The Left and the Jews
From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel. Robert S. Wistrich. University of Nebraska Press, 2012. 625 pp.
Mr Deasy to Stephen Dedalus: “Ireland, they say, has the honour of
being the only country which never persecuted the Jews.
Do you know that? No. And do you know why?”
“Why, sir?” Stephen asked, beginning to smile.
“Because she never let them in,” Mr Deasy said solemnly.
A coughball of laughter leaped from his throat
dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm.
-James Joyce, Ulysses
I first had to think much of anything about Israel, the Arab states on its borders, and the subset of Arabs who were beginning to be called Palestinians in June 1967 during the Six Day War. I was living in New York at the time, a member and staff writer for the Socialist Workers Party, the largest of the American Trotskyist groups, revolutionary Marxists who revered Lenin as well as Leon Trotsky. On June 5 war erupted between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, three of the four countries on its borders, all vastly larger. Fighting on three fronts, the Israeli Jews in a few days defeated the massive Arab armies thrown against them.
The SWP leadership declared the party firmly on the Arab side, not shrinking from unreservedly endorsing the declared Arab war aims of destroying the Jewish state altogether. There were twenty-two Arab states and a single Jewish one. Forty-six years later the population of the Arab states stands at 350 million; Israel’s is 8 million, of whom only 6 million are Jews.
What were the reasons my Trotskyist party advanced for exterminating this one tiny country, the only country in the world against which it raised such a draconian demand? Israel was, after all, composed of a historic Middle Eastern people, some of whom were refugees from a prolonged European exile but a majority were native Middle Easterners who had been driven out of Arab states after 1945? The grounds were summarized a few years later in a resolution entitled “Israel and the Arab Revolution” adopted by overwhelming vote at a party convention attended by more than 1,000 members and supporters. It is worth examining, as its arguments have become the stock in trade of a large section of the Left, in both the United States and Europe, in the years since, as well as nearly universal in the Muslim world.
The resolution asserted that Israel could have been created “only at the expense of the indigenous peoples of the area,” and that it could have “come into existence . . . only by relying upon imperialism.” It affirmed that the “struggle of the Palestinian people against their oppression and for self-determination has taken the form of a struggle to destroy the state of Israel,” a goal to which the SWP declared “unconditional support.”
To defend itself against the likely charge that this position was antisemitic, the resolution assured its readers that “It is not justifiable to assume that a likely development of the Arab revolution will be the future oppression of the Israeli Jews.” It advocated a Democratic Secular Palestine in which, after the Arab armies had smashed the Israeli state and imposed an Arab majority, the Jewish population would be guaranteed full civil, religious, and human rights. That this was not true in any of the existing Arab states did not phase my Marxist leaders. They added that while they defended the right of national self-determination for all Middle Eastern peoples, this did not apply to Jews, who should be content with the rights that the conquering Arabs would certainly be pleased to give them.
There were many essential falsehoods in this document, which were and remain typical of the progressive view of Israel. It is true that Britain, a major imperialist power, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was drafted during World War I, in which the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled Palestine as an undifferentiated part of its territory for five hundred years, was fighting on the German side. There was at that time a large Jewish population that had been under Ottoman rule since the Turkish Muslim conquest. Some of these Jews lived in what became Palestine; others lived in the various pieces of Ottoman land that the Western governments carved into Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as in Egypt, which was an Ottoman colony. With the Ottoman collapse at the war’s end, Palestine in 1920, only at this time separated from Syria, became a British Mandate, which status lasted until 1948.
The borders, drawn artificially by the European and American victors after World War I, on the whole fatally ignored deep ethnic differences, not only between Jews, a historically oppressed people in Muslim lands, and Arabs, but on a larger scale within Islam, between Sunnis and Shi’ites, as well as splitting the non-Arab Muslim Kurdish population between four separate states. In Iraq a Sunni minority dominated a Shi’ite majority; in Syria this was reversed, with an Allawite Shi’ite minority tyrannizing a Sunni population. And then there was the totally unworkable Lebanon with its incendiary tripartite mix of Christians, Sunnis, and Shi’ites. The whole construct has proven ever since to be in a permanent state of crisis and internecine slaughter. All of these states have at one time or another allied themselves with “imperialists” – Britain, France, the United States or another European power – or, before its collapse, with the repressive government of the Soviet Union, or both sequentially. Why, then, single out the Jews in particular as illegitimate and worthy of expulsion from their homeland?
Britain soon came to see the Arabs as a more important constituency than the Jews and reneged on the Balfour promise. During and after World War II it forcibly halted and turned back ships carrying refugees from Germany, condemning thousands to their deaths. The Jews in Palestine established their state, not with the help of imperialism but in a long armed struggle against British troops, an anti-imperialist struggle.
Further, on the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, the Jewish area was invaded by five Arab states, by then established nations with large standing armies: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. No imperialist power came to the aid of the Jews. They won this extraordinarily unequal battle mainly with weapons from Communist Czechoslovakia. Nor did any “imperialist” power come to Israel’s aid in the Six Day War of 1967.
Did the Palestinians or the Arab states more broadly endorse the promises about human and civil rights for Jews the SWP made for them in New York? On May 27, Nasser stated, “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization charter of 1964 declared that only those Jews who could prove that their ancestry in Palestine dated to “the beginning of the Zionist invasion” would be considered to be Palestinians. No date is attached to this clause, but in the later Hamas charter the date of 1917 is given, along with the pledge that all Jews who cannot date their ancestry in Palestine to 1917 will be expelled. Under this rule the Democratic Secular Palestine was going to be an almost purely Arab state, if there were any Jews in it at all.
There were more than 800,000 native Jews living in the Arab states in 1948. By 2008 there were barely 6,000, fewer than 100 each in the major states of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, where the great majority were expelled. Two hundred thousand more were expelled from Turkey and Iran. There was no sign in any Arab country of tolerating even the existence of Jews, much less granting them equal civil and human rights with Muslims. The planned fate of the Jews, who had been concentrated from throughout the Muslim world into tiny Israel, was to be different only in being more final. Ahmad Shukeiri, the first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, on June 1, 1967, rather than promising Israeli Jews civil rights after the expected Arab conquest said instead, “I estimate that none of them will survive.”
The PLO Charter expresses opinions both about Zionism, a particular movement, which it brands “fascist,” despite the fact that the founders of Israel were in large part quite moderate socialists, and about Jews more broadly. Here the Charter asserts: “Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.” Clearly the Arabs do not feel the same way about Islam, which aspires not merely to rule in individual nations but to a supranational unification of its believers in a transnational caliphate.
Today each of the states newly carved out of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s claims distinct nationhood. The Turks had ruled Syria and Palestine since 1516. In 1948 there were a million native Jews in the Arab countries plus Turkey and Iran. In the fluidity of boundary drawing why exactly were the Ottoman Jews, whose residence predated the Arab conquest by two and a half millennia, not entitled to a small piece of land? The anti-Jewish hostility of their Muslim opponents is understandable if not supportable. It is plainly more extreme than the Jewish attitude toward Arabs, as 20 percent of the population of pre-1967 Israel is Arab. There is no comparable tolerance toward Jews in any Muslim state, Arab, Turkish, or Persian. The Arab side has most often shown itself to be racist and exterminationist toward the Jews, as witnessed by the three major invasions of Israel by its surrounding Arab states, in 1948, 1967, and 1973. The question is why the ostensibly rationalist, secular, and progressive forces in the West have, to a disturbing degree, endorsed this framing of the Arab-Jewish clash.
It should be remembered that the readiness to “unconditionally” support the call for Israel’s destruction was issued by these American Marxists while the Gaza strip was still part of Egypt and the West Bank belonged to Jordan. There had been no agitation for a Palestinian state in those places. And there was no Israeli occupation of the West Bank or a cordon sanitaire around Gaza, the focal points of much leftist excoriation of Israel today. And there was no talk about a two-state solution. The Marxist left endorsed Arab states in their military struggle to eradicate the one Jewish state outright. The reasoning behind this otherwise surprising position lies far back in the history of the relations between the socialist movement and the Jews, from the time when Jews were first gaining citizenship rights in Europe early in the nineteenth century. These were things of which I was entirely ignorant in 1967.
I voted for the party’s resolution with the rest of my comrades. After all, as Lenin said, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. By way of disclosure, My father was Norwegian, with dashes of Irish, Scottish, and Dutch; my mother was Jewish. If she ever had any Jewish religious instruction she never mentioned it. I have never been inside a synagogue. I was raised in the New Age, semi-Christian, Church of Religious Science. My parents, insofar as they had any supernatural beliefs, were spiritualists. The only Jewish relative I ever met was my maternal grandmother, who was an evil woman who had last had any contact with my mother before I was born. She stayed with us for a few days when I was fifteen, then never spoke to any of us again.
I didn’t return to these questions for many years. I left Marxism behind in the late 1980s, and began to look again at many issues I had considered settled. The Marxist attitude toward the Jews was one of them.
Over the decades since the Six Day War – and really long before that – prominent spokespeople for the Arab states and media, and, of course, among the Palestinians, fused opposition to the Israeli state with the history of Christian antisemitism in a general anathema of the Jews. A recent example is a television broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV on November 5, 2010, by Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a central founder of Hamas and its current foreign minister. He cites with approval and as precedent for Hamas’s plans, the long series of expulsions of the Jews from Christian Europe: France in 1253, Britain in 1280, Hungary in 1360, Belgium in 1370, Germany in 1384, Austria in 1420, Holland in 1444, Spain in 1492. He adds the Russian pogroms of the 1880s and, without distinction as any worse than the others, Hitler’s Nazis: “Germany expelled them once again in 1945.” Merely expelled? And while the Holocaust was uniquely genocidal, the expulsions of the late Middle Ages that Al-Zahar cites with approval often included the slaughter of the entire Jewish population of cities, as many as 10,000 at a time, and the burning of hundreds at the stake in a single day.
Al-Zahhar concludes: “We have learned the lesson – there is no place for you among us, and you have no future among the nations of the world. You are headed to annihilation.”
We have a confluence here, of deep cultural animosity toward Jews as a group that goes back many centuries in many countries, rooted principally in religious absolutisms but resting also on ethnic and cultural differences, with present-day Arab antisemitism of an extreme kind, ending in a unique hatred, more pervasive and long-lasting than almost any other in history. While present-day leftists consider themselves unshakably anti-racist, there is a glaring exception, in their attitude toward Jewish nationalism and from there to Jews as sucyh.. Robert Wistrich puts it bluntly: “[B]y identifying with Islamist organizations like Hamas or Hezbollah which advocate and act upon an openly annihilatory form of antisemitism, radical leftists have in effect become complicit in what is a symbolic form of genocide.”
A hostility to Jews as an ethnicity goes back to the very beginnings of the socialist movement, long before Zionism, much less the state of Israel, existed. It was imbibed from the societies in which the core doctrines of Marxism and other socialist leftisms were first forged. The socialist Left has been distinguished from the racist Right in one important regard: it has, generally, been accepting of assimilationist Jews who reject any claim of a national identity for the Jewish people.
The original socialists and Marxists were, with perhaps the sole exception of the long-forgotten followers of the utopian theorist Henri de Saint Simon, openly antisemitic. Liberal political groups and parties were usually better than the socialists, because they valued the rights of all citizens, while the socialists defended only proletarians, which didn’t include the Jews in enough numbers to be noticed until early in the twentieth century.
Robert S. Wistrich was born in 1945 to leftist Polish parents in Soviet-ruled Kazakhstan. He grew up in England, and from 1982 has taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the history of antisemitism, having published on the subject since 1976, most importantly his magisterial study, A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, in 2010. In a certain way the almost 700 pages of From Ambivalence to Betrayal is a footnote to that larger work, focusing as it does on mainly European socialists and Marxists from the 1840s to the present.
The history of religious persecution and expulsion that Mahmoud Al-Zahhar cites cast a long shadow, still strongly affecting the popular perceptions of Jews in the years socialist groups were first forming, early in the nineteenth century. During the Black Death of 1348-49 the mass of the German population blamed the Jews, accusing them of poisoning the wells, or, alternately, explaining the plague as God’s punishment for allowing the Christ-killing Jews to live among Christians. The great majority of German Jews were either murdered outright or driven eastward into what is now Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Romania. Over the next four hundred years some were allowed to return, but usually with severe restrictions on their rights. Many of the petty German states prohibited Jews from living in the cities. Others confined them to walled ghettos. They were often required to wear special highly identifiable clothing, the predecessor of the yellow stars of the Nazi era. Jews were barred from the professions and usually from owning land.
The consequence was that the Jews to survive gravitated into occupations that were looked on by the Germans as disreputable. Most common were horse traders, used clothes dealers, rural peddlers, grain merchants, and petty money lenders. The Jews of France were emancipated in 1791 by the French Revolution. Napoleon carried Jewish emancipation with his march into the German states. Westphalia was the first to grant citizenship to Jews, in 1808, the North German Confederation only in 1869. (Jews in the United States were nominally given rights of citizenship in 1789, but many states continued to prohibit them from holding public office or imposed other restrictions. New Hampshire was the last state to lift the restrictions, in 1877.)
Contrary to what one might suppose today, European leftists were not at all happy about letting Jews become citizens.
Socialism in Germany
Germany had a distinct post-Enlightenment anti-Jewish tradition. The famed philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte in 1793, when he was an outspoken supporter of the French Revolution, wrote: “in the bosom of almost all the nations of Europe there spreads a powerful state driven by hostile feelings that is continually at war with all the others, and that in certain places terribly oppresses the citizens. I speak of Jewry.” Wikipedia adds from Fichte’s collected works of that period that he opposed granting civil rights to the Jews unless one managed “to cut off all their heads in one night, and to set new ones on their shoulders, which should contain not a single Jewish idea.”
What was happening here, as in France of the same period, was the rise of nationalism. The forging of powerful, unifying nationalist sentiments almost invariably counterposed the ideal type true citizen against the inassimilable alien, and no group was more alien than the Jews. Marxists for generations theorized that antisemitism was a hangover from feudalism, from the once-dominant Church and from feudal landowners and peasants who had bad experiences with petty Jewish merchants. Instead, as modern states emerged, antisemitism became far stronger and was incorporated into the platforms of political parties and movements of both the Right and the Left.
Hegel (1770-1831), who had enormous influence on Marx and Marxism, explained the emergence of what we now call modernism in terms of a linear evolution in which different peoples, cultures, and religions each made a one-time contribution to the upward movement of the Absolute. Judaism for him was both inferior to Christianity but also a historical dead end whose adherents could not make any contribution to Western civilization beyond what they had done in biblical times. He supported granting civil rights to Jews on humanitarian grounds but saw no value in Jews as a group.
Marx’s views on the Jews were more directly shaped by Bruno Bauer (1809-1882), the leader of the Young Hegelians. Bauer was a militant atheist but nevertheless shared Hegel’s view that Judaism was inferior to Christianity. (The argument here was that Judaism supposedly bound its followers to rigid application of external laws and total subservience to God, with no concept of personal liberty, while Christianity sought through inner spirituality to raise its believers up to angelic levels.) Here nationalism of the Left raised its ugly head. Bauer opposed granting civil rights to the German Jews on the grounds that their “fossilized” beliefs and way of life made no contribution to the emerging German nation. They could be emancipated only when both Jews and Christians abandoned their religions in a new universal atheistic society. He added that this self-emancipation would be more difficult for Jews than for Christians because of his view of their negative way of life. The Jews, he said, “have nestled in the pores of civil society and taken advantage of the victims produced by the elements of insecurity in that society.”
Marx largely agreed with Bauer’s negative assessment of the Jews, but disagreed on how Jewish emancipation should take place. He spelled out his views in his 1843 “On the Jewish Question.” He begins by pointing to France and the United States to show that Bauer was wrong to suppose that granting the Jews civil rights must be deferred to the creation of a socialist future. However, while democratic France and America were an improvement on absolutist systems such as in Prussia, civil rights still allowed freedom of religion instead of outlawing it, and the right to property instead of abolishing it. I will resist the temptation to digress here on how efforts to do those two things have produced systems far worse than Prussia’s of the 1840s.
Marx viewed as idealist Bauer’s contention that Judaism persisted because of Jews’ religious beliefs. He instead presented a “materialist” explanation. He writes:
“We are trying to break with the theological formulation of the question. For us, the question of the Jew’s capacity for emancipation becomes the question: What particular social element has to be overcome in order to abolish Judaism?” The goal has suddenly shifted from ending the persecution of the Jews and their exclusion from even the limited civil rights enjoyed by German Christians to abolishing Judaism itself. Simple. If the Jews would just agree to abandon any distinguishing beliefs or culture they would be treated like everyone else. This in fact has been the core Marxist position on the Jews ever since.
Marx then explains what it is that characterizes the Jewish group if it is not their religion or culture:
“Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew. What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money. . . . An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society.” (Emphasis in original.)
He goes on: “We recognize in Judaism, therefore, a general anti-social element of the present time, an element which through historical development – to which in this harmful respect the Jews have zealously contributed – has been brought to its present high level, at which it must necessarily begin to disintegrate. In the final analysis, the emancipation of the Jews is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism.” (Emphasis in original.)
Marx’s high economic theorizing here is just the retailing of the antisemitic tropes of the German nationalists. Other such gems from this same essay include: “Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist.” For Jews, “even the lavatory [is] an object of divine law.” And still more sweeping:
“Contempt for theory, art, history, and for man as an end in himself, which is contained in an abstract form in the Jewish religion, is the real, conscious standpoint, the virtue of the man of money. . . . The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general. The groundless law of the Jew is only a religious caricature of groundless morality and right in general, of the purely formal rites with which the world of self-interest surrounds itself.”
Marx’s hostility to Jews as a group persisted throughout his life. At best it can be said that he did not join in the racial theories of the right-wing antisemites. Instead he characterized the whole of the Jewish people as social parasites who, he believed, had invented capitalism and corrupted the Christian world with it. That situation could only be ended by Jews disappearing entirely, by renouncing anything distinctive about themselves. In an article on “The Russian Loan” of January 4, 1856, he wrote:
“Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every Pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets.”
Thinking about this, there are far more tyrants than Popes, and their actions are far more oppressive than the limited power of the Pope, and Jesuits are a tiny fraction of the Catholic Church, who chose this role in life, while being a Jew is something one is born to. The apparent equivalence here is very lopsided indeed.
Marx was still more outspoken in his correspondence with Engels. In a letter of July 30, 1862, he said of Ferdinand Lassalle, one of the central leaders of German socialism,
“as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicate, he is descended from the negroes who joined in the flight of Moses from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on his father’s side was crossed with a nigger). Now this union of Jewishness with Germanness on a negro basis was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid. The importunity of the fellow is also niggerlike.”
Engels described Lassalle as a “greasy Jew, disguised under brilliantine and flashy jewels.”
But wasn’t Marx himself a Jew? Genetically and by ancestry, yes. His father, to escape antisemitism, had converted to Lutheranism before Karl was born. Throughout the history of the Jewish Diaspora, particularly after the consolidation of absolutist Christian states that carried out organized persecutions and expulsions of the Jews, there were always a certain number of Jews who sought to escape ostracism by rejecting their fellows, often vociferously, a phenomenon we see down to our own day in figures like Noam Chomsky.
For the record, the Lassallean socialists were even worse than the Marxists, notwithstanding their leader’s Jewish descent, which Lassalle rejected. His General German Workers Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter Verein), founded in 1863, regularly attacked the Marxist Social Democratic Workers Party for their (assimilated) Jewish members. The editor of the Lassalleans’ main newspaper, the New Social Democrat, Wilhelm Hasselmann, claimed that only his party truly represented the workers, while its socialist rivals, “spawned by the overheated imagination of arrogant Jew-boys and other mischief-makers, are falling apart.” (September 18, 1872)
In an editorial against newspapers owned by Jewish publishers Hasselmann called for their elimination and that the workers should “lead the Jews altogether, with a few exceptions, not through, but into, the Red Sea.”
For Marx and the Young Hegelians there was also their vision of a classless world government of the future that led them to, nominally, oppose nationalist and ethnic self-identities. The Communist Manifesto in 1848 famously declared “The working men have no country.” This has proven in the hundred and sixty-five years since it was written to have been one of the greatest miscalculations of the Marxist credo. But even Marx and Engels did not mean this literally for their own time but as an expectation for some fairly distant future. The Manifesto in the same paragraph says:
“Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. . . . United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
This was the opening through which the rising German nationalism, which in real life was fused with a profound antisemitism, reinvaded the Marxist prospect through the back door. For Marx and Engels this reliance on the “leading civilized countries” to spark the move toward world government led them to condemn the lesser countries, which were not powerful enough to undertake such a mission. As it happened, these, along with the Jews, were the hated enemies of the German nationalists. This was developed extensively by Engels in his articles for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung during the revolutionary period of 1848-49.Wistrich summarizes:
“[B]oth Marx and Engels displayed a revolutionary Pan-Germanist contempt for the backward peasant peoples of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Engels in particular denied the capacity of Slavs to create a viable State or achieve national independence, dismissing them as ‘ethnic trash’ destined for the rubbish bin of history. In contrast to the ‘revolutionary’ Germans, Magyars, and Poles, Engels considered the Czechs and South Slavs as ‘counter-revolutionary’ tools of Russian and Pan-Slavist ambitions. They were ‘historyless peoples’ (a concept later adopted by Otto Bauer) whose ‘mission’ was simply to disappear in the future revolutionary holocaust that would sweep them away along with other ‘waste products’ such as the Bretons, Basques, and Scottish Highlanders.”
Engels was particularly negative toward the Polish Jews, the “dirtiest of all races” whose essence was “huckstering, sordidness and filth.” In his later years he refrained from these kinds of sweeping characterizations, but held firm to the view that under communism Jews would have to disappear as an identifiable group.
One prominent exception to this view was Marx’s close associate Moses Hess (1812-1875), who had converted Marx to communism. An assimilated Jew and Young Hegelian, in the 1840s he shared the hostility toward religious and ethnically identified Jews promoted by Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. He wrote on the subject himself, before Marx did, and helped formulate the ideas that found expression in Marx’s “On the Jewish Question.” By the 1860s Hess rethought these matters and came to reject the idea that assimilation would solve the Jewish problem or that the cohesion and persistence of Judaism lay, as the Marxists believed, in the Jews’ commercial activities. It derived, he said, in a national consciousness and this could be resolved only by the self-emancipation of the Jewish people, retaining their identity. This made Hess one of the first theorists of Zionism. Wistrich writes:
“Antisemitism, [Hess] would later conclude, was an enigma for patriotic German Jews only because they insisted on denying their own nationality. Hence they had failed to understand that German nationalism with its endemic racialist features was fundamentally incapable of assimilating ‘alien’ groups. This unsparing analysis, published in 1862, condemning the new racist antisemitism, was to prove remarkably prescient.”
The real history of the world that has unfolded since 1862 has seen class struggle as a highly subordinate phenomenon. The center of the stage has been firmly held by forces the Marxist movement expected to rapidly fade away even under bourgeois rule: nationalism and religion. This was an evil omen for the stateless Jews. Hess warned:
“The beautiful phrases about humanity and enlightenment which he [the modern Jew] uses so freely to cloak his treason, his fear of being identified with his unfortunate brethren, will not ultimately protect him from the judgment of public opinion.”
Beginning in the 1880s antisemitism became a major issue in German electoral politics, promoted by the Christian-Social movement of Protestant preacher Adolf Stocker. Initially the German Marxists, organized in the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), which was then proscribed and operating underground, fought back, as attacks by the Christian-Social supporters and the government were directed at the socialists as well as the Jews. This became complicated in the 1890s, when a new brand of antisemitism arose in the form of anti-Christian left populism. This new movement was anti-government and anticapitalist as well as antisemitic.
The antisocialist laws were repealed in 1890 and the SPD was now a large legal party. The party opposed antisemitism, but wrongly theorized that it was based in soon-to-be extinct peasant and semi-feudal remnants and was not a serious problem. Worse, the Marxists viewed the anticapitalism of the antisemitic movement as a progressive step on the road to socialism.
August Bebel, the central leader of the SPD, crafted the party’s long-term policy toward the antisemites and the Jews at the party’s 1893 congress in Cologne. Unlike earlier Marxist writings, Bebel forthrightly described the European Jews as an oppressed people. He was opposed to attacks on the Jews, though he explained anti-Jewish prejudice as in large part a consequence of the role of some Jews in the “huckstering” trades, particularly buying and selling agricultural produce and lending small amounts of money. Bebel is famous in the Marxist movement for his declaration that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools.” I have had that quoted to me in the last few months by an anti-Israel Marxist as proof that Marxists have always been total opponents of Jew hatred. This misses the meaning of this declaration in the context of its own time. It did not mean that antisemitism was a totally reactionary political view. It meant, rather, that in opposing principally Jewish capitalism it was only part way to opposing capitalism as a whole. This was spelled out in the resolution Bebel submitted to the congress, which was duly adopted, and said in part:
“Social-democracy fights antisemitism as a movement which is directed against the natural development of society but which, despite its reactionary character and against its will, ultimately must become revolutionary. This is bound to happen because the petty-bourgeois and small peasant strata, which are being whipped up by antisemitism against the Jewish capitalists, will finally realize that not merely the Jewish capitalist, but the capitalist class as a whole is its enemy.”
This decision, to meet the antisemites halfway and view them as inevitably a revolutionary force against capitalism, was a disastrous misreading, rooted in the Marxist dismissal of the importance of nationalism and the reduction of opposition to Jews by German nationalist to purely economic grievances. As the Nazis would demonstrate, the base of antisemitism was not at all confined to peasants and semifeudal landlords who had unhappy dealings with Jewish usurers. A very large part of the urban German working class voted for and supported the National Socialist movement, validating Bebel’s prediction but in a horrific manner. There were in fact many elements of socialism in Hitler’s program, a leftist populism that was an intensified version of the movement of the 1890s, fused with an exclusive, organic nationalism that in principle rejected any human rights to those who did not fit its racialist definition of the nation. Jewish capitalism, contrary to the Marxist theory, had nothing to do with this.
Through their false, reductionist theory, even as the German Marxists attempted to argue against the populist antisemites their insistence that capitalism was in essence “Jewish” but broader than only the Jews, played into the hands of the Jew haters. The SPD quoted Marx’s declaration from “On the Jewish Question,” that the “emancipation of the Jews was the emancipation of society from Judaism.” The antisemites were happy to oblige. Or here, from the SPD’s main newspaper:
“Our solution consists in saying, that the so-called ‘Jewish spirit’ is the spirit of capitalism. Certainly not every Jew is a capitalist but every capitalist is a Jew – and therefore the emancipation of the Jews and the rest of mankind coincides with the emancipation of humanity from Jewish – and other capitalism.”
They even tried to argue that persecuting the Jews by prohibiting them from owning land or belonging to the professions was counterproductive because it concentrated the Jews in occupations dealing with money and thus allowed them to gain mastery over Germans:
“Behold, the oppressed [the Jews] have become the lords of this world, a powerful part of the dominant bourgeoisie, impregnated with the same spirit. The irony of history has turned everything upside down and punishment has brought its reward. It has made servants out of the persecutors and master out of the persecuted.”
The vast majority of German Jews were impoverished and stood below the lower middle class. This image of the alien Jews as “lords of this world” and “masters” over Germans was taken from the stock in trade of the antisemites and would be a central part of Nazi propaganda a few years later. Saying you opposed antisemitism was fatally undercut by incorporating essential antisemitic stereotypes into your argument, just reaffirming the beliefs of the Jew haters. The SPD’s neutral position on antisemitism in the 1890s was far worse than it had been in the 1880s when Jew-baiting came from the far right and was combined with hostility to socialism. They went so far as to write that in the task of winning over the rural masses to socialism that “here Antisemitism has prepared the way. It has performed what should have been the task of the bourgeois democracy.” In the same period the liberals called for legal prosecution of the antisemites. The SPD in contrast publicly in an effort to discredit the liberals declared, “The progress of antisemitism is therefore not at all unwelcome to us. On the contrary, we know that we can only reap success from it.”
Very few of the German Marxist leaders dissented from this conciliatory view. Principally they amounted to Engels, living in England, who late in life had moved away from the anti-Jewish prejudices of his early and middle years, Edward Bernstein, the fountainhead of revisionist socialism, and Karl Kautsky. Kautsky, however, believed that antisemitism had no real deep roots but was just a tactic by politicians to distract the workers from more fundamental class issues. Engels, in his old age now firmly opposed to antisemitism, utterly misunderstand its source. In a widely reprinted letter of March 21, 1890, he affirmed:
“Antisemitism, therefore, is nothing but the reaction of the medieval, decadent strata of society against modern society, which essentially consists of wage-earners and capitalists. . . . If it is possible in a country, that is a sign that there is not yet enough capital in that country.” Only a few years later, antisemitism would see its greatest flowering in the most advanced capitalist country of Europe, under the National Socialists, who both viewed themselves and were objectively one variant of the most determined antifeudal modernism, one of whose attributes has been ultranationalism. Engels, and the Marxist movement in his wake, supposed antisemitism to be essentially based on economic grievances, just as they imagined Jews to be defined as a particular economic entity. One did not need to wait for Hitler and the Nazis to prove this whole theoretical edifice to be hollow. The Dreyfus Affair in France just a few years later stirred a torrent of anti-Jewish hatred from all ranks of patriotic citizens, this in the homeland of the French Revolution, the leading edge of bourgeois modernism.
The narrow economic determinist schema was compounded by the expectation that the whole of the middle class and the peasant farmers were doomed to imminent dissolution into the proletariat, and therefore the Marxist movement should reject any support to their needs or demands. Engels wrote:
“If these peasants want a guarantee for the continuance of their businesses, we absolutely cannot offer it to them. Their place is with the antisemites, the Farmers’ Unions and similar parties who take pleasure in promising everything and keeping to nothing.”
The underlying prediction, that the farmers and the middle class would disappear into a huge proletariat, essential to the Marxist project, never happened. Like the Physiocrats before them, who believed that agricultural labor was the key to human progress, the Marxist substitution of the industrial working class proved to be one more intermediate stage in social development in which advances in productivity first radically reduced the number of farmers and has since substantially reduced the number of industrial workers. This has in turn invalidated the promise that the “Jewish question” could wait to be resolved until the Jews disappeared as an identifiable group into the mass of a world socialist proletariat.
In the meantime the spread of nationalist modernism was escalating attacks on Jews. Wistrich cites “the pogroms in Russia, Romania, and Algeria, the election of the Christian-Social Judeophobe Karl Lueger as Mayor of Vienna in 1897, the virulent plebeian antisemitism in Germany, the Dreyfus Affair in France, and the anti-alien agitation in Great Britain.” In response, the SPD, and most particularly its Jewish members and leaders, shrank from confronting the antisemites for fear that the party would be branded a Jewish defense group. Edward Bernstein, one of the few who saw the consequences of such a response, in 1894 castigated party members who “are the most frequently on hand with declarations against ‘philo-semitism’ – namely comrades of Jewish descent, who, precisely because of their origins, consider it their special duty to keep the party free of any suspicion of favoring Jewish interests.”
A particular offender here was Franz Mehring (1846-1919), the authoritative biographer of Karl Marx, a central leader of the German SPD, and a founder with Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht of the German Communist Party, originally called the Spartacus League. Not himself Jewish, Mehring became the SPD’s expert on the Jewish Question. He had been an antisemite before he became a socialist. As a leader of the SPD he warmly supported the hostile writings on the Jews by the nationalist historian Heinrich von Treitschke, who had written that “the Jews are our misfortune.” Wistrich writes that Mehring “was openly contemptuous of those critics who accused Heinrich von Treitschke of antisemitism when he had simply ventilated the ‘deep animosity against the Jewish character; felt in all cultivated circles of Berlin society.'”
In 1902 Mehring wrote:
“We have lived through enough examples during the last fifty years and still experience it every day, that Jewish fellow-citizens, whom we have even admired as unshakable flagbearers of bourgeois democracy, become corrupt reactionaries if the result of civil legislation harms any specifically Jewish interest. This phenomenon is as old as the participation of Jewry in political struggles.”
Mehring repeatedly insisted that philosemitism was a greater danger in Germany than antisemitism, going so far as to write:
“In considering the brutalities which antisemitism with words rather than deeds commits against the Jews, one should not overlook the brutalities which philosemitism with deeds rather than words is committing against everyone, be he Jew or Turk, Christian or pagan, who opposes capitalism.” Edward Bernstein tried unsuccessfully to have the party reconsider this attitude, pointing out that “philosemitism” was being used in the same way by both socialists and antisemites, equating opposition to persecution of the Jews or defending their civil rights with being procapitalist. Mehring ominously responded that the worst choice the SPD could make would be to support the liberal parties against the antisemites, because the antisemites were objectively anticapitalist while the liberals were not.
The SPD hailed the victories by the populist antisemitic parties in 1893 as a victory for socialism against the dominant capitalist parties. Heinrich Braun, a leader of the Austrian socialists, interpreted the big vote for the antisemites thus:
“Its rapid growth is not unlike that of Social Democracy … there can be no doubt that in antisemitism we are faced with a strong social movement and that together with the attacks upon Jewry a radical anti-capitalist trend of a general kind is more and more openly and consciously seeking to affirm itself.”
Wistrich concludes his discussion of Franz Mehring:
“[H]e tended to regard German Jewry not as an oppressed group but rather as the embodiment of the worst features of capitalist behavior. From the young Marx to Mehring (and beyond), this anti-Jewish stereotype had continued to haunt the socialist movement like a ghostly specter.”
The main difference between traditional antisemitism, which was based in religion – the refusal to accept Jesus as God – and the several modern forms is that these are all secular. They begin with the original Young Hegelian “economic” form of hostility to the Jews. This insisted that Jews as a group were economic exploiters and that this was so intrinsic to Judaism that it could end only when Jews ceased to be Jews. This diverged to the later, still more modern, cutting edge “scientific” theories that commandeered the new Darwinism to claim an inassimilable racial difference between Jews and Aryans. Economic behavior could be changed by dispersing the group that practiced it. Unacceptable inbred racial differences could be expunged only by separation or extermination. Bruno Bauer, the leftist leader of the Young Hegelians who first persuaded Karl Marx that Jews were an anti-social people-class, himself by the 1860s made the transition to the more modern theory, that they were racially incompatible with true Germans. Notably, Marx’s sharp criticism of Bruno Bauer in the 1840s did not dissent from Bauer’s position on the Jews, his own writings quoted earlier being even more disparaging.
At the Second Congress of the Socialist International in Brussels in 1891 an American Jewish delegate asked for a resolution condemning anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia. This was opposed most strongly by Victor Adler, the central leader of the Austrian Marxists and himself a highly assimilated Jew with a strong admiration for German culture. The conference instead passed a resolution condemning equally “anti- and philosemitic outbursts” as “one of the means by which the capitalist class and reactionary government seek to divert the Socialist movement and divide the workers.” This ambivalence toward populist antisemitism infected such solid Marxists as Wilhelm Liebknecht, who in 1893 wrote, “Yes, the antisemites plough and sow, and we Social Democrats will reap. Their successes are therefore not at all unwelcome to us.”
The German-speaking socialists generally ignored the class division within the Jewish mass and simply repeated Marx’s formulation that “Jew” was a synonym for capitalists. The premise underlying Wilhelm Liebknecht’s comment, Wistrich explains, ran:
“They argued that since the Judengeist (Jewish spirit) was identical with the ‘spirit of capitalism,’ it followed that a consistent antisemite should ultimately wish to join the only party (the Social Democrats) that was determined in both theory and practice to eliminate capitalism as a whole. Using this theory, the Austrian party leadership tried to appeal to an antisemitic mass constituency – presenting themselves as the most rigorous adversaries of ‘Jewish’ (and Gentile) capital.” If even the most radical opponents of antisemitism proclaimed regularly that the Jews (undifferentiated) were the same as capitalist oppressors this validated what the antisemites were saying.
By the eve of World War I in Germany, and especially in Russia, secular Jews who had broken their ties with the Jewish community were welcomed into the socialist movement. This acceptance of assimilated Jews still went hand-in-hand with a strong reluctance to defend Jews as such from public hostility, particularly in the German-speaking lands. Wistrich writes:
“Thus in Austria the Socialists took a more opportunist position than in Imperial Germany, not infrequently exploiting Judeophobic nuances in their attacks on liberalism and even branding their Christian-Social rivals as ‘agents of Jewish capital.’ Efforts at Jewish self-defense were stigmatized as an attempt to justify the financial power of the Rothschilds.”
The Austrian Marxists even tried to discredit the antisemite leadership by alleging that they were secretly pro-Jewish because of their commercial relations with Jewish businesses. On one had this amounted to claiming that their opponents were hypocrites, but at the same time conceding there was something shameful about dealing with Jews. A particular target of this self-defeating tactic was Karl Lueger, the violently antisemitic mayor of Vienna elected in 1897. The Vienna Arbeiterzeitung, founded by Victor Adler, on March 11, 1910, wrote: If there is anyone to whom one can apply the word ‘Judaized’ (verjudet) it is to the Viennese mayor.” The Austrian Marxists continued to claim that the antisemitic parties and movements were really puppets of the rich Jews until Hitler came to power in 1933. A mirror image of this kind of stupidity are Marxist idiots who repeatedly try to prove that the Jewish Zionists in Germany who negotiated with the German government in the 1930s to get as many Jews out of the country as possible were on that account really agents of the Nazis.
Otto Bauer (1881-1938) , the principal theorist of Austro-Marxism, by the turn of the twentieth century had already seen the rise of strong nationalism among the disdained “historyless” peoples and largely abandoned the concept, with the notable exception of the Jews. Writing in a virulently antisemitic German culture, he faced powerful pressure to have nothing positive to say about Jews. Drawing on this old theory of Marx, that had to be abandoned for virtually every other ethnicity, Bauer branded the Jews alone as unable to constitute a nation. Wistrich quotes from Bauer’s 1907 The National Question and Socialism:
“Imagine Jewish children being taught in Yiddish in their independent schools! There the children will be taught the culture of a nation without a history, the culture of a people totally isolated from the mainstream of European civilization, a people held together by the heritage of an outmoded system of thought and by the dead weight of observances transmitted from generation to generation.”
The massive redrawing of the borders of Europe by World War I largely put an end to the “historyless peoples” theory, with the sole exception of the Jews. A very few prominent socialist leaders objected to this exclusion. Notable among them was Engelbert Pernerstorfer, a close associate of Victor Adler in the Austrian party. In a 1916 article for Martin Buber’s journal Der Jude he argued that there were twelve or fourteen million Jews with a currently productive literature of their own in Yiddish and Hebrew. “Let us not lose sight of the fact that they are indeed a nation,” he wrote, “a nation of outstanding intellectual endowment, like every internally coherent and civilized people. They have a right to exist as a nation.” He pointed to rising Polish nationalism which was becoming more consciously hostile to the three million Jews in their midst, and made the simple point that the European Jews did not want to become Poles or Romanians or Germans, and those peoples did not want them to either. The natural consequence was the emergence of the Zionist movement as the voice of Jews who opted for separation. It was opposed by the Marxist movements of the major countries, as they themselves wanted uncontested control over the working class. Jewish national aspirations were received sympathetically, however, by the socialists of other oppressed nationalities, mainly the Ukrainians, Croatians, and Slovenians.
The principal early twentieth century Marxist theorist of the Jewish Question was Karl Kautsky. And even when most of his writings had been repudiated by Lenin and the Communists when Kautsky, prophetically, criticized the totalitarianism of the Bolshevik revolution, his formulations on Jewish nationalism were retained by the Comintern. In essence it was that antisemitism would be ended by having the Jews disappear into the population of the larger nations. No Jews, no antisemitism. It specified further that Zionism was counter-revolutionary because it warned Jews that they could not trust their German and Russian Gentile comrades. The Third Reich, and to a lesser extent the turn to anti-Jewish purges by the Stalin regime in Russia, should have definitively answered the validity of that judgment.
Kautsky, like Otto Bauer in Austria, discarded Marx’s theory of the historyless peoples, doomed to national extinction, to be swallowed up by larger and more progressive ethnicities, again excepting the Jews. Even here, it was evident that the projected assimilation was taking place only in Western Europe, in Germany, Austria, and France, however false that assimilation would soon prove to be. There was no comparable process taking place in Russia and Poland. Kautsky propounded the theory that Jews were not a true ethnicity or nationality but a caste, differing from their surrounding populace only by their social-economic role, hypothesizing that it is “among the castes of India that we find phenomena which correspond to the status of the Jewish community as it has been constituted since the destruction of Jerusalem and the advent of Christianity.”
This reductionist notion, that Jews share nothing but a now- or soon-to-be outmoded economic role, originated with Marx and was carried forward after Otto Bauer and Kautsky by the Jewish Trotskyist Abram Leon (1918-1944) in his posthumous The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation, still considered canonical by most present-day Trotskyist groups. Leon uses the term “people-class” rather than Kautsky’s far-fetched Indian caste analogy. There is, of course, some truth to this as one element in Jewish cohesion. Modern sociology uses the term middleman minority for ethnic groups that occupy a distinct economic role in another ethnicity’s country. Examples include Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and Indians in South Africa. But no one except these Marxist doctrinaires would argue that such Chinese or Indians have no attachment to others of their ethnicity in other countries, some preservation of their heritage languages, and strong cultural links to the long history of their peoples. To deny these factors to Jews, coming from theorists immersed in dominant states with strong and growing anti-Jewish prejudice, speaks for itself.
Viewed through this Marxist prism, Jews were and are divided into two groups: those who embrace revolutionary Marxism and reject all elements of Jewish identity, who are rated progressive, and those who do not do so, who are ranked among the reactionaries. As Kautsky put it in 1914:
“We have not completely emerged from the Middle Ages as long as Judaism still exists among us. The sooner it disappears, the better it will be for society as well as for the Jews themselves.” This unconscionable prejudice was the gold standard of the Marxist movement long before there was a state of Israel to hang it on. And think about what Kautsky is saying here about the Jews of his own country, that the only acceptable and progressive thing for them to do is – to become Germans! After Hitler came to power many of Kautsky’s Marxist comrades switched sides and helped to murder their fellow socialist Jews who had followed Kautsky’s advice. It did not help that Kautsky, and the socialists and leftists who have followed in his footsteps, from Lenin to much of today’s anti-imperialist and antiglobalists Left, did and do not regard themselves as antisemites. They are perfectly ready to accept without qualm Jews who have repudiated Jewish ethnic identity, or in today’s parlance, who are anti-Zionist.
What can be said is that the expectation of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Marxists, that an imminent world socialist revolution would quickly lead to the collapse of nationalism and with it of ethnic prejudice simply did not happen. Nationalism is stronger than ever, and, objectively, Jewish nationalism is just one more, not something special that must be done away with.
Interestingly, Rosa Luxemburg, herself a highly assimilated Jew, despite her defense of democratic rights against the repression exercised by Lenin’s government, was the most extreme of the Marxist leaders of her generation in rejecting not only nationalism but the consequent right of self-determination. Not only the Jews were not entitled to a state of their own but neither were the Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Czechs, and Yugoslavs. In 1916 she castigated “the rotting corpses” trying to “climb out of century-old graves” to try to form new nations.
A further Marxist argument against Jewish nationalism was that the Zionist prospect for Palestine allowed for the Jewish state to include capitalists. That may have seemed decisive to the early Communist movement, but in today’s world only two states are not ruled by capitalists: Cuba and North Korea. And of all those capitalist states, only the Jewish one faces calls for its destruction from the left because of its capitalist leadership. It was much later that European Marxists thought to champion Arab nationalism against Jewish nationalism.
Socialism in Russia
In Russia, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), the father of the anarchist movement, was a bitter enemy of the Jews. He and his followers joined the First International in 1868, where they contested with the Marxists for a more decentralized form of socialism. His supporters had a powerful influence in Russia in the Narodnik movement and in the Spanish workers’ movement through the end of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. He called the Jews “an exploiting sect, a blood sucking people, a unique devouring parasite, tightly and intimately organized . . . cutting across all the differences in political opinion. . . . “ His followers among the Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will) in 1881 publicly appealed for a pogrom against “the Tsar, the nobles and the Jews,” contributing to a tradition that echoes on the Left to our own day as consigning the alien Jew to the camp of the oppressors and presenting a struggle to destroy them as serving human emancipation and progress. The continuity here with medieval Jew hatred sponsored by the Church, Orthodox as well as Catholic, hardly needs to be elaborated. The executive committee of Narodnaya Volya on August 30, 1881, issued a proclamation:
“The damned police beat you, the landowners devour you, the kikes, the dirty Judases, rob you. People in the Ukraine suffer most of all from the kikes. . . . Wherever you look, whatever you touch, everywhere the kikes. The kike curses the peasant, cheats him, drinks his blood.”
The Russian Marxists from the last days of the nineteenth century recruited large numbers of disaffected secular Jews, but at the same time strongly opposed any national rights for the five million Jews in Tsarist Russia. This view was shared in common by Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and endorsed by Kautsky in Germany. They denied that Jews were what we would call today an ethnicity but were only a caste, easily dispersed into society if the peculiar conditions of Tsarist and Polish persecution were removed. In his “Critical Remarks on the National Question” written in October-December 1913, Lenin wrote:
“Whoever, directly or indirectly, puts forward the slogan of Jewish ‘national culture’ is (whatever his good intentions may be) an enemy of the proletariat, a supporter of all that is outmoded and connected with caste among the Jewish people; he is an accomplice of the rabbis and the bourgeoisie. ‘” To be clear, Lenin had no objection to Jews contributing to any country’s culture. His categorical objection here rests on conceding that Jews, especially those of Russia and Poland, constituted a national minority, even in the Austrian sense, where dispersed ethnic groups without a defined territory were granted rights as national minorities.
Trotsky agreed with this position at the time, but by the 1930s, when National Socialism had been firmly established in Germany, changed his mind. I will return to that later.
Once in power, the Bolsheviks soon had to confront the fact that they had inherited millions of Jews in the Pale of Settlement. Established by Catherine the Great in 1791, it comprised parts of Western Russia, Ukraine, and Poland (under Russian rule until the end of World War I). Jews were only allowed permanent residence in the Pale, and prohibited even there from living in large cities or in agricultural areas. The Pale was dissolved only by the Kerensky government in April 1917. The Bolsheviks in power changed their position, officially recognizing a Jewish nationality along with all the other ethnicities in the proverbial Tsarist prison house of nations. There was a flowering of Communist Party controlled and censored Jewish newspapers and theatres. Under conditions of one-party rule and total party control of the press, this was a culture heavily bent toward endorsing Communist orthodoxy. But it was not antisemitic. The Bolsheviks in power tried hard to suppress anti-Jewish activity by other parts of the population.
The Congress of the People of the East held in Baku in September 1920, in the aftermath of the failed revolutions in Germany and Hungary at the end of the war, marked the beginning of the Communist strategy of falling back on the colonial and undeveloped world as a force that could to some degree compensate for Communist weakness in the proletariat of the advanced countries. At the congress Zinoviev called for jihad by Middle Eastern Muslims against the European powers. Not until 1979 with the Islamic Revolution in Iran would it become clear that Islamic radicals have their own goals and agenda, based on extremely conservative and religious values that reject virtually all of the goals of progressive Western leftists, Communists included.
By the late 1920s much of the Soviet Jewish cultural activity was curtailed. In March 1928 the government adopted a decree to establish a territory for Soviet Jews. But instead of in the historic Jewish lands of western Russia, the new Jewish Autonomous Oblast was to be placed in the remotest part of Siberia near the Korean border. Known as Birobidzhan from its principal town, this place of exile, a frozen waste in the winter and a mosquito infested swamp in the summers, never had more than 30,000 Jews living there. In the 2010 census there were 1,628 ethnic Jews, 1% of the population.
During World War II, in seeking Western support against Hitler, the Soviet government took another turn, now endorsing Zionism and the effort to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. At home it established the Jewish Antifascist Committee, headed by the prominent Jewish actor and theatre director Solomon Mikhoels. The Stalin regime supported the establishment of Israel in 1948, while becoming increasingly distrustful of Russian Jews at home, who, Stalin feared, might out of sympathy for Israel dissent from other Soviet policies.
Internationally, the USSR had no allies in the Middle East. The central leader of the Palestinians, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, had spent World War II in Berlin broadcasting Nazi propaganda to his people. At the war’s end Egypt became, along with Latin America, one of the main destinations for Nazi war criminals fleeing prosecution. Additionally, one of the USSR’s aims was to force Britain and France out of the Mandates they had held since the Versailles Conference. Support to the Israeli Jews in their guerilla war against the British fit well with this option. Later, with the rise of Arab nationalism, better options appeared to which the Middle Eastern Jews were happily sacrificed.
In January 1948 Stalin had Mikhoels murdered. That November he shut down the JAC. On August 12, 1952, five Yiddish writers and ten others associated with the JAC were secretly executed in the basement of Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison. This opened an era in the USSR and its then-East European satellites of public and virulent antisemitism. Jews, most of whom were loyal Stalinists, were purged from the professions and the sciences. Many Jewish writers were killed, and Holocaust denial became common despite the Great Patriotic War against Hitler. In November 1952 the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party was purged on orders from Moscow. Rudolph Slansky, the party’s head, and thirteen others, 11 of them Jews, were put on trial on trumped up charges that they were Zionists and Trotskyist spies. In January 1953 six prominent Russian Jewish doctors were arrested and accused of being part of a wide-ranging Jewish conspiracy to assassinate Soviet leaders. The purge was called short only by Stalin’s death. In Poland after the 1967 Israel-Arab war, the Communist Party purged virtually the entirety of its remaining Jewish membership. All Jews in Poland were declared Zionists and prohibited from teaching in public schools or universities. Many had their Polish citizenship revoked. There were by that time, of the millions before the Holocaust, only 40,000 Jews left in Poland. Between 1968 and 1971, 14,000 of these fled the country or were expelled. The official campaign was supported by the Soviet Union.
Under Khrushchev, the USSR became a major military supplier of Nasser’s Egypt and routinely denounced Israel as a “puppet” of the United States. A pattern emerged here that has been widespread in the self-proclaimed anti-imperialist Left after the fall of the Soviet Union. This was to support Third World dictators who had made some show of opposition to Europe or the United States while at the same time withholding support or even information about the dictators’ repressions of democratic movements or even Communist parties. Domestically Khrushchev had any kind of Jewish protest denounced as Zionist. Notable was the 1963 publication of Judaism Unembellished by Trofim Kichko, endorsed by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. This rehash of traditional anti-Jewish canards was so extreme that even foreign Communist parties demanded it be withdrawn. The protesters included Gus Hall, head of the near moribund American CP. The March 22, 1964, issue of the CP’s then daily Yiddish language Morgen Freiheit quoted Hall as saying:
“I have not read or seen the pamphlet. I have seen only reproductions of portions of it in papers and magazines. Nor do I have any way of knowing whether the copies circulating in this country are forgeries or not. There is no doubt in my mind, however, about the anti-semitic character of what I have seen. Such stereotyped, slanderous caricatures of the Jewish people must be unequivocably condemned, whatever their source.”
At the time of the Six Day War in 1967 the Soviet press trumpeted the line that the Israeli Jews were the same as the Nazis. Brezhnev himself while the war was still in progress in a speech to military graduates said:
“The Israeli aggressors are the worst of bandits. In their arrogance against the Arab Population, it seems they want to copy the crimes of the Hitler invaders.”
From 1967 it became obligatory in the Soviet press to refer to the Israelis as fascists and Nazis. One only has to look at an Israeli election and the difficulty of forming a government afterwards among its many quarreling parties to see how ludicrous is the charge that this is a fascist state. The Soviet authorities, like Hamas today, soon began to claim as rightful precedent for their animosity for Israel the whole history of European persecution of the Jews. In 1975 in response to a Central Committee directive, large state editions were issued of The Creeping Counterrevolution, published the year before in Minsk by Vladimir Begun. This described the Torah as “an unsurpassed textbook of blood-thirstiness, hypocrisy, treason, perfidy and moral degeneracy – all the lowest human qualities.” The Jewish religion as such, it said, calls for the enslavement of non-Jews and it is these teachings that have historically “brought calamity on the adherents of Judaism.” Finally, “Zionist gangsterism,” Begun wrote, was a loyal reflection of the Torah, and the synagogue everywhere “remains a potential basis for subversive activity.”
Wistrich comments on this period and its wide influence in the Western Left:
“Twenty years after the collapse of Soviet Communism, this antisemitic trope still lives on, mutating into the lowest common denominator of contemporary left-wing hostility towards Israel and the Jews.”
Articles in major Soviet periodicals appeared with titles such as “Zionist Heirs of the Gestapo.” And fantasies of Jewish world domination little different from the 1903 Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (still a best seller in the Muslim world), became common in the land of Communism. Lev Korneyev in the official organ of the Komsomol youth organization claimed that Zionism rested on vast wealth “being pumped out from the gold, diamond and uranium mines of South Africa, the workshops and industrial plants of Europe, America and Australia. Zionists are trying to infiltrate into all the spheres of public life, into ideology, science, commerce. Even ‘Levi’s’ jeans are part of their operation; the profits from selling the pants are used to help the Zionists. Most of the major monopolies producing arms are controlled by Jewish bankers. The business built on blood grants them huge profits. . . . Piles of dollars multiply in the safes of the Lehmans and Guggenheims while bandits in Afghanistan poison schoolchildren with gasses. It is understandable that peace in the world is the main enemy for Zionism.”
At the Soviet Writers’ Congress in December 1990, Wistrich recounts, “one could find a large number of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, and the Protocols, and various antisemitic speakers publicly appealed to the Army and the Communists to save what was left of a disintegrating Soviet Union that was sinking into oblivion under the sheer weight of a new ‘Jewish-Zionist yoke.'” He was in Moscow that year and says he saw a great deal of this kind of thing. (p. 442)
The Communist Party of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union has become an openly antisemitic organization, using “Jew” and “Zionist” interchangeably. An Agence France Presse dispatch of December 23, 1998, reported:
“Russian Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov lashed out Wednesday at Russian Jews, accusing them of benefiting from privatization and controlling the audiovisual media. . . . In an open letter to the head of the presidential staff, Zyuganov attacked the ‘aggressive and destructive role of Zionist capital in the collapse of the Russian economy and the looting of the people’s goods.’
He said the Russian people were asking ‘a legitimate question: how the key positions in certain economic areas were essentially given to the people of a single nationality.'”
Zyuganov is further quoted as saying “Our people are not blind, they cannot but notice that the Zionisation of power in Russia has been one of the causes of its current catastrophic condition, its massive impoverishment and the extinction of its people.” Agemce France Press added:
“His comments follow earlier virulently anti-Semitic remarks by party deputies Viktor Ilyukhin and General Albert Makashov. Ilyukhin drew fire last week when he said: ‘There are too many Jews in President Boris Yeltsin’s entourage,’ calling for quotas of national groups – including Jews – in government offices. In October, Makashov had issued a similar call for such quotas, saying there were ‘at least a dozen kikes, shylocks and bloodsuckers’ he would like to ‘ship off to another world.'”
Zyuganov finished second in the 1996 Russian presidential elections. In 2005 the American Communist Party strongly disavowed the Communist Party of the Russian Federation for its antisemitism, writing in its West Coast newspaper The People’s World:
“In January 2005, some 500 prominent Russians calling themselves ‘Orthodox Christian patriots’ signed a letter calling on the Russian prosecutor general to launch proceedings to ban all religious and ethnic Jewish organizations as ‘extremist.’ Among the signatories to the letter were six members of the Russian parliament from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.”
In 2006 thugs from the Russian CP attacked a gay pride demonstration in Moscow.
Socialism in France
The socialist movement, and its close cousin, anarcho-syndicalism, which rejected political action in preference for trade unions and the general strike, began in France and Germany. The Enlightenment was supposed to have replaced religious intolerance with Reason, but the old attitude toward Jews persisted. A leftist tradition of antisemitism was fueled by Voltaire, the paragon of the French philosophes of the eighteenth century, who declared the Jews “an ignorant and barbarous people who have long united the most sordid avarice with the most detestable superstition,” and that Jews were motivated “by the most invincible hatred for every people by whom they are tolerated and enriched.”
Charles Fourier (1772-1837), with Henri de Saint Simon one of the two most prominent initiators of the socialist tradition in France, inspired socialist experiments in both his native France and in the United States, where the best known were Utopia, Ohio, and Brook Farm in Massachusetts. He was a bitter opponent of emancipating the Jews, declaring it “doubly impolitic in that it opens the door to parasites and unproductive people, all of whom are devoted to trade and not to agriculture. An enlightened policy would have excluded these people as a social contagion.” He proposed that the Jews be bound to the land as agricultural workers and only one family in fifty be permitted to enter commerce.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) is more central to the European socialist tradition. He was the most influential thinker of French leftism and the labor movement of his day. Son of a brewer and barrel maker, Proudhon had no formal education. He was a self-taught worker in the printing trades who eventually owned several small unsuccessful print shops before turning to journalism after the revolution of 1848. Declaring himself both an anarchist and a socialist, he was the effective father of the French socialist movement. He championed local workers’ control in opposition to both capitalism and the state control advocated by the Marxists. But he shared with the whole of the far left a hostility to political democracy. Marx both admired Proudhon and disputed his economic theories, writing The Poverty of Philosophy as a critique of Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty. On the Jews, Proudhon in December 1847 in his diaries wrote:
“Jews – Write an article against this race which poisons everything, by meddling everywhere without ever joining itself to another people – Demand their expulsion from France, with the exception of individuals married to Frenchwomen – Abolish the synagogues; don’t admit them to any kind of employment; pursue finally the abolition of this cult.
“It is not for nothing that the Christians call them deicides. The Jew is the enemy of the human race. One must send this race back to Asia or exterminate it. . . . By fire or fusion, or by expulsion, the Jew must disappear.”
These views propagated through the French socialist movement for generations. Proudhon’s antisemitism was championed by central leaders who were his disciples, notably Alphonse Toussenel (1803-1885) and Pierre Leroux (1797-1871). A signal account of this history can be found in George Lichtheim’s “Socialism and the Jews” in the December 1968 Dissent and included in his Collected Essays.
Toussenel, Lichtheim writes, “became the pioneer of a literature which linked the medieval image of the Jew as usurer to the populism of a society suddenly plunged into the maelstrom of early capitalism.” In his pamphlet Les Juifs rois de l’epoque (The Jews, Kings of the Epoch, 1845 and 1847) Toussenel declared, “Europe is entailed to the domination of Israel. This universal domination, of which so many conquerors have dreamed, the Jews have in their hands.”
Leroux was more complex. A lifelong socialist, he died during the Paris Commune and was buried by the Communards with high honors. A devout Christian, he studied Hebrew and admired the Jews of the Old Testament, but promoted the opinion that contemporary Jews had become possessed of “a spirit of greed and cupidity” and that as a group they lived by the exploitation of others.
In 1869 Proudhon’s pupil George Duchene was to write of the Russian pogroms: “Citizens when you hear it said that in a notoriously barbarous country the population treats the Jews roughly, do not believe one treacherous word. What you have is simply a case of honest people chasing rascals, usurers, exploiters of labor; religion has nothing to do with this act of high justice.”
Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881) became famous for the theory – and practice – of the revolutionary putsch. He took part in the July revolution of 1830, was imprisoned, released just in time to take part in the revolution of 1848. Imprisoned again, he sent a letter from prison to London social democrats that was published with an introduction by Karl Marx. While in prison again he was elected, in absentia, president of the Paris Commune of 1871. He spent half of his long life in prison. Despite these inspiring credentials, Blanqui and his followers were the ones to introduce the new racial antisemitism into the French labor movement. Blanqui’s chief lieutenant, Gutave Tridon, in his Du Molochisme juif (On Jewish Molochisme), written in 1868 but published only posthumously, in 1884, branded the Jews the “evil genius of the world” and, in Wistrich’s summary, accused them of “cannibalism, ritual murder, and human sacrifice.” He called on the “Indo-Aryan race” to do battle with the Semites. The Blanquists strongly opposed support to Dreyfus during his long fight for justice, which lasted from 1894 into the early years of the twentieth century.
The first Marxist party in France was the Parti Ouvrier Français (French Workers’ Party), formed in 1880 by Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue. Socialist groups to both its right and left held openly antisemitic views. On the left there were the putchist Blanquists, on the right the moderate socialist Benoit Malon with his Revue Socialiste. Malon was a good friend of Edouard Drumont, a leftist who soon became the country’s most militant Jew hater. Drumont published his scurrilous pamphlet denouncing the Jews, La France juive, in 1886. Lichtheim writes:
“Thus when Malon introduced Drumont to Parisian workingmen, he followed a consistent line, just as he did in throwing his Revue socialiste open to the notorious anti-Semite Auguste Chirac.” It is wrong to assume that this can be excused as just the general prejudices of the day. Open antisemitism was strong on both the Left and the conservative Right, but, as Lichtheim says, “Respectable bourgeois liberalism . . . had always been immune to the noisier and more vulgar forms of anti-Semitism.”
The French socialist Left was generally indifferent to or tolerant of antisemitism. It was compelled to take a position by the Dreyfus Affair, which broke out in 1894 and was not concluded until 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer, was convicted of treason for allegedly handing French military secrets to the Germans. He was sentenced to life in prison on Devil’s Island. In 1898 new evidence showed that Dreyfus had been falsely accused and this then covered up by the military high command through a series of palpably forged documents intended to incriminate him. The main Marxist wing of the French Workers Party, led by Jules Guesde, took the position that the antisemitism in the case existed but was irrelevant and that the workers’ movement had no interest in Dryfus. A strong majority of the party took this view, some of their parliamentary delegation even supporting Dreyfus’ conviction. The minority was led by Jean Jaures, who campaigned with the Dreyfusards, those who declared Dreyfus innocent and demanded justice. The proletarians in the party mostly sided with Guesde, while, as Lichtheim writes, “Jaures acquired a larger following among schoolteachers and students than among manual workers.”
Even those socialists (and anarchists, who were still a sizable current in late nineteenth century France) who campaigned for Dreyfus’ release carefully skirted the issue of his Jewishness. Lichtheim explains their consideration:
“So far as the Jews belonged to any stratum of French society, it was primarily the middle or lower-middle class. To that extent the Jewish problem was of no particular concern to the labor movement. The way out of the dilemma was that adopted by the Anarchists in 1898-1900, when (after some soul-searching) they sided with the Dreyfusards in the name of liberty, while refusing to pay special attention to the Jewish issue.”
That is, even the best of the French socialists could only bring themselves to join with Dreyfus’ defenders on the grounds of abstract justice, and shrank from taking the unpopular step of insisting that Jews should not be persecuted because they are Jews.
Wistrich devotes an entire chapter to the French Jewish anarchist Bernard Lazare (1865-1903). As a strongly assimilationist Jew, in his youth Lazare wrote bitter articles distinguishing the Jews who had long resided in France and absorbed its culture, who he called Israelites, from the more recent Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia, declaring:
“Russian usurers, Galician tavern-keepers and money-lenders, second-hand peddlers from Prague, Polish horse-dealers, money-merchants from Frankfurt, what do they mean to me, a French Israelite? In the name of what supposed fraternity should I care about measures taken by the Tsar against subjects who appear to him as harmful?” He was even friends with Edouard Drumont, the self-proclaimed leftist whose populist left-seeming antisemitism was later perfected by Hitler.
Lazare was changed profoundly by the Dreyfus Affair. He became an early and prominent defender of the prisoner on Devil’s Island. He concluded that the leftist demand for total assimilation and the dissolution of ties between Jews as a group simply reaffirmed the prejudices of the antisemites. Jews couldn’t be any good if even the far Left wanted them to disappear. Further, assimilation disarmed the Jews, as the antisemites didn’t care if the Jew they hated was religious or not, part of a Jewish community or an isolated secular individual. If, because he was assimilated and had no community ties, all the easier to strike him down.
In contrast to the socialists, of whom at least a significant minority defended Dreyfus, the anarcho-syndicalists, for whom Georges Sorel (1847-1922) was the principal ideologist, strongly opposed his acquittal, and explicitly because he was a Jew. After it was over, they called a mass meeting in Paris in April 1911 advertised as “a great anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic demonstration.” Sorel, an iconic advocate of political violence, late in life was an outspoken admirer of both Lenin and Mussolini. His followers were a crossover current between trade union leftism and fascism. Wistrich writes of him:
“Between 1908 and 1914 he was one of the driving forces of the Cercle Proudhon which attacked democracy as a ‘Jewish’ invention that had substituted ‘the laws of gold for the laws of blood.’ Like the integral nationalists and monarchists of Action Français, the anarcho-syndicalist Sorel blamed Jews for the decomposition of traditional European culture, linking them to the nefarious impact of liberalism, capitalism, and rationalism.”
It would be a mistake to think that the stereotypical Jew-hating views that proliferated in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries of Eastern Europe from the end of World War II were confined to the declining Soviet Empire. The French Communist Party, a loyal channel for Moscow propaganda, emerged from the war with 500,000 members. By 1959 it became the largest party in the country, with 26.2% of the vote and 159 seats in the National Assembly. Even in decline it remained in many ways dominant in the French Left, and still won 15% of the vote in the 1981 presidential elections. Hatred of Israel and uncritical endorsement of the Arab cause was and is virtually obligatory for any French progressive. In 2009 the French CP at an event where they were distributing face masks to protect against swine flu had the masks stamped “State of Israel.Criminal State”; 600,000 people attended the event.
And on September 16, 2012, the director of the French CP’s newspaper L’Humanite, Patrick Le Hyaric, in his closing speech to Fête de l’Huma, described the crude anti-Islam film ridiculing Muhammad, against which Muslim demonstrations had already cost many lives, as “produced by an Israeli fundamentalist.” In fact it was produced by an Egyptian Coptic Christian. Bernard-Henri Levy in the Huffington Post asks of Hyaric, “isn’t he also participating in the stigmatization that allows angry demonstrators to come to shout ‘death to the Jews’ in front of an embassy in Paris? Fighting the new antisemitism entails demanding an apology from Le Hyaric, the deputy, and beyond him, from the French Communist Party.” Levy makes it clear that this is not just a matter of words, as mounting physical attacks on French Jews, mainly by Muslim immigrants, have turned “synagogues, kosher grocery stores, Jewish schools . . . not only in Paris but throughout Europe” into “entrenched camps.”
The Contemporary Left
I am dating the contemporary Left from the 1960s with the emergence of the New Left and of the various Maoist sects and a revival of Trotskyist groups that coalesced in that period, as well as fairly broad currents in Europe and the United States influenced by these tendencies, often without attribution. The most extreme of these various currents share what Wistrich calls Holocaust inversion, that is, referring to Israelis as Nazis, circulating cartoons in which swastikas have been painted on Israeli flags or political figures, and a preference for Hamas and Hezbollah, which fight for the eradication of Israel, in preference to the now more conciliatory Palestine Liberation Organization, which supports a two-state solution.
In the 1967 war it was the Arab side that threatened genocide, the Jews who fought a defensive war against multiple states whose stated aim was their destruction. Most analogies with Nazis are false, but this one is particularly vicious. For anyone who knows anything about the Nazis, even from watching old movies, they are distinguished from other repressive regimes above all other things by the Holocaust, the state organized murder of six million Jews. Any comparison to them implies that the target is guilty of committing or preparing to commit mass murder on a genocidal scale.
Even before the Holocaust, Nazi treatment of the German Jews went far beyond anything Israel has done to the Palestinians, even in Gaza. There were the Nuremburg Laws of 1935, which made it a crime for a Jew to marry a Gentile, which specified prison for a Jew having sex with a Gentile (“defilement of blood”). This was later changed to the death penalty. Jews were barred from employment as lawyers, doctors, or journalists, and prohibited from using state hospitals or entering a public park, library, or beach. It was illegal for Jews to be educated in a state school past the age of fourteen. Then there was Kristallnacht in November 1938 in which Jewish stores where smashed and 30,000 Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps. From 1939 all Jews were required to wear the yellow star.
In the real world today, Jews, beyond a miniscule token number, are prohibited from living in any Arab Muslim state. That is not Nazism, but this Judenrein policy is closer to it in its racialist spirit than the legal system and practice of the Israeli Jews. And the attitude of the Arab states toward Jews has historically been shared to an even greater degree by the Palestinian groups. In Israel, 20 percent of the population, close to two millions, are Palestinians. There is some discrimination against them, but nothing to the degree of the treatment of Jews in the Arab countries, much less the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis in the 1930s, before the Holocaust. The Israeli Palestinians have their own newspapers, political parties, businesses, and elected members of the Knesset, the parliament. Even the Palestinians of the occupied territories, that were the outcome of the Arab attempt to destroy Israel in 1967, have their own businesses, schools and universities, mass media, choose their occupations freely, and have mutually consensual sex with whom they wish including with Jews.
As long as Yasser Arafat lived, which was until November 2004, thirty-seven years into the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the official goal of the PLO, in Arabic if not always in English, was to destroy Israel and expel the Jews. Even the most liberal of the Jewish politicians in Israel, who were prepared to trade land for peace, had as a minimum that placing the West Bank and Gaza, for the first time in history, under Palestinian control, had to be in exchange for an agreement to leave the Jewish territory alone, not for this to be the first step in yet another Arab attempt at conquest.
Destruction of Israel and expulsion of virtually all the Jews remains the stated goal of Hamas in Gaza and of several of the lesser Palestinians organizations, such as Islamic Jihad, joined by Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border, and Iran, as well as a great many authoritative political and religious figures even in the two Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, Egypt and Jordan, not to mention Saudi Arabia, Syria, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Polls show that majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians support a peaceful settlement in the creation of two separate states. A Gallup poll published on March 21, 2013, found that 52% of Jewish Israelis, 70% of West Bank Palestinians, and 48% of Gaza Palestinians favored “a situation in which an independent Palestinian State existed alongside an independent state of Israel.” Among non-Jewish Israelis, the two million Israeli Palestinians inside the 1967 borders, support ran to 85%.
Why, then, doesn’t it happen? While the status quo continues, the Palestinians have by far the worst of it, with checkpoints and restrictions in the West Bank and the far more severe embargo in Gaza. The two sides have come very close several times, starting with the Oslo Accords back in 1993. Once or twice the differences were almost as small as territory the size of a football field. On the Israeli side there is a right-wing minority, overly represented in the government, that still aspires to have Israel retain all or most of the West Bank. In part this is for religious reasons, looking back to biblical Israel, but also because 1967 Israel was only ten miles wide at its narrowest point, easily split in half by a concerted military drive from the West Bank.
On the Palestinian side the Fatah leadership even in the days of Oslo cherished the hope that if it waited long enough its allies in the Arab states would become strong enough to make one more assault and win for the Palestinians the whole of the land, from the river to the sea as they liked to put it.
Today the most promising sign has been the moderation of Fatah, its renunciation of armed struggle and its commitment to the two-state perspective. The problem on the Palestinian side is the split with Hamas. In the 2006 Palestinians municipal elections, an extreme rarety in Palestinian political life, Hamas won 76 seats to Fatah’s 43. Hamas in its election manifesto offered Israel a ten year truce, a hudna in Islamic parlance, after which it pledged to resume the armed struggle to destroy it. When in June 2007 Hamas seized control of Gaza the unity government with Fatah collapsed. The joint parliament has not met since, and Mahmoud Abbas’s term as Palestinian Authority president has long since expired. Hamas resumed its rocket and mortar shelling of Israel shortly after it took power in Gaza, rendering void the election pledges it had made. This makes it completely unclear what the future leadership of the Palestinians will look like.
Plainly the occupation is intolerable. The problem with Gaza from the Israeli perspective is equally so. If an end to the embargo would result in peace with Hamas, far more Israelis would support it than do now. Even under the embargo, Hamas and the still more radical Islamic groups to its right, used Gaza as a base for a steady rain of missiles – more than 3,000 had been fired by the time Israel invaded Gaza in 2009. Hamas remains pledged to armed struggle against Israel as a whole and would presumably use a lifting of the embargo to stockpile even more destructive weapons into the impoverished enclave. Then all of Israel’s options would be bad ones.
A similar situation existed in Sri Lanka, where a twenty-five-year civil war was fought between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and the minority ethnic Tamil Hindus, who were demanding independence. Like the Jewish-Palestinian dispute, religion inflamed the conflict and made it irresolvable except by the total crushing of the weaker combatant. Like the Palestinians, the Tamil Tigers used suicide bombers, and more than 100,000 people were killed in the course of the civil war, which reached its conclusion in the spring of 2009, just a few months after Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
The Sinhalese dared to do what the Israelis did not. The Tigers in January 2009 were pushed back into a small area on the northeast coast around the town of Mullaittivu. They took with them some 300,000 of their followers. The government called on the Tamil civilians to leave and go to designated “no fire” zones. Once they had separated the civilians from the Tamil combatants they shelled the civilian camps mercilessly, while barring journalists from the area, denying humanitarian aid, and even shelling hospitals. The UN estimated that 40,000 civilians were killed in the shelling. Then the Sinhalese army sent in 100,000 soldiers to kill all the combatants. That put an end to the ceaseless military strikes by the Tamils.
I give this example not to show that there are governments that commit worse atrocities than the Israelis, but to show that in a conflict between rival ethnicities in which the weaker combatant insists that it will fight to the death, even so famously pacifistic a people as the Buddhists finally end the combat on the terms set by their opponent.
Israel held back, far back, from this kind of action when it invaded Gaza in 2009 to end the missile strikes. Hamas’ demands are infinitely more far reaching than the Tamils, who did not demand the whole of the island of Sri Lanka and the expulsion of the Sinhalese.
The world was briefly shocked at the inhuman brutality of the Sinhalese. Left groups, if they noticed it at all, devoted to it an article or two, then went back to their unrelenting condemnation of every action taken by the Israelis against Palestinian militants, while presenting as heroic resistance armed actions by what Palestinians continue to undertake them. Awful as the Gaza embargo is, Israel is trying to escape being faced with the options that faced the Sinhalese. Enabling the free importation of heavier armament into Gaza is likely to set the stage for a much bloodier confrontation than the one that took place in 2009. The best hope here, which would then shift the responsibility for the blockade clearly to the Israeli side, would be if Hamas would renounce its goal of establishing a Muslim state in what is now Israel.
Abbas is a very old man plainly near the end of his service as PA president. He lacks the credibility to negotiate a definitive peace with Israel, which unfortunately encourages Netanyahu’s right-wing government to make no effort to try, while continuing to construct settlements in the West Bank that can only be a obstacle to peace efforts in the future.
I deplore the Israeli occupation and strongly support the creation of a Palestinian state and the removal of the settler enclaves (except for the few very close to Israel that the PA has already agreed to permit in exchange for land swaps elsewhere). But the failure to reach an agreement, as was the case in Sri Lanka, has many causes and both sides bear responsibility. While Fatah is a secular organization and can treat the conflict as one over land, for the religious Islamists of Hamas and their cothinkers in Hezbollah, in Iran, among the Wahabi fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia, and the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region, it is a theological dispute in which loyalty to Allah does not allow for compromise.
Wistrich traces the Zionism-equals-Nazism claim to the Prague show trial of 1952. The defendants, the large majority lifelong Communist activists and anti-Zionist Jews, in traditional Stalinist frame-up scenarios were accused of being Israeli agents. One of them who survived, Eugen Lobl, afterward said that the Soviet advisor, Likhatchev, told him:
“[Y]ou are not a Czechoslovak. You are a dirty Jew, that’s what you are. Israel is your only real fatherland and you have sold out Socialism to your bosses, the Zionist imperialist leaders of world Jewry. Let me tell you the time is fast approaching when we’ll have to exterminate all your kind.” Part of the frame-up indictment was to brand the Jewish defendants “Gestapo agents.” And in a theme that became prominent in left circles later, the officials declared:
“When the [Czech] nation raised its voice against Zionism, they cried ‘anti-Semitism’ in order to cover the help they were giving to the class interests of the Jewish bourgeoisie and their ties with the imperialists through World Zionism.”
Wistrich comments: “The Prague trial set a precedent which has had countless imitators on the Left and in the Muslim-Arab world ever since.”
The Soviet Union on October 14, 1965, formally tabled a motion in the United Nations stating that Zionism, Nazism, and neo-Nazism, in that order, were “racial crimes.” After the Six Day War, Soviet propaganda regularly referred to Israel as the “successor state” to the Third Reich. This view radiated from the official Communist parties into New Left, Trotskyist, and Maoist groups to their left, and seeped from there widely into progressive circles.
The short-lived anarcho-communist Black Rats/Tupamaros in West Germany on the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1969 carried out the bombing of a Jewish communal hall in West Berlin, justifying it afterward by calling for an “explicit and unequivocal identification with the fighting Fedayin” and to go beyond verbal support to the Palestinians to “pitilessly combat the combination of Fascism and Israeli Zionism.”
In December 1972 during the trial of leftist attorney Horst Mahler, a founder of the Red Army Faction, originally known as the Baader-Meinhof Group, he praised the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games by Palestinian terrorists. He read a declaration that said in part, “Israel weeps crocodile tears. It has burned up its sportsmen like the Nazis did the Jews – incendiary material for the imperialist extermination policy.” Mahler had been an attorney for the famed German student leader Rudi Dutschke. He was on trial for bank robbery and aiding a prison escape. The Red Army Faction revived the old Marxist position that antisemitism was the first stage of anticapitalism.
Another, better-known, founder of the Red Army Faction, Ulrike Meinhof, also in prison, testified during Mahler’s trial. Asked about her view of antisemitism, she said it “used the hatred of the people, of their dependence on money as a medium of exchange, their longing for communism. Auschwitz means that six million Jews were murdered and carted on to the rubbish dumps of Europe for being that which was maintained of them – Money-Jews.”
Mahler, after serving a long prison term, became a neo-Nazi.
Two former members of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Wilfried Bose and Brigitte Kuhlmann, who had gone on to form the Revolutionary Cells, along with two Palestinians were the hijackers in June 1976 of Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, diverting it to Entebbe airport in Uganda. Significantly, these German radicals released all the non-Jewish hostages, but kept and threatened to kill all those who were Jewish, whether they were Israelis or not.
This Holocaust inversion and the obsession with pillorying or destroying Israel is not restricted to Muslim theocrats and fringe leftists. Following are a small sample of headlines a Google search of “Israel Nazi” turns up:
Israel is much closer to Nazi Germany than Iran is
U.N.-Sponsored Meeting Equates Israelis with Nazis
Now Israel is ‘more loathsome’ than the Nazis
[Israel] The Nazis of our time
Norwegian Envoy: “Israel”, Nazis the Same (from the Hezbollah website)
Yes, they are vs. Yes, of course Are Israel Nazis? (The only two choices, each with a Star of David with a swastika inside it; 88% had voted for the “of course” choice)
British MP compares Jewish treatment of Palestinians to Nazis
Professor’s comparison of Israelis to Nazis stirs furor (at UC Santa Barbara)
Syrian president sticks by Israeli “Nazism” comment
Nazi Germany Then And Zionist Israel Today (a YouTube video)
Not So Cool Facts About Nazi Israel (a YouTube video)
Glenda Jackson: calling Israelis Nazis is not hate speech
Israel Follows In Nazi Footsteps
Stop Holocaust of Palestinians by Israeli Nazis
Israel – The new Nazi State
Roseanne Barr blasts Israel as ‘Nazi state’
ISRAEL – The NAZI TERROR STATE (YouTube video)
In Norway, 38% believe Israel treats Palestinians like how Nazis treated Jews
Jewish MP exposes Israel crimes worse than Nazis (YouTube video)
Guardian readers and their inalienable right to make Israel-Nazi analogies (a criticism of the London Guardian)
What are some similarities between Nazi Germany and modern day Israel? (A Yahoo Ask question)
Israeli Persecution of Palestinians Exceeded Nazi Germany Persecution of Jews in Time and Severity (opinion piece in Al-Jazeerah, under the section on Cross-Cultural Understanding, December 3, 2011)
Rachel Corrie Lawyer: Israel worse than Nazi Germany
UN investigator stands by Israel ‘Nazi’ comparison
Noam Chomsky on Nazi Israel (YouTube video)
How to end Israel’s Nazi-inspired crimes?
UK Judge reprimanded for Israel-Nazi remarks during landmark trial
Chavez equates Israel invasion of Lebanon and occupation of Palestine with Nazi oppression of Jews
Sinn Fein hurls Nazi smear at Shatter and Israeli ambassador (Alan Shatter is the only Jewish member of the Irish parliament)
Jose Saramago compares Israel with Nazis (this one is older than the others, from 2002, when the Portuguese Nobel Laureate novelist and poet, and former Communist Party activist, compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with Auschwitz)
There is a nice discussion of this mass phenomena in an interview with British academic David Hirsh. He points out that what was distinctive and abhorrent about the Nazis was their conceiving and carrying out the deliberate physical extermination of millions of people, mostly Jews. There has been nothing like that in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Wikipedia’s detailed summary of Palestinian deaths from after the 1948 war to March 2012 come to about 12,000 that can be attributed to Israeli armed forces. And during almost all of this period the Palestinians were led by armed groups that tried to seize power in Jordan, took over southern Lebanon, and had running battles with Egyptian forces in addition to attacks on Israelis. In the same period as many as 5,000 Palestinians were killed by the Egyptian army, 20,000 by the Jordanian army (in 1970-71), and more than 10,000 by Lebanese Arab forces. This places the total dead at roughly 12,000 Palestinians killed in conflict with Israel over the whole of sixty-three years, but 35,000 killed by Arab armies. Compare this to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where Saddam murdered some 250,000 of his own people and killed a million in his war against Iran, with hardly a murmur from the humanitarian Left. The Palestinians during these years were not acting like the Jews of Germany, who never were trying with guns and bombs to destroy the German state. This hardly qualifies Israel as exterminationist Nazis. Hirsh comments on why this false label has stuck so widely and been repeated so regularly by leftist and more mainstream critics.
“It seems to me that one of the reasons people raise that as an analogy is because they think it has a particular effect on Jews when it is said that the Jews or Israelis have become similar to those who persecuted them. And of course it does have a particular effect on Jews. It has an effect of upsetting Jews. I think that that’s really the point of it, the point of it isn’t to come out with a serious [analysis]. There are all sorts of serious historical analogies for the rise of Jewish and Palestinian nationalism in the Middle East. One can look at Europe in the 19th century, one can look at the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, one can look at the Balkans, one can look at many, many things. It’s not similar to Nazism. Why do people say it’s similar to Nazism? They say it’s similar to Nazism in order to wind up the Jews, so actually the charge that the Israelis are the new Nazis is a kind of Jew-baiting.”
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in the definition of antisemitism it adopted in 2005 included “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” as a specific example of antisemitism. Also specified was “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Of course, for every reasonable thing the United Nations does, in some other part of its rambling structure it does the opposite. The UN, after all, is a haven for Third World ideologues and despots. The January 29, 2013, Jerusalem Post reports,
“The UN Human Rights Council has a permanent agenda of 10 items, one reserved for condemning Israel and one for considering all other 192 UN members. Almost 40 percent of all Council resolutions condemning specific countries have been directed at Israel alone. There have been more special sessions on Israel than any other country. Israel is the only UN state excluded from full membership in any of the UN’s regional groups, where key negotiations and information-sharing occurs.”
And this is the new, improved model. The previous iteration, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, was disbanded in 2006 for its obsession with Israel and its ignoring far greater human rights violations in other countries. The old commission had as members at one time or another Zimbabwe, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and, the final straw that led to its dissolution, Sudan, there to point the finger at Israel while absolving itself of the massacres in Darfur.
Wistrich cites, almost in passing, the attack on a Paris synagogue in 1980, the machine-gun assault on a Jewish restaurant there in 1982, Palestinian terror attacks on Jews in Frankfurt, Brussels, Antwerp, and Vienna in the early 1980s, the murder of a pro-Israel Socialist municipal councilor in Vienna in 1981, the regular beatings of Jewish school children by Muslim immigrants today, especially in France, demonstrations in the United States in 2009 where Israeli flags were burned and banners linking the swastika with the Star of David were displayed, or where demonstrators shouted things like “Go back to the ovens!” And one should really not leave out the various bombings by Al Qaeda affiliates in Spain, England, and elsewhere in Europe, claimed to be striking a blow against Crusaders and Zionists.
Toward the end of his long presentation, in the penultimate chapter, Wistrich steps back and summarizes his case. He points again to the million Jews expelled from the Arab, Turkic, and Iranian Muslim states:
“This forced mass exodus of Jews from Arab lands after 1945 has been erased by those left-wing ideologues who brand Zionism with the stigma of being a Western colonialist movement. While endlessly evoking the ‘injustice’ towards the Palestinian Arabs, they studiously ignore the ethnic cleansing of Middle Eastern Jews from Arab states. Post-1945 Zionism is as much a Middle Eastern as a European phenomenon. It is no less a product of the Muslim intolerance towards non-Muslims than it is of Christian or Nazi persecution of the Jews. Along with the Russian pogroms and the Nazi mass murder, the mob assaults of Arabs against ‘Oriental’ Jews contributed a great deal to forging the ‘Zionist’ consciousness of what is today half of the Israeli Jewish population.”
And while Israel’s enemies misrepresent the actual ethnic composition of the Israeli Jews,
“Whether the rhetoric of anti-Zionism happens to be Marxist, Muslim, Christian, Third Worldist, fascist, or openly neo-Nazi, it is replete with stereotypical notions of the perfidy and diabolical cunning of the Jews; their corrosive, manipulative will-to-power; their insatiable love of gold and intrigue, mastery of hidden forces and domination of the international financial system. The more radical anti-Zionists no less than the classical antisemites are obsessed with the ubiquity and malignant impact of the Jews on the modern world.”
“Anti-Zionism in the 1970s and 1980s increasingly began to look like the leftist functional equivalent of what classical antisemitism had once represented (in the interwar period) for the fascist Right. Not only was anti-Zionism clearly the historical heir of earlier forms of antisemitism, but it was steadily emerging as the lowest common denominator between sections of the Left, the Right, and Islamist circles. This has become even more true today than it was several decades ago.”
Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers
Anti-Zionism has generally been linked on the far Left with anti-Americanism, but no Left organization called for the outright destruction of America or the expulsion of its people from the land. And the accusation of being Nazis has far more often been applied to the Israeli Jews than to the United States, even by militant anti-imperialists. As always in attacks on the Jews by non-Jews, a certain number of dissident Jews play a prominent part. Notable among these has been Noam Chomsky. His bitterly hostile books opposing Israel and the United States rarely mention Nazi Germany without making an analogy to suggest that America is worse. Chomsky’s character and his attitude toward not just Israel but Jews in general appeared most clearly in the Faurisson Affair of 1989-1991. Wistrich mentions this only briefly but it is worth a bit more attention as it reveals a great deal of the character of this icon of the far Left.
Robert Faurisson was a professor of French literature at the University of Lyon in France. He is France’s best known Holocaust denier, a promoter of the claim that the Diary of Anne Frank was a forgery, that there were no Nazi gas chambers, and even that the Jews were more responsible for World War II than Hitler. He was tried under French law prohibiting Holocaust denial as racial incitement. In 1979 Chomsky signed a petition in support of Faurisson, nominally only on the issue of free speech, although the petition described Faurisson as “a respected professor of twentieth-century French literature and document criticism.” Chomsky later wrote an essay in Faurisson’s defense, which Faurisson used as a preface to one of his books, allegedly without Chomsky’s permission. This essay went far beyond defending the right of a vicious bigot to have his say. In it Chomsky wrote:
“[I]s it true that Faurisson is an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi? As noted earlier, I do not know his work very well. But from what I have read – largely as a result of the nature of the attacks on him – I find no evidence to support either conclusion. Nor do I find credible evidence in the material that I have read concerning him, either in the public record or in private correspondence. As far as I can determine, he is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort.”
In the same essay, however, Chomsky said that he had read an article about Faurisson in the September 1980 issue of Esprit. The article referred to was by the actually respected French historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, summarizing with detailed sources Faurisson’s views, beginning with Faurisson’s statement, “Never did Hitler either order or accept that anyone be killed for reason of race or religion.” Vidal-Naquet then summarized the core positions proposed by Faurisson and his group:
“1. There was no genocide and the instrument symbolsing it, the gas chamber, never existed.
“2. The ‘final solution’ was never anything other than the expulsion of the Jews towards eastern Europe. . . . it was never anything more than their repatriation. . .
“3. The number of Jewish victims of Nazism is far smaller than has been claimed. . . . a few hundred thousand deaths in uniform (which is a fine demonstration of valour) and as many killed in ‘acts of war’ (Verite, p. 197). As for the death statistics for Auschwitz, they ‘rose to about 50,000’ (ibid.).
“4. Hitler’s Germany does not bear the principal responsibility for the Second World War. It shares that responsibility, for example, with the Jews (Faurisson in Verite, p. 187), or it may even not bear any responsibility at all. . . .
“6. The genocide was an invention of Allied propaganda, which was largely Jewish, and specifically Zionist, and which may be easily explained by the Jewish propensity to give imaginary statistics, under the influence of the Talmud.”
Finally, to explain somewhat more of the context of Chomsky’s astonishing dismissal of this kind of stuff as not antisemitic but just liberal and apolitical, it should be said that Faurisson was part of a group led by Pierre Guillaume and Serge Thion called La Vielle Taupe (The Old Mole). This was an ultraleft split off from a French Trotskyist organization called Socialism or Barbarism. They had arrived at the position, not so far distanced from Chomsky’s own writing, that the United States and its allies in World War II were ultimately worse than either Hitler Germany or Stalinist Russia, and they had gone into the business of publishing Holocaust denial material of all sorts. La Vielle Taupe was Faurisson’s publisher. And Chomsky’s association with this bizarre sect was not limited to his essay on Faurisson’s non-antisemitism. He offered the group’s founder and leader, Pierre Guillaume, the rights to his The Political Economy of Human Rights (coauthored by Edward Herman). Chomsky later vociferously denied this, saying that the French edition of his book was published by J-E Halier/Albin Michel, but the book itself lists Holocaust denier Pierre Guillaume as the director of the project.
Chomsky carried on a fairly extensive correspondence pursuing his defense of Faurisson, quite explicitly going beyond the mere free speech issue he generally claims was his interest. In a letter to Australian William Robinson he wrote:
“I see no anti-Semitic implications in denial of the existence of gas chambers, or even denial of the holocaust. Nor would there be anti-Semitic implications, per se, in the claim that the holocaust (whether one believes it took place or not) is being exploited, viciously so, by apologists for Israeli repression and violence. I see no hint of anti-Semitic implications in Faurisson’s work.”
This is not Chomsky’s only connection to antisemitic publishers. He permitted the openly pro-Nazi Noontide Press to publish an edition of his The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians. The blogosphere is full of denials of this by his loyal followers, but the proof is not hard to find. The first edition, in 1983, was by the left-wing South End Press, but the Noontide Press edition was dated June 1, 1986. It carried the ISBN number 0317530240 and the national ISBN database retains a record of it. It can also be found in Google Books, and I have seen two copies for sale at exorbitant prices through Amazon UK.
For the record, Noontide Press is the publishing arm of the Institute for Historical Review. Both press and institute were founded in 1978 by Willis Carto. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists them as hate groups, while the Wikipedia describes Carto as “the leading organizer of modern American anti-Semitism.” Noontide’s offerings specialize in Holocaust denial but include The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Their current catalog includes books opposing school integration and nonwhite immigration, proving the racial inferiority of nonwhites, supporting the European New Right’s denunciations of existing democratic institutions, lots of white identity politics depicting American whites as the biggest victims of the present system, and even a book by Martin Luther King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, claiming he was framed by the government. They used to also feature several of Chomsky’s audio cassettes against Israel, but his work no longer appears.
To be exact, Chomsky is not himself a Holocaust denier, though he has been more than evasive on this subject. What he is is an antisemitism denier. As Oliver Kamm puts it, “His disaffection from genuinely progressive values – the values that the United States at its best effectively promotes . . . is so extreme that it leads him to see not only ‘no enemies on the Left’ but also ‘no enemies amongst the enemies of my enemies’ – even if it puts him alongside men who whitewash Nazi genocide.” Sadly Chomsky, this embittered left antisemite, retains his credibility with much of the far Left. He remains, for example, on the list of Advisory Editors of the American Trotskyist journal Against the Current, published by the Detroit-based Solidarity, which describes itself as “A socialist, feminist, anti-racist organization.”
Trotskyists and Anti-Zionism
I began this review with the American Socialist Workers Party’s call in 1967 for the destruction of the State of Israel. For historical reasons the Trotskyists have been among the worst on the left in their embrace of Islamic radicalism and hostility to the Jewish state. One reason for this is that, with the exception of Stalin’s so-called Third Period, between 1928 and the consolidation of Hitler’s power after 1933, when the Comintern expected imminent European revolution and adopted an ultraleft policy, the Trotskyists have always characterized the official Communist parties as class-collaborationist and conciliatory toward capitalism and imperialism. That is, the Trotskyist groups have on virtually every issue and for some eighty years, consciously positioned themselves to the left of the official Communist parties.
Rather than establishing true independence from Stalinism, there existed an undercurrent of rivalry in which the official stance of the pro-Moscow Stalinists (the pro-Peking variety were, in the Mao years, too crazy to become even a negative pole) became the starting point for a critique from further to the left. If Moscow insisted that Israel was an illegitimate bastion of imperialism, could the Trotskyists say less? And if Moscow supported Arab nationalism, then the Trotskyists would raise them one and at least impute to Arab militancy an inherently communist dynamic. This last had a very small plausibility in the days of Nasser and secular Arab nationalism. It became an unholy alliance when secularism gave way to right-wing theocratic Islamism. At the least it generated endless exercises among the English-speaking Trotskyists in patronizing the jihadi movement, forever insisting that they don’t really mean anything they say about the Jews, they are just an oppressed people blindly responding to repression by Jewish agents of American imperialism.
The worst example of this has been the British Socialist Workers Party. The principal British antiwar group, the Stop the War Coalition, was founded and dominated by the British SWP. Like its American cousin, A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), founded and run by another Trotskyist splinter, the Workers World Party, the Stop the War Coalition succeeded for some times after its creation, shortly after 9/11 back in 2001, in sponsoring some large antiwar rallies. Both are supporters of the Sunni-Al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq against the Shi’ite majority and the large Kurdish minority. The British SWP also supports Hezbollah and calls for the destruction of Israel.
The Stop the War Coalition under SWP leadership formed a close alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). The MAB was founded in 1997 by Egyptian-born Muslim Brotherhood member Kamal El Helbawy, together with former Hamas commander Mohammed Sawalha, Azam Tammimi, who had worked for the Brotherhood in Jordan, and Anas Al Tikriti, the son of the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq. The MAB is not the most radical Islamic organization in Britain, which is known for its jihadi extremists, but it is an advocate of Sharia law to replace parliamentary democracy in national government, and advocates the slogan “Zionists out of Palestine.” With Sharia law, the MAB is hostile to gays and proscribes women’s rights. It is perhaps not surprising that in recent months the British SWP has been in deep crisis over accusations that one of its top leaders has been raping women members, then getting himself cleared by an investigating committee of his cronies.
Here I want to digress for a moment to return to Leon Trotsky’s evolution on whether Jews legitimately constitute a nationality, and if so, where to put them. In an interview with Jewish correspondents in Mexico on January 18, 1937, the old revolutionary said:
“During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would thus disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter of a century has not confirmed this perspective. Decaying capitalism has everywhere swung over to an exacerbated nationalism, one part of which is anti-Semitism. The Jewish question has loomed largest in the most highly developed capitalist country of Europe, in Germany. . . .
“And how, you ask me, can socialism solve this question? Once socialism has become master of our planet or at least of its most important sections, it will have unimaginable resources in all domains. Human history has witnessed the epoch of great migrations on the basis of barbarism. Socialism will open the possibility of great migrations on the basis of the most developed technique and culture. It goes without saying that what is here involved is not compulsory displacement, that is, the creation of new ghettos for certain nationalities, but displacements freely consented to, or rather demanded by certain nationalities or parts of nationalities. The dispersed Jews who would want to be reassembled in the same community will find a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun. The same possibility will be opened for the Arabs, as for all other scattered nations.”
Trotsky was a brilliant individual who had become embedded in a system that claimed to be liberating but which left behind on its collapse, or transmogrification into a strange hybrid form of capitalism, as in China, more than a hundred million corpses, more than half of those after his death – in the USSR in Stalin’s last years, in Mao’s China, and, on a smaller scale, in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Trotsky was honest enough to see that the Jews genuinely were a nationality, not just a religion or an economic caste as the Marxists before him theorized. And he was perspicacious enough to see that reuniting any people currently dispersed among others in a single state or divided among several states – a condition that affects many more ethnicities than the Jews, although they are the extreme example – could be resolved only through the massive exchange of populations, to clear out one ethnicity from enough land to concentrate the one being newly established in a single territory. Where fantasy overwhelms his sense here is the idea that under socialism this would be “freely consented to.” This was never true, in the Ottoman expulsion of the Greeks from what is now Turkey, although Byzantium had been there for a millennium before the Turkic tribes arrived, in Stalin’s massive resettlement of entire peoples in the Soviet Union, such as the Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars, or in the religious partition of Cyprus, to mention just a few examples..
Trotsky, who had led the Soviet Red Army in the USSR’s founding, certainly understood that, even under a socialist government, whole groups of people were likely to oppose losing their land to make room for others solely in response to arguments about the greater good. He confronted this directly in an interview first published in 1934 and included in the pamphlet quoted above. The interviewer asks Trotsky directly for his opinion about Palestine as a possible Jewish homeland. Trotsky responds:
“I do not know whether Jewry will be built up again as a nation. However, there can be no doubt that the material conditions for the existence of Jewry as an independent nation could be brought about only by the proletarian revolution. There is no such thing on our planet as the idea that one has more claim to land than another.
“The establishment of a territorial base for Jewry in Palestine or any other country is conceivable only with the migration of large human masses. Only a triumphant socialism can take upon itself such tasks. It can be foreseen that it may take place either on the basis of a mutual understanding, or with the aid of a kind of international proletarian tribunal which should take up this question and solve it.”
This is a remarkable statement. As we have seen, the Marxist movement of the past opposed Zionism on two grounds: first, that the Marxists disbelieved that Jews could still constitute themselves as a nation, and second, that Zionism, by establishing separate organizations for Jews in European countries and encouraging Jews to emigrate to Palestine interfered with the unitary command the Marxists tried to establish over the workers’ movement. Also as we have seen, after the Russian Revolution, when the tasks at hand shifted from mobilizing an opposition to the existing government and became administering a multinational state, Lenin changed his mind and agreed that the Jews, in fact, were one of the constituent nationalities of the USSR, not just a religious denomination.
Trotsky takes this a step further here, agreeing that if the Jews should desire it, a world socialist government would allocate land for them to bring together those Jews who desired to from all over the earth, and that whatever peoples were already in the selected destination would have to move to make room. Further, that this could be done in Palestine. This plainly means the emigration of Russian, Polish, German, and other European Jews to join the existing Middle Eastern Jews dispersed among the Muslim countries, “the migration of large human masses.” And when he states, in the context of considering the migration of large human masses of Jews into Palestine, there is no mistaking his meaning when he also says “There is no such thing on our planet as the idea that one has more claim to land than another.” The future socialist ubergovernment will allocate territory according to its overall plan just as it will allocate means of production, not according to the wishes of local groups. If, in the most optimistic interpretation, everything was in accord with justice in the big picture the outcome would be justified.
And he goes further here and specifies what will happen under socialism if the Arab Palestinians don’t agree to move elsewhere in the Arab lands to make room for the immigrant Jews: there will be an “international proletarian tribunal” which will impose a solution to the problem. These statements by Trotsky are the polar opposite of the post-1967 Trotskyist position of unconditional support to Arab nationalism and total rejection of Jewish national rights.
So we have Trotsky endorsing all the basic premises of Zionism, with the sole condition that they should wait to be carried out until the world socialist revolution has been completed. If, as he says, a Jewish homeland carved out of other people’s land, including in Palestine out of Arab land, is a just and moral outcome, then is it unjust and immoral if it is accomplished when there is no reasonable hope of the particular agency Trotsky proposed to execute this task? At root, Trotsky plainly recognizes national rights of both Arabs and Jews, and since the Arabs have infinitely more land than just Palestine, his proposal is that justice requires them to make a population shift that will accommodate creating a territory where Jewish national rights will be dominant. It could be added that the whole experience with communism in power offers no grounds whatsoever to imagine, as Trotsky does, that a world communist government would be any more peaceful or humane than the capitalist ones that now exist in solving nationalist confrontations. In fact, quite the opposite, from the experience of the twentieth century.
In this same interview Trotsky refuses to regard Arab attacks on Jews in Palestine as by definition some kind of justified resistance, as his followers today generally do. That was the Stalinist position. The interviewer asks:
“The official Communist Party characterized, without question, the Jewish-Arab events in 1929 in Palestine as the revolutionary uprising of the oppressed Arabian masses. What is your opinion of this policy?”
“Unfortunately, I am not thoroughly familiar with the facts to venture a definite opinion. I am now studying the question. Then it will be easier to see in what proportion and in what degree there were present those elements such as national liberationists (anti-imperialists) and reactionary Mohammedans and anti-Semitic pogromists. On the surface, it seems to me that all these elements were there.”
Any mention of the existence of reactionary Muslims or Arab antisemitic pogromists, past or present, disappeared entirely from the press of all the major Trotskyist organizations after 1967.
A useful article tracing the American and British Trotskyists’ evolution away from Trotsky’s positions is Werner Cohn’s “From Victim to Shylock and Oppressor: The New Image of the Jew in the Trotskyist Movement.” This was written in 1991, but little has changed since then.
Most of the American and British Trotskyist groups today have looked for some vehicle to go beyond just writing articles calling for Israel’s destruction and try to do actual damage to Israel and its individual citizens through boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses or other stores that carry Israeli goods, or votes in faculty committees to bar Israeli scholars and artists from attending conferences in their field at major universities or perform or show their work outside of Israel.
In the United States, the currently largest Trotskyist group, the International Socialist Organization, calls for the destruction of Israel and is a strong promoter of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). That no other state, no matter how repressive, is the target of such a boycott effort should give people who consider themselves to be antiracist pause for thought. What is the aim of this boycott, that will satisfy its organizers? Is it directed at the settlers in the West Bank, or the Israeli embargo of Gaza? The ISO explains that the Academic and Cultural Boycott will not end “until the illegal Israeli occupation is ended, the 700-meter apartheid wall is torn down, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland is honored,” that is, until the Jewish state is dismantled and replaced with a Palestinian Arab one.
Even Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, has conceded that the long-held Palestinian demand for the return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendents, which would create an Arab majority in Israel, is not a reasonable demand. He and the Israelis have been arguing over the reduced numbers, with the Israelis proposing 50,000 and the PA proposing 500,000. The original demand by the Palestinians, which the ISO states as the goal without which the boycott will not be satisfied, would, with the natural increase of the original 800,000 or so refugees over sixty-five years, consist of some 3.9 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and some 4.5 million in neighboring Arab countries, including half the population of Jordan, which is geographically vastly larger than Israel.
The ISO occasionally, tongue-in-cheek, says that the boycott movement does not call for the destruction of Israel. An article, “Standing for the Right of Return” in the January 8, 2013, issue of their newspaper Socialist Worker is quite insistent that they mean all of the refugees. They cite as their authority an article by a Dr. Heidar Eid of Gaza who strongly opposes the two-state solution and sharply criticizes Mahmoud Abbas for agreeing to anything less than the whole of the Palestinian population being returned to Israel proper. This would, of course, immediately mean a government dominated by Muslims if not by Hamas, which calls for the physical expulsion of the Jews.
The much smaller, San Francisco-based Socialist Action is also a strong supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, frequently using analogies with Nazis and apartheid South Africa in its hostile coverage of Israel. They denounce both the Palestine Authority and Hamas as capitulating to Israel, reject the two-state solution, and call for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Even the Detroit-based Solidarity, which I helped to found and which I have long considered the best of the lot, is on board with the boycott movement. A November 2012 statement for its Political Committee declared “it is overwhelmingly important for the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to step up its grassroots activism.”
There is one curious exception to this pattern. It comes from the (American) Socialist Workers Party, the granddaddy of the destroy-Israel position on the American Left. Much shrunken since its heyday in the mid-1970s, it reputedly is down to barely a hundred members. In the spring of 2009 it began to back-pedal on its Israel position. In the April 6, 2009, issue of its newspaper The Militant it ran an article headed “Israel boycotts and divestment serve as cover for anti-Semitism.”
The article specifically singles out the International Socialist Organization and the Workers World Party. It points to the “Israeli Apartheid Week,” then in its fifth year, as well as the BDS campaign, writing:
“The character of these activities – aimed increasingly at Jewish-owned businesses – is part of the deepening pattern of Jew-baiting and anti-Semitism in the middle-class left worldwide. It should be opposed.” The author cites as a particularly bad example the looting by a BDS group of a London Starbucks. The owner of the Starbucks chain is Jewish. The Militant also, remarkably, disputes the continually repeated charge that Israel is an apartheid state similar to white South Africa:
“There are sweeping differences between the apartheid regime in South Africa and the capitalist regime in Israel – in terms of organization of labor, the character of the regimes, and the historical conditions under which they emerged. The attempt to paint them as the same simply obfuscates the real social and class relations in Israel and the tasks facing the toilers there to chart a revolutionary course forward. Applied to Israel the term ‘apartheid’ is simply an epithet, rather than a scientific description of a social structure.” It also laments the “increasingly open support for Hamas” by the ISO, quoting from the Hamas charter the claims that Jews “were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution . . . . World War I,” and etc.
The line of reasoning in this and subsequent articles seems clear enough. In South Africa the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela sought explicitly to make a place in a post-revolutionary South Africa for the formerly dominant whites. Hamas does not have the same perspective toward the Israeli Jews, instead promoting a classical exterminationist antisemitic line. The Militant in several articles dares to say what most anti-Israel leftists deny, that “increasingly the term Zionist has come to mean Jew”
In the April 13, 2009, Militant long-time SWP leader Norton Sandler writes:
“T]he term ‘Zionism’ – or ‘Zionists’ – has become a synonym for ‘Jewish’ or ‘Jew’ no matter how much those who use it try to explain it otherwise.
“The leaderships of much of the petty-bourgeois left in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries often agree with or chose to ignore reactionary Jew-baiting remarks from the leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah, or worse, make Jew-baiting remarks of their own. It is also common for them to take the anti-working-class position that workers inside Israel who are Jewish are reactionary and can never be won to support the Palestinians’ fight.”
These positions are a great deal better than much of the Trotskyist and others of the antisemitic Left. The SWP still clings to the hope for its Democratic Secular Palestine in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians will happily coexist, and which would under any plausible circumstances have a Muslim majority. But it is evident that it is realistic enough to have stopped projecting these rosy intentions on the existing Palestinian leadership. And as the Democratic Secular Palestine would be a unitary state, the SWP gives the Palestine Authority no credit for its recent acceptance and work toward a two-state solution.
I don’t know what caused the SWP to mellow its position on the Middle Eastern Jews. One likely possibility is Fidel Castro, who the party holds in high regard. Cuba has been pretty hard-nosed in support of the Palestinians and in befriending Third World governments that are hostile to the United States, most of which are also hostile to Israel. But Castro himself draws the line at actual antisemitism. Jeffrey Goldberg in the September 7, 2010, issue of The Atlantic recounts his recent lengthy interview with the old Cuban revolutionary. Castro had asked for the meeting after reading Goldberg’s Atlantic article on Iran and Israel.
Castro told Goldberg he was concerned at the likelihood of war between the U.S. and Israel on one side and Iran on the other. But he sharply criticized Ahmadinejad for his antisemitism and Holocaust denial, a criticism that Castro asked Goldberg to deliver to Ahmadinejad through his report on their discussion. He said Israel could best guarantee its security by giving up its nuclear weapons, and that all the other nuclear powers should give up theirs as well. He said to tell Ahmadinejad that he had to understand antisemitism to understand why Israelis fear for their existence. Castro went on:
“I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.”
Further, the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation. . . . The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
Caudillo he may have been, and dogmatic and authoritarian. But Castro comes from a different tradition than the European Marxists, who imbibed a negative attitude toward the Jews from their national cultures, and were from the beginning hostile to Jewish national aspirations and disdaining of Jewish culture, even when they accepted assimilationist Jews into their ranks. Castro, as much a nationalist as a communist, could see the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism and from that, of Israel’s right to exist, whatever bad deeds its government performs. Many governments commit bad deeds, and their peoples are not eradicated on that account.
Predictably, the hard Trotskyist Left has denounced the SWP’s apostasy. An online Canadian Trotskyist journal called Links in its August 6, 2010, issue declared that the SWP is now “in the Zionist camp.” Since this type of leftist also considers “Zionist” a synonym for Nazi, make of that what you will.
 http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/swp-us/24thconvention/zionism.htm. As this is mainly a book review I am primarily footnoting sources other than Robert Wistrich’s book. In some cases where readers are likely to be particularly interested in his source I have included that in the notes.
 There are various sources for this quote. I am taking it from the BBC’s “On This Day,” its retrospective for each day of the year, for June 5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/5/newsid_2654000/2654251.stm. Retrieved March 23, 2013. A more extended discussion of Nasser’s war aims is Moshe Gat’s “Nasser and the Six Day War, 5 June 1967: A Premeditated Strategy or An Inexorable Drift to War?” http://www.paulbogdanor.com/israel/gat1967.pdf
 For a summary by country see the Wikipedia article on “Jewish Exodus from Arab and Muslim Countries” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_exodus_from_Arab_and_Muslim_countries. There is also a substantial literature on this issue, such as The Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab Lands, Malka Hillel Shulewitz ed. (London: Continuum, 1999). Both the Muslim world and much of the Western Left knows and cares only about the Arab exodus from what became Israel, a double standard that obscures both the recent treatment of Jews in Muslim countries and what amounted to an exchange of populations between Arab and Jewish communities.
 New York Times, June 2, 1967. Also Theodore Draper, Israel and World Politics: Roots of the Third Arab-Israeli War. (New York: Viking Press, 1968).
 Translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Retrieved from their website on 2-28-2013, http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/2676.htm
 This is Wistrich’s translation. For the full text in a different translation see http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1862/letters/62_07_30a.htm
 Engels to Marx, March 7, 1856, in Engels: Selected Writings, edited by W.O. Henderson (London, 1967), pp. 129-30, cited by Wistrich, p. 89.
 Wistrich, p. 90.
 Wistrich cites for these quotes the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, the definitive edition of their collected works, vol 1, 7:29, 165, 176, and 291.
 Protokoll, Cologne, 22-29 October 1893 (Berlin 1891), p. 224, cited by Wistrich, p. 119.
 Vorwarts, March 24, 1893. All quotes from the SPD’s Vorwarts are taken from Wistrich in his chapter “German Social Democrats on the Volkisch Movement.”
 Vorwarts, December 9, 1893.
 Vorwarts, December 8, 1892, cited by Wistrich, p. 123.
 Vorwarts, August 29, 1893.
 Vorwarts, June 17, 1893.
 Neue Zeit 1 (1894-1895: 303, cited by Wistrich, p. 138.
 In Mehring’s Aus dem literarischen Nachlass von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lassalle (Stuttgart, 1902), 1: 354-55, cited by Wistrich, p.163.
 Mehring, “Anti- und Philosemitisches,” Die Neue Zeit 2 (1890-1891), cited by Wistrich, p. 164.
 Archiv fur Soziale Gesetzbegung und Statistik (1893): 513-14, cited by Wistrich, p. 166.
 Wistrich, p. 213.
 Die Neue Zeit, Jan 18, 1908, cited by Wistrich, p. 304.
 Die Neue Zeit, Oct 30, 1914. Cited by Wistrich.
 Cited by Wistrich, p. 363, from the German edition of her collected works.
 Cited by George Lichtheim, “Socialism and the Jews,” in his Collected Essays (New York: The Viking Press, 1974), p. 427.
 Wistrich, p. 188.
 Lenin, Collected Works, 1972, vol. 20.
 Joshua Rubenstein, “The Night of the Murdered Poets,” The New Republic, August 25, 1997.
 Pravda, July 7, 1967, cited by Wistrich.
 Quotations are cited in Israel Yearbook on Human Rights, vol 17 (1987), p. 138.
 Za Rubezhom, October 3, 1973.
 Pionerskaia Pravda, October 10, 1980, cited by Wistrich, pp. 437-38.
 ” CPUSA condemns anti-Semitism,” The People’s World, March 18, 2005. From the online edition: http://transitional.pww.org/cpusa-condemns-anti-semitism/
 Nicholas Valentine Riasanovsky, The Teaching of Charles Fourier (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 167.
 Wistrich, pp. 186-87, quoted from Notebooks of P. J. Proudhon.
 Cited by Lichtheim, Collected Essays, p. 426.
 Wistrich, p. 197. He gives as source Tridon’s Du Molochisme juif (Paris, 1884), p. 5.
 Lichtheim, Collected Essays, pp. 429-30.
 Wistrich, p. 433.
 Washington Post, April 21, 2011. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-04-21/world/35262099_1_ethnic-tamil-civilians-tamil-tigers-vanni-region
 Wistrich, p. 449. He cites Meir Cotic, The Prague Trial: The First Anti-Zionist Show Trial in the Communist Bloc (New York, 1987), p. 219.
 Wistrich, p. 455. He cites Ze’ev Ben-Shlomo, “Soviets and Zionism,” Wiener Library Bulletin 20, nos. 1 and 2 (Winter 1965-66), pp. 7-9.
 Wistrich p. 467. Also discussed in “Anti-Semitism on the Left,” August 3, 2006, in the online Workers Liberty, http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6705.
 “Chip Berlet interviews David Hirsh on Contemporary Antisemitism and Conspiracy Theory.” An interview taken on June 29, 2009, but first published September 6, 2012 by Engage. http://engageonline.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/chip-berlet-interviews-david-hirsh-on-contemporary-antisemitism-and-conspiracy-theory/
 Jerusalem Post, January 29, 2013. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/An-anti-Semitic-agenda-at-the-UN
 Cited by Oliver Kamm, “Chomsky and Holocaust denial,” http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2004/11/chomsky_and_hol.html, retrieved March 19, 2013.
 W. D. Robinson, “Chomsky and the Neo-Nazis,” Quadrant (Australia), October 1981.
 Oliver Kamm, “Chomsky and Holocaust Denial,” November 1, 2004, http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2004/11/chomsky_and_hol.html
 Leon Trotsky on the Jewish Question (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), pp. 26-27.
 Ibid., pp. 23-24.
 The Arab-Jewish clashes began in the fall of 1928 with Arab protests against Jews praying at the Wailing Wall, which is both the last remaining wall of Solomon’s Temple and attached to the Al Aqsa Mosque, built on the Temple’s foundations. Tensions escalated the following year. On August 15, 1929, a peaceful Jewish march was held to the Wall. The following day an Arab counterdemonstration there burned Jewish prayer books. Minor clashes took place over the next week, then, on August 23, Arab groups launched an armed attack on Jews in Jerusalem that quickly spread throughout Palestine. On August 24, between 65 and 68 unarmed Jews were murdered in Hebron. The anti-Jewish riots lasted until August 29, leaving 133 Jews dead. The understaffed British police intervened and in clashes with Arab demonstrators were mainly responsible for the 116 Arabs who were killed during the riots.
 Leon Trotsky on the Jewish Question, p. 23.
 From the ISO newspaper, Socialist Worker, November 21, 2012. http://socialistworker.org/2012/11/21/time-to-divest-from-israel
 The Militant, April 13, 2009, http://www.themilitant.com/2009/7314/731465.html
 “Why the left should support the boycott of Israel — a reply to the US Socialist Workers Party” by Art Young, August 6, 2010. http://links.org.au/node/1829