Steve Cohen contributes to the debate on "left-wing anti-semitism"
For forty five years as a Jew and a revolutionary Marxist I have been waiting for this debate, this disputation. The time lag it itself revealing – revealing of the left’s refusal to get beyond platitudes, often nasty platitudes, in discussing Jews.
Let me say what this is not about. It is not about Zionism. Rather it is about the anti-Zionism of fools. And it is about the anti-imperialism of fools. I speak as an anti-imperialist. Over a century ago August Bebel, the German Marxist, coined the phrase “the socialism of fools” to describe those early socialists who equated world capitalism and world Jewry. In my view much modern anti-Zionism contains caricatures and myths which are equally foolish and equally dangerous. They are both a slur on Jews, all Jews, and do nothing whatsoever to advance the absolutely justifiable struggle of the Palestinians to become free of Israeli hegemony. And yes I think anti-Zionism and anti-semitism should be conceptually and politically kept absolutely apart. However it is the result of the dominant discourse on the modern left that they have crashed into each other and joined up. This discourse is joined up anti-politics at its most grotesque.
What makes these anti-politics even more grotesque is that prior to the triumph of zionism (and the establishment of Israel) there was another anti-semitic slur (often found in Stalinist mythology) – that of the rootless, cosmopolitan Jew, that is the Jew without a country of his/her own and owing loyalty to no other state. So it is damned if you do and it’s damned if you don’t. The language of damnation, of fire and hell water, is itself absolutely appropriate coming from a Christian-imperialist tradition which is responsible for anti-Semitism (as it is for Islamophobia)
As I understand it , the emergence of idiotic anti-Zionism as being dominant within anti-Semititic discourse found within the (non-Stalinist) left began in earnest after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the consequent Sabra-Chatilla massacre (actually committed by Christian Phalangists) . In 1985 I wrote a small book on the subject of Left anti-Semitism – That’s Funny You Don’t look Anti-Semitic (which is now posted on the web). This looked historically at how there has always been a significant current within the left who have adopted conspiracy theories about Jews. Only a few pages of this were devoted to the issue of anti-Zionism. Now I feel a whole library would be insufficient to house what is required. The real turning point were the Twin Towers destruction and the subsequent aggression against Iraq, both which have resulted in a global anti-Semitic backlash. Twin Towers is perceived as a response (legitimate or illegitimate) to Zionism and the invasion of Iraq as being manipulated by Zionism. Of course neither of these events were in any way the responsibility of Jews or of Zionism. But even if they were they would not justify an anti-Semitic response. Even the real horrors of Zionism (such as the non-stop invasions of Gaza and the West Bank) are no such justification This is blaming Jews for anti-semitism. An outrageous concession to this oldest ,or certainly the most persistent, of all racisms.
Let me here acknowledge my imaginary opponent in this imaginary debate. He is Alan Hart who has been advertised as speaking at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign meeting in Manchester on the subject of “Zionism, the real enemy of the Jews”. At its best I find such a title foolish. At its worst I consider it politically dangerous and in its political danger to encapsulate the worst elements of foolish anti-zionism. It is the title of your talk that has provoked the present debate. Zionism is not the real enemy of the Jews. It is the real enemy of the Palestinians. The enemy of the Jews is anti-semitism. To confuse the two in this way is precisely to confuse anti-semitism and anti-zionism…which the left is continually accusing Zionists of doing! Also if the title is implying Zionism created or increases anti-semitism then it simply reproduces the myth that Jews themselves are responsible for anti-semitism. But hallo, Alan. I don’t take it personally. Only politically. Also I do not claim that you necessarily hold the totality of the views I describe below. What I do assert is that the title of your talk fits within the terrible anti logic of these views which are continually expressed in one form or another by foolish anti-zionists. As such I see you as a representative of the latter but I am sure there are far worse representatives.
Allow me to state my position on Zionism as a political movement. Surprisingly it is doubtless at least in its basics the same as yours. I am opposed to it. I am opposed to it because of its racism towards the Palestinians. Because of its dispossession of the Palestinians. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, bad that you can tell me about Zionism that I would even start to justify. What is more I am opposed o the state of Israel. And I am opposed to the suggested two state “solution”. If anything I am for a “no state” solution - that of a federated Socialist Middle East. I am opposed to Israel because I am opposed to all exclusivist states. Israel is an exclusivist state. Therefore I am opposed to it. I am a kind of anarcho Marxist on this question. I am for the absolute right of a law of return for Palestinians (and jews). As a diaspora Jew I am absolutely proud to hold no allegiance to any country on the planet – including Israel. I am proud to be both a Jewish traitor and a traitor of the Jews.
In fact I regard the very idea of a Jewish state as quite ludicrous. Can a state be circumcised? Can it eat kosher meat? Can it be barmitzvahed? And I feel the same way about the idea of a Muslim state – such as Pakistan. And I guess this is where we start to differ. I refuse to exceptionalise Israel. I am against exclusivist states. But all states are exclusivist, certainly all bourgeois states. It is their nature. They cannot be otherwise. The British state is a prime example. It is defined, and defines itself, by its immigration laws – who can come and who can stay and who has what rights (if any) dependent on immigration status. Want to define Israel as an apartheid state? Fine – as long as you are prepared to do the same for the UK. Want to organise a boycott of Israeli universities ? Fine - as long as you are prepared to do the same for British universities , who are up to their necks in the enforcement of immigration controls. Open your eyes to the fees discrimination against “overseas” students – who can be deported after extraction of fees on completion of studies. Open your eyes to the vetting by university authorities of every single potential employee to ensure they have the “correct” immigration status. This in addition to the paid research or training contracts I have been informed some educational institutions have with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. Want to demand the “dismantling” (whatever that means) of the Israeli state? Great! I’m for the smashing by the workers of all bourgeois states and their replacement with workers democracy. This is elementary Marxism. Which is why I am for unity between Palestinian and Jewish workers against their own rotten (mis)leaders. What I am not for, what I am against, are clerics waving Kalashnikovs in their attempt to recreate another theocratic monstrosity. The exceptionalisation of Israel has lead to the utterly demeaning slogan on anti-war demonstrations in this country of “We are all Hizbollah now”. Well count me out of that one. Hizbollah is a clerical organisation which peddles the notorious Protocols of Zion – the nineteenth century forgery that reiterates the claim that Jews control the world (which is itself the central tenet of anti-semitism). It is a clerical organisation whose chief political and military backer is Iran – whose leader is a holocaust denier. It is a clerical organisation which ultimately has no interest in a Palestinian state as such but seeks to recreate the Caliphate ( which belongs to Islam’s golden age of philosophy, science art and medicine - an age long past like the age of all religious contstructs). This exceptionalisation of Israel is anti-enlightenment. It is spiralling political debate and practice into the most obscurantist period of history. It is replacing politics by religion of the most mindless variety (is there any other?). As a traitor of the Jews I am also an atheist – and therefore opposed to Jewish religious practice in any guise. But who are paraded (like puppets) at the head of marches organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign? It is (male) members of the Naturei Karta sect. Sure these people are opposed to Israel. Why? Because the messiah, the real one, the Jewish one, has yet to arrive – and until he arrives then a Jewish state is sacrilege! When he (these people sure are not looking for a female messiah) arrives then doubtless Naturei Karta members will be queuing up for their share of Kalashnikovs, will be training in the art of suicide bombings and will be promising each other their allocation of virgins in heaven or other such comparable inducements (an indefinite supply of bagels and lox?) and may even be piloting planes into the architecture of Manhatten (“we can do it for you cheap – we use only low cost airlines”). I joke because the only alternative is to throw up and be sick. And all this identification with religious obscurantism is supposed to pass as modern politics? And all this lauding of religious fundamentalism is supposed to be beyond criticism?
As an opponent of Israel I will not exceptionalise Israel And as an opponent of Zionism I do not, will not, demonise Zionism. Demonisation reverts to the popular inspired myths of medieval Europe. It is the dark side of theology – and ultimately there is no other side. It is anti secular. It is anti Semitism. Jew as the hidden hand of history. Jew as the devil. Jew as the killer of god. The demonisation of zionism simply transfers this to the killer of all god’s people. It is the twenty first century equivalent of the blood libel accusation – the Jew as the murderer of Christian children and the drinker of their blood in order to acquire super-natural powers.. This fantastic accusation has been responsible for a thousand years of pogroms. As Lenny Bruce used to joke – don’t the statute of limitations apply here? Just as the Jew of medieval Europe (and then Nazi Europe – there is a direct line) was depicted as all powerful, as being in possession of life’s secret mysteries, mysteries inaccessible to mere mortals but which determine the life and death (usually death) of all mortals- so Zionism is depicted as a supra national force, more powerful politically than any other force on earth, and the cause of all war – from Iraq,to Afghanistan. Next stop Iran! And it doesn’t need to this in its own name! It operates as the modern hidden hand – manipulating the lesser powers of Yankee and British imperialism. Armageddon in the New York sun? The destruction of the modern pyramids of the Twin Towers? None of this would have happened if zionism wasn’t occupying the West Bank. This is the hidden hand twice removed. And the hidden hand operates under a supposed central zionist ideological imperative – namely that Jews are a superior people, the real master race (in fact whatever the undoubted material wrongs done to the Palestinians, Zionism – unlike many other nationalisms – does not contain any such premise) If only Zionism would disappear then peace would reign on earth. The Messiah would have returned (the Christian one – the Jewish one hasn’t yet been)! I’m tempted to say to my supposedly secular comrades in a paraphrase of the only language they appear to understand, biblical language (the language of the “New”, not the “Old”, Testament), “Forgive them Marx they know not what they do- or say”
As an opponent of Israeli nationalism I will not be party to another calumny. One which puts the Zionist, the Jew, in league with what might accurately be described as the actual satanic force of our own age – Hitlerism. – in order to validate the establishment of the future state of Israel. However show me the evidence of ziomist co-operation/collaboration (there is a difference) with the Nazis! I’ve seen it. I believe it. Use Lenni Brenner’s “Zionism in the age of dictators” as your bible. I’m not going to advocate burning it . For the sake of my argument – the argument that many unpleasant zionists said or did many unpleasant things - I’m prepared to believe every dot and comma (though in practice he gets many dots and commas wrong). And the rot set in well before Nazism. Quiz time. Who told a Berlin audience in March 1912 that “each country can absorb only a limited number of Jews, if she doesn’t want disorders in her stomach. Germany already has too many Jews”? No, not Adolf Hitler but Chaim Weizmann, later President of the State of Israel. As an opponent of immigration controls this is hardly a position I’m going to support. But then Weitzman was a Zionist, it defined his political essence. You would hardly have expected him to have said otherwise. I’m not a zionist and it doesn’t define my politics.
Again there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you can say or evidence that you can produce which will force me into denying the conduct of some Zionists (and non Zionists) during the holocaust itself. Why should I deny it if it is true? Am I responsible for it? Of course not. No more than you are. Did the revisionist (right wing) Zionist Jacobs Gen collaborate (there is no other word) with the Nazis in becoming the overseer of the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania? For sure. Did he have fellow-collaborators who were constituted as the Judenrat – the local Jewish leadership installed by the Nazis? Absolutely correct. Did Gens turn in to the Nazis the leader of the Vilna underground resistance, Yitzhak Wittenberg? Yes. Were there the equivalent of Gens in other ghettos. No doubt. I can give as yet another example Adam Czerniakow, President of the Association of Jewish Artisans, who headed the Warsaw Judenrat. Chaim Rumkowski of Lodz was perhaps unique in being referred to as “King Chaim” by his ‘subjects’ (the Nazis would have described him somewhat differently) and putting his portrait on the ghetto post Were Judenrats established in other ghettos? Definitely. With similar betrayals? Doubtless . Let us forget for the moment the ghettos (though the memory of their resistance needs to be preserved). Did Rudolf Kastner, a leading Hungarian Zionist, do a deal with Adolf Eichmann in June 1944 where the Jewish elite were allowed to escape to Switzerland for a substantial sum of money – leaving another half million trapped under the Nazi jackboot, most to perish at Auschwitz-Birkenau? This is central to Jim Allen’s play Perdition. It happened. Was part of the deal the concealment by Kastner of Eichmann’s plans to transport the Hungarian Jewish masses to their murder? This is a matter of legitimate and genuine historic controversy. But of Kastner I’m prepared to believe about anything. Want to mire yourself further in the role of Kastner and similar figures? Read “Perfidy” by his American contemporary, the Hollywood screen writer Ben Hecht. OK forget this stuff. Why don’t we talk about the Kapos? The concentration camp inmates used to control the other inmates. You needn’t lecture us Jews on the perfidy of collaboration. We have become experts in it (and resisting it).
What does all this show? What does it prove? One thing it absolutely does not prove is the one thing that it is continually cited as proving – that the Nazis and the Zionist formed some unholy bond. I use the word “unholy” because only the mindset of medieval European theological obscurantism can do justice to the assertion. The supposed bond was not just that in some ways both were nationalist movements. The supposed bond was not just that in some way they both shared a common aspiration – the Nazis didn’t want Jews in Europe and the Zionists wanted them in Palestine. Even these assertions are grotesque caricatures. There was absolutely no symmetry between Nazism and Zionism. Crucially (again I use the language of the cross deliberately) the former didn’t want Jews simply out of Europe – they wanted them out of the world. Indeed given the Nazis mad apocalyptic view of Jewish domination they wanted them out of the universe. It does not require anti-Zionists to (correctly) point out that in the event of a Nazi victory then Palestine would have been no safe haven. No! The real supposed bond that (mis)informs this discourse was that both the Nazis and the Zionists wanted the holocaust and in some way (the way of the hidden hand) they actually joined together in creating it – the Nazis because they hated/despised/feared Jews and the Zionists because they were prepared to go to any lengths/sink to any depths to see created a Jewish state. Once more I can only scream out against such an assertion “Forgive them they do not know what they say”.
Like all accusations of Blood Libel the idea that the Zionists were a party to engineering the holocaust is a lie. Simply that. A lie. But then Jews are used to being assailed with lies – not least in respect to the holocaust. What about the lie that Jews went like sheep to their slaughter? Kind of misses out on the fact that until 1944 the only civilian uprisings against the Nazis took place in the ghettos – of which the Warsaw ghetto uprising was only the biggest. The real truth is the truth of the non-Jewish sheep who observed passively the bloody construction and then the even more bloody deconstruction of each ghetto. However the assertion that Zionists were actively instrumental in the genocide is the biggest lie since the lies spread by Nazis about the Jews and these were the biggest lies popularised since medieval Europe. Actually if there were added together all anti-semitic lies of the last thousand years they probably could not equate to the accusation that the Zionists wanted/wishes/willed the destruction of six million of their compatriots in order to realise their own political project. It is insane. And it is promulgated openly by people on the left who in my opinion are politically insane. Let me give you just one example – if only so you can reflect on the origin of such anti-ideas, such anti-history. In 1988 a certain Ralph Shoenman wrote his “Hidden History of Zionism” – a title itself deliberately reminiscent of the supposed Jewish “hidden hand” of history. The book has a chapter on Zionism and the Jews which itself contains subheadings which jump from “Zionism and Fascism” to “Collaborating with the Nazis” to “Embracing the SS” . This Ralph Shoenman had previously been a founder of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign – in which myself and hundreds of thousands of others asserted ourselves as revolutionaries. Since then Shoenman has developed more and more bizarre conspiracy views – from who killed Kennedy to responsibility for twin towers (according to the internet he believes it was Mosad – the Israeli secret service). Jean Paul Sartre (who played a central role in the international defence of Vietnam) is reported to have said that he was so sickened by Shoenman that he had to gargle after speaking to him. Vomiting would have perhaps been a healthier alternative. When it comes to the Zionist/fascism equation I think it reasonable to say you can always judge an idea by the company it keeps. And I wouldn’t be seen dead with Shoenman. I don’t think you should either.
So what does it show – the quote from Weitzman , the co-operation or collaboration or betrayals of the Kastners, the Gens the Rumkowskis? As a revolutionary Marxist opposed to all these people I’d respond as follows. First as I’ve already hinted they were Israeli nationalists – even before Israel existed. And they represented the full continuum of that nationalism from Left to Right. As such they cut deals, acted without principle, you name it they did it – just like all nationalists. It is the nature of the beast. And nationalism – in my view all nationalism – is a beast – and as such ultimately racist. The difference is that no other nationalism has been demonised in this way. And unlike other nationalisms it has its own unique language of abuse hurled at it. The language is not even racism! It is not even Israeli nationalism! No! It is Zionism! This is not the Zionism of diaspora Jewry in its overwhelming support for the Israeli enterprise (a support which only became the majority position post 1945). No! It is the language of Zionism as itself the pre-eminent global force - as the force that literally controls the globe.
Second the idea that Zionism, or all Zionists, or the majority of Zionists, or all the Zionist leadership, or the majority of the Zionist leadership, collaborated with the Nazis is pathologically, clinically, crazy. It is crazy because many of the leading ghetto fighters were, like it or lump it, Zionists. And they were operating under their various leaderships (most of whom hated each other – but again that is the nature of the beast) of left and Right. I’ve no idea of respective numbers, Zionists, non-Zionists,anti-Zionists. Who cares? The issue lies not numbers. So Abba Kovner who died in 1987 was a famous Israeli poet. He was a Kibbutznik, a member of the Israeli left (MAPAM) and the Youth movement Hashomer Hatzir (Young Guard). He was also a leading partisan in the Vilna ghetto and then when that struggle was lost in the woods outside Vilna. And after the war he and his comrades returned to the killing fields in order to exact vengeance on those Nazis they could find who were responsible for the holocaust. Hardly a great advert for the thesis that Zionists co-operated with Nazis in the holocaust. In the Warsaw ghetto uprising the main resistance force, the ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa or Jewish Fighting Organization or Yidische Kampf Organizatzion) was a united front of mainly left wing Zionists such as Hashomer Hatzair and Poelai Zion and anti-zionist Bundists. However there was also another group of heroic fighters not associated with the ZOB for ideological reasons.These were organised within the ZZW (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy or Jewish Military Union). The ZZW was in essence the armed (anti fascist) defence squad of the most extreme Right-wing of the zionist movement –the self styled Revisionists which post-war found expression in the Irgun (which was responsible in part for the notorious April 1948 massacre in the Palestinian village of Dir Yassin) and later spawned Menachem Begin as Israeli prime Minister in 1977. The fact that the Revisionists would not have hesitated to have attacked/imprisoned/ murdered those of us taking place in this disputation is irrelevant to the present argument. What is relevant is that they fought the Nazis within Nazi controlled Europe. And of course no-one knows, no-one will ever know (because it is hard enough to get into the heads of the living let alone the dead), the number of zionists not affiliated to any organisation who participated in the numerous ghetto uprisings in the numerous ghettos. And Zionist participation in all these uprisings exposes yet another lie – the lie that Zionism views anti-semitism as some form of historical inevitability, rather like disease but a disease to which only Jews are prone, which cannot be resisted but must be accommodated to via the creation of a Jewish homeland which can then operate literally as a cordon sanitaire.. In fact given the historic longevity of anti Semitism, given that Jews are often isolated in opposing it, it often incorrectly has the appearance of inevitability. However the resistance by Zionists to the Nazis exposes as a nonsense the notion that inherent within zionism as a political philosophy is the irresistibility of jew-hatred. I guess what Nazism shows is that Jews can’t do it ( defeat anti-semitism) on their own. But at least don’t eradicate from history their brave attempt to try.
Third there is the question of the actual betrayers – the Kasteners, the Gens the members of the Judenraat. And the Kapos. Well for myself I hope I would have joined the resistance and murdered these bastards where possible. And I hope you would have as well. The closest I got (and it wasn’t close at all) was pissing on the wall of the former headquarters of Jacob Gen’s judenrat in Vilna. But this was in 1997 and it was born out of disgust and the need for a piss. As it happens Kastner was assassinated but only after a long delay – in 1957 in Israel where he had become a national figure in the Labour Party. The motives of the assasnation are themselves unclear – whether it was the anger of the survivor who pulled he trigger (Zeev Eckstein) or the desire of the secret service to keep secret Kastner’s wartime role. However an essential point here is that the role played by all these betrayers was not determined by their Zionist affiliations. Their Zionism was incidental. So Ben Hecht who condemned Kastner was himself a Revisionist Zionist. Lenni Brenner, in looking at the roles of Czerniakow in Warsaw and Rumkowski in Lodz says “They were not, in any way, authorised representatives of the Zionist movement”. In fact he omits to say that Rumkowski had been formally expelled from the Zionist movement just prior to the war but for intra party reasons and there appears to be some historic dispute as to whether Czerniakow actually was a Zionist. By January 1941, the Zionist parties - General Zionists, Revisionists, Right Poalei Zion and Hitachdut - had formed a coalition against Rumkowski. However Brenner then goes on acknowledge that “Not all the councils (judenrat) were headed by Zionists; some were headed by assimilationalist intellectuals or rabbis and even, in one city (Piotrkow), by a Bundist”. So what we are seeing here is not a question of Zionism. It is a question of leadership – or rather the crisis of misleadership. What we are seeing here is the co-option of a (relatively) privileged elite being used to police the mass of the community on behalf of the Nazi overlords. Don’t you recognise this? Is not this the traditional modus operandi of the state in controlling its marginalised members? It didn’t require Nazis to invent it – they just took it to its most extreme form. Social democratic (ie anti-social, anti-democratic) Britain is a master of the technique. Ever since the Jewish masses came here following the 1880s Tsarist pogroms, the British state has backed and encouraged an intermediate layer (in particular the self-proclaimed Board of Deputies of British Jews) to control and depoliticise the community. I have appropriated a Yiddish vocabulary to describe this process – the process of macherism. A macher is a self-appointed leader and collectively these Quislings are the tribe of the macherites. And now is not the British state grooming a Muslim leadership to take on exactly an analogous role – in particular the role of controlling and vetting and policing and depoliticising the angry youth of the community in the name of anti-terrorism? Is not the Muslim Association of Britain the vehicle for the Muslim machers? They and the Board of Deputies of British Jews deserve each other. As individuals some may or may not be prepared to become members of a future judenrat or muslimrat under a fascist regime. I do not know. However what I do know is neither are a front for Zionism
The psychology of our modern machers is one where they exist in order to exercise petty power and accumulate pathetic “honours”. They don’t even recognise themselves for the puppets that they are. Called Cohen or Khalid? We despise you! But want to become a Sir or a Lord? Well declare yourself a self-elected leader! Control your own community! Macherism in Nazi occupied Europe raises far more acute moral and philosophical issues which foolish anti-zionists simply ignore. The issues are more acute because the situation was far more grave. Ignoring them means ignoring the real plight of the Jews abandoned to their own fate in the Nazi Gotterdammerung. I am not unaware of the sharp moral dilemmas posed by and for even members of the judenrats – some of whom did not choose to be members but were forced to do so by the Nazis. Retrospective moral judgement can become all too easy. Maybe the Czerniakows and Rumkowskis and all the other machers were into power and prestige whilst “their” ghettos burned around them. Maybe they were just into saving their own skins (as though the Nazis had any regard for their lives! They all died. They were just commodities). What made them the enemy of the Jews. What made them worthy of being assasinated was, as far as I’m concerned, for essentially three reasons. First they were to a greater or lesser extent continually prepared to surrender Jewish lives. Second they were only “elevated” to their status in order to disrupt the activities of the ghetto partisans and to betray the ghetto fighters. Third they did have a choice, however difficult for those forced into becoming judenrat members – and this was to join the ghetto resisters. Again I am quite prepared to accept that there was often a big difference in the behaviour of the ghetto machers – and the extent of their moral responsibility differed. For instance Czerniakow seems to have been the most genuine and tormented of all these characters. When the mass deportations from Warsaw to Treblinka death camp began in July 1942 he committed suicide rather than be a party to them – his suicide note read “I can no longer bear all this. My act will prove to everyone what is the right thing to do."(in spite of this Czerniakow was condemned by Emmanual Ringelblum, the brave historian of the Warsaw ghetto who was executed by the Nazis ) Moreover I am quite prepared to accept as truthful their own justifications for their actions. This was that they were actually trying to save lives . The same justification appears time and time again – it is better that a thousand should die (or in the case of Kastner –half a million should die) so that a hundred should survive (such apologias clearly are inapplicable to the camp Kapos – most of whom were anyhow not even Jewish let alone Zionists). Personally I find such an exercise repulsive. Who chooses the thousand? Who chooses the hundred? But…. where do you stand on this one? Imagine you yourself or someone close to you were chosen as one of the hundred? What would you have done? I can’t say what I would have done. Hopefully still assassinated the macher making the choices. Because in the end I am one hundred per cent for the ghetto fighters against the machers. But I don’t know what I would have done if, for instance, my children had been one of the hundred.. However the point here is that these people, these machers, were not revolutionary proletarians. Their world view was not one of resistance, of struggle ,from below. Rather it was one of doing deals from above. So they did deals. This was their class role, which to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Malvalio, they were born into, assumed or had thrust on them. So why expect otherwise? But what is for sure – these deals were not cut in furtherance of zionism. To assert otherwise is anti-Semitic slander. On the other hand many of the ghetto fighters were Zionists. So to assert that Zionism rejects struggle against anti-semitism is another slander.
So can I ask you another “what if” question? What if you had been a Jew in Germany/Checkoslovakia/Poland – in fact anywhere in Europe – after the Nazis first came to power in Germany and then proceeded to annex/conquer everything around them? Completely isolated by the historic defeat of the workers movement (thanks to Stalinist betrayals) what would you have done? And even if you weren’t a Jew then what would you suggest Jews should have done? For myself I think (depending where I was living) I would have had to acknowledge that the battle was lost. Resistance by Jews alone was not going to overturn the Nazi monster. Like today’s refugees I would have probably sought escape – and indeed advocated mass escape. Certainly I would not have criticised those who took this position (tragically they were shown to have been historically correct). However there was just one problem. Even at a time when the Nazis may have been prepared to allow such exit yet every other state in the world was imposing immigration controls against Jews. There was no escape route available! Leon Trotsky in his autobiography (My Life) has a chapter entitled “On a planet without a visa” – describing politically and graphically his attempt to secure a refugee visa after he had escaped the Soviet Union. Under the Nazi yoke, or the soon to be impending Nazi yoke, millions were to find themselves on this earth without a visa. A Jew in Germany in May 1939? Fancy a trip to Cuba that might even turn into a world cruise! Then welcome aboard the SS St Louis. Appropriate initials – SS. A private vessel, the St Louis flew the Nazi flag. But at least lives will be saved! Except Cuba , in reneging on a previous promise, refused entry to the passengers. So did the Dominican Republic. So did the USA. As did every country on the planet with a port. So the ship turned round – to disembark the Jews back in Germany. A two-way journey back to hell. Just imagine it. Some passengers imagined it – and jumped overboard to their suicide. Others, lead by Aaron Pozner, staged a failed mutiny. Eventually the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee managed to generate enough publicity so that Britain, France, Holland and Belgium took about one quarter each of the 800 passangers. Many of these who disembarked in the last three countries perished after their subsequent Nazi takeover. On this planet without a visa for Jews there was one possibility of flight – to Palestine. Palestine was then of course under the colonial boot of Britain – which exercised immigration controls there against Jews there as it did in the UK itself. However there was the possibility of clandestine help from other Jews. I would have had no hesitation in seeking refuge there – or helping others get there. I have been to meetings where I have been told this was politically wrong. Wrong because it is the role of socialists to fight oppression where they find it – not flee from it, and not flee from it even where it is irresistable. Well, that would avoid all solidarity with today’s refugees. Wrong because it was and is somehow morally indefensible for a European to assume a right of entry into a “third world” country. Why? Who wrote this text book? I’m for a world without borders. A world where in the 1930s what was required was proletarian solidarity – given by Palestinians as well as Jews – to those seeking refuge in Palestine. Maybe some or many Palestinian workers did offer such solidarity. I don’t know the history. But I also know that as a communist I would have entered Palestine not as a coloniser but with a communist political programme – the same programme of Jewish/Palestinian proletarian unity that I advocate today. In the 1930s this would have meant unity against the Zionist leadership, against the absentee Palestinian landlord class, against the Mufti of Jerusalem and his open support for Hitler and against the British occupying forces. What would you have done my anti-zionist friends?
The slanders directed against Zionism, either directly or by default, are endless. It is impossible to deal with them all. But here are just more. Some nationalists actually did support the Nazis politically. Others fought alongside them. Even others were party directly to the holocaust. However these were not Zionists! The most vicious and most powerful was undoubtedly the Ustasa movement which ran the puppet State of Croatia (and many of today’s Croatian leadership continue to act as Ustasa apologists). And of course there was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni and his followers. Al-Husayni, a leading Palestinian nationalist, met with Hitler personally during the holocaust. He was instrumental in forming specifically Muslim Waffen SS units in the Balkans. The largest was probably the Bosnian 13th "Handschar" division of over 21,000 men. The list of his crimes appears infinite. But the point I am making here is that none of this perfidy has ever called into question the inherent justice of Croation, Bosnian or Palestinmian nationalism. And I’m certainly not arguing that it should. – as far as I’m concerned nationalism can stand or fall on its own terms and these obviously need not be fascistic. What I am arguing is that the double standards at play are fantastic. Zionism is condemned as illegitimate for somehow supporting the Nazi enterprise – which it never did. Other nationalisms, or other nationalist leaders, which did support the holocaust are continued to be seen as legitimate.
And this brings me to another highly dubious point. I am being told more and more that it is politically incorrect to designate this Nazi genocide of the Jews as “the” holocaust. Instead it should simply be called “a” holocaust. Personally for myself I do not mind whether you use a “the” or a “a”. All that I am concerned about is the murder of six million Jews. I am well aware, and equally concerned about, other genocides both under Nazi Germany (of countless gypsies, trade unionists, lesbians, gay men, communists, disabled people….), historically (death through the slave trade, deliberate genocide of the American Indian, Turkish massacre of the Armenians, Stalinist atrocities…) and unto the present (Rwanda, Somalia…). Historically Jews themselves have suffered a thousand years of European pogroms many of which may legitimately be referred to as holocausts (where does one finish and the other start?). So for myself language is irrelevent. Except the challenge to language can itself be highly political. And what concerns me about the emphasis on refering to what happened to Jewry under the Nazis as “a” holocaust is the hidden accusation that Zionists have somehow magnified, exaggerated, inflated (as though any of this were possible) what happened to Jews in order to justify the creation of an illegitimate entity – Israel. At the same time this attack on language seems to be suggesting that Jews are claiming for themselves a unique victimhood. Well, for me, this simply reproduces the dark and medieval image of the “squealing” Jew. I would personally be prepared to argue that what happened to Jewry under fascism was pretty unique. But so what? The idea that Jews have been politically or genetically programmed for victimhood is just another myth. As a Jew I also know something else. Ask all Jews in the world whether they would surrender Israel if retrospectively the events under Nazism could be undone -if the/a holocaust could miraculously be undone. I bet most, maybe all, would gladly give up Israel. But the/a holocaust did happen. And therefore so did Israel.
The Chairperson has passed me a note – “wind up, only 5 minutes left”. I’ve seen a thousand in my lifetime. Anyhow this debate is only imaginery. But I’ll conclude on two points which I hope are provocative (what’s the point of exchanging truisms?). First I take it as axiomatic that the state of Israel would not have come into existence without the holocaust – it was the holocaust that legitimised (vindicated) its need. And its need was as a refuge from anti Semitism. Of course (and unfortunately) most Jews who sought refuge were not communists. Workers unity has not(yet) materialised. The Palestinians have suffered a terrible wrong. However this terrible wrong should not conceal another truth. This is the uniquely contradictory nature of Zionism – unique because as far as I can see it exists no where else. In fact Zionism contains within itself its own contradiction. And it is this contradiction which renders it such an emotional as well as political firecracker (I know of no other political area where the emotions get raised so high on both sides). On the one hand Zionism is undoubtedly, unquestionably racist towards the Palestinians. Which is why I’m an anti-Zionist. On the other hand it is seen, and I think correctly seen, by most Jews as anti-racist. It is anti-racist in that it was and is a response by Jews to extricate themselves from the racism of anti-semitism. Maybe not your way of fighting racism. Maybe not mine. But anti-racist nonetheless. And the majority of Jews in the world today view Israel as a “bolt-hole” were Nazism to arise again. It is in response to this political contradiction that I have started to assume the somewhat novel self-description of being an “anti-zionist Zionist”. I am an anti-zionist like no other (maybe I exaggerate) in that I refuse to accept anti-zionist myths and untruths. I am a Zionist unlike no other (here I don’t exaggerate) in that I am opposed to the state of Israel. The only way out of this contradiction – a political contradiction not one of my personal pathology – is the unity of Palestinian/Jewish workers within Palestine/Israel combined with a relentless fight against anti Semitism internationally.
My final point is to emphasise my role as a traitor. I no longer see any point in being Jewish. And I aim to give up on it. Not that I feel bad about being a Jew. Just the opposite. Rather I want to become the sort of Jew the anti-Semites warn us against. The cosmopolitan of no fixed identity. .And I hope you are willing to surrender your own tribal/ethnic/nationalist/religious identities allegiances. Join me as a traitor to your own traditions. Become cosmopolitans! What I mean by this is that the one phenomenon which in my experience renders this whole debate impossible is communalism. It is the communalism which says (if you are Jewish) – Jew right or wrong. Or if you are Muslim it says – Muslim right or wrong (or if you are Christian it says – fuck you two suckers, we always win anyway). Let me tell you a terrible but true and recent story. I read of a Jewish couple in ,I think, London that adopted a child. This was a right-wing Zionist couple. A couple who raised the child to be explicitly racist about and towards Palestinians. When the child grew older he went on a voyage of discovery in search of his birth parents. He discovered them. They were Muslims. And anti-Semites. He has now become an anti -Semite. In the face of this nonsense I want to become unJewish - a person of the world. However to become unJewish means first working through a Jewish identity in order to unidentify.. It is all I know. It is my bedrock. The positive image I have is bouncing on a trampoline called “Jewish”. I bounce higher and higher until one day I bounce beyond the power of gravity and become a free-floating human. We should all try it – Jews, Muslims whoever. It sure would make the world a far more energetic place.
Of course this notion of divestment of identity through self-volition is on one level playing with paradoxes. But they are politically important paradoxes. I am constantly shocked by meeting Jewish chauvinists (Jews right or wrong) or Muslim chauvinists (Muslims right or wrong) when their political positions come solely from accident of birth. Again the allusion to trampolines is a fantasy, an image. But (unlike the preposterous notion of yogic flying) I think that politically it is a significant image. However can I bring it back to earth with a very political suggestion. We all agree that anti-semitism and anti-Ziomism should be separate. I have tried as best I can to show that unfortunately they now have become so intertwined as to appear inseparable. The real political task – and one which should unite us all – is to separate them once again. I think that paradoxically the only way to achieve this is to bring together the two issues that underlay both – that is the struggle for Palestinian liberation and the struggle against Jew hatred. I’m suggesting a solidarity movement be built on this basis. In my view such a movement would by definition exclude those across the present huge “communal divide” who adopt either an “Israel right or wrong” or “we are all Hizbullah now” positions. It would challenge the Islamaphobes and the anti-semites (many of whom exist outside the present communal divides) It would allow for the freeing up of the debate in the streets and not just in meetings like this.
In conclusion can I quote another story which may or may not be true. It concerns Noel Coward, the very English actor and playwrite. Who was gay. And apparently an anti-semite. He had a lesbian friend. Who was also an anti-semite. At the end of the war there was discovered and released a “black book” the Nazis had prepared. This named those who would be first exterminated on a successful invasion of the UK. Of course the majority were Jews. But it also included Coward and his lesbian friend. And it is she who is reputed to have said to him “Darling – you wouldn’t believe who we would have been seen dead with”. I’ve thought for a long time what this means. And of course what it means politically is the need for unity. Political unity. Unity in struggle against reaction of all sorts. Without unity we are all eventually doomed to enter into the pages of the next black book.