The Forgotten History of the Jewish, Anti-Zionist Left – Jacobin magazine

Posted By on July 23, 2020

I would alter that a bit to say Im really talking about the communist and Marxist left in this context. I grew up within a left-wing family where opinion was definitely divided on the question of Zionism yet, nonetheless, there was a pervasive idea that the Holocaust changed opinion universally, and everyone fell in line as soon as the details of the Holocaust were revealed, Zionist and anti-Zionist alike.

Its undeniably correct to say that without the Holocaust there probably would have been no Israel, if just for the single fact that there was a massive influx of Jewish refugees after the war who would have undoubtedly stayed in Europe otherwise. Without that influx of Jews who could fight the 1948 war and populate Israel just after, its doubtful an independent state of Israel could have succeeded.

However, one thing I found most surprising going through the Jewish left press in the 1940s publications of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party, and writings by Hannah Arendt is that even after the scope of the Holocaust was widely understood, their official position was still anti-Zionist.

They may have called for Jews to be allowed to resettle in the lands from which they were expelled or massacred, with full rights and full citizenship, be allowed to immigrate to the United States, or even be allowed to emigrate to Palestine if there was nowhere else to go (as was often the case). But they were still wholly against partition and the establishment of a Jewish-only state.

What is important to understand about that moment was that Zionism was a political choice not only by Western imperial powers, but also by Jewish leadership. They could have fought more strenuously for Jewish immigration to the United States. And a lot of the Zionist leaders actually fought against immigration to the United States.

There were a number of stories reported in the Jewish communist press about how Zionists collaborated with the British and Americans to force Jews to go to Mandate Palestine, when they would have rather gone to the United States, or England. Theres a famous quote by Ernest Bevin, the British foreign secretary, who said the only reason the United States sent Jews to Palestine was because they do not want too many more of them in New York. And the Zionists agreed with this.

While this may seem like ancient history, it is important because it disrupts the common sense surrounding Israels formation. Yes, maybe there could have been peace between Jews and Palestinians, but the Holocaust made all of that impossible. And I would say that this debate after 1945 shows that there was a long moment in which there were other possibilities, and another future could have happened.

Ironically, perhaps, the Soviet Union did more than any other single force to change the minds of the Jewish Marxist left in the late 1940s about Israel. Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet Unions ambassador to the United Nations, came out in 1947 and backed partition in the United Nations after declaring the Western world did nothing to stop the Holocaust, and suddenly theres this about-face. All these Jewish left-wing publications that were denouncing Zionism, literally the next day, were embracing partition and the formation of the nation-state of Israel.

You have to understand, for a lot of Jewish communists and even socialists, the Soviet Union was the promised land not Zionism. This was the place where they had, according to the propaganda, eradicated antisemisitm.

The Russian Empire was the most antisemitic place throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, before the rise of Nazism. Many of the Jewish Communist Party members were from Eastern Europe, or their families were, and they had very vivid memories of Russia as the crucible of antisemitism. For them, the Russian Revolution was a rupture in history, a chance to start over. And, of course, this is after World War II, when the Soviet Union had just defeated the Nazis.

For the Soviet Union to embrace Zionism really sent a shockwave through the left-wing Jewish world. The Soviet Union changed its policy a decade or so later, openly embracing anti-Zionism by the 1960s. But for this brief pivotal moment, the Soviet Union firmly came down in favor of partition, and that seems to be what really changed the Jewish left.

Without this kind of legitimation, I think we are all starting to see the Jewish left such as it exists return back in an important way to the positions that it had originally held, which is that Zionism is a right-wing nationalism, and that it is also racist and colonialist. We are seeing the Jewish left return to its first principles.

The rest is here:
The Forgotten History of the Jewish, Anti-Zionist Left - Jacobin magazine

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