The state of Israel gradually came to overshadow completely all other Jewish representative bodies, including the Zionist movement itself. Once the image was established, moreover, that leadership started to wield enormous moral weight throughout the West
For example, when Washington decided to reintegrate Adenauer’s Germany into the Western alliance, rebuild the Wehrmacht and integrate it into NATO, it had to “rehabilitate” the Adenauer regime and make it “respectable” in the eyes of world public opinion. The task naturally fell to Ben-Gurion. He duly signed a reparations agreement with Adenauer, publicly declaring that “Germany today is not the one of yesterday,” and ignored the violent protest within Israel itself. Adenauer named the agreementWiedergutmachung (Making Good Again), as if genocide could be atoned for by monetary payments. Later, when Adenauer was invited for the first time to the United States and feared Jewish demonstrations, Ben-Gurion obligingly flew over from Israel and “accidentally“ met him in the Waldorf-Astoria, where a photographer “accidentally” snapped them both, holding each other’s hands. When the picture appeared on the front pages of the world press, Adenauer was “Kosherized.” (Incidentally, during their brief meeting Adenauer promised an enormous new loan to Israel) Some years later, when Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem, the prosecution was careful to avoid mentioning the name of Globke, the promulgator of the Nuremberg race laws, which laid the legal foundation for racial discrimination in Nazi Germany. The fact is that Globke was Adenauer’s close aide and that frantic negotiations that went on behind the scenes about this point are little known even today.
Gradually the practice became established for any “respectable” politician accused of racism in his own country to arrange an official visit to Israel to improve his image. Jacques Soustelle, the French extremist nationalist, Franz-Josef Strauss of West Germany and Britain’s Enoch Powell have all been recent visitors. The public relations mechanism of these visits is based on the fact that Western public opinion has been conditioned to accept the Israeli Government as the “spokesman of Jewish conscience,” “the voice of the six million Jews massacred by the Nazis.” Therefore it expects the Israeli Government to expose and denounce any racist. It is not so much collusion as the old, mutual understanding between Zionism and anti-Semitism in a new, official garb.
Western civilization produced anti-Semitism as its legitimate offspring, Nazism as its illegitimate one. Much of European Jewry, unable to recognize anti-Semitism as a product of a civilization of which it was a part, elevated it to the rank of a “law of human nature” and produced Zionism to cope with that alienation. With both ideological alienations taking hold of human minds, genocide and the Jewish state became realities. Finally, the pyramid of alienations was capped when Western civilization accepted the Zionist state as its “conscience.” Under these circumstances the reluctance of public opinion in the West to criticize, expose or denounce Zionism is understandable, but those who placidly go along with this state of affairs ought at least to be aware that they accept, tacitly, the basic assumptions of racism.
- The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, London: Gollancz, 1958, p.6. ↩
- J. Bar-Yossef in Yediot Aharonot, Jan. 12, 1968. ↩
- Israel Sheib (“Eldad”), Views, Quarterly of Religious Academics, Winter 1968, p.296. (Translated from the Hebrew.) ↩
- Yediot Aharonot, Feb. 9, 1969. ↩
- Ibid., May 29, 1964. ↩
- Herzl’s diaries, op. cit., p.398. ↩
- R. Meinertzhagen, Middle East Diary, London: Crescent Press, 1959, p.49. ↩