A welcome for Trump and Bannon
Anti-Semitism has never been a problem for Zionism, observes Tony Greenstein
It must have come as a shock to many young members of the Jewish Labour Movement when the president of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, “publicly congratulated Donald Trump on his election win”.1 After all, these young things have grown up to believe that anti-Semitism is a leftwing phenomenon that exists in organisations like Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and 21 of them were among the 175 British Jewish signatories to a letter expressing their ‘deep concern’ at Arkush’s statement 2.
One wonders whether the 21 - such as Rhea Wolfson, who is on Labour’s national executive committee - are also going to condemn Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Israeli Labor Party. Herzog also sent his congratulations to Trump, praising him3 as “an American leader who showed the commentators and the sceptics that we are in a new era of change”.
In America there has been a massive backlash among Jews at the election of Trump and outrage at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which has supported Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon, the former head of the rightwing Breitbart News website, as strategic advisor. Over the last year Breitbart News has given space to racists and anti-Semites who supported Trump, and, although Bannon said he did not agree with such views himself, admitted: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.”4
But none of that seems to have bothered the ZOA. Indeed it announced that Bannon would be a featured speaker at its annual dinner this year.
Libby Lenkinski of the liberal Zionist New Israel Fund declared: “We did not survive the holocaust, we did not found the state of Israel, just so that less than two generations later we could cosy up to neo-Nazis.”5 Some may ask where Ms Lenkinski has been all these years. Has she not seen the growth of a Jewish neo-Nazi movement in Israel and the mobs that cry “Death to the Arabs”? Or those who put signs in shops boasting that they do not employ Arabs?6
Was she unaware of the military support that the Israeli government gave to the neo-Nazi junta in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 when they tortured and murdered up to 3,000 young Jewish leftwingers - a good proportion of ‘the disappeared’? Surely she recalls the statement in the knesset of Yossi Sarid of Meretz, that “the government of Israel never once lifted a finger, and cooperated with the Argentine murderers because of their interest in arms deals ... In Argentina, Israel sold even the Jews for the price of its immediate interests.”7
Hadashot, a now defunct Israeli newspaper, described how Marcel Zohar, an Israeli correspondent in Argentina between 1978 and 1982, told in his book, Let my people go to hell, how the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency and other official bodies refrained from processing immigration applications from Jews with leftwing backgrounds, in order to preserve Israel’s business and political links with the ruling junta. In the same period, arms sales worth about $1 billion were concluded between Israel and Argentina. Both Likud and Labor leaders shared in the conspiracy of silence.8
Zionism v diaspora
What we are seeing with the election of Trump, and the enthusiastic support for him in Israel, is a cleavage between the interests of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, on the one hand, and those of the Jewish diaspora, on the other. Although this contradiction has rarely surfaced previously, it has always been there. Zionism was founded on a rejection of the Jewish diaspora, which represented everything that it was fighting against.
Zionists spoke of diaspora Jews in much the same way as anti-Semites did. For example, Pinhas Rosenbluth, Israel’s first justice minister, wrote that Palestine was “an institute for the fumigation of Jewish vermin”.9Jacob Klatzkin, editor of the Zionist paper Die Welt from 1909 to 1911, wrote that diaspora Jewry were “a people disfigured in both body and soul - in a word, of a horror … some sort of outlandish creature … in any case, not a pure national type .... some sort of oddity among the peoples going by the name of Jew”.10
Israeli novelist AB Yehoshua, in a talk to the Zionist Youth Council, spoke of the diaspora as the “cancer connected to the main tissue of the Jewish people”. Yehoshua described diaspora Jews as “using other people’s countries like hotels”.11 In other words, Jews outside Israel are guests who do not belong in the countries where they live. Which chimes exactly with the views of anti-Semites.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, was actually a pioneer of Zionist anti-Semitism. He saw anti-Semitism as a positive asset in helping to encourage Jews to move to Palestine. As he put it, “anti-Semitism has grown and continues to grow - and so do I”.12 He drew the conclusion that “the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends; the anti-Semitic countries our allies”.
The Zionist attitude during the holocaust was no different from previously. Building a Jewish state was of greater importance than rescuing Jewish refugees. Indeed the Zionist movement endeavoured to ensure that rescue would only be to Palestine and in some cases actively acted against other destinations.
Shabtai Teveth - the official biographer of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister - wrote:
In spite of the certainty that genocide was being carried out, the Jewish Agency executive did not deviate appreciably from its routine … Two facts can be definitely stated: Ben-Gurion did not put the rescue effort above Zionist politics … he never saw fit to explain why, then or later. Instead he devoted his effort to rallying the Yishuv [Jewish community in Palestine] and Zionism around the Biltmore programme and to the preparations for its implementation.13
Teveth concluded: “If there was a line in Ben-Gurion’s mind between the beneficial disaster and an all-destroying catastrophe, it must have been a very fine one.”14
It is therefore entirely consistent that Zionist leaders, in Israel and the United States, have been supportive not only of Trump, but Bannon too. The Israeli ambassador to the United States made Tel Aviv’s position clear when he praised Trump as a “true friend of Israel”, extending “a specific mention to incoming top White House advisor Steve Bannon”.15
Alan Dershowitz, who has attacked Black Lives Matter as anti-Semitic, because of their support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, displayed unusual reticence when it came to Bannon:
I think we have to be very careful before we accuse any particular individual of being an anti-Semite. The evidence certainly suggests that Mr Bannon has very good relationships with individual Jews.16
Of course, it is quite possible to be friendly to Jews on a personal level and yet anti-Semitic politically. Consistently publishing anti-Semitic and white supremacist articles is racist and anti-Semitic behaviour. Enoch Powell, the English Tory MP who argued for repatriation of black people, was never accused of being a racist on a personal level.
Under Andrew Breitbart, who died in 2012, Breitbart was focused on “calling out the left, but especially American Jews who were insufficiently loyal to Israel”.17 In other words there was nothing these bigots loved more than attacking anti-racist Jews. Robert Mackey notes that “Breitbart’s rightwing Jewish writers were willing to use anti-Semitic tropes to attack their leftwing Jewish enemies as ‘self-hating’ enemies of Israel.”18 ‘Self-hatred’ was the term the Nazis applied to anti-fascist Germans.
All of this has caused anguish amongst liberal Zionists. Forward’s Jane Eisner wrote:
For many years now, American Jews have been told to worry about anti-Semitism from the left ... So obsessed are we with looking for threats from one direction that we have missed the growing danger from another.19
She demonstrates the muddle and confusion at the heart of liberal Zionism. A muddle represented by the signatories to the letter to the Board of Deputies. They wonder why there is no “coherent response” to the anti-Semitism of the right, as there is to “left anti-Semitism”. The answer is, of course, obvious. Zionism and Israel have never have been interested in fighting the anti-Semitism of the right. Their only interest is in branding anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, because the former is a direct challenge to Israel as a Jewish supremacist state. These liberals have turned a blind eye to Israel’s anti-Arab racism for so long that they cannot see that the Israeli state also has no principled objection to anti-Jewish racism.
Chami Shalev quotes Deborah Lipstadt, the Zionist holocaust historian: “We need to do a serious reckoning. It’s been so convenient for people to beat up on the left, but you can’t ignore what’s coming from the right.”20 These hypocrites, who turned a blind eye to Israel’s murderous carnage in Gaza and its systematic denial of rights to Palestinians, are now dumbstruck at how Israel and the Zionist movement has no objection to the anti-Semites in the new Trump administration. Shalev describes how Bannon is “the poster child” for rightwing Zionists such as Mort Klein, “the very hawkish head of the Zionist Organization of America”.
It is amusing to read liberal Zionists like Jane Eisner discovering that “it’s possible to be Zionist and anti-Semitic at the same time.”21 Zionist ideologues have long argued that if you are pro-Zionist then you cannot be anti-Semitic. No-one pursued this more avidly than the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard. Pollard defended the anti-Semitic Polish MEP, Michal Kaminski, who opposed any Polish apology for the burning alive of up to 900 Jews in Jedwabne in 1941 by fellow Poles. Pollard wrote:
I worked in Brussels. It is not a place associated with friendliness towards Israel ... One of that rare group is Michal Kaminski ... It would be harder to find a greater friend in Brussels. That is why the accusation of anti-Semitism is so vile.22
Unsurprisingly Pollard has been one of the main leaders of the campaign to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the Labour Party as ‘anti-Semitic’. Eisner notes that “according to this logic, as long as you support certain policies of the current Israeli government, it’s okay to pal around with people who hate Jews”.23 Liberal Zionists are having to go through a steep learning curve! Similarly Naomi Zeveloff writes that, although “it would seem impossible to hate Jews but love the Jewish state, these two viewpoints are not as contradictory as they appear”.24
As Eisner states in the same article,
Some, like Bannon, see in Israel a (white) nationalist, anti-Arab country worth supporting - over there. Here, in America, they may accept, even respect, individual Jews, but their ideological aim is to cleanse the country of its multiculturalism and restore privilege to white Christian males.
What Eisner does not do is explain why the American and European far right see Israel as a “country worth supporting”.
Like many others, she seems to be in a state of shock, having discovered that supporting Israel and supporting anti-Semitism are entirely compatible, whereas opposing racism - be it in America or Israel - is going to get you labelled an ‘anti-Semite’ by the anti-Semites!
What we are seeing is a great awakening among some Zionists. How long it lasts is another matter. Zeveloff even quotes Steven M Cohen, a sociologist at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion:
There is actually “little correlation” between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism ... To be sure, anti-Semitism is found among the anti-Zionist left. But it is also found among the Zionist right.25
Groping towards an understanding of the present confusing situation, Zeveloff cites Cohen as saying that “Many people who dislike Jews like Israel, and many people who are critical toward Israel are affectionate toward Jews.”
As Trump’s administration in waiting embraces the politics of the alt-right and Israel’s supporters embrace them too, liberal Zionists are going to find it difficult coming to terms with the fact that all their comfortable nostrums about a ‘different’ Zionism have gone out of the window. We live in interesting times!
7. Ha’aretz August 31 1989.
8. ‘Israel denied shelter to leftwing Argentine Jews during junta rule’ Hadashot September 28 1990.
9. J Doron, ‘Classic Zionism and modern anti-Semitism: parallels and influences (1883-1914)’ Studies in Zionism No8, autumn 1983.
10. A Herzberg The Zionist idea New York 1981, pp322-23.
11. ‘Diaspora: a cancer’ Jewish Chronicle December 22 1989.
12. R Patai (ed) Diaries of Theodor Herzl London 1960, p7.
13. S Teveth The burning ground 1886-1948 Boston 1987, p848.
14. Ibid p851.