By Leon Rosselson
In the current furore over supposed antisemitism in the Labour Party and the suspension of Ken Livingstone for asserting that Hitler supported Zionism, the crux of the problem seems to have been somewhat obscured. Livingstone’s intervention was untimely, uncalled for and clumsily expressed (it’s never a good idea to bring Hitler into the discussion) but the collaboration in the 1930s between Zionist leaders and Nazi apparatchiks, like Eichmann, is a historical fact. How was that possible? How could a Jewish ideology find common ground with a virulently antisemitic creed — and at a time when Jews worldwide were demanding a total boycott of Nazi Germany
Anyone who has been in a Zionist youth movement — Habonim or Hashomer Hatzair — will know that the job of Zionism is to persuade Jews that they don’t properly belong in the countries in which they have lived over the centuries and can only find their true home in a Jewish state. The Israeli political parties, Mapam and Mapai, didn’t send all those well-trained Zionist leaders over here just to teach Jewish boys and girls how to dance the Hora. As Ehud Olmert said, when addressing the World Zionist Congress in 2005, the Zionist project will not be fulfilled until every Jew in the world goes to live in Israel.Nowadays Zionist groups like the Jewish Labour Movement pretend that Zionist teaching has changed but they have to say that, otherwise they might have to ask themselves why they’re still living ‘in exile’ instead of in the Jewish state.
‘Money willingly we give there/Israel is our guiding star/Not that we would ever live there/Better worship from afar’.
Similarly when the celebrated Israeli novelist AB Yehoshua, interviewed by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, repeated the demand that all Jews should live in Israel and called Jewish life in the diaspora ‘neurotic’, Freedland maintained that this was ‘paleo-Zionism’, as if it belonged to an old ideology, now outdated. But as far as I know there aren’t 57 varieties of Zionism. There’s just Zionism, exactly as Olmert and Yehoshua and our ‘shlichim’ (emissaries) in Hashomer Hatzair expressed it.
So it is not difficult to understand how and why, before the death camps were thought of, the interests of Jewish nationalism and German nationalism converged. Both Zionists and Nazis were totally opposed to Jewish assimilation. To put it crudely, the Nazis wanted a Jew-free Germany; so did the Zionists, provided the Jews went to Palestine to provide the basis of a future Jewish state.
There existed in those first years, a mutually highly satisfactory agreement between the Nazi authorities and the Jewish Agency for Palestine — a Ha’avarah or Transfer Agreement, which provided that an emigrant to Palestine could transfer his money there in German goods and exchange them for pounds upon arrival…. The result was that in the thirties, when American Jewry took great pains to organise a boycott of German merchandise, Palestine, of all places, was swamped with all kinds of goods made in Germany. — Hannah Arendt Eichmann in Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that at that time, the Nazi party adopted a pro-Zionist agenda. So when Zionist emissaries from Palestine came to Germany to pick out young Jewish pioneers, they negotiated on equal terms with Eichmann and the SS in order to facilitate their transfer to Palestine. It could be argued that this was a way of saving at least some German Jews. But ‘the Palestine leadership refused to extend any help to emigrants whose goal was not Eretz Israel’. (Saul Friedlander, Zionist historian.) And Ben Gurion argued that in any conflict of interest between saving individual Jews and the good of the Zionist enterprise, the enterprise must come first. Consequently the Zionist leadership opposed the Kindertransport which brought 10,000 German Jewish children to England.
There has always been a symbiotic relationship between Zionism and antisemitism. Many antisemites support Zionist ideology and the state of Israel. Trump’s advisor, Steve Bannon, for instance. And Eichmann himself, according to Hannah Arendt, had read Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat, the founding text of Zionism, and became converted ‘promptly and forever to Zionism’. Conversely, many Zionists are antisemitic, Herzl, for one. “The wealthy Jews rule the world “ he wrote in the German newspaper Deutsche Zeitung “…they start wars between countries and when they wish, governments make peace. When the wealthy Jews sing, the nations and their leaders dance along and meanwhile the Jews get richer.”
Like many educated, secular German-speaking Jews, Herzl despised the mass of Eastern European Jews. The first solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ offered by the founding father of Zionism was a mass conversion to Catholicism in Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral. The one language that was forbidden to be spoken in Herzl’s ideal Jewish state was Yiddish.
Contempt for Jewish life outside a Jewish state has been an enduring feature of Zionism. In his interview with the Guardian, Yehoshua described Jews in the diaspora, like Freedland, ‘partial’ Jews, not proper Jews. Ben Gurion, in a conversation with Isaac Deutscher, echoed Stalin when he said, ‘They have no roots. They are rootless cosmopolitans. There can be nothing worse than that.’ It is no secret that the poorest, most marginalised Jews living in Israel are Holocaust survivors. Interviewed on Channel Four’s Unreported World, one survivor was asked why he thought they were treated so badly. ‘Shame,’ he replied. ‘They are ashamed of us.’
It seems to me that Zionism doesn’t like Jews much, which is why it wants to turn them all into Israelis. ‘In the Zionist school in Palestine,’ writes Uri Avnery, ex-Irgun, now peace activist and blogger, ‘we were taught that the essence of Zionism is the negation of the Diaspora (called Exile in Hebrew). Not just the physical negation but the mental, too. Not only the demand that every single Jew come to the land of Israel but also the total repudiation of all forms of Jewish life in exile: their culture and their language, Yiddish.’
So is Zionism antisemitic?
Leon Rosselson, Singer/songwriter, children’s author.
the racial oppression of the Palestinian people is at the heart of the matter; all other things–land laws, religion, pass laws, racially designated roads and neighborhoods, etc.–are symptoms. This should not come as any surprise: the racial definition of the Zionist project existed from the very beginning. Theodor Herzel in his 1896 pamphlet “The Jewish State” wrote it would “form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” This is the same Herzel who stated that Zionist colonization would be “representatives of Western civilization,” bringing “cleanliness, order and the well-established customs of the Occident to this plague-ridden, blighted corner of the Orient.” Recall Chomsky memorably quoting Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel, as saying of Palestine, “there are several hundred thousand negroes there but that this matter has no significance.”
...Much ink has been spilled bemoaning the Zionist lobby in the United States. The success of this lobby in the Washington and media establishment, in terms of its limited objectives, is no doubt spectacular. However, it is a strange success, which has made strange bedfellows when considering the history of anti-Jewish racism in the U.S. After all, how could such a lobby hold sway over the Christian Right, Waspish conservative think tanks and a Congress filled with southern gentlemen?
...Zionist Apartheid is seen as an old fashioned war on people of color and, as such is perfectly attuned to the historical psyche of white America. Rather than trying to “liberate” American foreign policy from Zionist influence, I think it would be much more fruitful to ask why Americans, particularly the political, business class, and certain sectors of the white middle class, love Israel so much.
...Micah Bazant has spoken of “the Jewish establishment” giving “tremendous lip-service to the concern of Jewish assimilation” but instead contributes “to assimilation of the worst kind.” He explains, “they claim to value real Jewish traditions of social justice and tikkun olam, but in fact they have sold out and assimilated to U.S. values of capitalism, racism and imperialism.”
Zionism developed in a time of reinvigorated white supremacy in the latter part of the nineteenth century when European states were busily dividing up the land of Africa and Asia. In the confrontation with the indigenous people of Palestine, its ideology belongs within the history of European racial theories and, like the Afrikaner ideology of Jan Smuts, has little problem with seeing itself in the forefront of democracy and civilization in the Middle East while at the same time implementing and justifying the complete and utter subjugation of...people.
However, to understand Israel/Palestine as defined systematically by racial oppression has yet to be elaborated on its own. This is odd, given that the racial oppression of the Palestinian people is at the heart of the matter; all other things–land laws, religion, pass laws, racially designated roads and neighborhoods, etc.–are symptoms. This should not come as any surprise: the racial definition of the Zionist project existed from the very beginning. Theodor Herzel in his 1896 pamphlet “The Jewish State” wrote it would “form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.” This is the same Herzel who stated that Zionist colonization would be “representatives of Western civilization,” bringing “cleanliness, order and the well-established customs of the Occident to this plague-ridden, blighted corner of the Orient.” Recall Chomsky memorably quoting Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel, as saying of Palestine, “there are several hundred thousand negroes there but that this matter has no significance.”
...That Israel should be in the vanguard of whiteness is actually a credit to the more than five decade old Palestinian struggle. The Palestinian struggle is on the fault-line of freedom and oppression and, as such, is in the forefront of the struggle against white supremacy and imperialism in the world today. Is it any wonder that the white supremacist imperialists holler the most when Palestine/Israel is brought up? It is exactly here that their “twisted contradiction” is most likely to be exposed. Apartheid Israel/Palestine is just another solution to the “problem of the color line.” It is a solution that did not begin in 1948 but some 400 years ago and is still with us very much today.
... the Zionist Apartheid project finds its force and appeal through its own conception of whiteness, not because Zionist organizations find better ways to get the ear of the white man. It is fully assimilated into this framework and all of its self-justification refers back to the matrix of white supremacy and empire. One cannot battle Zionism without battling white supremacy and the U.S. establishment–they are intimately linked. Seeking the ear of the establishment without speaking the truth about their racism underestimates their psychological and historical relationship with Apartheid. This means a solidarity built on an alliance with those who have been in the forefront of fighting white supremacy...
Extracts from peice by Aaron Michael Love
Counterpunch October 15 2002
1. Anti-semitism is a racist ideology directed against the Jews. It has old roots.
In his classic work, The Jewish Question, A Marxist Interpretation, that was published posthumously in France in 1946, the Belgian Marxist, Abram Leon, (active in the resistance during the Second World War, he was captured and executed by the Gestapo in 1944) invented the category of a ‘people-class’ for the role of the Jews who managed to preserve their linguistic, ethnic and religious characteristics through many centuries without becoming assimilated. This was not unique to the Jews, but could apply just as strongly to many ethnic minorities: diaspora Armenians, Copts, Chinese merchants in South East Asia, Muslims in China, etc. The defining characteristic common to these groups is that they became middlemen in a pre-capitalist world, resented alike by rich and poor.
Twentieth century anti-semitism, usually instigated from above by priests (Russia, Poland), politicians/intellectuals (Germany, France and, after 1938, Italy), big business (USA, Britain), played on the fears and insecurity of a deprived population. Hence August Bebel’s reference to anti-semitism as ‘the socialism of fools’. The roots of anti-semitism like other forms of racism are social, political, ideological and economic. The judeocide of the Second World War, carried out by the political-military-industrial complex of German imperialism, was one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century, but not the only one. The Belgian massacres in the Congo had led to between 10-12 million deaths before the First World War. The uniqueness of the judeocide was that it took place in Europe (the heart of Christian civilization) and was carried out systematically— by Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, French and Italians— as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Hence Hannah Arendt’s phrase, ‘the banality of evil.’ Since the end of the Second World War popular anti-Semitism of the old variety declined in Western Europe, restricted largely to remnants of fascist or neo-fascist organisations.
In Poland, a country where virtually all the Jews were killed, it remained strong, as it did in Hungary. In the Arab world there were well-integrated Jewish minorities in Cairo, Baghdad and Damascus. They did not suffer at the time of the European judeocide. Historically, Muslims and Jews have been much closer to each other than either to Christianity. Even after 1948 when tensions rose between the two communities throughout the Arab east it was Zionist provocations, such as the bombing of Jewish cafes in Baghdad that helped to drive Arab Jews out of their native countries into Israel.
2. Non-Jewish Zionism has an old pedigree and permeates European culture.
It dates back to the birth of Christian fundamentalist sects of the 16th and 17th centuries who took the Old Testament literally. They included Oliver Cromwell and John Milton. Later, for other reasons, Rousseau, Locke and Pascal joined the Zionist bandwagon. And then for vile reasons the Third Reich, too, supported a Jewish homeland. The introduction to the Nuremburg Laws of 15 September 1935 state:
“If the Jews had a state of their own in which the bulk of the people were at home, the Jewish question could already be considered solved today, even for the Jews themselves. The ardent Zionists of all people have objected least to the basic ideas of the Nuremberg Laws, because they know that these laws are the only correct solution for the Jewish people.”
Many years later, Haim Cohen, a former judge of the Supreme Court of Israel stated:
“The bitter irony of fate decreed that the same biological and racist argument extended by the Nazis, and which inspired the inflammatory laws of Nuremberg, serve as the basis for the official definition of Jewishness in the bosom of the state of Israel” (quoted in Joseph Badi, Fundamental Laws of the State of Israel NY, 1960, P.156)
And Zionist leaders often negotiated with anti-semites to attain their objectives: Theodor Herzl talked openly with Von Plehve, the chief organiser of pogroms in Tsarist Russia; Jabotinsky collaborated with Petlura the Ukrainian hangman of the Jews; ‘revisionist’ Zionists were friendly with Mussolini and Pilsudski; the Haavara agreements between the Zionists organisations and the Third Reich agreed the evacuation of German-Jewish property.
Modern zionism is the ideology of secular Jewish nationalism. It has little to do with Judaism as a religion and many orthodox Jews to this day have remained hostile to Zionism, like the Hassidic sect which joined a Palestinian march in Washington in April 2002 carrying placards which said: “ZIONISM SUCKS” and “SHARON: PALESTINIAN BLOOD IS NOT WATER”. Zionism was born in the 19th Century as a direct response to the vicious anti-semitism that pervaded Austria. The first Jewish immigrants to Palestine arrived in 1882 and many of them were interested only in maintaining a cultural presence. There is no such thing as the ‘historical rights’ of Jews to Palestine. This grotesque myth (already in the 17th century, Baruch Spinoza referred to the old testament as ‘ a collection of fairy-tales’, denounced the prophets and was excommunicated by the Amsterdam synagogue as a result) ignores real history. Long before the Roman conquest of Judea in 70 AD, a large majority of the Jewish population lived outside Palestine. The native Jews were gradually assimilated into neighbouring groups such as the Phoenicians, Philistines, etc. Palestinians are, in most cases, descended from the old Hebrew tribes and genetic science has recently confirmed this, much to the annoyance of Zionists.
Israel was created in 1948 by the British Empire and sustained by its American successor. It was a European settler-state. Its early leaders proclaimed the myth of a ‘A Land without People for a People without Land’, thus denying the presence of the Palestinians. Four weeks ago the Zionist historian Benny Morris in a chilling interview with Haaretz (reprinted as a document in English in the New Left Review, Mar/Apr 2004)admitted the whole truth. 700,000 Palestinians had been driven out of their villages by the Zionist army in 1948. There were numerous incidents of rape, etc. He described it accurately as ‘ethnic cleansing’ not genocide and went on to defend ethnic cleansing if carried out by a superior civilization, comparing it to the killing of native Americans by the European settlers in North America. That too, for Morris, was justified. Anti-semites and Zionists shared one thing in common: the view that Jews were a special race that could not be integrated in European societies and needed its own large ghetto or homeland. The fact that this is false is proved by the realities of today. The majority of the world’s Jews do not live in Israel, but in Western Europe and North America.
3. Anti-Zionism was a struggle that began against the Zionist colonisation project and intellectuals of Jewish origin played an important part in this campaign and do so to this day inside Israel itself.
Most of my knowledge of Zionism and anti-Zionism comes from the writings and speeches of anti-Zionist jews: Akiva Orr, Moshe Machover,Haim Hanegbi, Isaac Deutscher, Ygael Gluckstein (Tony Cliff), Ernest Mandel, Maxime Rodinson, Nathan Weinstock, to name but a few. They argued that Zionism and the structures of the Jewish state offered no real future to the Jewish people settled in Israel. All they offered was infinite war. After 1967, there was a revival of the Palestinian national movement and many different groups arose, most of whom were careful to distinguish between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. Nonetheless the role played by Israel undoubtedly fuelled popular anti-semitism in the Arab world. But these are not old roots and a sovereign Palestinian homeland or a democrat single state would soon bring this to an end. Historically, there have been very few clashes between Jews and Muslims in the Arab Empires.
4. The campaign against the supposed new ‘anti-semitism’ in Europe today is basicly a cynical ploy on the part of the Israeli Government to seal off the Zionist state from any criticism of its regular and consistent brutality against the Palestinians.
The daily hits carried out by the IDF have wrecked the towns and villages of Palestine, killed thousands of civilians (especially children) and European citizens are aware of this fact. Criticism of Israel can not and should not be equated with anti-semitism. The fact is that Israel is not a weak, defenceless state. It is the strongest state in the region. It possesses real, not imaginary, weapons of mass destruction. It possesses more tanks and bomber jets and pilots than the rest of the Arab world put together. To say that the Zionist state is threatened by any Arab country is pure demagogy. It is Israel that creates the conditions, which produce suicide bombers. Even a few staunch Zionists are beginning to realise that this is a fact.. That is why we know that as long as Palestine remains oppressed there will be no peace in the region.
5. The daily suffering of the Palestinians does not excite the liberal conscience of Europe, guilt-ridden (and for good reason) by its past inability to defend the Jews of central Europe against extinction. But the judeocide should not be used as a cover to commit crimes against the Palestinian people. European and American voices should be heard loud and clear on this question. To be intimidated by Zionist blackmail is to become an accomplice of war-crimes.
Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882-1914 By Gershon Shafir
[Shafir] "excavated the impact of settler colonial thinking in Europe upon the early Zionist settlers. For instance, the impact of the attempt by the German state in the east Prussian marshes to dispossess the Poles who had a hold on the land there and to basically Germanise that area in the closing part of the 19th century. This project was very influential on the settlement experts of the Zionist movement, especially Arthur Ruppin, who is probably the most important individual in the history of early Zionist colonisation."
Q: Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a fundamental and radical critique of the early history of Zionist settlement in Palestine. Can you tell us more about it?
A: I think that Gershon Shafir's book is probably the most important landmark in the study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because he's the one who really introduced into it the framework of comparative settler colonialism. I think it's the most fundamental book for understanding the challenge to the Zionist Israeli hegemonic story about Israel-Palestine from 1882 onwards. Although the book is quite well known, people seem not to understand that this actually is a much more radical criticism of how Israel came into being than the story of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which has got a lot more attention.
Q: What do you mean when you talk about the framework of comparative settler colonialism?
A: This is a field of study that looks comparatively at white settler colonial societies since the 16th century, and makes a conceptual distinction between metropole colonialism (eg, British India) and settler colonialism (eg, the US, Australia and Argentina). This implies neither that all settler societies are identical nor that their historically distinct trajectories should be discarded; rather that they are comparable and that the comparison adds invaluable insight to the study of these societies. The importance of comparative settler colonialism is, furthermore, also an ethical and political concern. Many settler projects gave birth to powerful nation states, which have asserted their hegemonic narratives nationally and internationally.
The comparative field not only serves to refute these narratives through evidence and interpretation but also creates a language that offers a powerful historical alternative to the hegemonic narratives conventionally generated by these settler societies. Most potently, perhaps, this field unmasks the attempt to create settler narratives in which the identity and institutions of the settler nation is bifurcated and separated from that of settler-indigene relations. What is unyieldingly insisted upon is the fact that the dispossession and elimination of the indigenous people is not one of many facets of the settler nations' history: It is the most pivotal and fundamental constituent of what they actually are.
Q: How does this book differ from the previous histories written about early Zionist settlement in Palestine?
In three ways, but they are all interconnected. First, he introduces the framework of comparative settler colonialism to the understanding both of the history and the ongoing politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shafir's book first appeared in 1989 and more than 20 years later it is quite clear that as a critical framework the comparative settler colonial paradigm is the one that's becoming more and more acceptable to those who want to understand the conflict.
Second, he has completely refuted the traditional Zionist narrative whereby there were two separate historical trajectories of two self-contained communities – the Zionist settlers and native Palestinians – which were impregnable to one another. The first trajectory is the Jewish community of settlers in Palestine, the Yishuv, and then Jewish society as it developed in Israel. The other is that of the Palestinians, or the local Arabs, which Zionist historiography says had a completely different trajectory, nothing to do with that of the Jewish side.
What Shafir shows is that they actually shaped one another and that the most important feature for understanding who and what the early Jewish community was and Israeli state is, is the conflict with the Palestinians. The need to dispossess the Palestinians is not an extraneous factor in the history of the Yishuv and the Israeli state; it's the most important constituent of what it actually is. Third, Shafir presented a viable alternative to the purely ideational way – which is typically Zionist – of telling the story of the creation of the Jewish state as a set of wonderful ideas that realised themselves on the ground. He puts much more emphasis on the socio-economic foundation of this conflict and how the settler-colonial need for land and labour really shaped the conflict rather than utopian ideas imported from Europe.
Shafir rejects the idea that the kibbutzim were first set up by the Jewish settlers in Palestine because of their socialist beliefs. Instead, he argues they were the most effective way of settling the land and providing work for Jewish immigrants.
This was the big innovation that he introduced. To argue that Zionism was colonial in the same sense that the British were colonial in India or Africa is, of course, nonsense. It was settler colonialism. It was an attempt by a community of European immigrants to carve out for themselves a country in a colony that was conquered by Britain, the imperial power. At least until 1967, the conflict with the Palestinians was not a conflict between a metropolitan colonial power and natives. It was a settler colonial clash between two national movements. One was a national movement of white settlers and the other was an indigenous national movement reacting to this threat. No one is arguing that this is a conflict in which the coloniser comes to exploit the resources and native population of the conquered territory and is eventually driven out. The colonial settlers always come to stay and carve for themselves a national patrimony. As one of the founding scholars of comparative settler colonialism, Patrick Wolfe, famously wrote: "Invasion is a structure, not an event." So in this sense the transformation of our understanding of the history of Israel/Palestine that Shafir introduces is really paradigmatic.
I would like to add that when you read this book – which I think is magnificent but is not easy to read as it's a complex argument – you see how he excavated the impact of settler colonial thinking in Europe upon the early Zionist settlers. For instance, the impact of the attempt by the German state in the east Prussian marshes to dispossess the Poles who had a hold on the land there and to basically Germanise that area in the closing part of the 19th century. This project was very influential on the settlement experts of the Zionist movement, especially Arthur Ruppin, who is probably the most important individual in the history of early Zionist colonisation.
Original piece in The Browser
The struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is not unique -- whatever the news media may suggest. Lorenzo Veracini argues that the conflict is best understood in terms of colonialism. Like many other societies, Israel is a settler society. Looking in detail at the evolution of other colonial regimes -- apartheid South Africa, French Algeria and Australia -- Veracini presents a thoughtful interpretation of the dynamics of colonialism, offering a clear framework within which to understand the middle east crisis.