Monday, December 11, 2017

Zionism and anti-semitism (2007)

From the January 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

Two dangerous ideologies that thrive on each other

It's now 110 years since Theodor Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews) and launched the Zionist movement, nearly 60 since the state he envisaged came into being. Upset by the Dreyfus case (Dreyfus was a French Jewish army officer framed as a spy for Germany), Herzl had concluded that Jews would only be safe when they had a state of their own.

As they ran for the shelters during the war with Hezbullah, Israelis may well have wondered whether there is any country in the world where Jews are less safe. And although the Israeli government keeps emigration statistics secret, it is estimated that since 2003 more Jews have been seeking refuge by leaving Israel than by entering it. Thoughtful Israelis may also wonder how much of the anti-semitism in the world today is generated by Israel itself through its mistreatment of Palestinians and Lebanese.

Zionists are always complaining about anti-semitism, real or imaginary. They use such complaints especially as a gambit to de-legitimise criticism of Zionism and Israel. From the start, however, Zionist opposition to anti-semitism has been superficial and selective, because Zionism is itself closely connected to anti-semitism. The Zionist needs anti-semitism like heroin addicts need their fix.

Allying with anti-semites
Herzl realised that if his project was to succeed he had to seek support wherever it might be found. And who was more likely to back his movement than the anti-semites? Not the most extreme anti-semites, who wanted to exterminate the Jews, but "moderate" ones who would be content to get rid of them. And so Herzl set off for Russia to sell his idea to the tsar's minister of police, Plehve, a notorious anti-semite widely regarded as responsible for the Kishinev pogrom of 1903.

An opportunistic alliance with another anti-semitic ruler of Russia – Stalin – was crucial to the establishment of the state of Israel. On Stalin's instructions, Czechoslovakia provided arms and training that enabled the fledgling Zionist armed forces in Palestine to win the war of independence in 1947-48. Stalin's motive was to undermine the position of Britain in the Middle East. For some years the Israeli government continued to rely on Soviet military and diplomatic support, while keeping silent about the persecution of Soviet Jews, then at its height. (For more on this episode, see Arnold Krammer, The Forgotten Friendship: Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947-53, University of Illinois, 1974.)

In 1953 the Israeli-Soviet alliance finally broke down. Israel switched to the other side of the Cold War, obtaining aid first from France and then from the US. Alliance with "the West" also entailed maintaining good relations with anti-semitic regimes, notably in Latin America. Consider Argentina: a disproportionate number of Jews were among those killed, imprisoned and tortured by the military junta that ruled the country from 1976 to 1983. Given the "anti-democratic, anti-semitic and Nazi tendencies" of the Argentine officer corps, we may assume that they were persecuted not merely as political opponents but also as Jews. Meanwhile a stream of Israeli generals passed through Buenos Aires, selling the junta arms. (See link and this link; also Jacobo Timmerman's book Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.)

Ideological affinities
But it is not just a matter of Zionists and anti-semites sometimes having strategic or business interests in common. There are ideological affinities. Zionists, like anti-semites, are mostly racists and nationalists for whom it is abnormal that an ethnic group should live dispersed as a minority in various countries. It is therefore natural and only to be expected if the majority reacts badly to such an anomaly. There is a strong tendency in Zionism to agree that Jews have objectionable traits, which are to be overcome as they turn themselves into a normal nation by settling in Palestine "to rebuild the land and be rebuilt by it."

What if the Jews in a given country are well integrated, face no significant anti-semitism, and show no interest in being "normalized"? Originally Zionism was conceived as a means of solving the problem of anti-semitism. From this point of view, where the problem does not exist there is no need for the solution. However, ends and means were inverted long ago, and Zionism became an end in itself, with anti-semitism a condition of its success. Anti-semitism might still be regarded in principle as an evil, but as a necessary evil. Often it was also said to be a lesser evil compared to the threat of assimilation supposedly inherent in rising rates of intermarriage.

Against this background, it seems a trifle naive to ask why Israel's ruling circles don't realise that by their own actions they are generating anti-semitism. They realise. But they make it a point not to give a damn what the world thinks of them.

There is nothing unique about the affinity between Zionism and anti-semitism. Russian nationalism thrives on Russophobia (the denigration of Russians), Irish nationalism on anti-Irish prejudice, Islamism on hatred of Moslems, and so on. To escape the vicious circle, we must respond to ethnic persecution not by promoting "our own" brand of nationalist or religious politics, but by asserting our identity as human beings and citizens of the future world cooperative commonwealth.