FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Anti-Semite’s Best Friend

shutterstock_240652444

Nazareth.

It was an assessment no one expected from the deputy head of the Israeli military. In his Holocaust Day speech last week, Yair Golan compared current trends in Israel with Germany in the early 1930s, as Nazism took hold.

In today’s Israel, he said, could be recognised “the revolting processes that occurred in Europe … There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate.”

The furore over Golan’s remarks followed on the heels of a similar outcry in Britain at statements by former London mayor Ken Livingstone. He observed that Hitler had in practice been “supporting Zionism” in 1933 when the Nazis signed a transfer agreement, allowing some German Jews to emigrate to Palestine.

In their different ways both comments refer back to a heated argument among Jews that began a century or more ago about whether Zionism was a blessing or blight. Although largely overlooked today, the dispute throws much light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those differences came to a head in 1917 when the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, a document promising for the first time to realise the Zionist goal of a “national home” for the Jews in Palestine.

Only one minister, Edwin Montagu, dissented. Notably, he was the only Jew in the British cabinet. The two facts were not unconnected. In a memo, he warned that his government’s policy would be a “rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country”.

He was far from alone in that view.

Of the 4 million Jews who left Europe between 1880 and 1920, only 100,000 went to Palestine in line with Zionist expectations. As the Israeli novelist A B Yehoshua once noted: “If the Zionist party had run in an election in the early 20th century, it would have received only 6 or 7 per cent of the Jewish people’s vote.”

What Montagu and most other Jews feared was that the creation of a Jewish state in a far-flung territory dovetailed a little too neatly with the aspirations of Europe’s anti-Semites, then much in evidence, including in the British government.

According to the dominant assumptions of Europe’s ethnic nationalisms of the time, the region should be divided into peoples or biological “races”, and each should control a territory in which it could flourish.

The Jews were viewed as a “problem” because – in addition to lingering Christian anti-semitism – they were considered subversive of this national model.

Jews were seen as a race apart, one that could not – or should not – be allowed to assimilate. Better, on this view, to encourage their emigration from Europe. For British elites, the Balfour Declaration was a means to achieve that end.

Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, understood this trenchant anti-semitism very well. His idea for a Jewish state was inspired in part by the infamous Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish French army officer was framed by his commanders for treason. Herzl was convinced that anti-semitism would always prevent Jews from true acceptance in Europe.

It is for this reason that Livingstone’s comments – however clumsily expressed – point to an important truth. Herzl and other early Zionists implicitly accepted the ugly framework of European bigotry.

Jews, Herzl concluded, must embrace their otherness and regard themselves as a separate race. Once they found a benefactor to give them a territory – soon Britain would oblige with Palestine – they could emulate the other European peoples from afar.

For a while, some Nazi leaders were sympathetic. Adolf Eichmann, one of the later engineers of the Holocaust, visited Palestine in 1937 to promote the “Zionist emigration” of Jews.

Hannah Arendt, the German Jewish scholar of totalitarianism, argued even in 1944 – long after the Nazis abandoned ideas of emigration and embraced genocide instead – that the ideology underpinning Zionism was “nothing else than the uncritical acceptance of German-inspired nationalism”.

Israel and its supporters would prefer we forget that, before the rise of the Nazis, most Jews deeply opposed a future in which they were consigned to Palestine. Those who try to remind us of this forgotten history are likely to be denounced, like Livingstone, as anti-semites. They are accused of making a simplistic comparison between Zionism and Nazism.

But there is good reason to examine this uncomfortable period.

Modern Israeli politicians, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, still regularly declare that Jews have only one home – in Israel. After every terror attack in Europe, they urge Jews to hurry to Israel, telling them they can never be safe where they are.

It also alerts us to the fact that even today the Zionist movement cannot help but mirror many of the flaws of those now-discredited European ethnic nationalisms, as Golan appears to appreciate.

Such characteristics – all too apparent in Israel – include: an exclusionary definition of peoplehood; a need to foment fear and hatred of the other as a way to keep the nation tightly bound; an obsession with and hunger for territory; and a highly militarised culture.

Recognising Zionism’s ideological roots, inspired by racial theories of peoplehood that in part fuelled the Second World War, might allow us to understand modern Israel a little better. And why it seems incapable of extending a hand of peace to the Palestinians.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 9.15.13 AM

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

June 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Divest From the Business of Incarceration
W. T. Whitney
Angola in Louisiana: Proving Ground for Racialized Capitalism
Susan Babbitt
Assange and Truth: the Deeper (Harder) Issue
Kenn Orphan
Humanity vs. the Rule of Law
Mateo Pimentel
Why on Earth a Country of Laws and Borders?
Michael T. Klare
The Pentagon’s Provocative Encirclement of China
Howard Lisnoff
The Outrageous Level of Intolerance is Happening Everywhere!
Vijay Prashad
The People of India Stand With Palestine
RS Ahthion
Internment Camps for Child Migrants
Binoy Kampmark
Rocking the G7: Trump Stomps His Allies
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Lawrence Wittner
Getting Ready for Nuclear War
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Women Protest After Being Told by Turkish-Backed Militias to Wear the Hijab
Dean Baker
When Both Men and Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Why Do Economists Only Ask About Men?
Bruce Lerro
Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down the Iron Curtain on Yankeedom
June 20, 2018
Henry Giroux
Trump’s War on Children is an act of State Terrorism
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail