By Stan Crooke
In November of last year the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) hosted Gilad Atzmon at one of their fund-raising events. Apart from being a renowned jazz musician, Atzmon is also well-known for his own brand of anti-semitism.
Atzmon has variously claimed, for example, that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany (“Israel is the ultimate evil rather than Nazi Germany”), that Jews control the world (“American Jews (in fact Zionists) do control the world”), and that Jews are Christ-killers (“the Jews were responsible for the killing of Jesus”).
Now the SPSC is intending to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (27th January) by staging readings in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee from Jim Allen’s play “Perdition”.
According to Allen, who died in 1999, his play was “the most lethal attack on Zionism ever written, because it touches at the heart of the most abiding myth of modern history, the Holocaust. Because it says quite plainly that privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel, a state which is itself racist.”
This was not a one-off comment by Allen. In later interviews with journalists about “Perdition” he claimed that all over wartime Europe “Jews were massacred because their leaders covered up for the Nazis.”
“Perdition” purports to be the dramatisation of a (real) libel case in Israel in the mid-1950s. The trial involved Rudolf Kastner, a Zionist leader in war-time Hungary, and Malchiel Grunwald, an Austrian Jew who had emigrated to Palestine in the late 1930s.
The latter had accused Kastner of having collaborated with the Nazis in the run-up to their extermination of Hungarian Jewry in 1944. A lower court found in favour of Grunwald, but this was overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.
In fact, “Perdition” is a poor-quality dramatisation of one the themes of the anti-semitic campaign launched by the Soviet government in the late 1960s: that Zionism collaborated with Nazism, that Zionism and Nazism were twins, and that Israel is a product of Nazi-Zionist collaboration.
Allen simply used the Kastner-Grunwald libel case as the ‘peg’ on which to hook the Stalinist and anti-semitic theme of ‘Nazism equals Zionism equals Israel’.
(Stalinist ‘anti-Zionism’ was simply traditional anti-semitism dressed up in the language of ‘anti-imperialism’. For more information on the Soviet anti-semitic campaign, including quotes relevant to the theme of “Perdition”, see http://www.workersliberty.org/node/1748)
In summing up the play’s central argument, for example, one character talks of “the Zionist knife in the Nazi fist” and claims: “To save your hides, you (Zionists) practically led them (Jews) to the gas chambers of Auschwitz".
Elsewhere in the play, characters use more traditional anti-semitic imagery, such as references to “all-powerful American Jewry” and “Jews in fur-lined bunkers hurling money”, in order to press home the attack on Zionism. The play also contains a fair few references to Golgotha and the crucifixion of Christ, such as the barrister’s congratulation after cross-examination of Kastner: “you crucified him”.
“Perdition” was first due to be performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in early 1987. But, at the last minute, the theatre cancelled the production.
The Royal Court denied that the play was anti-semitic or inaccurate – although, according to the historian Martin Gilbert, it contained 60 factual inaccuracies – and accepted only that its production would cause distress to “sections of the community.”
“Perdition” was subsequently performed in Edinburgh in the summer of the same year. A leaflet distributed by “Socialist Organiser”, as the AWL was then called, defended the performance of the play – the Royal Court had certainly been put under some pressure to call off the play’s production – but also argued that the play contained anti-semitic language, and that the play’s politics constituted ‘left anti-semitism’.
In 1999 “a significantly rewritten version” of the play was performed by the Gate Theatre in London. Allen was still alive at the time and participated in the changes made to his play. In 2004, courtesy of the SPSC, “Perdition” was performed in Edinburgh. And now, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, the SPSC has brought it back for an encore.
The 1999 version of the play is a slightly ‘cleaned up’ version of the original.
Some (but apparently not all) of the anti-semitic imagery has been deleted from the 1999 version. The 1999 version also gives Kastner (the character Yaron in the play) more arguments with which to defend himself – the original version had read like the script of a Moscow show trial.
And whereas the original “Perdition” had been silent on Zionist opposition to the Nazis, the 1999 version recognises – in a magnificent concession to reality – that Zionists did fight the Nazis.
But that does not alter the basic argument of the play: “…privileged Jewish leaders collaborated in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel.” That’s what Allen set out to demonstrate in the play. And that’s why the Gilad-Atzmon-cheerleaders of the SPSC are staging readings from it to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
The official Holocaust Memorial Day website carries an advert for the readings of “Perdition”. (It appears to be the case that anyone organising a commemorative event can paste up their own publicity.) The advert reads:
“Jim Allen's acclaimed play 'Perdition': a devastating work which reveals the extent of the collaboration between the victims and the perpetrators of the Holocaust in Hungary towards the end of the 'Final Solution' has been hounded and suppressed for over 20 years.”
Wrong as it was for the Royal Court not to have gone ahead with its performance in 1987, the play has not been “hounded and suppressed” for the past two decades. In 1999 and 2004, for example, its performances went ahead without incident (apart from some leafleting of the 1999 performance by the Union of Jewish Students).
“Perdition” is neither “devastating” nor “acclaimed”. The fact that the 1999 version had to be “significantly rewritten” is itself an admission of how very ‘un-devastating’ the original version was. And the only people who have actually “acclaimed” the play are various fascists, neo-Nazi historical revisionists, and sections of the left. This hardly amounts to a popular acclamation.
As for the reference to “collaboration between the victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust”, one has to assume that the author of the website advert believes not only that Kastner collaborated with the Nazis but also that 400,000 Hungarian Jews also collaborated with the Nazis in their own murder.
Allen’s “Perdition” is not the only play to have been written about the Kastner trial. Two years before “Perdition” was first performed Motti Lerner’s “Kastner” was performed in Tel Aviv. It won that year’s Play of the Year award. 300,000 people in total turned up to watch performances of it.
A three-part television drama (“Kastner’s Trial”), based on Lerner’s play, was later produced by Israeli Television and won the Israeli Academy Award for that year’s best television drama. The same year Lerner won the Prime Minister of Israel’s Award for Writers.
(Anyone who thinks that “Perdition” deals with some dark secret which has been “suppressed” up the “Zionist juggernaut” (Allen’s expression) is clearly barking up the wrong tree.)
Lerner’s play deals with the same issue as Allen’s, in the sense that it too deals with Kastner’s trial. Why – in the ‘Zionist entity’ of all places – did it not provoke the controversy which Allen’s play caused?
The answer is simple. Lerner’s play is genuine drama. It deals with a moral dilemma, and with moral (and immoral) choices, in the situation of Nazi-occupied Hungary in 1944. As one of the Supreme Court judges put in delivering his verdict on Kastner’s appeal:
“A most difficult task has been imposed upon us in this appeal – to scrutinize deeds and occurrences which seem to have happened on a different planet, and to pronounce judgment on the behaviour of men, hovering in the claws of Satan himself. . . . Are we capable – as fallible human beings – of sitting in judgment on the moral or immoral actions done by Kastner?"
Allen’s “Perdition”, however, is something quite different. Allen misses out all the complexities of the trial and of Kastner’s situation in Hungary in 1944. He sets up Kastner to be found guilty in order to graft onto that guilt his own crazy ideas about “privileged Jewish leaders collaborating in the extermination of their own kind in order to help bring about a Zionist state, Israel.”
Not the least of the idiocies in Allen’s argument is that it fails to take on board the fact that the allegations against Kastner both before and during the libel trial were made by a defendant and a lawyer who were every bit as much Zionists as Kastner.
Grunwald was a member of the Mizrahi, which later became the National Religious Party. The lawyer in the trial, Shmuel Tamir, was a Zionist Revisionist who later became a founding member of Likud, and also a cabinet minister in Begin’s government.
“Perdition” therefore not only requires its audience to believe that Zionists helped the Nazis to murder six million Jews in order win a state for themselves, but also that the Zionists then conducted a court case in Israel in order to expose and prove … that they had helped the Nazis to murder six million Jews!
The SPSC’s decision to ‘commemorate’ Holocaust Memorial Day by staging readings from “Perdition” has been criticised by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). A fortnight ago the SWP’s paper printed a letter from two SWP members in Glasgow criticising the SPSC’s decision. This week an SWP member in Dundee resigned from her officer’s positions in the SPSC over the issue.
But the SWP’s concerns are tactical rather than ones of principle. Although the SWP’s official line is that it is inaccurate to talk about Zionist-Nazi collaboration, the SWP has always defended “Perdition” for showing what Zionism is ‘really’ all about. The SWP’s current argument is that there is nothing wrong with “Perdition” itself, but staging readings from it to mark Holocaust Memorial Day is … insensitive.
No such reservations, however, are to be found in the article on “Perdition” contained in the current issue of “Scottish Socialist Voice”, the paper of the Socialist Party (SSP). Despite all the criticisms of the play which have been made on the SSP’s electronic discussion forum, the article is totally uncritical.
According to the article – to be more precise: one of the participants in the play’s readings, who is quoted without challenge throughout the article – the original Royal Court performance was cancelled “under huge pressure from the Zionist lobbies.” Holocaust Memorial Week is described as “precisely the right time” to perform readings from the play.
If Jim Allen was still alive, the article continues, then he could sue over claims that he had been careless with the truth. (But such claims were publicly voiced twelve years before Allen died – without the initiating of any legal action.)
Most ludicrous of all, the article states that a round-table discussion about “Perdition” will be attended by “representatives of the Jewish community.” The “representatives” in question are in fact members of the very unrepresentative “Jews Against Zionism”.
The main target of criticism in this controversy should be the SPSC itself and what must be a calculated decision on its part to cause maximum provocation by staging readings from “Perdition” as a way of ‘commemorating’ Holocaust Memorial Day. (To condemn the SPSC for doing so is not to deny them their right to stage such readings.)
At the same time, however, the uncritical article in the “Voice” also brings to a head the question of the paper’s less than spotless record in dealing with allegations of Zionist campaigns and ‘conspiracies’.
In June of 2005, for example, a conference of the AUT (now UCU) trade union voted to drop its recently adopted policy of boycotting Israeli academics. That reversal of policy was due to work by “Engage” other grass roots campaigners, and debates amongst the membership.
The “Voice”, however, carried an article giving a very different explanation for the union’s decision: it was “the culmination of a major Zionist campaign to reverse the policy.” Not an iota of evidence was offered in support of this assertion regarding “a major Zionist campaign”.
In December of the same year the “Voice” carried an article containing the following allegations:
“If a journalist or columnist working for the corporate media attempts to tell the truth about the murderous Israeli state then you will face a behind-the-scenes backlash from the pro-Zionist lobby. This Zionist lobby’s hysterical and often illegal backlash tries to marginalise or even break outspoken critics of the state of Israel – by whatever foul and corrupt means they have at their disposal. …”
”This is why I now have absolute contempt – not just for the professional Zionist lobby and the murderous Israeli security services – but also the servile editors and management of ‘The (Glasgow) Herald’ newspaper who caved in completely to the economic/political threats of these fascistic bullyboys.”
“As a result – during 2003 for instance, when the Iraq War was about to kick off – ‘The Herald’ editors were so afraid of their own corporate paymasters and Zionist friends that they refused to print every letter I sent to them. … ‘The Herald’, like the Israeli state, can go fuck themselves.”
The following issue of the paper carried just one letter criticising the article – not from any member of the SSP, but from the Acting Editor of the “Herald”, who rightly pointed out: “His rant about ‘Zionist paymasters’ reads like something from a BNP circular.”
(By way of contrast, when the “Voice” carried a positive review of Neil Davidson’s Marxist analysis of the Treaty of Union, “Discovering the Scottish Revolution”, subsequent issues of paper carried a stream of denunciatory letters from members of the SSP.)
In February of this year, when controversy erupted over some cartoons of Mohammed published by a Danish newspaper, the “Voice” carried an article explaining that it was all an Israeli plot:
“The publication of these cartoons has been carefully orchestrated worldwide by the subversive operatives of US and Israeli imperialism in cahoots with the millionaire owners of these right wing newspapers. …”
“America and Israel are gearing up for an imminent military strike against Iran and the publication of these cartoons has been part of the pre-war propaganda offensive. Which is why, rather than abstentionism, I feel protests should have been directed against Israeli and American embassies, not Danish ones.”
The equating of Zionists/Israelis with Nazis has also featured in articles in the “Voice”. According to an article published in September of last year, for example, “Israel is doing to the civilian populations of Gaza and Lebanon what Hitler’s armies did to the civilian population of the Soviet Union.”
In an article published the following month a description of the killings at Deir Yassin during the Arab-Israel War of 1948/49 concluded with the following comment: “It could come from an eyewitness report of Nazi atrocities perpetrated against Jews in Europe just three years previously. Only the Muslim names give you the clue that this happened in Palestine, and that the perpetrators were Jewish.”
(According to the same article: “The history of the Israel/Palestine conflict is not complex at all; it is simple and abominable.” It’s certainly simple by the time the “Voice” has finished with it!)
None of these article are statements of SSP policy. They are what they are: examples of articles written over a period of months by various individuals. But they certainly suggest a failure to get to grips with modern anti-semitism, especially ‘left anti-semitism’.
And the article about “Perdition” in the current issue of the paper confirms that failure in a particularly blatant form.
For anyone who wants to know what the Kastner trial was actually all about, the trial and Kastner’s role in wartime Hungary are discussed in detail in the following articles