Review of From Antisemitism to Anti-Zionism: The Past and Present of a Lethal Ideology ed. Eunice G. Pollack
Published by Academic Studies Press 2017, pp.426
This book is a collection of essays which looks at the transition of anti-Zionism into antisemitism in our time. There are some excellent essays in this collection such as David Hirsh’s nuanced account of the proliferation of antisemitism amongst the British Left and Rafael Medoff’s revelatory account of anti-Jewish prejudice in the White House. However, these are accompanied by other contributions which are unable to differentiate between the megaphone war in support of Israel and the striving for scholarly objectivity. Hirsh shrewdly remarks that “there is often disagreement about what is antisemitic and what is not. Spotting antisemitism requires knowledge, forensic skills, political and moral judgment, a sensitive nose and a consideration of context.” Others, however, do not take such a focussed view in this interesting collection, but instead utilize a scattergun approach.
Hirsh argues that antisemitism is often “unrecognised and unacknowledged by the person who has stumbled into it.” This lack of comprehension coloured the tenure of the last leader of the British Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn and his self-definition as “a life long anti-racist.” Unfortunately, the appraisal of contemporary antisemitism in this book concludes in 2015/2016 and the Corbyn episode is not analysed. Yet Hirsh’s prescient comment certainly characterises Corbyn’s internment in the far Left bubble and his inability as party leader to burst it (see, for example, David Kogan, Protest and Power: The Battle for the Labour Party [New York: Bloomsbury, 2019]).
Hirsh’s forté is in deconstructing the diversionary utterances of the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and in introducing the Livingstone Formulation to the perplexed who perceive a familiar pattern (David Hirsh, Contemporary Left Antisemitism [New York: Routledge, 2017]). He recalls the commentary of Rudolf Slansky in the show trial in Prague in 1952 when the Communist press worldwide suggested that the spectre of antisemitism was simply raised to provide a cover for “Zionism machinations” and thereby to silence all opposition (Jewish Chronicle, November 28, 1952). It indicates the Stalinist pedigree of the current “antisemitism wars” on the Left.
Neil Kressel examines antisemitism in the Muslim world, but asserts that he does not believe that Islam is an anti-Jewish faith any more than Christianity. “All religions, including Judaism, have sources that can be used without too much stretching to justify hatred.” His contribution, entitled “The Great Failure of the Anti-Racist Community,” dissects in great detail the tendency to gloss over and bypass Muslim antisemitism. Kressel demonstrates that any mention of Muslim antisemitism was absent from 77 examined university syllabi — 22 psychology courses, 22 on genocide and the Holocaust and 33 on prejudice, racism, and diversity. In particular, Kressel is highly critical of those who teach Middle East Studies.
Eunice Pollack, the editor of this collection of essays, focuses on the philosemitic comments of George Orwell, particularly after 1945. Yet Orwell blew hot and cold about Jews — and has recently been castigated for his latent upper-class prejudice (see, for example, Richard Bradford, Orwell: A Man of Our Time [New York: Bloomsbury, 2020]). Indeed, Mass Observation Surveys in Britain during World War II indicated that antisemitic attitudes were rife even as the struggle against Nazi Germany continued. Significantly, antisemitism prevailed amongst a minority even after the revelations of the Shoah.
Oswald Mosley, the former leader of the British Union of Fascists was imprisoned for several years in the 1940s as a threat to national security. Yet he planned as early as February 1945 — before the end of the war — to resurrect British Fascism (Daniel Sonabend, We Fight Fascists: The 43 Group and their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain [New York: Verso, 2019], 22–24). In so doing, he correctly predicted that post-war deprivation and hardship would be laid at the doorstep of the Jews.
In the context of anti-Zionist ideology and rhetoric, Eunice Pollack examines the historical background of the vexed subject of transfer and the expulsion of some Palestinian Arabs in 1948. Yet this subject is not as simplistic as depicted. Ben-Gurion’s approach to the expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from Lydda and Ramle in 1948 remains a matter of debate — and it would certainly have been worthwhile to have mentioned the research of Benny Morris in this area (Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004], 423–436, 454 n88).
Jabotinsky’s name is rightly invoked in opposing the doctrine of wholescale transfer during the 1930s. Yet he was interested in population exchange —and in particular the forced exchange of Greeks and Turks during the early 1920s (Colin Shindler, The Rise of the Israeli Right: From Odessa to Hebron [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015], 145–146).
Moreover, recent research suggests that in the dark days of 1940 during the last few months of his life, Jabotinsky was reconsidering the possibility of transfer because of the deteriorating situation of European Jewry (Gil S. Rubin, “Vladimir Jabotinsky and Population Transfers between Eastern Europe and Palestine,” The Historical Journal 62, no. 2 : 495–517).
Quoting Efraim Karsh, Eunice Pollack describes Revisionist Zionism as “the forebear of today’s Likud party.” While some Revisionists did indeed join Menahem Begin’s numerous parties over the years, the Likud actually owes its ideological heritage to the Irgun which became the Herut movement in 1948, Gahal in 1965, and the Likud in 1973. Moreover Herut stood against the official Revisionists in the first Israeli election in January 1949. Begin tended to speak about “the Jabotinsky movement” rather than “the Revisionist movement” as a means of distancing himself from his Revisionist rivals. Moreover, Jabotinsky’s son, Eri, and Hillel Kook all broke with Begin very early on in Herut’s history.
Edward Alexander’s contribution begins with an interesting discussion of the post-war American Jewish intelligentsia, but then morphs into an attack on contemporary Jews who reject Zionism — those whose Jewishness is often defined by escaping Jewishness — as well as those who embrace “the new Diasporism.” Yet Alexander never asks why the dyke of solidarity has been breeched. Is this simply a natural evolu- tion after the halcyon days of Zionism? Or are there other factors such as reaction to the poli- cies of Israel’s governing elite? Is a gap opening up between the particularism of Israel’s current political leaders and the universalism, espoused by many American Jews?
Alexander further attacks liberal Zionists who are unable to agree with Netanyahu’s policies. In this respect, he shares a platform with critics of Zionism who fear an espousal of a Zionism which pierces the imagery of easy black and white scenarios (Tony Lerman, New York Times, August 23, 2014). Alexander employs the rhetoric of internet trolls to describe Rabbi Michael Lerner — “less a court Jew than a Rasputin.” Is the liberalism of disparaged figures such as Peter Beinart and Michael Lerner therefore more important than their espousal of Zionism? Alexander’s fellow contributor, Jerold Auerbach, in this collection, lists a book as a source which goes under the title — Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad against Israel and Jews. Does Zionist unity therefore take second place to Zionist uniformity?
George Soros also comes in for a pummelling, referring to his billionaire status and his funding of J Street — “fancying itself a Jewish government-in-exile.” With a few word substitutions in this paragraph, an unsavoury imagery of Jews can be conjured up. The warning from history is that such language can have unintended consequences. If, in the twentieth century, nationalists had regarded Judeo-Bolshevism as the root of all evil, in the twenty-first century (see Paul Hanebrink, A Spectre Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2018]), their heirs look upon Judeo-liberalism as its updated version.
Alexander writes well of Hillel Kook’s remarkable and noble efforts to awaken Americans — Jews and non-Jews — to what was happening in Europe during the Shoah with Ben Hecht’s no-holds barred writings (see Adina Hoffman, Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019]). But were they also not dissidents who railed against the prevailing orthodoxy?
Alexander refers to “the genocidal maniacs” of Iran, stating their intention to “wipe Israel off the map.” Yet while such comments filled the Iranian press during the 1980s, the Begin government was supplying arms to Teheran in order to defeat the far bigger menace of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Tel Aviv feared that if Iraq won the war, then its guns would be turned onto Israel. Secret discussions took place between Israeli and Iranian representatives in Zurich and a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars was signed. In addition, Begin was able to secure the release and emigration of Iranian Jewry (Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007], 95–109). All this took place while Israel was being transformed into “the little Satan” amidst bloodcurdling headlines and public commentary. In view of this antisemitic demonization, should Israel therefore have refrained from arming the ayatollahs and concentrated on the rhetoric instead?
All this suggests that actions speak louder than words. Decisions are based on complex considerations. Alexander seems to make no distinction between the government of Israel and the state of Israel. An amorphous “Israel” fills the gap. However, not everyone in “Israel” thinks the same. Indeed a decade ago, Netanyahu’s instruction to prepare for an attack on Iran was resisted by leading figures in the Mossad, Shin Bet and the IDF (Trita Parsi, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017], 150–160).
Benjamin Ginsberg’s contribution “Christian Zionism: Is it good for the Jews?” goes to the heart of the discussion regarding Jews and liberalism. He makes the insightful comment that “in the political arena it is difficult to maintain a strong commitment to an anti-Zionist discourse without becoming a bit of an antisemite.” This has been borne out by the proliferation of antisemitic tropes in the electronic media — as Andre Oboler points out in another essay in this book — where its facilitators are often seduced by the internet’s openness. Indeed their own lack of political sophistication and sheer ignorance about Jewish history becomes apparent to all. Ginsburg comments that while it is possible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic, “what is true in principle is often not so true in practice”.
Benjamin Ginsberg’s section on Christian Zionists and American Jews elucidates the chasm between the conservatism of the former and the liberalism of the latter. After all, the evangelicals strongly supported the Vietnam war and voted for Donald Trump in droves (Jessica Martínez and Gregory A. Smith, How the Faithful Voted: A Preliminary 2016 Analysis, Pew Research Center, November 9, 2016) — and some have pursued a conversionist agenda where Jews are concerned. Yet both are uneasily united in supporting Israel in the public arena. However American Jews tend to be more critical of Netanyahu and the Israeli Right whereas Christian Zionists in contrast believe in the inviolability of the biblical dimensions of the Land of Israel (Genesis 15:8, Deuteronomy 34:4). In the United Kingdom, several scientific surveys have indicated that a large majority of British Jews oppose the settlement drive on the West Bank (David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, Committed, Concerned and Conciliatory: The Attitudes of Jews in Britain towards Israel, JPR, July 2010; Stephen Miller, Margaret Harris, and Colin Shindler, Attitudes of British Jews towards Israel, City University, London, November 2015).
Ginsberg’s descriptive background of Christian Zionism is very informative in areas such as the genesis and evolution of dispensationalism, but in particular about the juxtaposition of patriotism and evangelical belief during the Suez campaign in 1956 when Eisenhower and Dulles opposed Ben-Gurion and Dayan.
Ginsberg, however, omits mention of the occasional anti-Jewish stereotypes projected by figures such as Jerry Falwell (Roanoke Times and World News, September 14, 1979) and Pat Robertson (Pat Robertson, The New World Order [Milton Keynes: Word Publishing, 1991], 69–75) — and the tendency of Israeli governments since the 1980s to gloss over this in order to shore up their political support (Colin Shindler, “Likud and the Christian Dispensationalists: A Symbiotic Relationship,” Israel Studies 5, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 153–182).
Stephen Norwood’s contribution about the activities of the Christian Front in Boston and the broadcasts of the radio priest, Father Coughlin, in the 1930s is deeply interesting— and certainly for a non-American audience. Coughlin was unambiguous in framing his approach to Jews—“the financial Caiaphases of today who follow the prescription of the elder Rothschild.” It is revelatory to uncover the hostility of some Irish-Americans towards Jews and the willingness of the Boston police to turn a blind eye when Jews were being assaulted. All this was associated with the wider antipathy of the Catholic Church towards Jews per se, theologically and politically, during the 1930s. The socialist prime minister of France, Léon Blum, was seen by the periodical, the Gaelic-American, as “a moral degenerate.” The association of Jews with Communism was embedded in its outlook – indeed an overwhelming majority of Catholic bishops in Spain supported Franco during the civil war. In the eyes of many, the Jews controlled England, Churchill was a quarter Jewish and the House of Commons was no more than “a Yiddish Assembly.”
Stephen Norwood argues that the Christian Front promoted the idea of an international Zionist conspiracy to achieve world domination and thereby seize control of the Suez Canal. In March 1942, the Reverend Curran — after the US entry into the war against Nazism — addressed 3,000 people in Boston and condemned “750 years of totalitarian British government” in Ireland and inferred that “a racial or religious minority” could exploit the war in its own interests.
As in the United Kingdom, the revelations of the Shoah did not prevent a meeting in Queens, New York in October 1945 to protest “kosher slaughter”— an instance of “Jewish barbarism.” A pamphlet by the British fascist, Arnold Leese, was distributed. Leese was interned during the war and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in 1947 for helping a German prisoner-of-war to escape. Attacks on Jews in Boston and Philadelphia continued until the early 1950s. Norwood concludes with an assertion that the Christian Front served as a model for Louis Farrakhan and other Nation of Islam leaders.
Ira Robinson’s contribution to this work is an overview of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Canada. In many instances, these are reflections of attitudes in Britain. Yet he further remarks that “in contemporary Quebec, religious, ethnic and linguistic conflicts have manifested them- selves in the public square. Issues related to antisemitism and anti-Zionism are often aired in the Quebec media.” Despite this, the first Jewish mayor of Montreal was elected in 2012.
Several contributors are highly critical of the PLO and suggest that they have stoked the fires of antisemitism during past decades. David Patterson’s essay, “Holy Land, Sacred History and Anti-Zionism,” utilizes two comments, one in 1977 and the other after 1993 whereby PLO figures have utilised the phrase “final solution.” Barry Rubin’s quote (Barry Rubin, Revolution until Victory? The Politics and History of the PLO [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994], 47) of Abu Iyad in 1977 continued: “That solution is to establish a democratic state in the whole of Palestine.” Similarly Efraim Karsh’s quote from a PLO figure after 1993 (Arafat’s War: The Man and his Battle for Israeli Conquest [New York: Grove Press, 2003], 62), stated: “namely the establishment of ‘a democratic state’ on the whole of Palestine and the return of the 1948 refugees to their homes.” David Patterson may well be right that some members of the PLO were considering a Nazi-style extermination, but the context in which both Rubin and Karsh mention these comments are made in the context of the PLO’s conflict with Israel and not in the context of genocide and massacre.
Joel Fishman’s concluding essay on the delegitimization of Israel is condemnatory of the Oslo Process and implicitly Rabin’s handshake with Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993. The PLO is, however, treated in absolute terms as if it was monolithic and not split into rival camps, regarding Arafat’s wisdom in signing the Accord. Moreover there is no mention of the Palestinian Islamists who introduced the suicide bombing of civilians into Israel – and which played a major role in undermining and eliminating the success of Oslo. Indeed in this essay the Palestinian Authority is seemingly perceived as somehow being closer to Iran than Hamas.
All scholars have personal opinions and these inevitably colour any final written exposition, but there are red lines which separate intellectual exploration from advocacy. While the latter certainly has its place in the real world and is necessary in the context of a political campaign, it is arguable whether it is the same in the academic world. All in all, this collection is a mixed bag with some fine exceptions.
Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism Summer 2020