The Distortion Of The Jewish Predicament

The Left does not simply have a perception of zionism as part of a Jewish conspiracy. Rather it grossly minimises the anti-semitism which gave rise to zionism, and completely distorts the Jewish response to anti-semitism. In spite of all its pretensions to the contrary, the Left provides no socialist or revolutionary alternatives to zionism. In essence, it wrongly portrays European Jewish communities as entirely passive in the face of anti-semitism, which is seen as invincible and unavoidable. Instead of struggling against anti-semitism, the Jew allegedly attempts to escape it by colonising Palestine and oppressing the Palestinians. This is the scenario of the Jew as passive victim or homicidal maniac. It has as much to do with political reality as Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde has to do with the reality of schizophrenia. It substitutes impressionism for serious analysis. This sort of approach has a long historical pedigree throughout the Left. Here are some examples:

The classic Marxist critique of zionism was Karl Kautsky's Are The Jews A Race? It is interesting, in the light of later criticisms of zionism, that Kautsky hardly refers to the national rights of the Palestinians. In fact he only mentions them as being an obstacle to the zionist enterprise. His objection is wholly on the grounds that zionism is a retreat from, a passive refusal to fight, anti-semitism. Thus he wrote:

"It is not in Palestine but in Eastern Europe that the destinies of the suffering and oppressed portion of Jewry are being fought out. Not for a few thousand Jews or at most a few hundred thousand but for a population of between eight and ten millions. Emigration abroad cannot help them no matter whither it may be turned. Their destiny is intimately connected with the revolution in their own country".

Similarly, Big Flame talks of the establishment of the Jewish state as being an "accommodation with the oppressor" (Sept. 82).

It is, of course, a principled and correct socialist position to try and struggle, as long as is practicable, against oppression wherever it is found—though it hardly seems correct to put moral blame on the victim for fleeing from it. This book is definitely in favour of Jews staying as long as possible in this country to create a socialist revolution and, hopefully, to defeat anti-semitism. However, most socialists have adopted a position whereby Jews are expected to struggle in impossible situations, to become martyrs, rather than go to Palestine/Israel. Kautsky wrote the above in 1921. By 1939 it had become ironic.

The 'logic' of the statement by Big Flame that the creation of Israel was an "accommodation with the oppressor" is that Jews in Europe should have stayed around before (and during?) the war or returned later to fight anti-semitism. The truth is that no-one put up a serious fight against anti-semitism until it was too late. Germany itself is a classic example—as neither the parties of Stalinism nor of social democracy put up any effective resistance to the Nazis, in spite of the desires of many of their members. In this situation what would Big Flame have expected German Jews to have done (given that every major country imposed restrictions on their entry) other than have tried to get into Palestine? What does Big Flame think of Isaac Deutscher, the renowned Marxist intellectual and life-long opponent of Stalinism, who wondered in 1954:

"If instead of arguing against zionism in the 1920's and 1930's I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have helped some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler's gas chambers" ('Israel's Spiritual Climate' in his collected essays The Non-Jewish Jew).

It is no wonder that many, maybe the majority of Jews, still see Israel as a place of 'last resort' even if they do not consider themselves as zionists.

The Left does not only consider that Jews should martyr themselves, in the face of fascism. It also assumes that zionists will, in any event, martyr themselves by abdicating from the fight against anti-semitism. Thus Kautsky described zionism as something "which amounts practically to a desertion of the colours".

In like manner, Big Flame argues that zionism "means giving up the battle against anti-semitism" (Sept. 1982). The assumption appears to be that Jews are self-ordained victims who will go meekly to their deaths without struggle—or else will lapse physically or metaphysically, into the 'escapism' of the false Jerusalem of Israel. The myth that six million went to their graves like sheep is still prevalent everywhere.

It is actually inconceivable that the Jews could have waged a successful resistance, given their total isolation in the night of the holocaust. It does however, require a profound ignorance to be unaware that much anti-Nazi struggle, both before and during the war, was led by a combination of Bundists (Jewish socialists) and Left zionists. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the first major civil uprising of the war, is just one notable example. There were many others. It is also a complete distortion of the position of zionists in other periods to imply that they simply submitted to anti-semitism. It is the caricature of the Jew as a masochist with an insatiable death wish.

At a time when major sections of the Left in this country were advocating the Aliens Act many zionists actively opposed it, Poale Zion (the workers' zionist movement) for one. At one of their meetings in Whitechapel a resolution was passed:

"This mass meeting declares that Jews must continue to work for their economic and political freedom in the lands of their sojourn" (Jewish Chronicle, 26.5.1905).

The main opposition to immigration control came from Jewish socialists who were anti-zionists. However, it is simply a lie to claim that zionists have a perspective of never resisting anti-semitism. Again, in the 1935 general election a policy statement was issued by the Central Committee of Poale Zion emphasising the need for the Labour Party to join with Poale Zion in the struggle against fascism and anti-semitism (see essay by Knowles in collection of pieces on Racism edited by Robert Miles).

Finally, Big Flame criticises zionists, particularly Theodor Herzl (one of the founders of political zionism) as regarding anti-semitism as timeless and 'inevitable'. Some zionists do certainly think in this way. The Left escapes its responsibility, however, avoiding the critical question of why anti-semitism does appear inevitable to so many Jews. An answer to this would require a more complete analysis of the persistence of anti-semitism throughout different historical epochs and social formations. This has not yet been done by the Left. All that is forthcoming is the repetition of vacuous rhetoric. When reassessing the East European Jewish community of his youth, Isaac Deutscher wrote:

"The anti-zionist urged the Jews to trust their gentile environment, to help the 'progressive forces' in that environment to come to the top and so hope that those forces would effectively defend the Jews against anti-semitism. 'Social revolution will give the Jews equality and freedom. They therefore have no need for a Zionist Messiah'—this was the stock argument of generations of Jewish Left wingers. The zionists on the other hand dwelt on the deep seated hatred of non-Jews and urged the Jews to trust their future to nobody except their own state. In this controversy zionism has scored a terrible victory, one which it could neither wish nor expect; six million Jews had to perish in Hitler's gas chambers in order that Israel should come to life" (Deutscher, 'Israel's Spiritual Climate', The Non-Jewish Jew p.91).

In other words, it is only realistic that the onus should be on us as socialists to prove that anti-semitism is neither inevitable nor invincible.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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