Zionism and the holocaust

One day Blair and Howard are competing over who can deport the most refugees. The next they are proclaiming their horror at the holocaust and promising 'never again'. This testifies to the resilience and adaptability of capitalism, argues Tony Greenstein

Eddie Ford's excellent article revisiting Norman Finkelstein's The holocaust industry: reflections on the exploitation of Jewish suffering is well timed. The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz has provided the opportunity for western leaders of capitalism to decorate their war plans with anti-racist camouflage. According to this Hollywood version of history, the war was fought to save the Jews. Airbrushed out is the refusal of British war criminal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris to bomb either the railway lines to Auschwitz or the camp itself. Who dares mention the fact that in Greece Churchill put back in power pro-Nazi quislings in order to keep the communists at bay? Yet British imperialism, in its propaganda against the Nazis, found it had to tread carefully. Colonial propagandists objected to ministry of information leaflets attacking Nazi race theories being disseminated in west Africa. How could they square this with the fact that Britain operated a colour bar in the colonies? In July 1941 the colonial office advised that phrases like 'subject races' and 'forced labour' should not be used with reference to the Nazis' occupation of Europe, which "immediately call up picture of the alleged exploitation of their people by the British" (Rosaleen Smyth, 'Britain's African colonies and British propaganda during the Second World War' Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History October 1985). The hypocrisy of the Auschwitz commemorations was neatly captured by the arrest of Peter Tatchell outside the official holocaust service in London. He was protesting at the hypocrisy of Blair and Howard, who days before had been competing as to who was 'toughest' in keeping out refugees and asylum-seekers. The Daily Mail devoted a front page and many column inches to Auschwitz. Who could have believed that it had run a campaign in the 1930s warning that "the way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage" (August 20 1938). But it is not merely a question of selective memories: rather it is the deliberate depoliticisation of the extermination of European Jewry. The holocaust has been divorced from society, imperialism and racism. The holocaust stands above society, an act of god committed by a uniquely evil man, Hitler. Conveniently, of course, this excuses the capitalist powers from any responsibility for what happened. Who can recall the failure of The Times under its editor, Geoffrey Dawson, to even mention anti-semitism in Germany between 1933 and 1939? Or Charlie Chaplin having to situate The great dictator, which lampooned Nazi Germany, in another country? Or the support of the establishment, including Churchill and George VI, for Hitler for having saved Germany from communism? Who recalls the Evian conference of 1938, called by the USA, as a conscience-saving sop? Christopher Sykes, a pro-Zionist historian, notes that at Evian the western governments confined themselves to "edifying speeches in favour of toleration" and that some merely warned of "the danger to themselves of alien immigration" (C Sykes Crossroads to Israel 1917-1948 Indiana 1973, pp186-9). The sole exception was the tiny Dominican Republic, which offered to take 100,000 Jewish refugees - sufficient to embarrass the US into offering to take a similar number. But the Zionists did not protest. As Sykes notes, they regarded Evian with "hostile indifference": "They wanted a Jewish Palestine and the Dominican Republic could never be that ... Even in the more terrible days ahead they made no secret of the fact, even when talking to gentiles, that they did not want Jewish settlements outside Palestine to be successful "¦ If their policy entailed suffering, then that was the price that had to be paid for the rescue of the Jewish soul." Sykes is full of admiration for something which, "even if judged morally wrong, is such as could only be conceived by a great people". The Zionist sanctification of the holocaust today is in marked contrast to their record at the time. Norman Finkelstein stands in a long tradition of Jews who drew the conclusion from anti-semitism that racism must be opposed whenever and wherever it manifests itself. Zionism, the bastard offspring of imperialism, drew precisely the opposite conclusion. Jews could not only be victims, but the perpetrators of racism - and moreover they could use their experience of racism to legitimise Zionist racism. Even better, those who criticised Zionism could be branded anti-semitic themselves. Zionism accepted the frame of reference of the anti-semites: the Jews were an alien people in the land of strangers. As Leo Pinsker, an early Zionist wrote in 1882, anti-semitism (or Judaephobia) was a hereditary disease and, having been inherited for 2,000 years, was incurable (Autoemancipation p5). This is as true now as it was a hundred years ago. Zionism's starting point is that the fight against anti-semitism is futile. Its answer is to leave, to become colonists in Israel. Twenty-five years ago, as young anti-fascist activists, wanting to put up anti-fascist posters at the local Jewish youth centre, Ralli Hall in Hove (we were refused!), we were asked by the local Israeli emissary (Shaliach) why we bothered fighting anti-semitism. It is like Canute fighting the tide. We should pack our bags and leave for Israel. I first came across Norman Finkelstein over 20 years ago, when I read his article 'Disinformation and the Palestine question: the not-so-strange case of Joan Peters'. A young historian, he was one of a handful of people prepared to criticise Peters' book, From time immemorial, whose thesis was that the Palestinian refugees had not been expelled from Israel - they were merely recent immigrants returning to the Arab countries. Palestine had been empty until the Zionists had come. It was their settlements that attracted the Palestinians. The book was a roaring success in the United States. It was, as Edward Said wrote, a "conspiracy of praise" (E Said Blaming the victims - spurious scholarship and the Palestinian question London 1988). But when the book was issued in Britain and Israel, it had a different reception. Albert Hourani of Oxford University, a world authority on Middle East history was damning: "Facts are selected or misunderstood; tortuous and flimsy arguments are expressed in violent and repetitive language. This is a ludicrous and worthless book and the only mildly interesting question it raises is why it comes with praise from two well-known American writers" (The Observer March 5 1985). Ian and David Gilmour in the London Review of Books savaged it and The Spectator likened it to Clifford Irving's fake biography of Howard Hughes. The reasons why Peters had received wall to wall uncritical reviews in the US were far from uninteresting. Both the press and academia serve to support a bipartisan approach to foreign affairs. They provide the ideological backing for US imperialism. Both Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice are professors of international relations. Radical views are almost entirely excluded from the US media and universities, in a way that is more in keeping with a totalitarian state. Noam Chomsky, whose articles appear regularly in the European press, cannot get a hearing in his local 'liberal' Boston Globe. Leading neo-conservative Daniel Pipes explained that Peters' "historical detective work has produced startling results which should materially influence the future course of the debate about the Palestinian problem" (Commentary July 1984). Elie Wiesel, one of the foremost propagandists of the holocaust industry, paid tribute to Peters' "insight and analysis". There were over 200 ecstatic reviews and notices in the US press, but, apart from Bill Farrell in the Journal of Palestinian Studies, Alex Cockburn in The Nation and Finkelstein, nothing critical was published. Peters' treatment of the Palestinians (they did not exist) was little different from David Irving's revisionist approach to the holocaust. Finkelstein described her methodology as a combination of multiple references to the same fact, a "tip of the iceberg" theory and major surgery (ie, cut and paste). The book plundered and plagiarised with gay abandon. Israeli reviews were even more damning. Avishai Margalit of the philosophy department at the Hebrew University denounced Peters' "web of deceit". It was only when, early in 1985, as the British and Israeli reviews began to uncover a major scandal, that the US media started backtracking. Yehoshua Porath in the New York Review of Books attacked its conclusions but avoided the question of her scholarship (though he later described it as a "sheer forgery"). Attempts to raise such questions in its correspondence columns were blocked. Martin Peretz, editor of the neo-conservative New Republic described the attacks on Peters as a leftist plot. It was not until January 1986 that the New York Times published a critical article entitled, appropriately, 'There were no Indians'. An example of the quality of Peters' research is her citing of distinguished historian Mazriki's Histoire des Sultans mamlouks II on immigration to Palestine in the 19th century. Unfortunately Mazriki died in 1442! Finkelstein is then working as an academic in what is frankly enemy territory. His academic career and his writings on the subject of Palestine/Zionism and the holocaust are conducted in a McCarthyite atmosphere. Radical academics in the USA are under constant threat of denunciation and losing their jobs. Indeed this is exactly what is happening currently at Colombia University, where Joseph Massad, and other members of the Middle Eastern and Asian faculty, have been under attack for "anti-semitism" by a wealthy Zionist organisation, the David Project, which has funded a film alleging "intimidation" of Jewish students for having to put up with hearing another point of view. The real objection being to the fact that Colombia established a chair of Arab studies two years ago. But Colombia was the place where the most famous Palestinian academic, the late professor Edward Said, taught and it has long figured in Zionist demonology. By way of contrast, the Socialist Workers Party's Alex Callinicos is a politics professor at York University. Callinicos quite comfortably fits in with the academic milieu without any controversies endangering his tenured position. It is no surprise that socialist academic Toby Abse, who has long had a blind spot when it comes to Zionism, has attacked Finkelstein for giving comfort to holocaust revisionism. But for Callinicos, whose organisation purports to be anti-Zionist, to do the same is no less than academic and political scabbing. Finkelstein, most of whose family were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz, is meticulous in differentiating between Zionism and anti-semitism. His crime is that he has dared breach the inner walls of the temple, otherwise known as the holocaust industry. The SWP's idea of an anti-fascist movement consists of joint statements with radical establishment figures, liberal politicians and assorted media personalities. It therefore downplays its anti-Zionism. Whilst supporting the Palestinians, it has developed a crude critique of Zionism itself. The holocaust is a central part of its 'never again' anti-fascist alliance. The story that Britain went to war against fascism and the holocaust is entirely synonymous with British nationalism. The holocaust and the way it is used politically is off limits for discussion, because it undermines the SWP's bourgeois anti-fascist alliances. When the Board of Deputies of British Jews initially attacked the Anti-Nazi League in 1977 for being no better than the fascists, the SWP responded by printing a centre-spread feature in Socialist Worker on Zionist relations with the Nazis and the BDBJ's record in opposing the mass mobilisation in Cable Street in the East End in the 1930s. Today the board and the SWP have a mutual non-aggression pact. It is an open secret that the Zionist movement has used the Holocaust in order to legitimise the State of Israel and the Zionist cause. Is it likely that any other State which proclaimed itself to be a western democracy, would get away without serious criticism for its apartheid treatment of 20% of its citizens? Zionism has jealously guarded its version of history and the holocaust. The holocaust is unique precisely because, once it is understood in the context of racism and imperialism, once it is seen as one of a number of similar attempts at destruction of whole peoples, then Israeli practices might fall under the same rubric. Zionism saw the achievement of Israel as recompense for the holocaust. Some Zionist leaders were quite explicit. Nathan Schwalb, who represented the Jewish Agency in neutral Switzerland during the war, stated: "We must be aware that all the nations of the Allies are spilling much blood, and if we do not bring sacrifices with what will we achieve the right to sit at the table, when they make the distribution of nations and territories after the war?" (N Karta Holocaust victims accuse New York 1977). Schwalb sued Jim Allen over this quote in his play Perdition (which the Zionists tried to ban) and lost. If the holocaust were seen as the product of capitalism's wars of imperialism then serious questions might have to be raised about Israeli relations with the Lebanese Phalange or the anti-semitic junta in Argentine in the 1970s, when 3,000 leftist Jews 'disappeared' and when Israel uttered not a murmur of protest (in fact denying them entry visas - see my article, 'Zionism and anti-semitism' Return No1, March 1989). Zionism is unusual in that - unlike, for example, apartheid in South Africa and other settler colonial movements - it relies on a high degree of ideological legitimation. It rests on active support of diaspora Jewish communities. It is for this reason that opponents of Zionism are subject to a level of political attack quite unlike the experience of other solidarity activists. No-one was ever banned for politically opposing Ulster loyalism. For opponents of Zionism, the attempt by the Zionist movement to ban them is a constant hazard. In this sense, Zionist attitudes to free speech are identical to those of fascism. Finkelstein is right to mark 1967 as the birth of the holocaust industry. However, the seeds of the holocaust industry had been planted long before 1967. Before then, the United States feared that Israel might be more of a hindrance than a help when it came to protecting its interests in the Middle East. Victory over Nasser and Arab nationalism proved Israel's worth. Who now remembers Eisenhower's injunction to the Israelis that no nation can be allowed to set conditions on its withdrawal, after their occupation of Egypt during the Suez war? The Zionist record during the extermination of European Jewry is appalling by any measure. It began with Ha'avara, the transfer agreement between Nazi Germany and the Yishuv (Jewish Palestine) in 1933. Some 60% of capital investment in the Yishuv between 1933 and 1939 came from Nazi Germany. Zionism deliberately took advantage of the anti-fascist boycott of Nazi Germany, which the Nazis feared, and in the process undermined that boycott, which had been aimed at securing protection of Germany's Jews. The Zionist attitude to Nazism was no different from its attitude to anti-semitism generally. In Nazi Germany, the only legal Jewish organisation was the Zionist movement, and the only legal Jewish paper was Judische Rundschau, a Zionist paper which exhorted its readers to "wear the yellow star with pride". The introduction to the Nuremburg Laws of 1935, which stripped Jews of their citizenship, stated that "The ardent Zionists, of all people, have objected least of all to the basic ideas of the Nuremberg laws." Alone among Jewish groups, the Zionists refused in Germany to take part in any anti-fascist activity. However the Zionist movement's attitude to the Nazis was even worse than a simple coincidence of interest. Their leaders were determined to ensure that any attempt to rescue European Jewry should be in the context of Palestine. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, in a letter of December 17 1938 to the Zionist executive, wrote: "If the Jews are faced with a choice between the refugee problem and rescuing Jews from concentration camps, on the one hand, and aid for the national museum in Palestine, on the other, the Jewish sense of pity will prevail and our people's entire strength will be directed at aid for the refugees "¦ We are risking Zionism's very existence if we allow the refugee problem to be separated from the Palestine problem" (quoted in Machover and Offenberg, 'Zionism and its scarecrows' Khamsin No6). In Hungary collaboration between the Zionist leaders and the Nazis reached obscene proportions. In exchange for a deal allowing a special train with the Zionist leaders and Jewish bourgeoisie out of the country, the Zionists provided the SS with lists of the Jewish community - which they used to round them up and deport them to Auschwitz. Some 800,000 Jews were thus sent to their deaths. This was the spring of 1944 when the Nazis were on the defensive and simply did not have the manpower to carry out the job themselves. In Israel in 1953 groups of survivors of the holocaust were bitter that their family members had been sacrificed by the leaders of the Israeli state. One Malchiel Greenwald issued a pamphlet accusing Kastner, leader of the Hungarian Zionists and a senior member of the government, of collaboration. Kastner sued and lost and was later assassinated by the Israeli Shin Bet. Even after the war Kastner had gone to Nuremburg on behalf of the Jewish Agency to ask for mercy for SS general Kurt Becher, who had been in charge of the deportations in Hungary. The libel case, featured in a famous book Perfidy by Hollywood playwright and Zionist author Ben Hecht, caused uproar. It was this that necessitated the capture of Adolph Eichmann in Argentina. Eichmann was the bureaucrat in the SS responsible for implementing the 'final solution'. Hannah Arendt, the most famous Jewish philosopher of the 20th century, wrote a book Eichmann in Jerusalem - the banality of evil (Harmondsworth 1994). The book not only covered the trial, but the story of Kastner and the Zionist movement's relationship with the Nazis in this period. It was exactly the wrong kind of book from the Zionist viewpoint. Hannah Arendt might have been a refugee herself from Nazi Germany, but that did not prevent her being accused of anti-semitism. As she noted in the postscript to her book, "Even before its publication, this book became the centre of a controversy and the object of an organised campaign ... the clamour centred on the 'image' of a book which was never written "¦ the 'image' of a book, created by certain interest groups, in which I allegedly had claimed that the Jews had murdered themselves. And why had I told such a monstrously implausible lie? Out of 'self-hatred' of course" (pp282-4). Imagine for one moment there was a national fund which controlled 93% of land in Britain and which refused to sell, lease or rent that land to those of Jewish origin because they were not considered British. Impossible? Probably. Yet the Jewish National Fund in Israel acts in exactly that way towards non-Jews. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Zionist movement is especially sensitive to those who criticise its version of the holocaust or its record during the war years. The fact that in the post-war years there has been genocidal extermination in Kampuchea, Rwanda and East Timor, to say nothing of Guatemala and Burma, testifies to the barbarism which lies at the heart of modern-day capitalism. Yet Zionist propagandists resolutely refuse to allow such comparisons to be made. Robert Silverberg, an ardent Zionist, wrote: "One didn't have to be a secret anti-semite to oppose bringing refugees into the United States. Some of the most dedicated Jewish Zionists were against liberalisation of American immigration practices, on the grounds that the Jewish claim on Palestine would be weakened if the refugees were absorbed by other countries. One wartime ZOA president had declared, 'Are we again, in moments of desperation, going to confuse Zionism with refugeeism, which is likely to defeat Zionism?'" (R Silverberg If I forget thee O Jerusalem New York 1972, pp334-5). The wartime leader is almost certainly rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. This is the context in which anti-semitism today should be understood. Anti-semitism - hatred of and discrimination against Jews - has all but disappeared in western society. It is a marginal phenomenon, confined to fascist groups and some Asian youth, who are stupid enough to believe the propaganda of the Zionists when they claim that their actions against the Palestinians are on behalf of the 'Jewish people' everywhere. What we have seen is a redefinition of anti-semitism that equates it with anti-Zionism. Why has this political defamation been so successful? Because Jews themselves have changed. Dr Geoffrey Alderman charted both the social rise and political move to the right of British Jewry in his book The Jewish community in British politics (Oxford 1983). In a survey of Sheffield Jewry in the mid-1970s, no less than 66% of Jewish men belonged to the professional, managerial and skilled non-manual classes. At the same time, Jewish voters moved dramatically to the right. Alderman estimates that it was only the support of Jewish voters that enabled Tory John Gorst to retain Hendon North between 1974 and 1979. In Ilford North, another seat with a large Jewish population, the swing to the Tories during the same period was 7.8%, but amongst Jews it was 12.4% (pp155-6). David Sassoon, headmaster of Hillel House Jewish school, wrote to the Jewish Chronicle in March 1978: "I find it very disturbing to hear Jewish parents, who only a couple of generations ago were themselves immigrants, refusing to agree to send their children to this or that school simply on the grounds that they don't want their children to mix with those of coloured immigrants." Alderman estimates, as a result of his own extensive surveys, that in the October 1974 general election in Hackney between 300 and 400 Jews voted for the National Front. How is this to be explained? It is because the identity of Jewish people has also changed. Gone are the Jewish tailors of London's East End. In their place are middle class professionals. Jewish identity today is bound up with the Israeli state. Zionism has become a secular religion, pulling Jews to the right. It is in this context that anti-Zionism is perceived as being opposition to modern-day Jewish identity and opposition to anti-semitism has become the respectable anti-racism of the right. I disagree with Hillel Ticktin when he suggests that commemoration of Holocaust Day "somewhat destabilises the system itself" (Weekly Worker February 4). On the contrary the inauguration of such an event reinforces the system and gives it a moral vigour and purpose. It appropriates anti-racism from the left and places its own brand name on it. That is why the US Congress passed in October last year the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, which monitors anti-semitism in other countries. Passed by Congress and Senate, against opposition from the state department, the act orders the US administration "to start rating governments throughout the world on their treatment of Jewish citizens" (The Daily Telegraph October 13 2004). This is from the very same people who invalidated the votes of thousands of their own black citizens in the presidential elections a month later. Far from being a source of weakness, the ability of Blair and Howard to have a competition as to who can deport the most refugees one day, and who can then proclaim their horror at the holocaust and promise 'never again' the following day, testifies to the resilience and adaptability of capitalism.