The Anti-Semite’s Best Friend



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/

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Sam Husseini
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us