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A Criminal Amalgam: The Limits of anti-Zionism

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"A Criminal Amalgam" is the first of four articles published in French by the French socialist Yves Coleman. The original text in French is here. The articles were published at the height of the Intifada violence and the accompanying anti-Semitic violence and anti-Zionist propaganda campaign in Europe. The basic premises remain valid, and the arguments of anti-Zionists remain as they were, though the current issues may be somewhat different. While we may disagree with some of Coleman's socialist rhetoric about imperialism and nationalism, there is no doubt that he effectively demolishes the heart of "leftist" anti-Zionist propaganda, and exposes it as anti-Semitism and theorizing that is divorced from reality.  ZIIC.

A Criminal Amalgam: The Limits of anti-Zionism[ 1 ]

 Yves Coleman

Since the beginning of the second Intifada, and especially since the Israeli army, under the direction of Sharon, re-occupied  the territories that were under the control of the Palestinian Authority, on several occasions, there was a recrudescence, in the ranks of the extreme left, of a whole series of crude slogans and doubtful comparisons between the policy of the State of Israel and that of the Nazism. With this aim, the critics proceeded by successive reductions. Initially the Israeli government of national union, that almost all the parties supported, became the Sharon government. Then Sharon became the Butcher, then Charogne (the charnel one) - a sinister example of dehumanization of a class enemy . Finally, some merged Sharon into Hitler (1). CQFD.

To understand how we got there, I will approach the "theoretical" base that allowed these slips using an article published in Socialist Review of July-August 2002, then I will take two significant examples in the French revolutionary press (Socialisme), and American (Socialist Worker) (2). However, anyone with a computer can  find hundreds of other occurrences of this criminal amalgam, simply by using a search engine on Internet, and typing in the words "Sharon" and "Hitler." [ZIIC: There are 1.3 million such pages retrieved by Google, though many of those pages argue against the comparison.]

Let us note that in this field, as in many others today, one can find solid reasons  to fight against an adversary only by comparing him with Hitler. From Bush (who compared Milosevic and Saddam Hussein with Hitler) to the revolutionaries, one finds a common language and Pavlovian reflexes, indicating a particular poverty of thought that is not astonishing in the American president, but which must cause worry in the case of revolutionaries who have, supposedly, a theoretical tradition and a capital consisting of a range of solid arguments that could be used to fight Le Pen, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein or Sharon.

Alleged "economic" origins of anti-Semitism

In the July-August issue of of Socialist Review, Sabby Sagal reviews what she considers the Marxist position concerning the "Jewish question". She describes the history of anti-Semitism in several periods. Before the industrial revolution, anti-Semitism would be explained, according to her, mainly by the fact that the Jews were usurers, tax collectors, bankers, tradesmen, in short,  intermediaries necessary to the operation of the small saleable output of then incipient capitalism. This "analysis" takes again an assumption advanced by the Trotskyist Abraham Leon in 1942 in The Marxists and the Jewish question, a book that had merit at the time, because it was produced under extremely precarious conditions, but which is totally obsolete today. [Leon was a tragic figure. A deserter from Hashomer Hatzair to Trotskyism in Nazi occupied France, he proved quite to his utter satisfaction, according to all the rules of dialectic materialism and historical determinism, that there could never be a Jewish state. He went to his death secure in his faith in the workers' paradise and the holy writ of Trotskyism. See Marxist Anti-Semitism

Progress of historical research

Indeed, historians have considerably advanced in the last sixty years. It is enough to scan, for example, the four volumes of La Société Juive  a collection of contributions published under the direction of Shmuel Trigano by Fayard in 2000.

In Islamic lands of the Middle Ages, the Jews, far from being specialized in trade and finance, exercised nearly 250 different trades! The is very far from the stereotype of the Jew unable to cultivate the ground or to work with his hands. The immense majority were hawkers, servants, employees, peasants, companions or craftsmen.

In the medieval Occident, at a time when, in theory, the Jews were confined to certain professions, they in fact engaged in other trades than those which were allowed to them by the Church. The large traders and the Jewish bankers did not constitute the majority of the Jewish population, however small the communities were (they varied from a few hundreds to a few thousands of individuals, at the time and were very dispersed on the European continent).

The tax registers of the  twelfth century, for example, show that only a minority of the 3,000 Jews living in England were saddled with  taxes, and that this minority paid for the whole of the community, much too poor to pay anything. In Germany, in the fourteenth century, of 8,000 families, 2,000 were poor and depended on alms of their co-religionists. Certain Jews were even so destitute that they joined groups of marginal and delinquent Germans, which explains why the vocabulary of the underworld German contains a  significant number of Hebrew words! In Moravia, in a community of 50 hearths, in the seventeenth century, 5 families provided  3/5 of the community taxes. In Amsterdam, at the end of the eighteenth century, 4,000 people maintained 18,000 poor. In Frankfurt, in 1870, 25% of the community were without resources. In Warsaw in 1872, the financial, industrial and commercial upper middle classes represented only 6 % of the Jewish population. These few examples taken in a seven century interval show well the falseness and the perversity of the "Judaism = religion of  money" myth, a myth maintained by the various religious and political institutions, taken up again ad nauseum by Marx in the Jewish Question and again recently illustrated by Jacques Attali in his book about the Jews and money (3).

With due respect to the simplistic Marxists and... to the anti-Semites, the "economic" explanation quite simply does not quite hold water. Likewise, we should not be astonishing that certain Marxists gather untruths so that their theses do not appear glaringly wrong.  Thus in the  Sabby Sagal article already quoted, the author claims that in the Middle Ages the Jews enjoyed "protections and privileges", that they had a "legal status much better than that of the serfs", assertions which lead one to think that the majority of the Jews of the time formed part of the privileged classes, which is false. The economic explanation does not make it possible to understand the reasons for the hostility of the agricultural work force or townspeople to Jews over the centuries. The religious factor played a great part because all Western societies until the nineteenth century rested on Christian values and these values organized all: political power, justice, teaching, laws, social life, etc. Moreover, linguistic, ethnic, and national factors had a role: apart from Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish or Yiddish, the Jews often spoke another language that that about the country where they lived (for example, the Jews expelled from France to England in 1066, spoke French, before being driven out, in their turn, from England two centuries later, in 1290; in 1895, 80 % of the Serbian Jews still spoke Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) as did about 96 % of Bulgarian Jews, etc.) and this characteristic distinguished them and isolated them from the remainder of the population; finally, the fact that the Jews could read and  write (for religious reasons) made them a very distinct minority, in an ocean of illiteracy and crass ignorance maintained by the dominant Church and classes. The elimination of illiteracy constituted a very appreciable asset for them when they were allowed to use their talents, and that could only cause hatred and jealousy.

However, the fact that Marxists reduce anti-Semitism to a primarily economic question has one second problematic consequence: it would imply that, when capitalism disappears, all forms of racism will go up in smoke (4). It is difficult to imagine a more naive position.

Israel: a "colonial settlement"  to the supporters of national liberation movements

With regard to  Zionism, it has been curious that the British SWP [Socialist Workers Party], which justifiably supports the Palestinian national liberation struggle after having supported, in a relatively critical way, all movements of national emancipation for half a century, does not realize that Zionism was  also a kind of movement of national liberation, even if it led to creation of a colonial  settlement in the image of the United States, Australia or South Africa (5), which gives it particular and extremely displeasing characteristics. However, isn't this the case of all the national liberation movements? If the majority of them were not supported by American imperialism, they profited from the very effective military support of the Russian imperialism. Where is the difference?

An insuperable theoretical difficulty

Finally, the argument that Zionism requires anti-Semitism to exist recalls the arguments of those who claim that if women did not wear revealing miniskirts or low necklines, they would not be raped by  men. (Sabby Sagala goes so far as to write that "where anti-Semitism does not exist, Zionism creates it out of whole cloth.". She quotes in support of its "thesis" the fact [sic - as in the original - ZIIC]  that the Mossad placed  a bomb in the Fifties inside a Baghdad synagogue to create panic among Iraqi Jews) [an unproven and almost certainly false accusation - ZIIC]. It is hard to believe that only one bomb was enough to put an end to 2000 years of idyllic coexistence! Let us push this "reasoning" further: isn't it true that if there were no more Jews, there would be no more anti-Semitism?   That is, in any case, the reasoning which Marx advances in The Jewish Question, when he explains why once all the people (including the Jews) are relieved of religious alienation, the Jews will disappear (obviously, in 1844, Marx did not think  of physical elimination, but of total assimilation and disappearance of the cultural, religious, racial, social, etc, barriers  between  men).

It is obvious that the existence of the Jewish people poses a problem for the "Marxists", and that they do not manage to define a position vis-a-vis these millions of men and women who do not fit within their rigid theoretical framework. One feels irritation and incomprehension when Sabby Sagala explains to us that "most of the peoples of antiquity were assimilated to the surrounding societies and disappeared as distinct ethnic groups". Ah, those Jews, what  spoilsports!

Curiously, the majority of these Marxists lapse into exaltation of Arab nationalism or pan-Arabism, a phenomenon even vaguer and more complex to comprehend than Jewish nationalism, but it does not matter. There is no question of being astonished by the lack of "assimilation"... of the Arabs! Marx did not write a work called The Arab Question or The Moslem Question, [though the Arabs] also feel the right to launch  into all kinds of catastrophic innovations (6).

Jews and Arabs: 2000 years of peace?

In its article, Sabby Sagal also claims that the Arabs and the Jews lived harmoniously for 2,000 years, and that only the existence of Israel and the "provocations" of this State,  have caused the hostility of the Arab masses to the Jews. There still, the author is deliberately ignoring reality and does not take account of the historical data.

Whoever opens the Qur\an even for a few moments, could not be unaware that it is filled with  extremely violent and heinous propositions against the Jews. Admittedly, the anti-Jewish diatribes coexist with more moderate language, but we must  note  that in fact the most subtle parts of Qur\an did not have, historically and politically, the most impact (7). Additionally, it should be stressed that the Jews were subject to a specific legal status in the Moslem world (that of dhimmi) undoubtedly better than that which they had under the medieval Christendom, but which did not guarantee total legal equality, and prohibited them from engaging in certain functions.

Lastly, the author forgets to say that the situation of the Jews in the Arab countries became more difficult at the twentieth century, not so much not because of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, but because of the movements of national independence which  affected all this region and which began at the very start of the twentieth century. The French of Algeria had to pack their bags, like the Jews of the Arab countries, because these two communities, for partly different historical reasons, did not show solidarity with the struggles for national independence in the areas where they lived for centuries, and because they occupied a social position that was "privileged" in many respects  compared to the destitute Arab masses, at least in their relationship to the colonial powers. And even if Israel had not been created in 1948, it is a good bet that the Jews of the Arab countries would have been used as scapegoats for the local nationalists in any event.

Zionism was born and thrived historically especially because million men and women, for both religious and historical reasons, always considered and consider that they have something very much in common, more powerful than their membership in some other national State. This "something" (this feeling of membership in a people) varies according to the individuals, the periods, the social groups, and since the existence of the State of Israel it is obviously used by Zionism. However, it existed well before Shoah [Holocaust] and Zionism. In such political and theoretical confusion, it is easily understandable how, in daily anti-Zionist propaganda  a few doubtful slips can occur. We will give two such examples.

Trying to prove too much...

Number 3 of Socialisme (p. 8 and 9) presents two photographs side by side, one showing  German soldiers during the Second World war and the other an Israeli soldier. During one of the demonstrations of "solidarity" with Palestine in Denfert-Rochereau, in Paris, the quarter was covered with anonymous small posters reading: "Hitler has a son: Sharon." To draw a parallel between Sharon and Hitler can only bring leftists, full of good intentions (but having, nevertheless a bottom unconscious anti-Semitism), to give free rein to their racist impulses. These two photographs play the same role as the moronic slogan. The captions under the photographs are still worse: on one side, there is "Nazi soldier, " on the other  "Israeli soldier." First of all "Nazi" is not a nationality, as opposed to "Israeli", but a political affiliation. It it thus acts of a German soldier, and not of a Nazi  soldier (at least the editors of Socialisme do not know anything about the subject). On the other hand, what the German soldiers (Nazis or not) did to the Jews was not "hazing" as the caption claims: a hazing  obliges somebody to run around nude, or makes him swallow something disgusting, etc., in short what one did in the army 50 years ago or in the preparatory classes at the large schools or in the faculty of medicine still today. The German soldiers did not "haze" the Jews, they exterminated them without the least pity. The difference between hazing and the extermination of 6 million people is not a simple nuance of language.

On the other side, Socialisme presents a photograph of an Israeli soldier who "threatens" (according to the caption)  the Palestinians. Firstly, this photograph is cut, that is cropped: cropping leads us to believe that the soldier threatens the family with its child, but it does not show the people who are certainly in the background, and further away. Socialisme does not specify in what circumstances the photograph was taken, whereas, concerning the photo of the Jews and the German soldier, everyone knows what occurred during the Second World War. Moreover, the word "to threaten" is much stronger than the word "to haze". For a weak mind, the conclusion is simple: what Israelis do to the Palestinians is at least as serious (if not worse) than what the Nazis did to the Jews (8).

The principal political parties of the Israeli democratic state do not intend to exterminate the Palestinians and never devoted themselves to practices of massive elimination of thousands of Palestinians. To imply the opposite is irresponsible (9). On the contrary, it is in the Arab States that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are freely distributed (10) and it is there that a whole bunch of Nazis were converted after 1945 into Arab political leaders  in political circles. It is in the Arab States that the newspapers diffuse  anti-Semitic propaganda daily. And it is the Arab States that kill or imprison Jews, simply because they are Jewish. The article in Socialisme does not mention any of this.

Modern anti-Semitism

Number 3 of Socialisme publishes extracts of the autobiography of Tony Cliff (11) (A World to win), and an article by Daniel Lartichaux. These two texts are filled with inaccuracies about anti-Semitism. D. Lartichaux claims that "the only motive" of the "horrible acts" against the synagogues in France could be "the conflict in the Middle East". He forgets to mention that there exists in France a long-standing anti-Semitism, in both rightist and extreme rightist circles as in leftist fringes, and in part of the Maghrebian population and its children. The votes of Le Pen come from both rightists and leftists;  moreover, coexistence between  Judaism and the Islamic religion in the Maghreb was not always without difficulties; that must influence the behavior of those whose parents or grandparents were born in Islamic lands.

The extract of Cliff's autobiography also contains enormous errors. Cliff quietly affirms that the "the economic and intellectual ghetto disappeared" in connection with Germany of the beginning of the twentieth century. Whoever knows the history of the Jews of Germany knows that anti-Semitism persisted well after the first unification. Otherwise, Hitler would never have made it a part of his  program in Mein Kampf. Likewise,  he could never have easily imposed all the anti-Semitic laws once he came to power, and certainly not the Final Solution. But obviously that makes it possible to reduce Nazi anti-Semitism  to the need to inventing scapegoats for the "crisis which destroyed the means of existence of important layers of the lower middle class" (Socialist Review). Moreover, Cliff "has forgotten" to mention the launching of Scud missiles against Israel and all the speeches and the acts of the Arab leaders against Israel for 50 years. If the Jews of Israel have not been massacred or at least thrown into the sea since 1948, it is not because the Arab States of the region did not want to do it,  but because the Jews prevented it, and to that purpose, they used all possible allies. At the time of the 1948 war, Russian imperialism saved the Jews by massive weapons deliveries via Czechoslovakia, then  American imperialism took up the relief much more effectively.

Admittedly, the question of Israel is complex, and one cannot say it all in two pages, but by establishing a dangerous parallel (and with anti-Semitic connotations, even if it is not obviously at all the intention of Socialisme) and forgetting to speak about the anti-Semitism of which the Jews in Germany and France are still victims, the review implies that the Jews had another immediate and concrete solution. Which? In theory, a world socialist revolution, but there never was one, and nobody knows if there will be one  soon. Faced with very real anti-Semitism, it was necessary to defended oneself. In the past, hundreds of thousands of Jews tried to follow the way that Socialisme recommends today; they were involved in all the streams of the workers movement. The least which one can say, is that that protected them neither from the anti-Semitism of the left, nor from extermination by the Tsar, the Nazis, Pétain and others. Moreover, the "Jewish question" was always underestimated by the left and the extreme left. How is it possible not to understand that the existence of a State - possessing, in addition, nuclear weapons - seems to the Jews, since the Holocaust, a guarantee (relative) more certain than a century and half of beautiful speeches against racism? This policy leads certainly to a total dead end from a historical point of view, but the labor movement has its share of responsibility in this failure. Again it is necessary to admit it honestly and to seek the causes of the failure.

If Israel did not exist and had not decided, roughly speaking after the Eichmann lawsuit, to conduct a worldwide campaign against  anti-Semitism, we would not know the hundredth of what we know today about anti-Semitism, the passivity of the majority of the European populations, and the complicity of the bourgeois states before and during the Second World war. If today Israel partly uses the Holocaust to justify its colonialist policy  in Palestine, it is because, for decades, the left and even the extreme left did not regard  anti-Semitism as a fundamental problem (12).

A dangerous slip

The second example of doubtful anti-Zionism is that of the Socialist Worker Newspaper, an organ of the International Socialist Organization in the United States, which compared the progress of Israeli tanks in the streets of Jenin with that of the Germans in the Warsaw ghetto! ! ! Exploiting the declaration of an Israeli officer who had made this comparison, the American weekly magazine brings grist to the mill of anti-Semitism while hiding hypocritically behind the remarks of a Jewish Zionist!

However, it should be pointed out, there are no concentration camps in Israel/Palestine and the Israeli army does not occupy a "foreign" country (the situation is much more complex); the Israeli soldiers are not thousands of kilometers from their native ground, and especially they do not intend absolutely to exterminate the Palestinian population like the Nazis and their Polish henchmen did. This comparison can only nourish anti-Semitic sentiments which here, in France, brought individuals who were either simpletons or manipulated or both, to try to  burn down synagogues, to throw stones and beat up Jews in the open street. Moreover, this position does not help the Palestinians to be clearly aware of the true objectives of their leaders. It is one thing to favor the existence of a Palestinian State, another to unconditionally support the corrupt dictatorship of Arafat and his allies.

It is one thing is to support the fight of the Palestinians for their democratic rights, another to believe (or to make believe) that terrorism is only or mainly the product of the Israeli expansionist policy. Religious forces (Hamas, Jihad) and non-religious (PLO, etc.) all defend  martyrdom - which amounts, according to all logic, to massacring Israeli civilians regularly and preventing any peaceful coexistence between the  Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

 

NOTES

1. It is interesting to note who was, undoubtedly, the first to show Jews to be accessories to Hitler, even in the time of Hitler Germany. As Tom Segev recalls, in the Seventh Million, extremely violent  political rivalry separated the ancestors of the members of the Labor Party (Mapai) and Likud stream (Herut), the party of Ariel Sharon. The Jews of Palestine knew perfectly well what occurred to Germany [nobody knew about the Holocaust in the 1930s, though Jabotisnky predicted it - ZIIC]  and, because of  very restrictive clauses concerning immigration in Palestine, they had to make extremely painful choices from 1930 to1940. But the fact that Zionist Jews used this kind of villainous amalgam to disqualify other Jews  politically and morally does not in any way justify the use of this tactic by the extreme left today. [It is a fact that some of the intellectual lights of the Zionist right were admirers of Mussolini, though not of Hitler. It is also true that the odious "Nazi" epithet is still used by Israeli political rivals - most recently in the disengagement batte  - ZIIC]. 

2.  Except for some nuances, the three publications cited above defend the positions of the British Socialist Workers Party,  the most important organization of the extreme left in Europe today. Claiming to follow in the tradition of Lenin and Trotsky, this rather lively group introduced some alternatives into Leninist orthodoxy by denouncing  State capitalism in all the so-called socialist or workers' states, and adopted a more critical analysis and attitude to national liberation movements than the various branches of the Fourth International.

3. This completely irresponsible intellectual did not hesitate to diffuse his views in the media, explaining that the Jews had the "genius of money". It is hard to understand why people equipped with so many allegedly hereditary qualities would have constituted a State perpetually in full financial bankruptcy and why all the Jews of the planet are not billionaires. But it does not matter to Attali that his absurd theses are grist to the mill of the coarsest anti-Semitism and do not tally with the facts. Since it gives him publicity, he is happy.

4. This absurd  position is found in the propaganda of the revolutionary groups regarding all aspects of current society. It enables them to neglect the conflicts which divide nations, ethnic groups and races, to take refuge in the happy belief that the revolution will solve all. To quote another version of this blindness: "It is only when the majority of the Jews denounce Israel that anti-Semitism will be overcome." (Socialist Review) As if the anti-Semitism did not exist before 1948 and the Jews were the principal persons in charge! In Yair Auron's book, The Jews of the Extreme Left in May 68, a militant leftist who visits for a time in the Palestinian camps during the Seventies tells of the extremely hostile reaction of his interlocutors when he naively told them that he was Jewish.

5. Cf the article by Yoren [Yaron?] Iftachel on the Bedouins of Israel, Transeuropéennes N° 22.

6. This is why some seek to explain why fundamentalist Islamism is a quasi-revolutionary ideology, but we will cover this subject in another article.

7. In the same way, it is the anti-Jewish  (thus anti-Semitic) reading of the New Testament which influenced the Christians for 2000 years, and not more balanced interpretations. Even recently, the Catholic Church had to destroy a million copies of a new edition of the Spanish Bible, because it contained many anti-Semitic comments.

8. Besides, it includes one of the anti-Semitic arguments in reverse , employed often on the left and the extreme left. "Our good souls are astonished that people who underwent so much persecution during its history can in its turn carry out a wild repression in the occupied territories." Firstly, this reasoning begins from a false premise, that of the collective responsibility: all the Germans were not Nazis (Hitler threw more than one million in the camps) and all the Jews were not victims (some collaborated with the Nazis, hoping to save their skins; others thought only of themselves, emigrated in time and were unaware of the fate of their co-religionists; others fought the weapons with their hands, etc). [Why they are not victims according to Coleman is a mystery - ZIIC]. In the same way, all the Jews of today do not agree with the policy of their government and the demands of the army. And some of those who live in Israel go so far as to refuse to serve in uniform. Moreover, this reasoning rests on the naive idea that anyone who was victim of an injustice, oppression, torture (or whose parents or grandparents were martyred or killed) would automatically have a higher moral stature and  political clarity . This is close to the idea of a genetically linked superiority, due to the direct or indirect experience of martyrdom. In brief, this floats in fantasy land.

9. The Israeli state is carrying out a dirty war which, like all the modern wars, hurts civilians more than  professional soldiers. In any event, in this particular conflict, the distinction between civilian and military is hardly valid, since any Israeli, man or woman, can be called up for the military service and  any Palestinian can be involved in an organization practicing anti-Jewish terrorism.

10. A forgery manufactured by the Tsarist police force to support the thesis of an imaginary Jewish plot to dominate the world.

11. Director of British SWP, deceased in 2001, who made his first debut in Palestine under the British mandate, in the Trotskyite movement, before becoming an activist in England. It in particular wrote two biographies of Lenin and Trotsky as well as an important book translated into French: State Capitalism in Russia, EDI.

12. This problem did not begin yesterday, as some can testify; for example, the attitude of the French Socialists during the Dreyfus affair or that of the resistance during the Second World war and afterwards, both of which reflect anti-Semitism at second glance.

Translated by Ami Isseroff

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