The origins of Zionism: From victims to a watchdog state
- From: "Ben Cramer" <[remove]bencramer7@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2006 17:25:37 +1000
The origins of Zionism:
From victims to a watchdog state
The irony of Israel's recent re-invasion of Palestinian towns in the West
Bank is that its incursions coincided with the anniversary of another
confrontation between a vastly outgunned population and a racist occupying
army - the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 1943, a handful of Jewish socialists
and militants trapped in the crumbling Polish ghetto by the Nazis resolved
to go down fighting, inflicting 'maximum damage' in the process. Today it is
the Palestinian fighters in towns like Jenin, Ramallah and Bethlehem who
best epitomize the spirit of the Warsaw resistance.
The founders of the Israeli state, from its very beginning in 1948, claimed
the legacy of the victims of the Holocaust. Zionists claimed that the aim of
the ghetto fighters was to reach Palestine, and argued that the ghetto
fights demonstrated that Zionism had resisted the Nazis. Both claims were
false. The Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) went out of its way to ensure
that no preparations were made for refuge in the non-Jewish neighbourhoods
of Warsaw, for fear of undermining the fighting spirit of its militants.
While some left-wing Zionists did fight valiantly, the backbone of the
resistance came from the left, most of whom were anti-Zionist Jews.
When ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Ghetto Fights were held
in Poland in 1993, Israeli Zionists refused to take part unless the last
surviving member of the ZOB, Jewish socialist Marek Edelman, was excluded
from the platform. And in a reminder of how little the modern Israeli state
can claim a link to the Jews who stood and fought in the 1940s, an IDF
commander told his fellow officers before the recent onslaught, 'If our job
is to seize a densely packed refugee camp or take over the Nablus
casbah.without casualties on both sides, [we] must before all else analyse
and bring together the lessons of past battles, even.to analyse how the
German army operated in the Warsaw ghetto.'
Israel's recent atrocities are difficult to reconcile with its claim to
represent the descendants of those who suffered the most horrific crime in
the history of capitalism - Hitler's 'final solution'. Some see the recent
events as an aberration, the result of the maniacal militarism of Ariel
Sharon. However, the roots of Israeli aggression run much deeper. Israel is
a colonial project founded upon the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians whose
essential function over many years has been to frustrate - both in its own
interest and on behalf of western imperialism - any attempt at
democratisation in the region. Organized terror on the scale seen in recent
months has been a recurring feature of that effort.
The politics of despair
How could the descendants of the victims of the Holocaust contemplate the
brutality now being inflicted upon Palestinians? The answer lies in the
triumph of Zionism as an ideology that came to dominate the world's Jews in
the aftermath of the Holocaust. Israel's rulers today proclaim the 'Jewish
homeland' as the realisation of a centuries old longing for a return to
Palestine. In actual fact, before the holocaust Zionism remained confined to
a small minority of Jews, the vast majority of Jews (90 percent of whom
resided in Europe and Russia) wished to live in equality in the west. Many
fought alongside non-Jews in the working class movements in central and
Eastern Europe and viewed the Zionists as a crackpot, reactionary cult
without any serious prospects for success.
The rising tide of anti-semitism and an intensification of nationalist
feeling throughout Europe gave rise to a new political strain of Zionism in
the late nineteenth century that sought the setting up of a Jewish state.
Its founder, Theodore Hertzl, who had only several years earlier dismissed
the possibility of 'return', reacted against the anti-semitism revealed in
the Dreyfus trial (1895) by soliciting support among European elites for the
creation of a Jewish homeland.
Far from presenting itself as a formula for the liberation of Jews, Zionism
was based on a profound sense of pessimism and despair. Hertzl described
anti-semitism as 'an understandable reaction to Jewish defects'. He accepted
the inevitability of anti-semitism, declaring that during the Dreyfus affair
he had 'achieved a freer attitude towards anti-semitism' and 'recognised the
futility of trying to combat [it].'
Hertzl's attempt to win support for the Zionist project was an explicitly
colonial undertaking. After considering the establishment of 'homelands' in
Uganda and Argentina, Hertzl settled upon the idea of a Jewish homeland in
the Middle East, retrospectively using Biblical arguments. He stated that a
Jewish state would construct there 'a rampart of civilisation in a sea of
Arab barbarism'. It was not initially among the European masses that he
sought support, but among the imperial powers of the day who, even before
the discovery of oil in the region, shared his interest in controlling and
stabilizing the Middle East.
The Imperialist connection
The public figures approached by Zionists reads like a 'who's who' of
European reaction. Hertzl admired Cecil Rhodes, the British founder of white
Rhodesia, and believed that 'in England the idea of Zionism, which is a
colonial idea, would be easily understood.' In Russia he met with Wenzel Von
Plehve, the interior minister who had orchestrated pogroms against the Jews,
and agreed to quash any criticism of the Tsar at the 1903 Zionist Congress
in return for support for the Palestine project. The appeal to the forces of
imperialism outlived Hertzl: his successor Chaim Weizmann continued to
solicit British support, which was particularly important after the collapse
of Ottoman rule in the region.
The Balfour Declaration declared British support for a 'national home for
the Jewish people,' an outcome recognised by Winston Churchill as
'beneficial' and 'in harmony with the truest interests of the British
Empire.' In their most despicable act, Zionists in Germany sought Hitler's
support for a Jewish homeland, declaring that 'our acknowledgment of Jewish
nationality provides for a clear and sincere relationship to the German
people, and its national and racial realities. we do not wish to falsify
these fundamentals, because we too are against mixed marriage and are for
maintaining the purity of the Jewish group.'
As late as the 1930s the Zionist project had failed to win the mass of the
Jewish people. Jewish emigration to Palestine accelerated after Balfour, but
most Jews who chose emigration as a means of escaping persecution still
chose overwhelmingly to emigrate to Western Europe or the United States.
Supporters of the Israeli state speak of an eternal conflict between
Palestinians and Jews to justify Zionist militarism. They argue that Jews
have been compelled to arm themselves to guard against anti-semitic outrages
directed at them by Palestinians. This is untrue. Israeli journalist Tom
Segev has recently described 800 years of friendly relations between Arabs
and Jews in Hebron, and a recent history of Jerusalem argues that 1300 years
of Islamic rule in the city had been marked by 'tolerance of both Judaism
and Christianity.' John Rose has concluded that 'the virulence of European
anti-semitism, with its roots partly in the medieval Christian conception of
the Jew, had no echo in the Arab world.' That peaceful coexistence was
shattered when right-wing Zionists began constructing an 'Iron Wall' to
subjugate the Arabs and facilitate the influx of Jewish immigration from the
The massive trauma inflicted on European Jews by the Holocaust undermined
the assimilationist argument and elevated the appeal of Zionism among
survivors. As Rose writes 'the world after 1945 did actually appear to
confirm the Hertzl prognosis.' In retrospect, mainstream Zionist
organizations behaved despicably throughout the war. Early on they attempted
to cut deals with the Third Reich and they refused to criticize their
powerful patrons - the US and Britain - for failing to rescue Jews from the
gas chambers. Leading Zionists blocked attempts to allow refugees into the
US and Western Europe out of fear that this would upset their plans. But in
the wake of the Nazi horror, the pessimism of Zionism matched the mood of
deep despair among Holocaust survivors.
Watchdog for the West
The Zionist project, at the end of the war, complemented the economic and
strategic interests of the leading imperial powers, of Britain and the
United States. The vast oil reserves in the Middle East demanded that they
found a means of maintaining control in the region. With the acquiescence of
a United Nations, dominated by the US, Palestine was partitioned in 1947,
with 55 percent of the land assigned to Jews - only 30 percent of the
population - and the remainder was assigned to the Palestinians. From that
point until today, the realization of Zionist aims involved the continued
expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.
Through the deployment of terror 700,000 Palestinians were driven out of
their homes into exile, and by 1949 Israel controlled 80 percent of
Palestine. Those who resisted were denounced as terrorists but privately
Israeli officials acknowledged otherwise. David Ben-Gurion noted privately
that 'politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.' He
noted 'an active resistance by the Palestinians to what they regard as a
usurpation of their homeland by the Jews. Behind the terrorism is a movement
which though primitive is not devoid of idealism and self-sacrifice.'
Gurion, ostensibly a 'left winger', was no more sympathetic to the claims of
Palestinians in spite of his candid honesty: 'A comprehensive agreement is
undoubtedly out of the question now. Only after total despair on the part of
the Arabs, despair that will come not only from the failure of the
disturbances and the attempt at rebellion, but also as a consequences of our
growth.may the Arabs possibly acquiesce in a Jewish Eretz Israel.' This
desire to crush any opposition is still prominent in the events following
the latest Intifada.
Israel's ability to get away with recurring atrocities is linked to its
relationship to the United States. Its immunity is a reward for services
rendered to imperialism. Within three years of the founding of the Zionist
state, the Israeli newspaper Ha'artez spelled out the role the new state
would play in protecting US interests in the region:
'Israel is to become the watchdog. if for any reasons the Western powers
should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to
punish one or several neighbouring countries whose discourtesy to the West
went beyond the bounds of the permissible.'
Isreal is a racist state founded upon ethnic cleansing, a watchdog for
American imperialism and an arms merchant for some of the most right wing
regimes on earth. It has made allies of some of the bloodiest dictatorships
in the world, it traded arms and nuclear intelligence with the apartheid
regime in South Africa. That is the essential role that the state of Israel
has played throughout its history, and explains why Bush considers it such a
crucial ally in his so-called 'war on terror', bankrolling its military
adventures and lauding the war criminal Ariel Sharon as a 'man of peace.'
One could hardly imagine a more insulting testament to the Jewish victims of
fascism in Europe than allowing Zionism to bury its atrocities under the
cover of the world's outrage at the war crimes of an earlier generation.
The spirit of the Warsaw Ghetto lives today in Jenin, not Tel Aviv.
- Prev by Date: Breaking the Silence
- Next by Date: Zionist Racism Against Ethiopian Jews in Israel
- Previous by thread: The origins of Zionism: From victims to a watchdog state
- Next by thread: For A New Intifada