NOTE: It’s important to understand what my two posts about the current bout of UK mass-hysteria are and aren’t. They are about correcting the historical record. They are about understanding the important distinctions between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. They are about preventing the Israel Lobby from setting the political agenda concerning debate around Israel.
They are not an argument that Zionism is evil personified. They are not an argument that Zionism=Nazism or Zionism=genocide. They are not a tool for the anti-Semitic right or left to use in an effort to claim that Israel itself is a state conceived in sin, which must be extirpated root and branch.
Anti-Semitism exists. But not in the places and among those the Lobby claims it does. We must oppose anti-Semitism. But anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.
Yesterday, I noted the special relish the Guardian and Haaretz, erstwhile liberal publications, are taking in savaging the UK Labor Party’s left, in the person of one-time London mayor, Ken Livingstone. Given the hundreds of thousands of words and gallons of ink spilled in the vain effort to turn the Labor left into anti-Semites, the current atmosphere in England strikes me as the Night of the Long Knives, when the SS took its revenge on its enemies within the Nazi movement and solidified its hold on the Party.
Now, the Guardian’s Israel correspondent, Peter Beaumont, has gotten into the act. He’s written an odd article that continues the attack on Livingstone, calling his argument “dubious history.” But it does so from a strange angle. Beaumont reviews one of the major pieces of historical evidence raised by Livingstone in his fateful interview, in which the latter said that “Hitler supported Zionism.” I refer to the Haavara Agreement, by which the Yishuv negotiated the ransom of German Jews in return for the Reich confiscating their property and using it to fuel Germany’s pre-World War II military buildup. Beaumont’s purpose seems to be to both acknowledge the validity of the argument that the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis, while at the same time undercutting it. He calls Livingstone’s invocation of it a “twisted kernel of historical truth.”
In the process, the Guardian reporter engages in petulant schoolmarm tactics like criticizing Livingstone for saying the Agreement was negotiated in 1932, when it was negotiated in 1933; and criticizing Livingstone for saying the Agreement was negotiated between Nazi Germany and “Israel,” when the Yishuv didn’t become Israel until 1948 (it was the Palestinian Mandate before then). These are facts that an expert on Zionist history or a PhD student should know. But given the fact-free zone through which MK anti-Semite Inquisitors like John Mann are floating, I think we can safely cut Livingstone a bit of slack.
Beaumont tries to downgrade the significance of Haavara by saying that it was “deeply controversial,” as if this controversy lets the Yishuv off the moral hook for negotiating it in the first place. Of course it would be justified if Beaumont could show that the Zionist leadership renounced the Agreement or whether key leaders protested against it publicly. But nothing of the sort happened.
There are rumors that one of the key negotiators of Haavara, Chaim Arlosoroff, was assassinated (he was murdered shortly after he returned from a negotiation session with the Nazis) because of his role. But this has never been proven. And even if it had been, the murder was likely committed by Jewish fascist sympathizers later absorbed into the Irgun, which itself sought to collaborate with the Nazis.
Beaumont also obscures the historical record by saying Haavara was negotiated ” between Germany and German Zionists.” No, it was an agreement negotiated between the Yishuv and the Nazis. Since I’m not a historian of the period it’s entirely possible German Jews were involved. But elliding Yishuv participation is distorting history in an attempt to lessen its culpability.
Beaumont comes up short historically in this passage as well:
The Haavara agreement was designed to encourage the emigration of Jews from Germany in line with National Socialist policies, but it did not have in mind the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine, a key tenet of Zionism.
That is something like saying I eat ice cream to provide nourishment to my body, but not for the pleasure of eating it. Of course, eating ice cream provides nourishment. But a one important reason for doing so is the pleasure of the eating. So in the case of the Nazis, arguing that the reason they agreed to Haavara had nothing to do with Palestine is simply wrong.
Beaumont continues this false argument with the following: “Hitler wanted neither Jews in Germany nor in their own state.”
The Nazis knew the German Jews who emigrated would go to Palestine. Had they really objected to this, they could have done so as part of the negotiations. They could have forced the Yishuv to permit the Jews to emigrate to other countries in addition to Palestine. But they didn’t. The Nazis knew where these Jews were headed and accepted this. Thus the Nazis did provide support for the “Jewish state in Palestine.”
This certainly wasn’t their primary purpose in doing the deal. But it was a clear and known result of the deal.
None other than SS chief, Reinhard Heydrich wrote this in 1935 (thanks to Shraga Elam for forwarding this historical gem):
“‘National Socialism has no intention of attacking the Jewish people in any way. On the contrary, the recognition of Jewry as a racial community based on blood, and not as a religious one, leads the German government to guarantee the racial separateness of this community without any limitations. The government finds itself in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry itself, the so-called Zionism, with its recognition of the solidarity of Jewry throughout the world and the rejection of all assimilationist ideas. On this basis, Germany undertakes measures that will surely play a significant role in the future in the handling of the Jewish problem around the world.’
Göring’s January 24, 1939, note to the Interior Ministry gave Heydrich the authority to determine which parts of the world were the most suitable destinations for Jewish emigrants. The SS had consistently favored Jewish emigration to Palestine and would continue to do so with its enhanced authority in emigration policy.”
This passage is from Francis R. Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1985. For further historical evidence on this issue, see Shraga’s terrific culling of sources here.
Let’s introduce another inconvenient piece of historical evidence that rebuts Beaumont’s claims. Writing in 1932, the Palestine Post (predecessor of the Jerusalem Post) published this piece from the Jewish Forward via the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, in which thugs clad in Nazi uniforms assaulted Jews in the Berlin Underground shouting: “Jews to Palestine!” If the Nazis rejected the legitimacy of Palestine, they could’ve shouted simply: “Jews Out!” or “Jews to America.” But they associated German Jewish emigration with the Jewish homeland, Palestine. So one wonders why it’s so important for Beaumont to argue that the Nazis didn’t recognize the legitimacy of Palestine as a destination for German Jewry.
To buttress his argument, Beaumont introduces the claim that Hitler opposed a state for the Jews:
Indeed, by late 1937 an anti-Nazi German official involved in administering the agreement suggested that fear in Nazi circles that it might lead to a Jewish state, to which Hitler was implacably opposed, was leading to suggestions “it should be terminated.”
I have no doubt that this “anti-Nazi” official exists, but Beaumont neither tells us who he is nor does he offer a source for this claim. So it’s hard to judge anything about it. But here is the unvarnished historical truth: the Nazis pursued a policy of partnership with the Zionist leadership almost until 1939. Eichmann himself visited Palestine on a fact-finding mission studying the success in implementing the Haavara Agreement.
Further, whether or not someone feared Haavara might be terminated, it wasn’t. So the claim that Hitler opposed the creation of a Jewish state is irrelevant. If he did, he never let this opposition prevent him from agreeing to collaborate with that future state’s leadership.
In short, the Yishuv’s position in agreeing to Haavara sacrificed any moral high-ground to the cold, hard calculation of saving Jews who would populate Palestine and aid the leadership in their struggle with the Palestinian Arabs to dominate the demographic landscape there. Haavara was collaboration pure and simple. Of course, there are legitimate reasons the Zionists agreed to it. But in doing so they sacrificed morality and also strengthened the Nazi war machine for its coming battles.
Beaumont also omits another key piece of historical evidence of Zionist collusion with the Nazis. The far-right Irgun, the leading political Opposition to the Yishuv leadership, went even farther than the Yishuv in collaborating with the Nazis. They actually drew up an official plan to fight alongside the Nazis in the War. The Irgun was willing to help the Nazis win the War. It read:
“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 interest of a maintained and strengthened future German position of power in the Near East.
Proceeding from these considerations, the NMO [Irgun] in Palestine, under the condition the above-mentioned national aspirations of the Israeli freedom movement are recognized on the side of the German Reich, offers to actively take part in the war on Germany’s side.”
In effect, the Irgun was suing for peace even before the War concluded. It did so in hope of securing Nazi support for the Yishuv and in an attempt to guarantee its survival.
While it is true that Irgun was in the political opposition and not a dominant player in the Yishuv, it still maintained a critical role in Palestinian society. Future prime ministers like Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin were its senior leaders. The descendants of the Irgun have been ruling Israel virtually since 1977. So it’s important not to dismiss what it did before World War II as an anomaly or historically insignificant.
Mark Elf just coined a great phrase to characterize this pseudo-debate. He calls it “weaponizing anti-Semitism.” Correction: Thanks to Tony Greenstein for correcting my error. He coined the term, as you’ll note in a comment below.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.