Is Zionism Antisemitic?
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the diaspora ‘neurotic’, Freedland maintained that this was ‘paleo-Zionism’, as if it belonged to an old ideology, now outdated.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 if Jewish life in exile: their culture and their language, Yiddish.’
So is Zionism antisemitic?