The Holocaust Historiography Project

Jews and Israel

Zionism and Anti-Semitism: A Strange Alliance Through History

Allan C. Brownfeld

It has, for many years, been a tactic of those who seek to silence open debate and discussion of US Middle East policy to accuse critics of Israel of "anti-Semitism."

In a widely discussed article entitled "J'Accuse" (Commentary, September 1983), Norman Podhoretz charged America's leading journalists, newspapers and television networks with "anti-Semitism" because of their reporting of the war in Lebanon and their criticism of Israel's conduct. Among those so accused were Anthony Lewis of The New York Times, Nicholas von Hoffman, Joseph Harsch of The Christian Science Monitor, Rowland Evans, Robert Novak, Mary McGrory, Richard Cohen and Alfred Friendly of The Washington Post, and a host of others. These individuals and their news organizations were not criticized for bad reporting or poor journalistic standards; instead, they were the subject of the charge of anti-Semitism.

Podhoretz declared: "… The beginning of wisdom in thinking about this issue is to recognize that the vilification of Israel is the phenomenon to be addressed, not the Israeli behavior that provoked it … We are dealing here with an eruption of anti-Semitism."

To understand Norman Podhoretz and others who have engaged in such charges, we must recognize that the term "anti-Semitism" has undergone major transformation. Until recently, those guilty of this offense were widely understood to be those who irrationally disliked Jews and Judaism. Today, however, the term is used in a far different way -- one which threatens not only free speech but also threatens to trivialize anti-Semitism itself.

Anti-Semitism has been redefined to mean anything that opposes the policies and interests of Israel. The beginning of this redefinition may be said to date, in part, from the 1974 publication of the book The New Anti-Semitism by Arnold Forster and Benjamin R. Epstein, leaders of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. The nature of the "new" anti-Semitism, according to Forster and Epstein, is not necessarily hostility toward Jews as Jews, or toward Judaism, but, instead a critical attitude toward Israel and its policies.

Later, Nathan Perlmutter, when he was director of the Anti-Defamation League, stated that, "There has been a transformation of American anti-Semitism in recent times. The crude anti-Jewish bigotry once so commonplace in this country is today gauche … Poll after poll indicates that Jews are one of America's most highly regarded groups."

'Semitically Neutral Postures'

Perlmutter, however, refused to declare victory over such bigotry. Instead, he redefined it. He declared:

The search for peace in the Middle East is littered with mine fields for Jewish interests … Jewish concerns that are confronted by the Semitically neutral postures of those who believe that if only Israel would yield this or that, the Middle East would become tranquil and the West's highway to its strategic interests and profits in the Persian Gulf would be secure. But at what cost to Israel's security? Israel's security, plainly said, means more to Jews today than their standing in the opinion polls …

What Perlmutter did was to substitute the term "Jewish interests" for what are, in reality, "Israeli interests." By changing the terms of the debate, he created a situation in which anyone who is critical of Israel becomes, ipso facto, "anti-Semitic."

The tactic of using the term "anti-Semitism" as a weapon against dissenters is not new. Dorothy Thompson, the distinguished journalist who was one of the earliest enemies of Nazism, found herself criticizing the policies of Israel shortly after its creation. Despite her valiant crusade against Hitler, she, too, was subject to the charge of "anti-Semitism." In a letter to The Jewish Newsletter (April 6, 1951) she wrote:

Really, I think continued emphasis should be put upon the extreme damage to the Jewish community of branding people like myself as anti-Semitic … The State of Israel has got to learn to live in the same atmosphere of free criticism which every other state in the world must endure … There are many subjects on which writers in this country are, because of these pressures, becoming craven and mealy-mouthed. But people don't like to be craven and mealy-mouthed; every time one yields to such pressure one is filled with self-contempt and this self-contempt works itself out in a resentment of those who caused it.

A quarter-century later, columnist Carl Rowan (Washington Star, Feb. 5, 1975) reported:

When I wrote my recent column about what I perceive to be a subtle erosion of support for Israel in this town, I was under no illusion as to what the reaction would be. I was prepared for a barrage of letters to me and newspapers carrying my column accusing me of being "anti-Semitic" … The mail rolling in has met my worst expectations … This whining baseless name-calling is a certain way to turn friends into enemies.

What few Americans understand is that there has been a long historical alliance -- from the end of the 19th century until today -- between Zionism and real anti-Semites -- from those who planned pogroms in Czarist Russia to Nazi Germany itself. The reason for the affinity many Zionist leaders felt for anti-Semites becomes clear as this history emerges.

Theodor Herzl

When Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, served in Paris as a correspondent for a Vienna newspaper, he was in close contact with the leading anti-Semites of the day. In his biography of Herzl, The Labyrinth of Exile, Ernst Pawel reports that those who financed and edited La Libre Parole, a weekly dedicated "to the defense of Catholic France against atheists, republicans, Free Masons and Jews," invited Herzl to their homes on a regular basis.

Alluding to such conservatives and their publications, Pawel writes that Herzl "found himself captivated" by these men and their ideas:

La France Juive [of Edouard Drumont] struck him as a brilliant performance and -- much like [Eugen] Dühring's notorious Jewish Question ten years later -- it aroused powerful and contradictory emotions … On June 12, 1895, while in the midst of working on Der Judenstaat, [Herzl] noted in his diary, "much of my current conceptual freedom I owe to Drumont, because he is an artist." The compliment seems extravagant, but Drumont repaid it the following year with a glowing review of Herzl's book in La Parole Libre.

In the end, Pawel argues, "Paris changed Herzl, and French anti-Semites undermined the ironic complacency of the Jewish would-be non-Jew." Yet Herzl was not entirely displeased with anti-Semitism. In a private letter to Moritz Benedikt, written in the final days of 1892, he writes: "I do not consider the anti-Semitic movement altogether harmful. It will inhibit the ostentatious flaunting of conspicuous wealth, curb the unscrupulous behavior of Jewish financiers, and contribute in many ways to the education of the Jews … In that respect we seem to be in agreement."

Herzl's book Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State"), was widely disparaged by the leading Jews of the day, who viewed themselves as French, German, English or Austrian citizens and Jews by religion -- with no interest in a separate Jewish state. Anti-Semites, on the other hand, eagerly greeted Herzl's work. Herzl's arguments, Pawel points out, were "all but indistinguishable from those used by the anti-Semites." One of the first reviews appeared in the Westungarischer Grenzbote, an anti-Semitic journal published in Bratislava by Ivan von Simonyi, a member of the Hungarian Diet. He praised both the book and Herzl, and was so carried away with his enthusiasm that he paid Herzl a personal visit. Herzl wrote in his diary:

My weird follower, the Bratislava anti-Semite Ivan von Simonyi came to see me. A hypermercurial, hyperloquacious sexagenerian with an uncanny sympathy for the Jews. Swings back and forth between perfectly rational talk and utter nonsense, believes in the blood libel and at the same time comes up with the most sensible modern ideas. Loves me.

After the barbaric Kishinev pogrom of April 1901, when hundreds of Jews were killed or wounded, Herzl came to Russia to barter with V. K. Plehve, the Russian interior minister who had incited the pogrom. Herzl told Jewish cultural leader Chaim Zhitlovsky: "I have an absolutely binding promise from Plehve that he will procure a charter for Palestine for us in 15 years at the outside. There is one condition, however, the revolutionaries must stop their struggle against the Russian government."

Zhitlovsky, incensed at Herzl for dealing with a killer of Jews, and aware that Herzl had been outsmarted, persuaded him to abandon the idea. Still, the Zionist leaders in Russia agreed with the government that the real responsibility for the pogroms rested with the Jewish Bund, a socialist group urging democratic reforms in the Czarist regime. Zionists wanted Jews to remain aloof from Russian politics until it was time to leave for Palestine.

The head of the secret police in Moscow, S.V. Zubatov, was sympathetic to Zionism as a way to silence Jewish opponents of the repressive Czarist regime. In her book The Fate of the Jews, Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht reports that

Zionism appealed greatly to police chief Zubatov, as it does to all anti-Semites, because it takes the Jewish problem elsewhere. Both Zubatov and the Zionists wanted to destroy the Bund, Zubatov to protect his country, and the Zionists to protect theirs. Zionism's success is based on a Jewish misery index; the greater the misery, the greater the wish to emigrate. The last thing the Zionists wanted was to improve conditions in Russia. Zionists served Zubatov as police spies and subverters of the Bund …

In his book Jewish History, Jewish Religion, Israel Shahak points out that

Close relations have always existed between Zionists and anti-Semites; exactly like some of the European conservatives, the Zionists thought they could ignore the "demonic" character of anti-Semitism and use the anti-Semites for their own purposes … Herzl allied himself with the notorious Count von Plehve, the anti-Semitic minister of Tsar Nicholas II; Jabotinsky made a pact with Petlyura, the reactionary Ukrainian leader whose forces massacred some 100,000 Jews in 1918-1921 … Perhaps the most shocking example of this type is the delight with which Zionist leaders in Germany welcomed Hitler's rise to power, because they shared his belief in the primacy of "race" and his hostility to the assimilation of Jews among "Aryans." They congratulated Hitler on his triumph over the common enemy -- the forces of liberalism.

'We Jews'

Dr. Joachim Prinz, a German Zionist rabbi who subsequently emigrated to the United States, where he became vice-chairman of the World Jewish Congress and a leader in the World Zionist Organization, published in 1934 a book Wir Juden ("We Jews") to celebrate Hitler's so-called German Revolution and the defeat of liberalism. He wrote:

The meaning of the German Revolution for the German nation will eventually be clear to those who have created it and formed its image. Its meaning for us must be set forth there: the fortunes of liberalism are lost. The only form of political life which has helped Jewish assimilation is sunk.

The victory of Nazism ruled out assimilation and inter-religious marriage as an option for Jews. "We are not unhappy about this," said Dr. Prinz. In the fact that Jews were being forced to identify themselves as Jews, he saw "the fulfillment of our desires." Further, he states,

We want assimilation to be replaced by a new law: the declaration of belonging to the Jewish nation and the Jewish race. A state built upon the principle of the purity of nation and race can only be honored and respected by a Jew who declares his belonging to his own kind. Having so declared himself, he will never be capable of faulty loyalty towards a state. The state cannot want other Jews but such as declare themselves as belonging to their nation…

Dr. Shahak compares Prinz's early sympathy for Nazis with that of many who have embraced the Zionist vision, not fully understanding the possible implications: "Of course, Dr. Prinz, like many other early sympathizers and allies of Nazism, did not realize where that movement was leading …"

Zionist-Nazi Alliance Proposal

Still, as late as January 1941, the Zionist group LEHI, one of whose leaders, Yitzhak Shamir, was later to become a prime minister of Israel, approached the Nazis, using the name of its parent organization, the Irgun (NMO). The naval attaché in the German embassy in Turkey transmitted the LEHI proposal to his superiors in Germany. It read in part:

It is often stated in the speeches and utterances of the leading statesmen of National Socialist Germany that a New Order in Europe requires as a prerequisite the radical solution of the Jewish question through evacuation. The evacuation of the Jewish masses from Europe is a precondition for solving the Jewish question. This can only be made possible and complete through the settlement of these masses in the home of the Jewish people, Palestine, and through the establishment of a Jewish state in its historic boundaries.

The LEHI proposal continues: "The NMO … is well acquainted with the good will of the German Reich Government and its authorities towards Zionist activity inside Germany and towards Zionist emigration plans." It goes on to state:

The establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis and bound by a treaty with the German Reich would be in the interests of strengthening the future German position of power in the Near East … The NMO in Palestine offers to take an active part in the war on Germany's side … The cooperation of the Israeli freedom movement would also be in line with one of the recent speeches of the German Reich Chancellor, in which Herr Hitler stressed that any combination and any alliance would be entered into in order to isolate England and defeat it.

The Nazis rejected this proposal for an alliance because, it is reported, they considered Lehi's military power "negligible." [For more on this, see: M. Weber, "Zionism and the Third Reich" in the July-August 1993 Journal, pp. 29-37.]

Rabbi David J. Goldberg, in his book To the Promised Land: A History of Zionist Thought, discusses the life and thought of the leader of Zionist revisionism, Vladimir Jabotinsky, who was the great influence upon the life of Menachem Begin. "The basic tenets of Jabotinsky's political philosophy," writes Goldberg,

are subservience to the overriding concept of the homeland: loyalty to a charismatic leader, and the subordination of the class conflict to national goals. It irked Jabotinsky when, over 20 years later, he was accused of imitating Mussolini and Hitler. His irritation was justified: he had anticipated them … Given that for Jabotinsky echoing Garibaldi "there is no value in the world higher than the nation and the fatherland," it is not altogether surprising that he should have recommended an alliance with an anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalist. In 1911, in an essay entitled "Schevenko's Jubilee," he had praised the xenophobic Ukrainian poet for his nationalist spirit, despite "explosions of wild fury against the Poles, the Jews and other neighbors," and for proving that the Ukrainian soul has a "talent for independent cultural creativity, reaching into the highest and most sublime sphere."

In a review of the book In Memory's Kitchen: A Legacy From The Women of Terezin, Lore Dickstein, writing in The New York Times Book Review, notes that, "Anny Stern was one of the lucky ones. In 1939, after months of hassle with the Nazi bureaucracy, the occupying German army at her heels, she fled Czechoslovakia with her young son and emigrated to Palestine. At the time of Anny's departure, Nazi policy encouraged emigration. 'Are you a Zionist?' Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's specialist on Jewish affairs, asked her. 'Ja wohl,' she replied. 'Good,' he said, 'I am a Zionist too. I want every Jew to leave for Palestine'."

A 'Close Relationship'

The point has been made by many commentators that Zionism has a close relationship with Nazism. Both ideologies think of Jews in an ethnic and nationalistic manner. In fact, Nazi theoretician Alfred Rosenberg frequently quoted from Zionist writers to prove his thesis that Jews could not be Germans.

In his study, The Meaning of Jewish History, Rabbi Jacob Agus provides this assessment:

In its extreme formulation, political Zionists agreed with resurgent anti-Semitism in the following propositions: 1. That the emancipation of the Jews in Europe was a mistake. 2. That the Jews can function in the lands of Europe only as a disruptive influence. 3. That all Jews of the world were one "folk" in spite of their diverse political allegiances. 4. That all Jews, unlike other peoples of Europe, were unique and unintegratible. 5. That anti-Semitism was the natural expression of the folk-feeling of European nations, hence, ineradicable.

Nazi theoretician Rosenberg, who was executed as a result of his conviction for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials, declared under direct examination that he had studied the writings of Jewish historians [IMT, vol. 11, pp. 451-452]. He continued:

It seemed to me that after an epoch of generous emancipation in the course of national movements of the 19th century, an important part of the Jewish nation found its way back to its own tradition and nature, and more and more consciously segregated itself from other nations. It was a problem which was discussed at many international congresses, and [Martin] Buber, in particular, one of the spiritual leaders of European Jewry, declared that the Jews should return to the soil of Asia, for only there could the roots of Jewish blood and Jewish national character be found.

Long-Standing Alliance

Feyenwald, the Nazi, in 1941 reprinted the following statement by Simon Dubnow, a Zionist historian and author:

Assimilation is common treason against the banner and ideals of the Jewish people … One can never "become" a member of a national group, such as a family, tribe or a nation. One may attain rights and privileges of citizenship with a foreign nation, but one cannot appropriate for himself its nationality too. To be sure the emancipated Jew in France calls himself a Frenchman of the Jewish faith. Would that, however, mean that he became part of the French nation, confessing to the Jewish faith? Not at all … A Jew … even if he happened to be born in France and still lives there, in spite of these, he remains a member of the Jewish nation.

Zionists have repeatedly stressed -- and continue to do so -- that, from their viewpoint, Jews are in "exile" outside of the "Jewish state." Jacob Klatzkin, a leading Zionist writer, declared: "We are simply aliens, we are foreign people in your midst, and we emphasize, we wish to stay that way." This Zionist perspective has been a minority view among Jews from the time of its formulation until today.

When the term "anti-Semitism" is casually used to silence those who are critical of the government of Israel and its policies, it should be noted that Zionism's history of alliance with real anti-Semitism has been long-standing, and this has been so precisely because Zionism and anti-Semitism share a view of Jews which the vast majority of Jews in the United States and elsewhere in the world have always rejected.

This rarely discussed chapter of history deserves study, for it illuminates many truths relevant to the continuing debate, both with regard to Middle East policy and the real nature of Jews and Judaism.


About the Author

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism. This article is reprinted from the July-August 1998 issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (P.O. Box 53062, Washington, DC 20009).


Bibliographic information
Author: Brownfeld, Allan C.
Title: Zionism and Anti-Semitism: A Strange Alliance Through History
Source: The Journal for Historical Review
Date: January/February 1999
Issue: Volume 18 number 1
Location: Page 22
ISSN: 0195-6752
Attribution: "Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, PO Box 2739, Newport Beach, CA 92659, USA. Domestic subscriptions $40 per year; foreign subscriptions $50 per year."
Please send a copy of all reprints to the Editor.