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Zionism's Attitude to Anti-Semitism

By Tony Greenstein

RETURN, London, March 1989


Much of the criticism of Perdition has centered around the exceptional and unique nature of the Holocaust, both in terms of the sheer magnitude and the systematic and planned nature of the extermination. Therefore, the argument goes, the reaction of the Zionists, and indeed the Jewish community to the Nazis, was also exceptional and cannot be analysed, still less judged, by those who didn't experience those events. What I want to show is that the Zionist response to the Nazis, the collaboration and accommodation, far from being exceptional, was part of a pattern that was no different from the traditional response of Zionism towards anti-Semitism, and that this is true both for the period before and after the Holocaust. Although the Nazi era is not covered, there is no doubt that the primary goal of the Zionist movement throughout this period was the creation of a state that everything else, including the fate of the Jews, was secondary and had to be structured around the former. Further, that this relegation of the needs of Jewry to the Jewish state is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. 

The first example of Zionism's attitude to anti-Semitism is prior to the Holocaust. From 1871, with the first outbreak of pogroms in Odessa in Czarist Russia to 1914, some 150,000 Jews took refuge in this country [England]. It is interesting to note the reaction to this immigration, both generally and more specifically, in terms of the existing Anglo-Jewish community. From the 1890's onwards, Jewish immigration increasingly became an issue in British politics. Opposition to the Jewish refugees was spearheaded in particular by a group of Tory MPs and candidates in the East End of London. Much of what happened was to repeat itself 60 years later in respect to Black immigration into Britain. The organisation around which this opposition crystallised was the British Brothers League (BBL), a forerunner of the British Union of Fascists in the '30s, which also had its base in the East End. It was founded by one Major William Evans-Gordon, who was elected to Parliament in 1900 for the constituency of Stepney, overturning a Liberal majority. The BBL had a bourgeois leadership and a plebian base, something which led to tension and sometimes conflict within that organisation. It should also be pointed out that at first, organised labour in Britain and the TUC was also opposed to Jewish immigration, because of the fear of unemployment, something that the BBL skilfully exploited. 

William Evans-Gordon was a forerunner of Enoch Powell. He was also an ardent supporter of the embryonic Zionist movement, something which can be seen from correspondence between him and the future President of the Zionist Organisation and the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. In his autobiography, Weizmann goes out of his way to paint an extraordinary sympathetic portrait of this bigot: 

I think our people were rather hard on him. The Aliens Bill in England and the movement which grew around it were natural phenomenon which might have been foreseen...Sir William Evans-Gordon had no particular anti-Jewish prejudices...he was sincerely ready to encourage any settlement of Jews almost anywhere in the British Empire [!] but he failed to see why the ghettoes of London or Leeds should be made into a branch of the ghettoes of Warsaw and Pinsk...Sir William Evans-Gordon gave me some insight into the psychology of the settled citizen...(1) 

The BBL was also supported by the Jewish Conservative MP for Limehouse, Harry Samuel (who was displaced by a Jewish Liberal in 1906) and the Liberal Jewish MP for Wolverhampton South, Henry Norman. In the vote in 1905, of the 12 Jewish MPs, 4 voted for the Aliens Bill, 4 voted against and 4 abstained. The attitude of the existing Anglo-Jewish community of some 60,000, newly emancipated by the Whigs, was to fear that the backlash against the refugees - who unlike themselves were not anglicised, dressed differently, spoke Yiddish, etc. - would spill over into hostility towards themselves. They were for the most part prosperous and newly accepted within the innermost circles of the British bourgeoisie. Why jeopardize their class position for the sake of religious brethren with whom they had so little in common? Their attitude was best summed up by the Conservative Chief Rabbi of the time (some things never change) Hermann Adler: We [Anglo-Jewry] must frankly agree, that we do not desire to admit criminals, and that there is force in the argument against the admission of those [Jews] mentally or physically afflicted" (2) 

Which is why the Board of Deputies of British Jews at no time opposed even the far more restrictive Aliens Bill of 1904. Instead they pressed, both the Tories who introduced it and the Liberals who implemented it, for a series of minor amendments. In the words of editor of the Jewish Chronicle Leopold Greenburg, the Board "asked for the driest of dry bread, it was given the hardest of hard stone." (3) 

The person who piloted the Act through Parliament was the Home Secretary Arthur James Balfour. Balfour, who had previously been Prime Minister, was to become Foreign Secretary in the Lloyd George Cabinet. It was in the latter role that he would issue what became known as the Balfour Declaration, the letter that symbolized the alliance between British imperialism and the Zionist movement. Even today, Balfour is a legend among Zionists, the headquarters of Zionist Federation in Britain are named after him. 

Balfour was extremely typical of the Tory (and Liberal) anti-immigration lobby. He combined support for Zionism with anti-Semitism. If you opposed Jews coming into this country then where better to send them than a state, coupled to British colonialism, in Palestine. In 1900, the fledgling English Zionist Federation issued a circular supporting all the anti-Semitic East End Tory candidates. The candidate for Whitechapel, David Hope-Kydd, whom even a local Conservative Alderman, John Harris, refused to support in the 1906 General Election, described the Jewish immigrants as "the scum of the unhealthiest continental nations" but nonetheless "coupled his desire for an aliens' immigration bill with heart-rending support for the infant Zionist movement" (4). He lost to Stuart Samuel by only 71 votes and experienced a lower than average swing against (sic) in 1906. His use of language that the Moseleyites used about Jews in the '30s and the National Front uses today about Black people, did not disqualify him from receiving the support of the Zionists. This congruence between Zionism and anti-Semitism was to be a feature that was to be repeated both in Britain and Europe. 

Whatever happened prior to the Israeli state being founded, today the Zionists argue, it is a refuge and a guarantee of the safety of Jews world-wide. And seeking to vindicate their own movement's record and prove the futility of opposition to anti-Semitism, they assert that if only there had been an Israeli state 50 years ago, then the Holocaust would never have occurred. 

This is why the experience of Jews under the Argentinean Junta (1973-83) deserves analysis. During the period of the Junta, Nazi papers such as Cabildo and Papeles circulated freely, and the theories of international Jewish conspiracies were the military's ideological stock-in-trade. 

Under the Junta, some 30,000 people 'disappeared', i.e. were murdered. Of these, some 10 per cent were Jewish, despite the Jewish community comprising no more than 1 per cent of the Argentinean population. Yet there was no campaign to save Argentinean Jewry, unlike high profile campaigns over Soviet Jewry. No one would claim that in recent years some 3,000 Soviet Jews have been tortured to death, yet a massive cold-war campaign was launched to secure the rights of Soviet Jews to emigrate (as long as their destination was Israel) whereas the plight of Argentinean Jews was left to the quiet diplomacy of Israel. The facts which have emerged are due to people like Jacob Timmerman, liberal editor of La Opinion and himself a Zionist, who attacked the Zionist communal leadership in Argentina calling them Judenrat, the quisling Nazi-appointed Jewish Councils in [war-time] Europe (5). These bodies, Daia (the equivalent of the British Board of Deputies) and Amia (Ashkenazi Jewish Council in Buenos Aires) were controlled by the Israeli Labour Alignment and Mapam. They were also completely unrepresentative. In the 1987 Amia elections, only 7,000 out of an estimated 180,000 who were eligible voted, the Labour Alignment obtaining nearly 50% (6). In the election of delegates to the World Zionist Congress, 11,700 votes were cast, 5% of the total Argentinean Jewish community, of which 3,500 went to the Labour Alignment and 2160 to Mapam (7)

Daia and Amia took a decision that under no circumstances would they campaign openly and publicly against what was happening. A leading article entitled 'A White Book' (a publication Daia issued to justify its role) noted that "The Daia refers with pride to how, during a period of violence and repression in Argentina, Zionist activity continued, including Congress elections. The schools carried on normally, elections of officers took place for communal elections, Argentina was represented at international Jewish gatherings, in short they succeeded in their determination to maintain and protect a 'full Jewish life' (8). It described the visit of Geoffrey Paul, editor of the Jewish Chronicle [Britain], in 1979 to Argentina and how he "was urged not to make an issue of the disappeared because of the danger of a negative impact on the wider community...while the mothers of the Jewish disappeared pleaded for publicity to bring the atrocities before the public's attention". Needless to say Paul heeded the call but, remarkably for the JC, the editorial asks whether, if similar circumstances were to arise in Britain, the Board of Deputies would behave in a similar way towards Jewish leftists and dissidents. 

Timmerman was bitterly attacked in the United States for the position he took. Paul asks "How are we to explain the Jewish attacks on Timmerman? Some of them undoubtedly, have been inspired from conservative circles in the Jewish community, which have been convinced...that Timmerman was in league with left-wing terrorist groups opposed to the Argentine military, and that he 'asked for what he got' (9). It is these same conservative circles who are the first to raise the question of 'anti-Semitism' in relation to Nicaragua, the Soviet Union and Jesse Jackson. 

In October 1983, as the days of the Junta were drawing to a close, a meeting organised by the Argentine Jewish Movement for Human Rights to protest anti-Semitic attacks (bombing of synagogues, etc.) drew 7,000 people, however "Daia, Argentine Jewry's political representative body boycotted the event, which it said was dangerous in view of the lack of security" (10). Presumably the Junta had refused to give the necessary guarantees! 

At the 1984 Congress celebrating the 90th anniversary of Amia "a group of women whose children disappeared during the Argentine military regime's crack down on left-wing opponents shouted 'Nazi, Nazi' at those attending the Congress...The protesters claimed that Israel, Amia and Daia had done nothing to help the 'desaparecidos' (disappeared ones). The guest of honor was Mr. Yitzhak Navon, formerly [Labour] President of Israel. The mothers attempted to prevent his entrance to the conference, as well as that of the Israeli ambassador in Argentina" (11) It is no coincidence that brave group, the Jewish Mothers of the Disappeared, should focus on the role that Israel played, given its warm relationship to the Junta. 

Israel is seen by most Jews as their insurance policy in the event of a recurrence of anti-Semitism. Not only does this belief in Israel as a refuge mean Jews are less inclined to take up the anti-Semitism of the Right, it is an insurance policy that is unlikely to deliver the goods. What Argentina demonstrates is that an anti-Semitic regime will also be authoritarian, semi-fascist and a creature of US imperialism. In short, one which the Israeli state is only too willing to do business with, politically, militarily and economically, its own Jews notwithstanding. Indeed, in so far as even the US may keep such a regime at arms lengths, as was the case with Guatemala and Somoza's Nicaragua, then Israel will most likely be that regime's first port of call Indeed we know from the Malvinas/Falklands War that Israel was the main arms supplier to Argentina at a time when the US had turned against her. 

Not only will Israel not defend Jewish left-wingers, feminists, gays and other dissidents, one can expect Zionist neo-Conservatives in the US around Commentary and Mainstream magazines to bitterly attack the victims of this regime. If they could attack Timmerman, a liberal Zionist and famous editor, there will be no difficulty in attacking Jewish Marxists. Of course there are no such inhibitions about campaigning against 'anti-Semitism' in the USSR, because the Soviet Jewry was the rallying point for those who wished to wreck the new INF agreement in the same way as it helped destroy the SALT II agreement. 

It is interesting to see what the reactions have been to Le Pen, a fascist who isn't even in government. Le Pen is the most anti-Arab and pro-Israeli of French politicians. In the Jewish Chronicle there was printed an article, incredibly given his view of the Holocaust, entitled 'Le Pen Backs Jews' (12). Another article 'Oui for Le Pen' describes how a former official of the Marseilles Jewish community has come out in his support (13). It was estimated that at one stage, 20 per cent of the Jewish community in the Rhone estuary supported Le Pen. The anti-Arabism of the Front National is at one with Zionist anti-Arabism. 

A dinner was held in Le Pen's honor, attended by a variety of Zionist leaders including the Director of the World Union of General Zionists and a member of the Executive of the World Zionist Organisation Executive Jacques Torczyner and Dr. Israel Singer, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, whose feting of a French fascist didn't disqualify him from pursing allegations unproved against Dr. Kurt Waldheim. It was widely rumoured that the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Benjamin Netanyahu, now a Herut candidate for the Knesset, was also on the guest list. As Jewish Chronicle columnist, Chaim Bermant noted, among these Zionists there is the belief that with the help of Mr. Le Pen the special relationship could be restored and that an anti-Arab government in France would necessarily be good for Israel even if it were also anti-Semitic. Indeed there are not a few Israeli politicians who would regard such anti-Semitism as a bonus if only because it would mean an increased influx of Jewish immigrants...and some would like to give what they regard as an inevitable process of history a helping hand. (14) 

Even were we to omit entirely the era of the Holocaust and Nazism, then the relationship of Zionism and anti-Semitism would be found to be unchanged since the days of Herzl. That although anti-Semitism has been replaced as the predominant, state racism by anti-Black racism in this country (and similarly anti-Arab/Turkish in France and Germany), where it still exists, among the regimes in America's back yard or in fascist parties in Europe, who given the right set of circumstances might gain a share of power as Le Pen was on the brink of doing, then Zionism is no more an answer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago. The only difference is that today Zionism holds state power and its capacity for damaging the interests of Jewry is correspondingly that much greater.


(1) Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error, pp.90-91, Schocken, 1966

(2) G. Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983, p.187

(3) Jewish Chronicle 24.4.1908, cited in Alderman p. 78

(4) Alderman pp.68-75

(5) Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without a Number, Weidenfield, 1980

(6) Jewish Chronicle 1.6.84

(7) Jewish Chronicle 30.10.87

(8) Jewish Chronicle 25.5.84

(9) Jewish Chronicle 31.7.81

(10) Jewish Chronicle 28.10.83

(11) Jewish Chronicle 23.3.84

(12) Jewish Chronicle 17.10.86

(13) Jewish Chronicle 11.9.87

(14) Jewish Chronicle 4.9.87 "Why some leading Jews are courting Le Pen".


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