Hitler and “Zionism”

Ken Livingstone’s (ill-advised) references to Hitler and Zionism have led to much (negative) comment – due to ignorance.  So my childhood recollections of debates about, before and shortly after the creation of the state of Israel may have contemporary interest.

Firstly my background: I was born into a committed anti-fascist family whose social circle included numerous Jewish socialists. As a child I presumed that all Jews were anti-racist and socialist (Leo Abse, for example, was a close family friend). It was not until I went to University (1952) that I learnt otherwise.

Prior to the creation of Israel I recall heated discussions about the merits of a “Jewish homeland” and learnt that this “Zionist” vision was controversial. Most Jewish socialists (in our family circle) visualised their future in a socialist Britain and to them “Zionism” was a ‘cop-out’ – a way to avoid struggle against the British ruling class who were using anti-semitism to divide the working class.

Against that backdrop, Hitler’s “offer” to relocate Jews in Palestine (yes, it did occur –  but it was not out of concern for their plight but for money and property) reinforced their distrust of a Zionist “solution”. [Aside: Hitler’s “offer” was not “support for Zionism” and, apart from placing Hitler and Zionism in the same sentence, Ken Livingstone did not equate the two.]

As I recall, our circle of Jewish socialist friends was unpersuaded that a Jewish homeland would end anti-semitism – but all sympathised with the concept and, indeed, several of my best friends and comrades in my University years planned for a future in a socialist Israel (and did so later).

At that time no-one that I recall – whether of the right or left – anticipated Israel developing in anything other than a socialist direction – all the talk was of socialist-style kibbutz and cooperatives. We expected that Israel would soon become socialist – and when the Soviet Union recognised the new state of Israel (before Britain and the USA) it seemed that we were not alone.

In 1948 it seemed preposterous to suggest that a Jewish state might ally itself with imperialism (as it did in the joint Anglo-French-Israeli attack on Suez). In my teenage years Jews formed a disproportionately high proportion of the membership of the Labour and Communist Parties (and may well do so even today). We expected that, having faced the worst of fascism and racism, Israel would be a standard-bearer for racial tolerance (as South Africa has been since the ending of apartheid). We were wrong.

But, whilst it is an undeniable fact that successive Israeli governments have favoured Jewish immigrants over Palestinians, there are still many good people and socialists in Israel working for harmony between all the peoples living there. It may be academic now but I still don’t accept that Israel’s subjugation of the indigenous peoples was an inevitable outcome of the creation of Israel. “Zionism” was a response to anti-semitism and I still find it difficult to understand why its politicians behave as they do.

I fear, from my reading of numerous examples of history, that those that achieve power by violence virtually always maintain their power with continued violence. Yes – you can put that as an epitaph on my grave.

We are where we are – but Israel is far from being the safe homeland for the Jewish people envisaged by the 19th Century “Zionists”. Adding to the confusion, we also have people who describe themselves as “Christian Zionists” who support Israel but seem to envisage a mass conversion to Christianity one day! For this and several other reasons I try to avoid using “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” in anything I say or write.

“Zionist” for some people has become synonymous as a negative encapsulation of Israeli government policy whilst “anti-Zionist” has become synonymous for others as “anti-Jewish”. Personally I think it highly desirable that we confine its use to the meaning universally understood prior to the creation of Israel.

Returning to Ken Livingstone’s recent remarks, this link is to all his recent statements which have variously been described as “vile”, “anti-semitic” “Nazi apologist”, etc. Whilst I believe he was very ill-advised to mention Hitler, Zionism and anti-semitism in virtually the same breath and clumsy in his words, I fail to see how any of these remarks can be construed as anti-semitic. I do believe that all this synthetic fury, whipped up by “Bitterites” and the anti-Labour media, is simply about undermining Labour and its popular leader.

 

Anti-semitism?

Some years ago, at the height of one of Israel’s bombing raids on Gaza, I visited a cousin who, unlike me, rarely has anything to say on political issues. We share a Jewish ancestry (we are both eligible for Israeli citizenship) but we are not religious (neither Jewish – nor Christian nor Muslim).

So I was astonished to be greeted at her door by: “John – aren’t you ashamed at times to be Jewish?” She, unlike me, through her Jewish ancestry, felt an identification with the state of Israel that I did not. Thinking about this later, I realised that my lifetime of opposition to actions of successive British governments (such as the illegal invasion of Iraq) had freed me from feeling any guilt about what they did. Any “shame” I ever felt has been about our failure to prevent their aggressions.

Although my cousin felt “shame” about the actions of the Israeli government and did identify Israel with her Jewish ancestry, I don’t believe she was expressing anti-semitism by her concern about the bombing of Gaza in this manner. But, the way the news is slanted today, the charge of “anti-semitism” seems to be levelled against anyone voicing concern at the actions of the Israeli government.

It is becoming reminiscent of the McCarthy years. For a more balanced appraisal I commend this statement today from the Jewish Socialists’ Group.

Smears won’t work

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Bereft of arguments, those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn being elected leader of the Labour Party have resorted to smears – accusing him of anti-semitism !

I have known Jeremy for 30+ years and have never heard him utter anything that could be construed as anti-semitic. He has excellent relations with people of all faiths and ethnicity in his own community – which is why his majority has quadrupled over the 30 years he has represented Islington North.

In common with a majority of people and nations throughout the world, Jeremy disagrees with Israeli government policies towards Palestine. This in no way makes him anti-semitic – just as his opposition to the US/UK invasion of Iraq (also in common with most people and nations throughout the world) in no way makes him anti-British.

Letter in the Jewish Chronicle:

Dear Letters Editor

As Jewish constituents of Jeremy Corbyn for nearly two decades we have met him many times, both through his day-to-day work supporting people in his constituency, and through his wider campaigning work, especially in support of migrants and refugees and against racism, fascism and war.

Those who know him personally cannot take seriously the campaign of smears, wild distortions and innuendo against him, through which newspapers such as the Jewish Chronicle, Daily Mail and Sunday Express are trying to paint him as an antisemite or a friend of antisemites.

Memories are depressingly short. In 2013, the Daily Mail, which regularly publishes lurid scare stories about migrants and refugees, tried to undermine the previous Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, in the minds of anti-immigrant readers, by reminding them that Miliband’s father was an East European refugee. Furthermore, it claimed that Miliband senior was disloyal and insufficiently grateful to Britain. In the late 1930s, when Miliband’s family were desperately trying to escape from Nazism, it was the Sunday Express which complained in an editorial “…just now there is a big influx of foreign Jews into Britain. They are over-running the country.”

Last weekend we stood outside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre protesting the inhuman treatment of women detained there. Jeremy Corbyn was the only leadership candidate to send a message of support.

His real crime, of course, in the eyes of the Jewish Chronicle, is that he has been a longstanding supporter of justice for the Palestinians and a negotiated peace based on an end to the occupation.

But as he said in the JW3 hustings recently: “Does questioning the behaviour of the Israeli state towards Palestinians lead to antisemitism? No, it mustn’t and shouldn’t … Whether it’s a synagogue or a mosque under attack we must all come together … as one in confronting it.”

We are proud that our MP has stood for the Labour leadership on a platform of challenging austerity, enhancing democracy, combating racism and giving support and hope to the most vulnerable members of society.

David Rosenberg and Julia Bard