The Hidden Roots of Zionism
by Annie Zirin
International Socialist Review,
The web site of the Anti-Defamation League
defines Zionism as:
[T]he Jewish national movement of rebirth
and renewal in the land of Israel-the historical birthplace of
the Jewish people. The yearning to return to Zion, the biblical
term for both the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, has been the cornerstone
of Jewish religious life since the Jewish exile from the land
two thousand years ago.... Zionism, the national aspiration of
the Jewish people to a homeland, is to the Jewish people what
the liberation movements of Africa and Asia have been to their
peoples...a vindication of the fundamental concepts of the equality
of nations and of self-determination. To question the Jewish people's
right to national existence and freedom is...to deny to the Jewish
people the right accorded to every other people on this globe.
We need to ask: What kind of national
liberation movement allies itself in every case and at every moment
in its history with the powers of world imperialism? What national
liberation struggle built its very existence on the colonization
of another people, on the obliteration of that people's history,
their culture, and their land? The founding fathers of Zionism
were much more honest about what they stood for. Over and over,
one word appears in their writing: not national "liberation,"
but "colonization." Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the
founding fathers of the Zionist movement, wrote in 1923:
[It is the] iron law of every colonizing
movement, a law which knows of no exceptions, a law which existed
in all times and under all circumstances. If you wish to colonize
a land in which people are already living, you must provide a
garrison on your behalf Or else-or else, give up your colonization,
for without an armed force which will render physically impossible
any attempts to destroy or prevent this colonization, colonization
is impossible, not "difficult," not "dangerous"
but impossible!... Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore
it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important
to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately,
it is even more important to be able to shoot-or else I am through
with playing at colonization.
Even among today's peace activists who
call for an end to Israel's 35-year occupation of the West Bank
and Gaza, there is still a general assumption that Zionism itself
is a legitimate movement and that the State of Israel must be
defended. The organization Americans for Peace Now issued this
statement in December 2001:
[C]ontinued Israeli occupation of the
West Bank and Gaza Strip will, within one generation, mean the
end to Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority....
This scenario would be a nightmare for
Israel and all of us who support the Jewish state. It is not the
Zionist vision for Israel's future for which APN, or the majority
of Jews and Israelis, have fought for generations.
These activists are right to oppose the
occupation. But they fail to recognize that the current occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza is a continuation of the process of
occupation and colonization of Palestine that began with the first
Zionist settlers in the 19th century. The entire state of Israel
occupies stolen land that is backed up with armed force. Sharon's
military invasions, the massacres of Palestinians in Jenin, the
widespread call for the "transfer" (i.e. ethnic cleansing)
of Palestinians in Israel today, are not aberrations from the
Zionist project but are absolutely consistent with "the Zionist
vision for Israel's future for which...the majority of Jews and
Israelis have fought for generations."
The roots of Zionism
Zionism is not a "two thousand year
old yearning," but a modern movement that was born in the
last quarter of the 19th century. The development of Zionism as
a political movement was entirely a product of European society
in the age of imperialism and it is impossible to understand outside
of this context. Zionism was one response-the nationalist response-of
a section of Jews to the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Modern Jewish history begins with the
French Revolution. In the wake of its revolutionary ideals of
"liberty, equality and brotherhood," Jews won emancipation
throughout Western Europe. The old ghetto walls were torn down.
Jews gained new civil rights, and were able to join professions
that had been dosed to them for generations. The vast majority
of European Jews welcomed emancipation. They wanted to be able
to assimilate and participate as equal members in society.
But emancipation never reached Eastern
Europe, where the majority of the world's Jewish population lived.
In the Tsarist Empire, Jews lived in poverty and isolation, confined
to industrially undeveloped areas in Poland and the Ukraine called
the Pale of Settlement. There was no heavy industry in the Pale
so most Jews worked in small shops or were part of the permanently
unemployed. Life in the Pale was punctuated by the bloody pogroms-violent
race riots against Jewish communities that were stoked by government
officials and local police. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky
described the pogroms of 1905:
A hundred of Russia's towns and townlets
were transformed into hells. A veil of smoke was drawn across
the sun. Fires devoured entire streets with their houses and inhabitants.
This was the old order's revenge for its humiliation....
Everyone knows about a coming pogrom in
advance. Pogrom proclamations are distributed, bloodthirsty articles
come out in the official Provincial Gazettes, sometimes a special
newspaper begins to appear.... To start with, a few windows are
smashed, a few passers-by beaten up; the wreckers enter every
tavern on their way and drink, drink, drink. The band never stops
playing "God Save the Tsar," that hymn of the pogroms....
Patrols armed with police revolvers make
sure that the anger of the crowd is not paralyzed by fear....
If any resistance is offered, regular troops come to the rescue.
with two or three volleys they shoot down the resisters or render
them powerless by not allowing them within range. Protected in
the front and rear by army patrols, with a cossack detachment
for reconnaissance, with policemen and professional provocateurs
as leaders, with mercenaries filling the secondary roles, with
volunteers out for easy profit, the gang rushes through the town,
drunk on vodka and the smell of blood....
A trembling slave an hour ago, hounded
by police and starvation, [the rioter] now feels himself an unlimited
despot. Everything is allowed to him, he is capable of anything
he is the master of property and honor, of life and death. If
he wants to, he can throw an old woman out of a third- floor window
together with a grand piano, he can smash a chair against a baby's
head, rape a little girl while the entire crowd looks on, hammer
a nail into a living human body.... He exterminates whole families,
he pours petrol over a house, transforms it into a mass of flames,
and if anyone attempts to escape, he finishes him off with a cudgel....
There exist no tortures, figments of a feverish brain maddened
by alcohol and fury, at which he need ever stop. He is capable
of anything, he dares everything. God save the Tsar!
The rise of industrial capitalism across
Europe did not bring with it an end to anti-Semitism. On the contrary,
the system's violent economic booms and slumps created a climate
in which Jews became easy scapegoats for the immiseration of the
population. The 1880s saw a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe,
both East and West. Over the next three decades, more than five
million Jews left Eastern Europe. Most of these refugees went
to Western Europe or to the United States. Significantly, only
a few thousand chose to go to Palestine. In Western Europe, a
prolonged economic crisis in the 1870s also led to a revival of
anti-Semitism. Jews who had been safe and prosperous in those
countries for over a generation were shocked to find themselves
targets of this virulent racism. For many it shattered their faith
in the capitalist system and set them on the road for alternatives.
Millions of Jews joined the rising revolutionary socialist movements.
The revival of anti Semitism also provided the context for Zionism
Until the 1880s, the Zionist movement
consisted of handful of fanatical religious sects. Jews who were
enjoying the fruits of emancipation felt no need for religious
utopias. For example, in 1862, Moses Hess, a Marxist-turned-Zionist
wrote a book called Rome and Jerusalem. It's now considered a
Zionist classic, but at the time of its publication, most Jews,
if they heard about Hess at all dismissed him as a crank. In its
firs year the book it sold only 160 copies and the publisher had
ask Hess to buy back the remaining copies!
The revival of anti-Semitism was epitomized
by the Dreyfus Affair, in which the French government framed and
convicted a Jewish army officer for treason. The 1894 trial of
Captain Alfred Dreyfus launched an international movement against
anti-Semitism. But for an Austrian journalist name Theodor Herzl,
who covered the trial in France, the Dreyfus Affair meant that
no matter how assimilated Jews were in society, they would never
be safe until they had a state of their own. In 1896, Herzl published
The State of the Jews, the manifesto for a new political Zionist
"An outpost of civilization against
Herzl's "political Zionism"
was secular and pragmatic. He argued that the Jewish state could
only be built under the patronage of one of the imperialist powers.
Because the Jews would inevitably be a minority wherever they
settled, and since they would incur the hostility of whatever
indigenous population they were colonizing, they could not succeed
without the big guns of a big imperialist power backing them up.
In fact, Palestine was only one of several territories Herzl considered
for colonization. Argentina, Uganda, Cyprus, and even a couple
of states in the Midwest of the United States were discussed as
possible locations for the Jewish state. But the religious faction
in the Zionist movement fought hard for Palestine and Herzl, never
one to miss the power of a symbol, agreed that the ancient Jewish
"homeland" would give the movement more emotional power.
However, defining feature of Zionism was
not the choice of Palestine, but the Zionists' willingness to
ally with European imperialism to achieve its goals. Herzl rejected
the most progressive ideals of the l9th century-democracy, socialism,
republicanism-and embraced the most reactionary-monarchy, nationalism,
chauvinism, and racism. Zionism identified with the imperialist
powers who carved up the globe, and accepted racist ideas about
the "civilizing" virtues of colonization and "the
white man's burden" that made up the ideology of the capitalist
class. In The State of the Jews, Hertzl wrote,
The unthinking might, for example, imagine
that this exodus would have to take its way from civilization
into the desert. That is not so! It will be carried out entirely
in the framework of civilization. We shall not revert to a lower
stage, we shall rise to a higher one. We shall not dwell in mud
huts; we shall build new, and more beautiful, more modern houses,
and possess them in safety.... We should there form a part of
a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization
against barbarism.... [Europe] would have to guarantee our existence.
Today the media like to say that Israel
is the only democracy in the Middle East. But democracy was not
the political system that Herzl envisioned for the Jewish State.
Even a historian sympathetic to Zionism admits, "He preferred
a democratic monarchy, or an aristocratic republic. Nations were
not yet fit for unlimited democracy.... Politics would have to
take shape in the upper strata of the new society and work downwards."
Throughout his career, Herzl was deeply
impressed by the power and authority of kings. After a meeting
with the German Kaiser, Herzl wrote in his diary that the Kaiser
"has truly imperial eyes-I have never seen such eyes. A remarkable
bold, inquisitive soul shows in them." And it is dear from
his diaries that Herzl saw himself taking his place among the
European rulers at the head of a Jewish state. He once wrote,
with typical humility,
On Sunday, while I sat on the platform...I
saw and heard the rising of my legend. The people are sentimental;
the masses do not see clearly.... A light mist has begun to beat
about me, which will perhaps deepen into a cloud in the midst
of which I shall walk.... [A] t least they understand that I mean
well by them, I am the man of the poor."
Zionism and the Jews
If one of the defining features of Zionism
was its identification with imperial power, another was the way
Herzl and founders of the movement viewed the very Jews they claimed
to represent. The writings of Herzl and his colleague, Max Nordau,
are littered with descriptions of European Jews as parasites,
social diseases, germs, aliens. They were frustrated and bewildered
that most Jews wanted to assimilate and live in their countries
of birth. To these men who worshipped power and privilege, the
desperate poverty of the Jews of Eastern Europe was a sign of
weakness in the Jewish character.
I contemplate with horror the future development
of this race of (assimilated Jews of Europe) which is sustained
morally by no tradition, whose soul is poisoned with hostility
m both its own and to strange blood, and whose self-respect is
destroyed through the ever-present consciousness of a fundamental
lie.... This is the picture of the Jewish people at the end of
the nineteenth century. To sum up: the majority of Jews are a
race of accursed beggars.
Nordau's repulsive views flowed quite
logically from Zionism's basic assumptions about Jews. Zionists
accepted the l9th century view that anti-Semitism-in fact all
racial difference- was a permanent feature of human nature. For
this reason it was pointless to struggle against it. The solution
for Jews was to form a state and convince the European world that
Jews belonged to the class of the "superior" colonizers,
not to that of the colonized. It was a very short jump from this
belief to concluding that Jews themselves were the cause of anti-Semitism.
Herzl accepted the idea that Jews were an economic burden on society,
that their very presence provoked violence from the rest of society:
Wherever [the Jewish Question] does not
exist, it is brought in together with Jewish immigrants. We are
naturally drawn into those places where we are not persecuted
and our appearance there gives rise to persecution. This is the
case, and will inevitably be so, everywhere.... The unfortunate
Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England;
they have already introduced it into America.... [But once Jews
go to Palestine] the countries of emigration will rise to a new
prosperity. There will be an inner migration of Christian citizens
into the positions relinquished by Jews. The outflow will be gradual,
without any disturbance, and its very inception means the end
of anti-Semitism.... Once we begin to execute the plan, anti-Semitism
will cease at once and everywhere.... It is the relief from the
old burden, under which all have suffered.
Zionism and Imperialism
To acquire the land for his state, Herzl
was willing to beg from the table of every imperialist power,
no matter how criminal. He courted them all-the German Kaiser,
the Turks, the Russian Tsar, and the British Empire. In 1896,
He entered into negotiations with the Turkish Sultan of the Ottoman
Empire, which had ruled over Palestine for more than five hundred
years. HerzI offered the Sultan a deal-in exchange for giving
Palestine to the Jews, the Zionist movement would help soften
world condemnation of Turkey for its genocidal campaign against
the Armenians. He even pledged to meet with Armenian leaders to
convince them to call off their resistance struggle! In his diary,
[The Sultan] could and would receive me
as a friend-after I had rendered him a service.... For one thing
I am to influence the European press...to handle the Armenian
question in a spirit more friendly to the Turks: for another,
I am to induce the Armenian leaders directly to submit to him,
whereupon he will make all sorts of concessions to them.... I
immediately told [Hamid's agent] that I was ready a me mettre
en campagne [to start my campaign.]
As it turned out, the Sultan rejected
the offer. But as historian Lenni Brenner notes,
It would have occurred to no one else
in the broad Jewish world to have tried to hinder or interfere
with the Armenians in their struggle; nor would anyone have thought
to support Turkey in any of its wars, and in the end Zionism gained
nothing by its actions. But what was demonstrated, early in its
history, was that there were no criteria of ordinary humanism
that the World Zionist Organization considered itself bound to
Herzl never met a butcher he didn't like,
even if they were guilty of slaughtering Jews. In 1903, he went
to the Russian Tsar to see if he could convince Russia to pressure
the Ottomans into handing over Palestine. In an infamous meeting,
Herzl actually sat down with Count von Plehve, the organizer of
the pogroms, the butcher of Jews. Herzl argued with von Plehve
that Zionism was the solution to Russia's "Jewish problem,"
namely, the enormous number of Jews who were flooding into revolutionary
organizations. Herzl later recalled that he told von Plehve "Help
me reach land sooner and the revolt will end. And so will the
defection to the socialists."
Herzl kept his end of the bargain. A member
of the Russian Social Revolutionary party, Chaim Zhitlovsky, recalled
what Hertzl told him soon after the meeting:
I have just come from Plehve. I have his
positive, binding promise that in 15 years, at the maximum, he
will effectuate for us a charter for Palestine. But this is tied
to one condition: the Jewish revolutionaries shall cease their
struggle against the Russian government. If in 15 years from the
time of the agreement Plehve does not effectuate the charter,
they become free again to do what they consider necessary.
Zhitlovsky gave a brilliant response that
epitomizes the revolutionary socialist position on Zionism. He
We Jewish revolutionaries, even the most
national among us, are not Zionists, and do not believe that Zionism
is able to resolve our problem. To transfer the Jewish people
from Russia to Eretz-Israel is, in our eyes, a utopia, and because
a utopia, we will not renounce the paths upon which we have embarked-the
path of revolutionary struggle against the Russian government,
which should also lead to the freedom of the Jewish people....
The situation of Zionism is already dubious enough by the very
fact of its standing aloof from the revolution. Its situation
in Jewish life would become impossible if it could be shown that
it undertakes positive steps to damage the Jewish revolutionary
Herzl's meeting with von Plehve turned
out to be a tactical disaster, alienating the very Russian Jews
he was trying to recruit to the movement. Chaim Weizmann, president
of the World Zionist Organization, later wrote "I...believed
that the step was not only humiliating, but utterly pointless....
Nothing came, naturally, of Herzl's 'cordial' conversations with
von Plehve, nothing, that is, except disillusionment and deeper
despair, and a deeper division between the Zionists and the revolutionaries."
Weizmann wrote to Herzl with alarm,
In general West European Jewry thinks
that the majority of East European Jewish youth belongs to the
Zionist camp. Unfortunately, the contrary is true. The lions-share
of the youth is anti-Zionist, not from an assimilationist point
of view as in West Europe, but rather as a result of their revolutionary
It is impossible to describe how many
became the victims of police oppression because of membership
in the Jewish Social Democracy-they are sent to jail and left
to rot in Siberia; 5,000 are under state surveillance...and I
am not speaking only of the youth of the proletariat.... Almost
the entire Jewish student body stands firmly behind the revolutionary
camp...and all this is accompanied by a distaste for Jewish nationalism
which borders on self-hatred.
A land without a people'
Herzl's movement held its first congress
in Basel Switzerland in 1897. After that, waves of Zionist pioneers
started migrating into Palestine. They came to colonize, but not
along the lines of traditional colonialism where the big power
conquers a land to create new markets for itself, acquire more
resources and exploit the indigenous population as a cheap source
of labor. The Zionists did not come to exploit the Arabs but to
completely replace them. The goal was to create an exclusively
Jewish state with a Jewish majority. In order to achieve this,
the Zionists had to destroy the Palestinian economy, steal the
land, drive the Arabs out of the labor market, and erase the very
memory they'd even been there. This meant carrying out a war on
a number of fronts, reflected in the three slogans of the pioneer
Zionists: "conquest of land," "conquest of labor,"
and "produce of the land."
By "conquest of land," they
meant buy and steal as much Arab land as possible; by "conquest
of labor," they meant force Jewish landowners to employ Jewish-only
labor and organize Jewish-only trade unions to dominate the labor
market; and by produce of the land"-boycott and physically
harass Arab farms and businesses to drive them out.
Thus the absurdity of the Zionist saying
that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people
without a land." Every Zionist knew that the main obstacle
to founding their state was that the land they wanted for themselves
was already inhabited. Arab Palestine was a flourishing society
with an ancient history and culture. There were over 1,000 villages,
thriving towns, abundant citrus and olive groves, irrigation systems,
crafts, and textiles. Zionists had to obliterate all traces of
this society if they were to build a new one. As the Israeli minister
of defense, Mocha Dean, admitted in a speech to Israeli students
We came here to a country that was populated
by Arabs, and we are building here a Hebrew, Jewish state. Instead
of Arab villages, Jewish villages were established. You do not
even know the names of these villages and I do not blame you,
because these geography books no longer exist. Not only the books,
but all the villages do not exist.
Nahalal was established in place of Mahalul,
Gevat in place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Hanifas and Kafr
Yehoushu'a in the place of Tel Shamam. There is not a single settlement...not
established in the place of a former Arab village.
"The iron wall of English bayonets"
The First World War and the Russian Revolution
caused the collapse of Herzl's three beloved patrons, the Ottoman
Empire, the German Kaiser, and Russian Tsarism. Though the Zionists
played all sides covertly during the war, the more farsighted
leaders anticipated that Britain would emerge as the dominant
imperialist power from the war. Weizmann stated as early as 1914,
"We can reasonably say that should Palestine fall within
the British sphere of influence, and should Britain encourage
Jewish settlement there, as a British dependency, we could have
in twenty to thirty years a million Jews Out there, perhaps more;
they would develop the country, bring back civilization to it
and form a very effective guard for the Suez Canal."
When the war ended, Palestine became a
British colony and the Zionists found they shared many interests
with their new colonial masters. In 1917 Britain issued the Balfour
Declaration, which was the first official recognition of the Zionist
settlements in Palestine. Under the British Mandate Government,
Britain privileged the small Jewish population over the Palestinians.
In 1917 there were 56,000 Jews in Palestine and 644,000 Palestinian
Arabs. Still Britain gave Jewish capital 90 percent of concessions
for projects like building roads and power plants and by 1935,
Zionists owned 872 out of the 1,212 industrial firms in Palestine.
The British ruling class, which was rabidly
anti-Semitic, had its own reasons for this support. Out of the
First World War, Arab nationalism had emerged as a major threat
to domination of the Middle East and Britain hoped that Zionists
could be a useful force for policing the Arabs. But Winston Churchill
gave another reason for supporting Zionism-defeat of the left
wing "International Jews." In an astoundingly anti-Semitic
article titled "Zionism versus Bolshevism," Churchill
First there are the Jews who, dwelling
in every country throughout the world, identify themselves with
that country, enter into its national life and, while adhering
faithfully to their own religion, regard themselves as citizens
in the fullest sense of the State which has received them....
In violent opposition to all this sphere
of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews....
This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus...to
those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary),
Rosa Luxemburg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this
world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization and for
the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development,
of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily
It becomes, therefore, specially important
to foster and develop any strongly-marked Jewish movement which
leads directly away from these fatal associations. And it is here
that Zionism has such a deep significance for the whole world
at the present time.... [S]hould there be created in our own life
rime by the banks of the Jordan a Jewish State under the protection
of the British Crown, which might comprise three or four millions
of Jews, an event would have occurred in the history of the world
which would, from every point of view, be beneficial, and would
be especially in harmony with the truest interests of the British
In 1936, the Palestinians began the Great
Uprising against British and Zionist colonization. The Uprising
lasted three years and was only defeated by savage British repression-
drawing in at some points half the British military. It gave the
Zionists another opportunity to prove their worth to England.
Zionists organized the armed militias called the Haganah and the
paramilitary units, which played an important supporting role
in crushing the revolt. They also took advantage of the Arab general
strike to gain control of new sectors of the economy, replacing
more Arab owners and workers with Jews. The British military repression
was so severe that it left the Arab population demoralized and
exhausted for many years.
This cleared the field for the Zionists
to focus on the last remaining obstacle to a Jewish state: the
British Mandate itself After all, the Zionists were colonizers,
and had no intention of remaining subjects in someone else's colony.
In 1945, they declared war on the British and drove them out.
In 1947, the United Nations imposed its criminal partition of
Palestine, which granted the majority of the land to the minority
of Jewish settlers. For the Zionists, this was a green light to
begin a terrible war of ethnic cleansing. In 1948, through systematic
terror and murder, they drove 800,000 Palestinians off their land
and founded the state of Israel on the ruins of destroyed Arab
"I would not accept Arabs in my trade
Many of the leaders like Herzl were extremely
hostile to socialism. But marxism was enormously influential in
the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. If Zionism was going
to build in that kind of atmosphere, it had to make some accommodation
to the mood. Ber Borochov was the father of the movement called
"proletarian Zionism," which as its name implies, tried
to synthesize Marxism and Jewish nationalism. Borochov's supposedly
Marxist analysis was that, because the Jewish proletariat of Eastern
Europe worked in economically marginal jobs, they had no social
power as workers. Therefore they were powerless to effect change
in Russia. Thus, Jewish workers needed to go build their own nation
where they could become a "real" proletariat organized
in the real centers of production. Only then could they make a
socialist revolution. In the meantime, they might have to make
some alliances, temporarily of course, with Jewish capitalists.
Really this was just giving a pseudoMarxist gloss to the same
pessimistic message that Zionism is all about-you can't fight
here at home against oppression, you must organize to go to Palestine
and build the state.
The organization Borochov founded, the
Workers of Zion (Po'ale Zion) actually played a reactionary role
in the Russian labor movement. Zionists in the unions argued against
any united action with non-Jewish workers, which in effect put
them in the position of strikebreakers. Here was a party claiming
to represent Jewish workers that opposed the struggles of Jewish
workers! In 1901, members of the Bund, the Jewish revolutionary
organization that was bitterly hostile to Zionism, organized to
drive the Zionists of their unions, "informing them that,
since they lived in Pinsk and not Palestine, such talk in Pinsk
was objectively class-treason, as the Jewish workers of Pinsk,
were, quite definitely, engaged in a desperate class struggle
with the capitalists and the police," writes Brenner.
In Palestine, the "socialist Zionists"
built organizations that were invaluable to the process of colonization.
They founded the Histadrut, the Jewish-only trade union federation,
which organized the exclusion of Arab workers from the job market.
They started the kibbutzim, the agricultural collectives that
built exclusively Jewish settlements on Arab land and defended
those settlements with arms. The reality of "Zionist Marxism"
is that it had to stretch Marxism beyond all recognition to justify
its colonial project. David Hacohen, a Labor Party leader, recalled
the ideological difficulties in 1969:
I had to fight my friends on the issue
of Jewish socialism, to defend the fact that I would not accept
Arabs in my trade union, the Histadrut; to defend preaching to
housewives that they not buy at Arab stores; to defend the fact
that we stood guard at orchards to prevent Arab workers from getting
jobs there.... To pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes, to attack Jewish
housewives in the markets and smash the Arab eggs they had bought;
to praise to the skies the Kereen Kayemet Jewish Fund] that sent
Hankin to Beirut to buy land from absentee c76 - [landlords] and
to throw the felehin [Arab peasants] off the land-to buy dozens
of dunams from an Arab is permitted, but to sell, god forbid,
one Jewish dunam to an Arab is prohibited; to take Rothschild,
the incarnation of capitalism, as a socialist and to name him
the "benefactor"-to do all that was not easy.
"The iron wall of Jewish bayonets"
If the Jewish-only trade unions and kibbutzim
were the organizations of the Zionist "left," then Revisionism
under the leadership of Vladimir Jabotinsky formed the right wing
of the movement. Jabotinsky called his faction Revisionism because
it "revised" what he saw as the weaknesses of the movement,
its willingness to negotiate with British imperialism, to accept
concessions on key questions like immigration and land seizure.
In particular, Jabotinsky was quite open and blunt about how Zionists
should deal with "the Arab question":
Thus we conclude that we cannot promise
anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries..
Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those
who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition
for Zionism can now say "no" and depart from Zionism.
Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be
terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native
population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop
only under the protection of a force independent of the local
population-an iron wall which the native population cannot break
through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate
it any other way would only be hypocrisy.
To the hackneyed reproach that this point
of view is unethical, I answer 'absolutely untrue. 'This is our
ethic. There is no other ethic. As long as there is the faintest
spark of hope for the Arabs to impede us, they will not sell these
hopes-not for any sweet words nor for any tasty morsel, because
this is not a rabble but a people, a living people. And no people
makes such enormous concessions on such fateful questions, except
when there is no hope left, until we have removed every opening
visible in the Iron Wall.
Revisionists were openly sympathetic to
fascism. Betar, the Revisionist youth movement, admired Mussolini.
They wore brown shires and did the fascist salute. The Revisionist
newspaper carried a regular column called "From the Notebook
of a Fascist," and on one occasion when Jabotinsky came to
Palestine, the newspaper ran a column called "On the arrival
of our Duce."' In 1933 a columnist wrote, "Social democrats
of all stripes believe that Hitler's movement is an empty shell
[but] we believe that there is both a shell and a kernel. The
anti-Semitic shell is to be discarded, but not the anti-Marxist
The Labor Zionists tried at times to distance
themselves from the actions of the extremist paramilitaries. But
when the time came for united action they showed that their squabbles
were all in the family. As Jabotinsky put it, "Force must
play its role-with strength and without indulgence. In this, there
are no meaningful differences between our militarists and our
vegetarians. One prefers an Iron Wall of Jewish bayonets; the
other an Iron Wall of English bayonets."
It was Jabotinsky who founded the Haganah,
and the Revisionists who formed the paramilitary organizations,
the Irgun, as well as the fascist Stern Gang. In 1945 the Revisionists
and the Labor Zionists united to form the "Resistance Movement"
to wage war against the British and then the Palestinians. The
Irgun and the Stern Gang were responsible for the infamous massacre
in the village of Dir Yassin in 1948. At least until the 1980s,
veterans of the Irgun still returned to Dir Yassin to commemorate
Zionism and the Holocaust
Zionism's most powerful claim to legitimacy
is that the State of Israel is necessary to prevent another Holocaust.
The legacy of the Holocaust is brought out to justify every atrocity
committed by Israel. But it is precisely the record of how the
Jewish Agency (the government of the pre-state Jewish settlements
in Palestine) responded to the Holocaust that provides the most
damning evidence against Zionism.
To the leaders of the Jewish Agency, the
rise of fascism had a definite upside. Menahem Ussishkin told
a Zionist Executive meeting, "There is something positive
in their tragedy and that is that Hitler oppressed them as a race
and not as a religion. Had he done the latter, half the Jews in
Germany would simply have converted to Christianity." In
1934, Labor Zionist Moshe Beilinson went to Germany and reported
back to the Labor Party, "The streets are paved with more
money than we have ever dreamed of in the history of our Zionist
enterprise. Here is an opportunity to build and flourish like
none we have ever had or ever will have." Specifically, "the
opportunity" meant the potential for thousands of new immigrants
and their assets to come flooding into Palestine.
However, Zionist officials were quite
blunt in stating that they didn't want all the refugees from Hitler's
Holocaust. They didn't want the burden of absorbing millions of
impoverished sick refugees who had no ideological passion for
Palestine. The Agency only wanted young, healthy Jews who could
come over and work and fight and build the state. As Israeli historian
Tom Segev writes,
Urban life was, in their [Zionist leaders]
eyes, a symptom of social and moral degeneration; returning to
the land would give birth to the 'new man' they hoped to create
in Palestine. In parceling our the immigration certificates, they
therefore gave preference to those who could play a role in their
program for building the country. They preferred healthy young
The German Immigrants Association in Palestine
actually complained in 1934 that the Zionist organizations in
Berlin weren't being selective enough about who they were sending.
Its letter of complaint stated in part, 'The human material coming
from Germany is getting worse and worse." It even returned
some of the refugees to Germany who they felt would be too much
of a burden.
The Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency
wrote a private memorandum in 1943 about the prospects for their
work. When this was written, it still could have been possible
to save millions of Jews from Hitler's "Final Solution."
But they didn't even try.
Whom to save: Should we help everyone
in need, without regard to the quality of the people? Should we
nor give this activity a Zionist-national character and try foremost
to save those who can be of use to the Land of Israel and to Jewry?
I understand that it seems crude to put the question in this form,
but unfortunately we must state that if we are able to save only
10,000 people from among 50,000 who can contribute to build the
country...as against saving a million Jews who will be a burden,
or at best an apathetic element, we must restrain ourselves and
save the 10,000 that can be saved from among the 50,000-despite
the accusations and pleas of a million."
Was this position unethical? To paraphrase
Jabotinsky, this was their ethic-there was no other ethic. To
the Zionists, the needs of the Jewish State came first, second,
The refugees who did make it to Palestine
were treated with contempt by the press and public. They were
seen as passive victims whose families perished because they failed
to stand up for themselves. Everyone knew that most of the refugees,
if they had had a choice, would never have come to Palestine at
all. The Labor Party newspaper, Davar, published an article saying
that the Holocaust was "punishment from heaven" for
the European Jews for not choosing Palestine. One German immigrant
wrote into the German language press, "We have seen Germany's
nationalism gone mad and we trembled; we are on the road to a
similar situation here."
The Zionists took these sick, | devastated
refugees and sent them into the kibbutzim-on the frontlines of
the war against the Palestinians. Tom Segev describes,
In 1949 David Ben-Gurion toyed with the
idea of sending immigrants to work on development projects under
a military or "paramilitary" regimen, in order to get
rid of the "demoralizing material" among them and to
give them occupational training, mastery of Hebrew and "national
discipline".... The plan, never activated, was often discussed.
Eight out of ten Israelis in 1949 said that the concentration
of immigrants in the cities endangered the country's economic
and social structure; nine out of ten said the immigrants should
be "directed" to the agricultural settlements and slightly
more than half said they should be "forced" to go to
the settlements.... Ha'aretz...contended that the immigrants were
"not taking seriously the obligations they took upon themselves
before their immigration; and accused them of not feeling any
'personal responsibility' for the Zionist enterprise."
"Why have you done nothing?"
The bottom line was that the Jewish Agency
in Palestine had many opportunities to rescue tens of thousands
of Jews and perhaps more. But they sabotaged proposal after proposal,
choosing to spend their money on land settlements instead of rescue.
David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel said, "It
is the job of Zionism not to save the remnant of Israel in Europe
but rather to save the land of Israel for the Jewish people and
the Yishuv." )
Chaim Weizmann, the first president of
Israel, was even more blunt: " The hopes of Europe's six
million Jews are centered on emigration. I was asked: 'Can you
bring six million Jews to / Palestine?' I replied 'No.'... From
the depths of the tragedy I want to save...young people [for Palestine].
The old ones will pass. They will bear their fate or they will
not. They are dust, economic and moral dust in a cruel world...Only
the branch of the young shall survive. They have to have to accept
In the 1950s, a dramatic court case in
Israel revealed that the Zionists had acted with criminal neglect-if
not outright complicity-in the destruction of Hungarian Jewry.
Evidence produced at the trial showed that Rudolph Kastner, a
top official in the Israeli Labor Party, and the person in charge
of the Rescue Committee in Hungary during the war, had actively
collaborated with the Nazis. Kastner negotiated with Nazi official
Adolph Eichmann (the architect of the Holocaust) to get a approval
for a "VIP train" of 1,685 Hungarian Jews to leave Hungary
safely. Kastner personally selected the passengers for the train,
which included several hundred people from his hometown and a
dozen members of his family. He worked with SS Officer Kurt Becher
to make the financial arrangements.
In exchange for the safe passage of the
train, Kastner agreed not to warn the Jews of Hungary (whose rescue
was in his hands) about Hitler's plans for their extermination
and not to take any action to protect them. Worse, he helped to
deceive Hungarian Jews, convincing them that they were simply
being relocated. After the war, Kastner testified at the Nuremberg
trials on Becher's behalf, which resulted in Becher, murderer
of half a million Hungarian Jews, going free. Most damning of
all, it became clear that Kastner had not acted alone, but that
his plan for the VIP train had the support of the highest leaders
of the Jewish Agency. Segev describes the findings of the Israeli
Kastner knew the Nazis intended to exterminate
Hungarian Jewry but kept the information from the members of the
community. Had he warned them in time, they might have been able
to flee to Romania or organize armed resistance. Since they did
not know what awaited them, they boarded the dead trains without
resistance.... He had been given the VIP train in exchange for
Toward the end of the war a staunch anti-Zionist
named Rabbi Dov Michael Weissmandel met with high-level Nazi officials
to make a desperate deal. The Nazis knew they were losing the
war and needed cash. They told Weismandel that the remaining Jews
could buy their freedom for a large sum of money. The Nazis gave
Weissmandel a deadline to come up with that money. Weissmandel
flooded the Zionist organizations with his pleas. But they chose
to do nothing. The deadline passed. In an agonizing letter to
the Jewish Agency, Weissmandel wrote,
Why have you done nothing until now? Who
is guilty of this frightful negligence? Are you not guilty, our
Jewish brothers: you who have the greatest good fortune in the
world-liberty?... Twelve thousand Jews-men, women, and children,
old men, infants, healthy and sick ones, are to be suffocated
daily.... Their destroyed hearts cry out to you for help as they
bewail your cruelty.
The socialist alternative
The Nazis murdered the Jewish revolutionary
left in Europe; they wiped out its best leaders and organizations.
It was these socialists and communists who organized the underground
resistance to fascism in countries across Europe, who fought bravely
to defend the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazi assault. With the
destruction of these fighters went the memory of what they had
accomplished and stood for. It is vital to start with this fact
because Zionism has profited enormously from our historical amnesia.
The destruction of the strong anti-Zionist tradition among European
Jews has meant that Zionism has been able to claim that it represents
the unified voice of Jews throughout the world and therefore,
anyone who opposes them is an anti-Semite.
We don't learn that, up until the Second
World War, vast numbers of Jews supported the parties of revolutionary
socialism-a tradition that opposed Zionism. In 1905 Jews were
4 percent of the population in Russia but formed 11 percent of
the Bolshevik Party and 23 percent of the Menshevik Party. In
1905, the anti-Zionist Bund, the revolutionary organization of
Jewish workers, was roughly the same size as the Bolshevik Party.
The socialist tradition condemned Zionism both for its solution
to anti-Semitism and for its colonization of the Arabs. In 1910,
the Jewish socialist Karl Kallrsky defined Zionism as a "sport
for philanthropists and men of letters" who wanted to make
Palestine "a world ghetto for the isolation of the Jewish
race." Later Kautsky expanded, "It is labor that gives
people a right to the land in which it lives, thus Judaism can
advance no claim on Palestine. On the basis of the right of labor
and of democratic self-determination, today Palestine does not
belong to the Jews of Vienna, London, or New York, who claim it
for Judaism, but to the Arabs of the same country, the great majority
of the population."
~ It is not hard to see why many Jews
were hostile to Zionism. Zionism called for a retreat from the
struggle against anti-Semitism. But the socialist movement argued
that the fight against anti-Semitism was central to the revolutionary
struggle against capitalism. Thus on the one side stood the revolutionaries
who organized Jews and non-Jews together to fight the pogroms,
lead strikes, and overthrow the Tsarist regime that perpetuated
Jewish oppression. On the other side stood the Zionists who collaborated
with the Tsar and his butchers, stood aside from the struggles
for self-defense, and sabotaged work in the unions. It was the
revolutionary workers movement-and not Zionism-that offered a
genuine hope for liberation for European Jews. Trotsky described
how the workers of St. Petersberg came to the defense of Jews
during the pogroms of 1905:
The workers made active preparations to
defend their city. In certain cases whole plants undertook to
go out into the streets at any threat of danger. The gun shops,
ignoring all police restrictions, carried on a feverish trade
in Brownings. But revolvers cost a great deal and the broad masses
cannot afford them; the revolutionary parties and the Soviet had
difficulty in arming their fighting detachments. Meanwhile rumors
of a pogrom were growing. All plants and workshops having any
access to iron or steel began, on their own initiative, to manufacture
side-arms. Several thousand hammers were forging daggers, pikes,
wire whips and knucklebusters. In the evening, at a meeting of
the Soviet, one deputy after another mounted the rostrum, raising
their weapons high above their heads and transmitting their electors'
solemn undertaking to suppress the pogrom as soon as it flared
up. That demonstration alone was bound to paralyze all initiative
among rank-and-file pogromists. But the workers did not stop there.
In the factory areas, beyond the Nevsky Gate, they organized a
real militia with regular night watches. In addition to this they
ensured special protection of the buildings of the revolutionary
press, a necessary step in those anxious days when the journalist
wrote and the typesetter worked with a revolver in his pocket.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks took an uncompromising
position against anti-Semitism, seeing it as the key division
and source of weakness in the Russian working class. Lenin argued
that socialists must be the tribune of the oppressed, willing
to fight every instance of anti-Semitism, regardless of what class
of Jews were affected. But Lenin argued with equal force that
in the revolutionary movement
[T]here must be complete fusion [between
the Jewish proletariat and] the Russian proletariat, in the interests
of the struggle being waged by the entire proletariat of Russia....
[W]e must act as a single and centralized militant organization,
have behind us the whole of the proletariat, without distinction
of language or nationality, a proletariat whose unity is cemented
by the continual joint solution of problems of theory and practice,
of tactics and organization; and we must not set up organizations
that would march separately, each along its own track.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917,
the Bolsheviks abolished all racist laws against Jews and severely
punished incidents of anti-Semitism. During the Civil War, the
imperialist backed White Army in the Ukraine murdered as many
as 60,000 Jews while the Bolshevik Red Army became the protectors
of the Jewish communities in Poland and the Ukraine. One writer
For the White Cossack cavalry, looting,
rape, and murder were a way of life. Looting was forbidden in
the Red Army. Anti-Semitism and pogroms were rife in the White
Armies; anti-Semitic publications were banned in the Red Army
Pogromists were shot. In the Ukraine whole Jewish communities
lived behind the Red Army lines, advancing when it advanced, retreating
when it retreated...
Annie Zirin is a frequent contributor
to the International Socialist Review, and a member of the International
Socialist Organization in Boston.