Zionism and the Exploitation of Jewish Catastrophe
Though I have always had sympathy for the general goals of creating a Jewish homeland for victims of persecution and genocide, I am critical of the ways in which Zionism pursued that objective. From the very beginning, even in Herzl’s writings, there are the seeds of ethnic-nationalism, racism and even anti-Semitism, which permeate Israel today. Zionism’s later leaders including its most long-serving prime ministers, espoused an amoral, Darwinian approach to building the nation, which valued survival and triumphalism over sentiment or ethical values.
This cynical approach conflicts profoundly with morally-grounded cultural (anti-nationalist) Zionism of Ahad HaAm, which declared that Zionism was meant to be a light unto the nations; and the Brit Shalom movement which sought compromise and co-existence with the Palestinian Arab majority in pre-state Palestine. Unfortunately, the Second World War and Holocaust essentially destroyed Brit Shalom, by forcing it to relinquish its agenda in the face of global Jewish catastrophe.
As I read the London Review of Books review of Tom Segev’s magisterial biography of David Ben Gurion, A State at Any Cost, it offered some shocking statements by the book’s subject on the Holocaust, which reinforced the worst elements of the Zionist ideology, forever labelling it as an opportunist movement willing to exploit the suffering of the Jewish Diaspora as long as it ultimately benefited the State of Israel. There have been many movements throughout Jewish history whose agendas espoused a grand vision of Jewish religious or secular identity. Some were generous and forward-thinking and others were retrograde and destructive. Zionism, which in theory held promise of being the former has turned into the latter.
Perhaps the most notorious of Ben Gurion’s statements was this one made before his Mapai Party in 1938:
‘If I knew that it was possible to save all the children in Germany by transporting them to England, but only half by transporting them to Palestine, I would choose the second.’
And in fact, Ben Gurion angrily rejected the saving of European Jews unless they made aliyah to Palestine. He had no interest in rescue for its own sake, unless it was tied firmly to building Eretz Yisrael. This approach was replicated in the 1970s when the Jewish Agency and Israel opposed any plan that permitted Soviet Jews to resettle outside Israel. Luckily, they were only partially successful and many such Jews did resettle in the West, outside Israel.
But Segev has discovered an equally troubling quotation from Ben Gurion which portrayed Hitler’s rise to power as “a huge political and economic boost for the Zionist enterprise.’ And indeed it was. Ben Gurion and his political rivals in Lehi both collaborated with the Nazis. As I wrote in a recent post, one of the senior leaders of Mapai, Chaim Arlosofoff, negotiated the Haavara Agreement, which sanctioned the expulsion of German Jews and the looting of their wealth and property, with a portion of it repatriated to the Yishuv by the Nazi regime. Thus Ben Gurion’s regime derived great economic benefit from the Nazi regime.
Even worse, the Agreement cut the legs out from under a successful international campaign to boycott German goods, which was organized by Rabbi Stephen Wise, an American Zionist. Ben Gurion was willing to screw anyone and even abandon European Jewry to future annihilation in order to further his own goals. All of this could be subsumed by Ben Gurion under the banner of building a state for the Jewish people. He was a man shorn of sentimentality or self-doubt when it came to pursuing these objectives.
The result of Ben Gurion’s Hobbesian approach is the Israel that we have today: a nation dripping in the blood of its enemies, imbued with an almost suicidal belief in its own racial superiority. A nation in a constant state of conflict with its neighbors and yearning with apocalyptic fervor for ultimate military triumph and messianic redemption.
The Zionist impulse to exploit the world’s suffering for its own benefit isn’t restricted to the earlier Ben Gurion era. After 9/11, Bibi Netanyahu also betrayed views mirroring Ben Gurion’s:
Netanyahu saw the 9/11 attack as a boon for Israel: “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” Ma’ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.”
And indeed, Netanyahu is correct. The War on Terror pursued by the Bush administration and subsequent U.S. presidents offered Israeli tremendous hasbara benefits. Whenever there was an attack by Islamist militants against western targets, Netanyahu could solemnly intone in his best I-told-you-so manner, you see, this is precisely what I warned you of. We in Israel are canaries in the coal mine for the west. Protect us here in the Middle East so that they don’t come after you there in the west.
This permitted (and continues to permit) his regime to maintain Occupation, a siege over the 2-million Palestinians in Gaza, and constant war with neighboring states–all under the guise of western solidarity with an Israel under attack from radical Islam.
However, the Israeli leader has repeated this mantra so often that its effectiveness has worn off. There are only so many times you can offer such cynical distortions of current events before the world begins to tire of them and see them for what they are.
Despite all this, one thing must be made clear: opportunism is different than criminality. Though the Zionist movement has historically engaged in criminal acts to further its interests, not this time. Netanyahu’s cynicism confers no legitimacy on theories of Israeli involvement in 9/11. Anyone who makes this leap is doing so while standing at the edge of a cliff.
8 thoughts on “Zionism and the Exploitation of Jewish Catastrophe – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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[comment deleted: I do not permit dissemination or promotion of conspiracy theories here. If you wish to do that you’ll have to do it elsewhere.]
Thank you for this history. It should be kept alive.There would be no Israel had it not been for the Holocaust. Palestinians are right when they complain that they pay the price.
I attribute the Zionism of Ben Gurion, as opposed to the buried vision of Ahad Ha Am, to a kind of reaction to deep trauma and the guilt that enables or caters to it. Not to leave out, there is the obsessive need to compensate for the loss of life, the fear of annihilation. This feeling is nurtured and exploited. It’s a reason for being, communal.ly shared, passed on to the next generations. It ( compensation, vindictiveness) covers over wiser, healthier sentiments too buried to emerge, the latter, if they exist hammered down by political leaders. Some still strive valliantly because they know in their hearts something else as we so far away in diaspora do.
Well we just got back- so it’s alive, these impressions… the walls, the furious building, the babies, the insularity. That is not to say that Israel not is amazing in many ways.There are those young Israelis, some, that by custom travel the world after service, to know others elsewhere, to bust out of the walls that protect, that also keep them in.
Thanks Richard for bringing this book to my attention. Yes Ben GUrion’s comment that the advent of Hitler was ‘“a huge political and economic boost for the Zionist enterprise.’ is shocking. However he was not alone. Berl Katznelson called it a ‘golden opportunity’ and others said the same.
Ben Gurion’s comment about rescuing German Jewish children is not new. It was in reaction to the British scheme to rescue 10,000 Kindertransport children. He and the Zionist movement were very much opposed to this.
I disagree with you about there being a possibility of there being a different kind of Zionism of the Ahad Haam kind. No that was not possible. Zionism could only triumph as a settler colonial movement. Nothing else would suffice which is why Ihud/Brit Shalom etc were so pitifully small and indeed Brit Shalom contained people like Arthur Ruppin, a Jewish Nazi who was certainly no dove (I assume you know of his tete a tete with Prof Hans Gunther, Himmler’s ideological mentor?
I also disagree with the idea of a jewish homeland. The racially oppressed forming their own state on ethnic lines can only replicate that which they escaped from
Mr Richard Silverstein and Mr. Tony Greenstein,
David Ben Gurion tried to save the Jews from the Nazis.
He tried and tried but he did not have the power or money to save many Jews.
How many leaders tried to save the Jews in Europe? Only David Ben Gurion.
Great Britain would not let Jews immigrate to Palestine. America did not help either.
He did nothing of the sort. Do not lie. Do not make history up. Do not substitute what you wish had happened for what really hapiened. None if this acceptable in the comndnt threads . Only facts and evidence to support whatever claims you do make.
Mr. Richard Silverstein,
I do not lie or make history up.
I sent a link with many, many different book reviews of Friling’s exhaustive book. If you read the book reviews, you cannot call me liar.
These book reviews say that Ben Gurion helped try to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The book reviews say;
” Friling’s massive work is clearly designed to replace Segev’s and other new historians’ rendering of Ben-Gurion and the Yishuv leadership’s conduct during the Holocaust with one that represents it in a far more favorable light. He makes a very powerful case that these men cared quite
deeply about what was going on in Nazi Europe and that they made strong
eﬀorts to come to the aid of Hitler’s Jewish victims “.
“Friling argues, convincingly to this reviewer that the ultimate lack of success of the Yishuv to save European Jewry, or any large part of it was not a failure of will, or a political choice. It was the result of the powerlessness of the Yishuv in the face of faces far stronger than itself”
“Frilings conclusion is that these failures were not for want of trying, and that the rescue of Jew was always a top priority for Ben Gurion”.
@ Doctor: You are pathetic. You compare a book by someone no one’s ever heard of with the most complete, comprehensive and exhaustive biography ever written on Ben Gurion? Written by the pre-eminent historian of modern Israel and the Zionist movement? Really? Please spare me.
Frilling’s book is so obscure it took me 20 minutes of searching on Google to even find it. It was published nearly 20 years ago. Segev’s book is current and he had access to far more historical and archival material than Frilling.
BTW, no one is arguing that Ben Gurion had little power to save the Jews during the Holocaust. Segev and I argue that even if he could have done so he would only have saved Jews if they made aliyah to Palestine. And that is a profoundly immoral position. Not to mention that Ben Gurion caused immense damage to the resistance to the Nazis at a time when they could have been stopped by a united effort by world Jewry to boycott them.
Again, no more comments in this thread.
Let me set ‘Dr’ Akwanga straight. I am aware of Tuvia Friling’s pathetic 2 volume book. It is an exercise in mendacity. Oh yes he copiously records all the speeches and the minutes and all the rest but strangely nothing came of this. To quote one review in the link that the ‘Dr’ sent us:
‘One must remember that when Rudolph Vrba escaped from Auschwitz, no one believed his harrowing description
of what was going on there.’
That is a straightforward lie. Verba and Wexler escaped on April 10th and reached Slovakia on the 24th April 1944. They immediately set about writing what became known as the Auschwitz Protocols or Auschwitz Report. The Slovakian Jewish Council certainly did believe them because they had it translated into German and Hungarian. They gave it to, among others, the leader of Hungarian Zionism, Rudolf Kasztner who suppressed it as did the rest of the Zionist movement. Instead he reached his sordid deal with Eichman – allow me to save the elite of Hungarian Jewry and Zionism and you can have the rest of the Jews.
I’ve debated with Friling on Alef site and he tried to retranslate the most damning memos of Ben Gurion stating quite clearly that if you separate Zionism and what he termed ‘refugeeism’ (saving refugees for the sake of so doing) then Zionism was lost. Ben Gurion was a Zionist first and foremost.
Somewhat more objective than this so-called doctor is Ben Gurion’s official biographer, Shabtai Teveth ‘The Burning Ground 1886-1948’. In the final chaper on the Holocaust, Disaster Means Strength (in other words the disaster of the holocaust strengthened Zionism) Teveth quotes Ben Gurion as saying that given the choice between saving refugees and building the Jewish state the latter came first.
Friling is not a serious historian. Neither is the doctor.